The other day a friend asked me if Scott would continue to paint if he won the lotto tomorrow. Scott was having a particularly challenging week painting so the answer this week was a most definite, “I’d never touch a paintbrush again! The first couple of thousand paintings were pretty fun, but after that, not so much.”
Since Scott has been making a living as an artist for well over 20 years, his perspective about painting is quite a bit different than mine is about writing at the moment. While attending to the demands of the job that generates a paycheck, I squeeze in an hour or two here and there to write, and I imagine my fabulous future writing life. I sit down with my morning coffee and blissfully hammer away at my latest masterpiece, full of inspiration and incredible ideas. This vision, I realize is probably about as accurate as the fantasy I had about artists before I knew any personally. The artist of my imagination worked in a big loft, wore a French beret, held a palette in one hand, a brush in the other and had a long cigarette holder clenched in his creative teeth. He worked his emotional furor out on the blank canvas before him and was allowed fits of temper. How this turned into a paycheck never entered my mind.
While Scott has periods where he’s truly inspired, energized and doing the best work of his career, he also has periods where he’s painting commissions that don’t rock his boat or he’s painting a subject he’s no longer passionate about, but is selling and in demand by his galleries. He’s got packing and crating, ordering supplies, website changes, negotiations with galleries, advertising, cleaning brushes and a laundry list of the less glamorous tasks that are all part of making a living as an artist.
During the “up” periods, I’ve asked Scott the same question. Would he still have a desire to paint if he didn’t have to? Then his answer takes on a different slant. “If I didn’t have to depend on painting for my income, I’d probably like to set up an easel in my garden and paint what I see just for my personal enjoyment. I'd paint what I want to paint.”
What’s the difference between the fantasy and the reality? It’s pursuing your passion as a hobby versus having to pay the bills. With creative vocations, people frequently don’t understand the difference. Many times I’ve seen Scott smile and grit his teeth when someone says to him, “gosh I wish I could have your job”, and I imagine working writers might feel the same way.
Maybe that’s one of the benefits of making a career change at the ripe old age of 45 and understanding that it’s all hard work, but working at something you love beats the heck out of working at something you don’t.