Demystifying the Not-Starving Artist

It’s 5am when my outdated iPhone buzzes against the embossed side table next to my bed. The table is exotic looking, an Indian-made, silver table that was bought at a chain discount store. Like most mornings, I roll over to blindly grab my phone, push snooze and savor another 10 minutes of mindless rest. Eventually I take a hot shower, pour some tea in a travel thermos, and jump into my not quite paid off 2012 Subaru Forester to start my morning commute.

This is my morning, Monday through Friday, for most of the calendar year. I am a Not-Starving Artist. I am a public school teacher in a Title 1 funded district. I work with a large percentage of the incoming refugee and immigrant population, navigating a mostly ELL (English Language Learner) population. And most importantly, I teach art.

I have felt compelled to write this blog post ever since starting my website back in December 2018. I made the conscious decision to focus more attention on my art practice, and treat it “like a business” as some colleagues had advised me to do. Although some of you may already know, that starting a creative business looks a lot more like obsessive social media usage. As a person who rarely uses social media, it was going to be a challenge. I began giving my Instagram and Facebook a facelift, then designed a professional website through Squarespace.

Many other Instagram art superstars have a similar business plan as I do. Usually this involved posting artwork every day, communicating with your followers on a regular basis, updating your website, making online sales, and developing video “Stories” of your day to day life. But there is a truth behind all of this that maybe only other artists know. And that is that most of these people do not do this kind of work as their full time job, most of these people have to support what they do with a side hustle or a full blown career.

When I was a fresh faced graduate of my Bachelor’s of Fine Arts back in 2015, I was confronted with a decision. I could either find a job that I semi-enjoyed so I could pay for an apartment, and pay off my loans… or I could move to Brooklyn or San Francisco, live with a house full of misfits, and try my best to get accepted into the gallery world. As a young person who supports herself, I felt the urge to be independent and I immediately looked for a job. Years later I would pursue my Master’s Degree in Art Education so that I could have a job that involved art, had decent benefits, and a reliable schedule. The perk of it all was that I do truly enjoy teaching art.

But I do find myself thinking a lot these days about the handful of people I know that are self-sufficient artists. Sometimes I daydream about the day that I could maybe pursue such a thing. Knowingly, it requires a lot of work. And those who are full time artists are incredibly driven people. Not only are they motivated, but they are not starving. These people have many different streams of income, and vacations are not a common term in their vocabulary. In the meantime there is a different type of Not-Starving Artist, one that thinks practically and incrementally. Not only is it a lot of work to manage the M-F grind, but these people keep their passion alive and do what they can to make it work. And for that, they deserve a little recognition.