I'm in my mid forties now and I've realized - I'm an artist for life. I've met a lot of artists - some successful and some working on becoming successful and a few who have given up. I would like to talk to those of you who might be thinking of giving up or working on your back up plan.
First, I believe that we're all artists. Even someone who is mostly left brained has had to create a solution to a problem using duct tape and for that moment he/she was an artist. Second, for those of us who are mostly right brained - using our creativity feels natural and is expressed on a daily basis in one form or another. How we approach a simple interaction with a stranger is a chance to either use art or shut down and go into robot mode. Of course we all do that from time to time - like in elevators - it's ok - sometimes you just can't think of anything to say right?
So if using your art is natural to you - you can't really turn it off. You can choose to do different things with it - different occupations - different projects etc. But some occupational choices will leave you fulfilled at the end of the day while others will leave you frustrated and discouraged. I don't mean tired and annoyed like many school teachers. At the end of the day a school teacher still has a lot of autonomy and can exercise a great deal of creativity in the classroom with each student interaction. I'm talking about taking on a job or project where using your art is unwanted, unappreciated, and unnecessary.
Let me tell you about the time I almost became a prison guard. Yes you read that right. Six years ago we were living in California and had just learned that my wife had contracted an auto-immune disease. She was a special ed teacher at the time and we realized she was going to have to quit her job due to this illness. I was worried that we would lose our medical insurance and knew that I wouldn't be able to purchase any for her. We both went into panic mode and over the next few months I found myself looking into occupations that would provide coverage.
I'm really only "qualified" to do a few things on this planet - one of which is painting pictures. Trash pick up is another but they don't provide medical insurance so I skipped over that one. Soon my search revealed that working for the state of California not only provided a decent salary and hefty benefits but was also relatively easy to land. A few classes and training and they would practically take anyone willing to lock themselves up with murderers and pedophiles. I was frustrated, scared, disappointed and broken as I filled out the proper paper work and checked myself into the preliminary classes to become a California Corrections Officer.
I felt like I was turning my back on my creative side. In prison creativity can get you killed. My next door neighbor was a corrections officer and we spent a lot of time talking about how different I would need to become in order to survive as a C.O. He basically said I would have to become a robot in order to avoid getting noticed. Inmates will try to get to know you so they can manipulate you, extort you, threaten you, and exploit you. He said, "I'm a totally different person inside the prison - you wouldn't even recognize me".
I got letter from the state telling me that my application was complete and that I was to report to the academy in one month for final training and then I would receive my assignment. My wife and I struggled with the decision. She didn't want me in there any more than I did. In the end we decided that the price was too great and we moved to Utah to be closer to family and figure out our next steps. In the end I can tell you we made the right decision - for many reasons.
The truth is that I probably would have "washed out" in that occupation. The whole goal was to last 25 years for a full retirement but in reality many can't take it and as one ex- C.O. told me, "I would rather wash dishes for the rest of my life than go back in there one more day"...It's as if you're just one of the inmates in many respects...you'll see horrible things...they're a bunch of animals" -this after he had recently quit. For the record there are some people who not only do that job well - they love it. I don't think I would have been one of them.
So back to art. I've come to realize that I'm an artist - period. No matter what - I'm going to be making art and trying to figure out a way to monetize it. I love it! I will never retire from it because it's what I love to do. I think you'll find that most successful artists have a desire to create and while not all of what they produce is commercially successful they never stop. There's always the next project - the next canvas - the next film, album, photo, or book...they're artist's for life.