Holistic view of work for artists

This is a very sensitive topic for many today, so I'll do my best to stir up everything I can!  But really, I think there is a lot that is not considered when considering employment opportunities.  This said, I'm also fully acknowledging that many do not have many choices, hence the general sensitivity in this area.  This post may not be for you.  It's a shame that this is unfortunately built into our economic model.  Those who have the choices with varied potential work opportunities are also generally those who were not necessarily in a hard place financially in the beginning.  

This sucks.  I'm one of the fortunate few who were able to have some space and time between being in school and seeking work, so all of my views will have a certain bias.  This said, I've learned to consider things a certain way that I feel can really apply to many situations.  I also want to specify that my views will also be geared towards artists.  This isn't to create a false exclusivity but because artists, or really anyone with the creative drive, have certain things they need to... do. It's something we often even have difficulty articulating in words. We just sometimes HAVE to paint or write. Artists need an outlet to express, in one form or another.  Turns out this difference of values may be scientifically provable for what that matters.

This said, everybody has things they want to express, but I feel artists are still facing far more difficult odds because the whole field of art is usually far more difficult to be successful on the financial front. I should also mention that I'm speaking specifically about 'personal art' not 'commercial art' produced for clients.  This is clearly a viable route for a career (and mindset to adopt), but I feel the real artist in many of us really has personal stories and projects that we want so badly to create and share.  

It's also often rather difficult to fund these personal projects!  

They're hard to quantify by our culture's view of the world because it is difficult to see the end result of the benefit immediately.  This is one thing our culture is absolutely horrified of - unqualified results.  We want sure things that will generate some kind of return, whether it be financial or a contribution that benefits others. 

Yet as artists, many of us still have these projects that we want to do that always seem to contradict with the steady, comfortable flow of living.  They often require a lot of time, that is usually spent at work or doing any other number of life's duties.  Many of my friends are currently seeking ways to allow more time for their own personal work or projects.  I think we all secretly know that our personal work is the 'real work' that needs to be brought forth into the world. So what is the solution here?  

How can we truly create the work that matters most to us?  This will differ from everyone, but first I think we need to take a second look at our current views of that 'work' that we do to make a living.

We need to consider more factors when it comes to our work places beyond the seemingly 'most important' such as pay and field of study.  I'm not putting these down - they're crucial, especially for those paying off debts.  I've been reading a fair bit on some of these alternate factors that should be evaluated with equal, if not more, attention.  

For example, just consider some of these factors:
  • How long does it take to get to and from your work, weekly, monthly, 6 months, a year?
  • How much does the commute cost over these time frames?
  • Does your work drain your energy and desire to spend time on things you enjoy doing?
  • How long does it take to 'unwind' or 'power down' from your work?
  • What are some other expenses that your job may require? (eating out regularly, gas, teas and coffees)
  • Are you learning valuable skills for your 'ideal' work in the future? (if not currently where you are)
  • Does your work contribute to your learning in other useful ways? (developing social skills, self awareness, confidence boosting, etc.)
  • Is there room for growth at your work?
This is some of the factors that I feel need to be taken into account.  Most notably on the ones about hours spent mentally 'working' despite not even potentially being still at work.  If you carry your work with you in your dome beyond the time that you're actually at work, shouldn't you consider those hours into your hourly wage?  If you do need excessive amounts of time to power down from work by doing things you may not do if your work wasn't so draining, shouldn't that be considered into the mix too?

As a simple test, say you make $20 a hour for a random amount.  

40 hours a week = $800 / week

~52 weeks in a year = 2080 hours or $41,600

Now lets try and throw in some more factors.  This will be looking at city folk as an example, perhaps in Toronto since it's closest to me.

30 minute commute there, 30 minute commute back using metro = 1 hour / day
5 hours a week commuting + $133.75 for monthly metro pass.

That's 260 hours a year and $1,605 for yearly TTC pass.

Now, let's imagine your job may involve a certain amount of sitting at a computer.  Not to step on any toes, but as artists this is primarily what we're doing to get paid usually.  Not including any health problems associated with sitting for long periods of time or potential problems with being around electromagnetics all day, we'll factor in another 8 hours a week of mental time that our work occupies our minds.  Remember this includes any time that work may be the most present thing on your mind rather than things that you'd prefer to be doing to further grow or develop as the dreamy artist you are.

So another 8 hours a week of mental time our work occupies us, or even time that is spent watching TV to unwind from stressful work.  This equals 416 more hours a year.

Let's also throw in maybe two meals a week eaten out that wouldn't necessarily be the case if your situation was different.  At $12 each, that's $24 a week.  Let's add some teas or coffees for 3 days too (this is probably modest!), another ~$8 for a grand total of $32 a week, and again, this is probably modest.

That's equals $1664 a year.

I'll know total both the extra hours that work is IN your life in one way or another, as well as the money spent (converted into your hourly rate) for a very real 839.45 extra hours.

This added back to your original 2080 hours a year is 2919.45.  This now means that your actual rate is actually $14.25 from that original $20 that you were promised from your employer.  On top of this, you will have little to no time for personal work.

These are the technical, quantifiable factors of your work - your artistic drive and desire to continue producing your own work, building your own portfolio, or simply just creating the kind of art you'd really like to isn't considered.  Neither is your general fulfillment, energy level, and ability to socialize with friends, which often can take a considerable hit if your work is stressful / draining.  I'm absolutely not advocating that work can be, or should be, stress-free.  In an ideal world!

I'm merely suggesting that there are more factors to consider when you're considering various work places. Is a job in your field relevant if it makes you begin disliking the field?  Or if the monotony of it doesn't allow you to grow creatively after a certain level?  That job close to you that's completely out of your field might be more worth it considering there is little to no commute, which will give you extra time to prepare food to bring, and may even drain your energy levels less because you know that when you're finished, you're not too stressed or tired.  It could then give you enough autonomy in your life to continue doing the things you really want like painting, animating, designing, creating, writing, anything.

Just something to consider.  Again, my goal with this post to not to step on toes but to throw ideas into a pot of things to consider when searching for work.

To suggest further reading on these topics which may help you work things out, I recommend the 4-Hour Work Week (though the ethics wear thin), and Your Money or Your Life.  The latter is largely where this holistic work view comes from.  Both of these books will twist your current paradigms of work around a bit, which we could probably all use a little of.  If you're looking for more books or blogs on specifics, send me a message!

Hope this helps and I'd love to hear your input.

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