Artists and Their Day Jobs

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Brooklyn writer and artist Summer Pierre goes from zine to book with The Artist in the Office: How to Creatively Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week (Perigee Trade, 2010).


Summer Pierre

Comments [47] from Milano - italy

I'd like so much to have a day job! Actually, my day job is my "artistic jobs", that's to say crocheting frogs & other creatures for my on-line shop but I'd like so much to have a job behind a desk or something like that because it could grant me money each month to pay my bills...

Feb. 05 2010 09:43 AM
Regis B from Manhattan

Wow, some people here need to lighten up! #1. I have actually BOUGHT this book (have you? It's good!). #2. It's not meant to spark a huge debate- even the author herself said, that every artist differs in their needs.

Focus on the take home message- you can function in (and even TOLERATE) a job that pays the bills, while retaining your artistic identity and capabilities. You are not alone!

Ann from Westfield, NJ: you're comment is unfairly mixing one quote from another.... completely inaccurate. Move on with the hate.

Feb. 05 2010 02:08 AM
darrylayo from Brooklyn

I'm a comic maker, I eat off of my data entry/office drone job. WHICH I am at right now. I don't understand people who prefer to work and who scoff at those who dream of making art full time.

My job isn't physically demanding or intellectually taxing. But it is a waste of time and emotionally devastating. The energy that my main pursuit requires is far more than this day job demands, but I lose that energy due to the fact that I'm *here* instead of working. On my days off, I can spend more time working on art than I'd ever work at my day job. It's purely a waste of time and precious energy where there is none of either to spare.

But I need food and shelter, so here I am.

Feb. 03 2010 10:55 AM
Shailly from NYC

Having a job that grounds you and rewards you (financially and emotionally) is a gift. Then the artist within can play with a little more verve. And a little less fear.

Feb. 02 2010 01:57 PM
Zora from Astoria

I'm a writer, and good/successful enough at it that I probably could quite my "day job"--freelance copy editing for magazines. But, really, I don't want to give it up--as Summer said, going to an office gets me out of my solitary work-at-home situation.

And it's nice for a change to do work that doesn't involve creating from scratch--I get a sense of accomplishment in one day of work that I rarely get writing at home.

Granted, my "day job" at this point only takes up six or eight shifts a month, so I avoid the true grind of office life. Back when I was doing it closer to full time, though, it gave useful structure to my day--time I would've otherwise totally frittered away.

Thanks for a great segment!

Feb. 02 2010 01:56 PM
Eugenia Renskoff from Williamsburgh, Brooklyn

Who would I kid? No, if I were rich, I would not want to work. I would not need to psychologically and I would dedicate most of my time to my writing. I would use some of that time to sell my fiction. I have been unemployed a long time and have found that the stress of having to look for work in this economy makes my art suffer. It does not anything of value. Eugenia Renskoff

Feb. 02 2010 01:17 PM
Gerard from Brooklyn

One of my professors told me that the best job for a writer is to take the midnight shift in a box factory where the instructions are laid out for you. That's always been the best advice: have a "job" but one that allows you freedom to think. It's unfortunate these days that student loans, credit debt, "performance reviews" and ConEd have to impede a potentially lucrative and thoughtful career path.

Feb. 02 2010 12:35 PM
Jan from NYC

As an artist I've had many jobs to help support my creative expression: Graphics for publishing companies; and misc. freelance assignments; Art teacher in After School programs; Art Rep/Agent - negotiating contracts, etc. I've held Admin. Assist positions in art related industries - financially better but exhausting after a time. I've also worked in industries outside of Art altogether. What I've found is that being an artist is something that you bring to everything you do - it's the way we see and how we relate to the world. Consequently, I find that to keep myself 'sane', I find ways to inject art into 'mundane' work situations. It's possible, albeit challenging - but you can be inspired every day!

Feb. 02 2010 12:28 PM
Jennifer Parsons from Santa Barbara, CA

You know, I am not an artist, but I picked up the book and it encouraged me to be more creative in my everyday life. I went to a meeting on Saturday, and put an anonymous note on the table, congratulating the group on their hard work. It was so gratifying! I plan to use Summer's ideas to pick up my days and let me feel more alive.


Feb. 02 2010 12:27 PM
Sara L. from Jersey City, NJ

For those people talking about galleries and buyers - do you think that system is really any more less soul crushing than a day job? It's great when you're on top, or your're a somewhat major figure there, but very hard to make a viable living from long term. You'd be surprized that many people in that system still have other jobs they do too - many of my college professors exhibited at galleries.

All in all, being an artist is tough - we know that - and not all of us get our inspiration from suffering - i like what Amanda said -"[not] one solution will necessarily meet your needs for the rest of time -- it's a constant balancing act, and it's about managing your energy, I think, more than anything else"

Feb. 02 2010 12:08 PM

Mark, the interview was not of someone representing those who complain but someone who encouraged balance for the artist to be productive.

To be an artist in the US means financial risk and sacrifice (as to what one can balance as far as life/children). It is a risk and balance most people won't dare do especially if the wish for widespread 'well-acclaimed'recognition.

Feb. 02 2010 12:06 PM
RCT from NYC

I'm a lawyer by day and a part-time English professor in the evenings. My English Ph.D. did not lead to a full-time, tenure track position (read Louis Menand's new book), but my J.D. did. I missed teaching literature, however, and so a few years ago, e-mailed a curriculum vita to a local university, where I am now an adjunct assistant professor of English.

In "The Gnostic Gospels" (Random House, 2004) Elaine Pagels quotes the gospel of St. Thomas, more or less as follows: "If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you; if you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you." To my mind, work is what you do stay alive; "art" -- whatever that art may be -- is what you do to live.

Feb. 02 2010 12:06 PM
Ann from westfield, nj

Childcare is "mindless" work? Spoken like the mother of a 6 week old.

Feb. 02 2010 12:00 PM
Katie brown from brooklyn

I've worked as a waitress, bartender, gallery assistant, artist assistant, art handler and done free-lance photography, graphic design and web design. Basically I call myself a professional hustler. I'm now thinking of opening my own business because I have this need to be self-sufficient and have an ongoing artistic project. I don't know if I'm making the right decision but I'm going for it.

Feb. 02 2010 11:59 AM
Katherine Schrier from New York city

I am the Director of The Actors Fund Work Program. We provide support to everyone in entertainment and the performing arts inn finding meaningful sideline, parallel and new careers.

I would start by asking everyone to get rid of the word "day Job". It implies that "the other job" is not as important. Ideally artists need to find jobs that complement their career and help to build it.

I would welcome people to visit our website:

Feb. 02 2010 11:59 AM
Sbrand from Maplewood, NJ

I am an artist.
Although it is not considered by many to be a "job" - I am at home raising my 2 boys and it is the most exhausting job I ever had.
I carve out time in the studio but anything can happen - illnesses, home repairs - and that can get crazy.
I cope and remain creative by viewing the whole process as conceptual art.
Also, nothing beats seeing the world through the eyes of children.
I am still an artist, because I do still make art. Quantity has given way to quality.

Feb. 02 2010 11:59 AM
Justine Williams from Brooklyn

these are some of the jobs I have had to support my work as a theater artist:

dog walker
artist's assistant
landscape architect's assistant
event planner's assistant
teaching artist in the public school system
hospital clown
birthday party clown

Feb. 02 2010 11:59 AM
john from office

I have a feeling these artist are upper middle class white kids and adults that had other options and knew they had a job at least. Having the luxury of choice and still complaining.

Feb. 02 2010 11:58 AM
peipei zhou from chelsea, nyc

life is a compromise. artists have to work. it's just a part of the process, a part of negotiation. i need my corporate job to afford me the freedom to pursue art. plus, it makes me realize how precious free time is, and by extension, makes me more productive in my downtime.

Feb. 02 2010 11:58 AM

The idea that Einstein's job in the Swiss patent office is so wrong - he had to figure out complex problems and look at inventions all day long. It was probably quite stimulating and a good fit for him.

Feb. 02 2010 11:56 AM
designer's baggage from ncy

I actually did the reverse. I worked for 10 years in Merger & Acquisition before going independent as a designer. what sustains me is the knowledge gained from such business experience to help push my endeavor and realize that everything is a business...even the art. During my time in corporate, everything seen and experienced were inspirational because the workday was the real world with real people who would someday be my customers.

Feb. 02 2010 11:56 AM
Josh from Washington Heights

I hate my corporate job and I've been working for years while struggling to get published. And, yes, I get to complain because I stuck with this crappy job during the go-go years while all the currently unemployed were having fun at dot-coms. If there is a support group specifically for corporate drones who feel their creative juices literally getting vacuumed out of their souls when they step foot through the creaky borg-like doors of the financial sector, please let me know where you meet. The Fight Club thing hasn't worked out so well ...

Feb. 02 2010 11:55 AM
Amanda from NYC

I don't think gratitude for current employment needs to be mutually exclusive from yearning for more meaningful work.

I also don't think there's one way for artists to live their lives, or that one solution will necessarily meet your needs for the rest of time -- it's a constant balancing act, and it's about managing your energy, I think, more than anything making sure you have the energy you want for the things that matter most to you. That's a balancing act everyone faces, not just artists...

Feb. 02 2010 11:55 AM
Harlot from Passaic County NJ

I work in the Accounting Department of a packaging company by day and an Adult Video Store Clerk/Amateur Porn Site Moderator at night...While unconventional, expressing my sexuality and sensuality in the form of my proformance pieces gives me a release and an outlet that's more satisfying for me then any of my writing or painting ever did...
My day job is mindless and do-able...It helps keep me grounded and one foot firmly planted on the ground so that I don't imerse myself completely in Adult Entertainment...even though it is very tempting.

Feb. 02 2010 11:54 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

Sorry, but I find listening to the guest in this segment to be painful... one cliche after another intermixed with the rah-rah of a camp counselor.


Feb. 02 2010 11:54 AM
Mark from NYC

As a musician I've found that many freelance musicians run around from gig to gig all day and night. Many working artists and musicians take gigs that they would never take if they did not need the money. Is this different than working a mind numbing job? Sometimes I wonder if it's worth it to sell your artistic soul for the $ or if it's better to have a side job and only pursue the artistic endeavors that really interest you.

Feb. 02 2010 11:54 AM
Joseph Cavalieri from East Village New York

9 to 5 is way too much of a distraction and physically and mentally draining for artists. Buyers and galleries take artist more seriously if they do it 24/7. I left my day job a year ago, to do my glass work full time and it has taken off, with better work and more sales.

Feb. 02 2010 11:52 AM
Laura from Westchester County

I recently left a big job with lots of responsibilities in a museum. I had made lots of leaps intellectually there, but the job left me with no creative energy. Now I am applying to all sorts of jobs...a wine store, tutoring, etc. It's a big change, and a bit humbling, but an exciting decision: to give the best parts of me to my work, not to someone else's endeavor.

Feb. 02 2010 11:52 AM
tom from qns

A contrary voice: Like a language, total submersion is best. Art for many of the best artists has meant total submersion. The impressionists, Van Gogh Picasso all chose poverty over a day job. Even Gauguin had to leave his law job to become significant.

Feb. 02 2010 11:52 AM
Cynthia from long island

I worked at a demanding job in Staffing before with a long commute and made quite good money but I felt like a miserable zombie. Although, I would appreciate having more money, I don't want to re-live that soul-depleting daily grind.

Feb. 02 2010 11:51 AM
Yael from Brooklyn

Why does the day job have to fall into one of the two categories Brian mentioned? Just becasue it's my day job, does not mean that it's mindless and not challenging or interesting. I'm an accountant as my day job, and a potter as an artist. I find both of my jobs necessary to lead a full life. I love having two different ways to challenge myself and use both sides of my brain.

Feb. 02 2010 11:51 AM
Jeff from Providence, RI

while i agree that work is part of the process, it can be very disconcerting to spend extensive hours, in front of a computer in the office that could be devoted to artistic development. i think to get really good at anything creative you have to hang up on the apparatus eventually. you have to take a big chance and learn to live with a lot less lifestyle-wise.

Feb. 02 2010 11:50 AM

I wish there were more acceptance of the idea of working three hard days for a company - I know some people do workshare, etc. - but I wish it was more widely available.

Why can't companies admit that work is a pain, and that some people would gladly be a part of the team while not committing all of their time, for enough money to get by minus illusory consumer needs.

Feb. 02 2010 11:50 AM
Bliss Blood from Brooklyn

I'm a musician who plays ukulele in a 1920's jazz band called the Moonlighters. I had not had to have a day job since 2001, until last year. Now I'm an instructor in a knitting lesson DVD, selling a friend's record collection on eBay, selling knitted stuff on Etsy, making ads for a children's shop in Williamsburg. I would never go back to working in a soul-crushing office job. I'd busk in the subway before I would do that.

Feb. 02 2010 11:48 AM
R. J. Schreiner from Brooklyn

I’m an artist who’s been self-employed for the past 14 years as a picture framer and exhibits installer. In the last 12 months, my business has literally collapsed, leaving me near destitute and without access to unemployment compensation. I’ve been told by prospective employers that I’m an undesirable candidate for positions they’ve advertised for full and part-time work, somehow, because I’m a former business owner.
so, what do I do with my days? I paint pretty pictures, apply for food stamps and medicaid, and send out an endless stream of resumes.

Feb. 02 2010 11:47 AM

Best way is to come to the realization that the art world is a crap shoot and regardless if your work is good, if you don't know the right people or move in the right circles you'll go nowhere. Get in touch with your innermost reality and get a real job and stop being silly.

Feb. 02 2010 11:32 AM
Sara L. from Jersey City, NJ

Here here, inquisigal! The "starving artist" is such an entrenched bit of artistic lore, people often forget what a miserable existance it really is. I know people who spend more time freelancing than I do working my 'day job', get paid less, and often are too tired, too broke, or just flat out don't have time to work on their own projects - you tell me who's more miserable?

Feb. 02 2010 11:26 AM
inquisigal from Brooklyn

It's only a very, very small number of artistic people who's work becomes recognized and consumed on a large enough scale to support them, and the rest of us have to feel lucky if we can pay our bills and still do creative work. I agree it's more helpful to work a day job that feeds your "art;" I work as a full-time product photographer by day, and am a fine art photographer and writer in my "free time." Do I wish I had more "me" time? Definitely. I am still struggling to master working 4.5 days a week for someone else, and having enough time/energy for my own projects. Often "real life" and responsibility often dictates that my creative projects take a back seat to doing laundry, running errands, getting the computer fixed, etc. But, as I get older, I am appreciative of having a higher standard of living from my day job than when I had sporadic freelance work, and was spending all of my extra money on expenses for creative projects. Being a "starving artist" got real old for me after 15 years.

Feb. 02 2010 11:20 AM
James from Pennsylvania

Thank you for the sensible post Matt.

Trading in a potentially creative existence for a day job means that the potential was only an illusion to begin. If the artist is defined by his/her struggle, then acquiring a day job to make 'creativity' possible is an antinomy.

Feb. 02 2010 11:14 AM
Matt from New York

I'm complaining. The 40-hour work week is a harness against creativity. I try to read and (listen to NPR) to keep my mind stimulated, but I spend the rest of the time covering for the office types around me who make more money and are just counting the days/years until they retire. The office is a horrifying look into the habitual mind.

Feb. 02 2010 11:04 AM
Cynthia from long island

Right now, I am working two part-time jobs (about 50 hours a week) in addition to my artwork. One is doing computer work from home and the other is working at Community Center at night and on the weekend. Sometimes, I get quite bored but I am definitley grateful for the income and the fact that neither job drains much of my resources (no dry-cleaning, excessive gas consumption, etc.)

Feb. 02 2010 10:50 AM
Emily Schroeder from now, Chicago but from New York

I think artists are also often over exploited as your retail piece suggested with the insufficient protection from workers being over exploited and under paid. artists are often guised with the expectation or the hopes for 'making it' in the ny art world. artists and also college students often offer to work for free, looking for experience and a way in. the labor system in general is terrible toward workers; these two stories seem very intertwined...

Feb. 02 2010 10:50 AM

I know of a CNP magazine, much quoted on this station where you are expected as a freelancer to stay 10 hours but only paid for 7.5.

Feb. 02 2010 10:44 AM
desdemona from brooklyn, ny

I'm a creative person by nature, involved in a variety of artistic pursuits from jewelry design to music to writing to comedy to photography, But, I'd rather get hit by a bus than be forced to survive on those pursuits. I've also been foolish enough to get a grad degree in political science, which is slightly more cost-effective than getting an MFA, so I got debts to pay and need a "real" job.

I think the key to living as an artist is to get a day job that feeds your creativity and develops skills that you can use in your art. How is being a bartender or working at Starbucks going to make you a better writer or musician or artist?

There are a few rare people who can actually make a living at being an artist solely or have trust funds to enable them to. Some of us would rather have some semblance of peace of mind. I've noticed the folks most successful at making a living at art wear a number of creative hats.

Feb. 02 2010 10:40 AM
A woman from Inwood, ny

Who's complaining? I love my day job(s)! They keep me from working in a vacuum, they get me out of the house, seeing people I'd never meet otherwise, and they pay the rent. Yes, I'd love to sit at my drawing table a few more hours a day, but realistically, that might be just a matter of better time management, something any successful artist needs to master, anyway.
I always knew, since I was a kid, that I'd never do just one thing to make a living: and let me tell you, this lifestyle served me very well when the bottom fell out of the economy. I'm still up and kicking. And I don't mind if I have to till I'm 95! I don't ecer want to "retire" -- my parents were so bored and depressed when they retired, beware of that old-fashined dream.

Feb. 02 2010 10:34 AM
Sara L. from Jersey City, NJ

I definitely wouldn't complain about having a day job - hey, I need to pay my bills - but I think you have to find a job that's a good fit for you. I'm a painter & comic artist, but I spend my days doing data entry. I'm lucky that I have the freedom to daydream and look at the internet a bit, but I'd really like job that uses my creative skills, like being an art teacher. I think it's mean spirited when people say artists' work isnt as important as a "real" job, beacuse I'm far more proud of the work I do in my "off- hours" than anything I do 9-5.

Feb. 02 2010 10:32 AM

Complaining about having a job in this era is really ridiculous. I would love to have a day job. I have taken up making house and hip-hop beats to entertain myself during the economic collapse. I wish I had a "day job" so I can put these "artistic" follies away and get back to work.

Feb. 02 2010 10:12 AM

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