What Jobs Have You Had?

Recently, Julian Jackson, painter and co-owner of Metaphor Contemporary Art in Brooklyn, came to my Senior Seminar class at Mass Art in Boston to talk about being an artist and gallerist. During the course of his rich and discursive talk, he mentioned some of the jobs he's had and how they all ultimately benefited his life as an artist/gallerist. For instance, he's been a gallery installer, house painter and cabinet maker--good training for designing a gallery and serving as its general contractor, and then running a successful exhibition space--to say nothing of making the stretchers he needs for his canvases.
That started me thinking about the jobs I've held.
Thirty years and as many pounds ago, I worked my way through art school in Boston's Combat Zone --the high-crime, low-life bar area-- as a go-go dancer. Then, after graduation, living on a hippie commune in upstate New York, I worked as a glaze maker in a pottery factory, a janitor in the same facility, and a dump-truck driver for an independent contractor. (Talk about role diversity.)

During those four years I lived happily in a renovated grist mill with other long-haired folks, and we gardened, canned, cut wood for heat--I owned my own chain saw--and indulged in all the things 20-somethings indulge in. I maintained my own VW bus, even rebuilt the engine. Then, longing for a New York art life, I moved to Manhattan and supported my art and myself as a magazine editor for a big publishing company before taking the leap and working full time as a studio artist.

(Image caveat: All pictures pulled from the Internet. The go-go dancers are not me; the dump truck I drove was green; the VW bus I owned was a dull, faded matte red; and my chainsaw was yellow. But you get the picture . . .)
I'm not sure how the go-go dancing enriched my art life, except to have provided exercise and a steady income, but everything else has helped me immeasurably. As a glazemaker, I learned to think about color in a different way. The janitorial and truck driving duties built up my strength; and splitting wood built muscles I didn't realize I had--all of these activities the macho version of go-go dancing, I suppose.
While I now do nothing more thermostatically or automotively challenging than turning up the heat or listening to "Car Talk," I can tell you that splitting wood with a sledge-and-wedge and rebuilding an engine imbued me with a sense of independence and role-breaking machisma that is now part of the fabric of the artist that I am. The subsequent editorial experience allows me to bang out these posts. Along the way there have been teaching, lecturing, writing a book, all of which have made me better able to think and talk about art, my own and others'.
But this is not a post about me, except insofar as to serve as a platform for these questions I pose to you:
What jobs have you had to support yourself?
How have they enriched your life and/or career as an artist?
(And all you anonymi out there, give us your real name for this one. I've bared all in this post; I hope you'll do the same.)


Anonymous said...

I worked my way through college as a pre-school teaching assistant, an after school daycare provider, a summer camp director, a nursing home medical record/ book keeper and volunteer coordinator, and a parent-child organizer for Head Start. For ten years now, I supplement my art income with employment as a gardener and designer, and as an art instructor. I also designed and built my own post and beam studio/home, mainly with materials from the land, and I served as the general contractor on my project.

Working with people on either side of life's journey taught me about the beauty of our interconnectedness and the timeless quality of a person's character. A person's age became irrelevant to me when I realized that we all have things to offer, no matter what our odometer reads. I learned a lot about people during this time in my life, and how our attitudes shape so much in our lives from start to finish.

Gardening and working the earth has taught me about patience and persistence and the beauty of letting things go. Working with the land and building my home has given me emotional and physical strength and self reliance. Observing nature up close, in every season has helped me to see color, light and form in more ways than I can count.

And I think building my studio taught me about how to deal with schedules, personality conflicts and helped me to find creative solutions to financial constraints. It also taught me that "yes" is usually out there if you look long enough and hard enough. Building on raw land toughened me up, and also taught me how to ask for help. I also learned how much having a place to make my artwork really means to me.

Thank you for sharing your experiences Joanne, and for encouraging others to think about the circle.

Nancy Ewart said...

What a fascinating list of jobs! I can't say that my various jobs have particularly enriched my artistic life. What they have done is keep the wolf from the door so that I could paint when I had time. I have a few really really low paying jobs - like the time I was a bookkeeper for a now-defunct but famous SF jewelry store. I made so little money that when my only pair of business shoes got a hole in the sole, I couldn't afford to get them fixed. I worked as a layout/paste up artist for about 5 years in the 60's here but as rents shot up, I ended up working in the medical field. I can't say I particularly liked it as I'm very egalitarian but I needed enough money to pay the rent, put food on the table and get health insurance. I envy people who could support themselves with the kinds of jobs that you describe. And it sure took guts to be a go-go dancer.
It was my after-hours-job work that enriched my life - classes, calligraphy, therapy. Work - well, I did what I had to and wish that I'd found more interesting ways to pay the rent. However, surviving 30 years at a huge hospital - although in administrative jobs - has given me a small pension and health insurance. Given our current economy, it seems a small price to pay, given the desperate straits that other people are in.

Tina Mammoser said...

What a great thing to share - I think everything we've done can benefit us and some people get a bit too hung up on "how" you become an artist.

I've worked McD's, as a collator of pinball machine manuals for Bally Pinball, stuffing machines at a mailing house, was an umpire for men's soccer, worked at a night hot-dog stand, taught in a preschool, secretary, DTP, graphic designer, more secretarial (I can type 90wpm so it's a great fallback), multimedia developer, gallery assistant, web designer, magazine designer, art publishing company director, computers teacher, and of course... artist! :) As well as jobs I've done a heck of a lot of degrees: human development, english literature, Shakespeare textual studied, publishing, physics.

And I feel each and every one of those things has given me at least one skill useful in any work. Particularly as a self-employed artist running all sides of my business. :)

Donna Dodson said...

In high school I worked in a jewelry store doing everything from inventory to appraisals, window displays and sales which gave me a first hand look at all aspects of running a small business. I also worked odd jobs babysitting, mowing lawns, gardening and cleaning houses. In college, I waitressed, worked at Au Bon Pain and as a Child Advocate in a battered women's shelter. I majored in pre-med during college and work in the ER at Beth Israel and in the CCU/ICU at a local hospital- which led to some contacts at a medical school after college which led to having access to the lab where they dissect human bodies which added to my work as a figurative sculptor. After college I worked as a house counselor in a residential treatment program for teenage girls in the custody of DSS and DYS. After taking a couple of courses in Library and Information Science Graduate School, I landed a job as a young adult librarian, which led to work at a community college which led to where I work now, as a librarian in a liberal arts college where I work nights. I also worked nights in the residential treatment center for girls- both jobs afforded me my days, all day long, to be in my studio which has been key to my studio practice as an artist. Since it was a live in job, I also got a paid apartment with 3 rooms and a bathroom which I used as a studio but it was a burn-out job, only suitable for 20 year olds who think they can change the world but since I dont have kids of my own, I have always valued the chance to work with and be around young people and be in touch with another generation. In between I've also worked as a carpenter's apprentice, general contractor, house painter, architectural millworker/cabinetmaker and picture framer which all added to my craft as a sculptor. I moved to Boston after college and became a city person and it's been invaluable to be able to take advantage of the museums, galleries and university's cultural life and to be so close to NYC and travel there. I apprenticed to a sculptor who turned into a mentor colleague and friend and I have also mentored young artists and had apprentices and that experience of giving back has been great. I sometimes wish I had moved to NYC after college and never looked back, but maybe living in NYC is in front of me? I live in a coop and serve on the board- currently as the president which has been an invaluable leadership experience and up close community building process and problem solving process and it has also taught me alot about real estate and been a stable way to hang onto my space without a landlord. Most of my friends in the rental market got priced out and moved away so I value the control I have and the roof over my head and since my partner got laid off this week, I value the stability and long term security I have. Things I didnt value when I was younger and would quit a job or leave a job that I didnt like which makes less and less sense as you get older. But I digress, thanks for a great post, Joanne. I dont know what has taught me how to take risks or act on my inspiration but both skills have served me well as an artist, too.

Joanne Mattera said...

Hey, Everyone--

These are great responses. Talk about multifaceted! Thanks for responding.

Keep 'em coming, folks. At some point, I'll list all the jobs in the main post so that we can have an at-a-glance look at our vast diversity of experience.

Anonymous said...

I worked in Waldbaum's behind the deli counter. It is a grocery store chain on Long Island. I got fired when they caught me playing with the announcement system which we had access to from behind the deli counter. I whispered "Stay away from appetizing". The store manager had apoplexy and fired me on the spot. I worked at TCBY, The Country's Best (most vile) Yogurt. I didn’t make yogurt cakes when I had downtime so the manager, an obvious coke addict, fired me. I pumped gas at a Citgo station for several summers and on a full time basis after I graduated SUNY Purchase. One of the mechanics said "Don't let em' jew you on the cream cheese." when I went to fetch breakfast for the gang one morning. The owner blasted Rush Limbaugh throughout the day. They liked me because I was the only gas pumper who didn't steal money from them. I worked in a stationery store, collating hundreds of Sunday NYT. I got a lot of free candy, comic books, and porno magazines from that place. I worked in a baby clothing store, pinning prices to articles of clothing using this incredibly dangerous machine. The owner was a cliché gay man. He wore too much after shave, had a very shiny bald head, and carried a shrill and annoying poodle around with him whenever he paced the sales floor. I accidentally pinned the wrong price on an entire rack of children's winter coats, and they were gobbled up immediately when the frantic mothers realized my gaffe. I was fired immediately afterwards. He felt bad about it. I worked at a discount store on Long Island, appropriately named Rockbottoms, and while I was making a pyramid shaped display of lightbulbs I decided to walk out and quit because the pay was so low. I was there maybe an hour or two before I walked on my first day of work. As I was leaving, my eyes connected with the manager's eyes. He was standing on a raised platform that was placed behind a booth protected by bullet proof plastic. He stared at me as I walked out the door. I might have waved at him but I can't remember. I worked at Home Depot before I left for Prague. I wore the orange visor and apron. I worked as a cashier at first but it was so demoralizing, I asked them to move me into the parking lot. Price checks were hell. You would stand there like a moron for several minutes while trying to reach a sales rep in the plumbing department and the customer would be fuming. I hid behind displays whenever I saw people who I went to high school with enter the store. Working in the parking lot was much better because I got to work outdoors and I accepted tips even though they were forbidden. I worked with a mentally handicapped guy whose tongue hung out of his mouth incessantly. I also worked at Blockbusters video. They actually took a hair sample to test me for drugs before I was hired. I guess they didn't want me to greet the customers, put the videos back on the shelf, and static vacuum the floor, while under the influence. One late night shift I was hungry so I snuck a Kit Kat candy bar in one of the back aisles and I was caught on film. I was questioned, humiliated, and fired the next day.

Eric Gelber

Eva said...

I've been a bartender and a waitress, was an au pair, sold shoes (Ferragmo - at least they were good shoes) and clothes (Saks, Chanel, St. John). I sold records and eventually became the import buyer at Aquarius in SF. I've ran galleries and was actually paid to curate a public art project.

But the job I held the longest and the one to undoubtably influence my art making was being a makeup artist, which I was for many years. And I've done just about every kind of makeup there is - male models, runway, rockstars (how about Duran Duran and Debby Harry?), soap operas, brides, doctors and lawyers, TV - I have a Daytime Emmy - best makeup, PBS Televison... and of course I sold the stuff too.

What I got out of makeup was color immersion. All day, it's all about orange vs pink and blue vs green and warm vs cool and light vs dark. It's paint. And what do you do with makeup but apply color and then blend, blend, blend. Which is just what I do in painting now. The two were completely related.

Eva said...

Oh, another thing about makeup as regards what I do now. You gotta communicate. You have to talk and find out who that person is. And those skills I took with me when I started doing radio and interviewing artists. Same thing really.

Colleen said...

Your post comes at a perfect time. Thank you! I'm about to head out the door to a training session for my latest part-time job- telephone research. It's great to be reminded that's what artists do because sometimes I forget. Just this week I've babysat and taught GED English classes all for the sake of my art. How does all of this impact my work? That's still a work in progress...

Anonymous said...

I was a waitress during college at a tiny Italian place on Boston's North Shore, a high-end place with tuxedos and bow ties. We brought out all of the nightly specials as we described them, even the thrashing live lobster. The boss fancied himself a world-famous chef and kicked people out if they complained about the food. He was crazy and angry. It was the hardest job I've ever had and I learned to hustle and focus there. Also how to deflect sexual harassment (the cooks were ruthless). After graduating I worked for a study-abroad program in Italy for a year and I learned that a beautiful, idyllic environment doesn't necessarily mean great creative output. Since then I've been an ice cream scooper in Boston (where I had fun at work for the first time), worked at an art supply store (be gentle with those people... they get put through the wringer and paid nothing), and since then it's been all office work. The office work provides better income and therefore security. A lot of people can't handle "turning themselves off" when they come to work, but I feel like it helps me to save myself and my energy for the studio. Creating spreadsheets and playing with the grid structure can feel pretty similar to painting sometimes. But usually I'm creatively starved all day at work, so when I come home I can't wait to have at a giant canvas.

Joanne Mattera said...

While I am in total awe of everyone's jobs--I mean that; we would be one dementedly resourceful team on Survivor--so far I three oddball favorites:
. Collating pinball machine manuals. (I'm assuming that's to set them up, not to play.)
. Making a pyramid-shaped display of lightbulbs, and then walking off the job. (I guess the light bulb went off, eh?)
. Winning a Daytime Emmy for makeup (And why not? If you're gonna do it, might as well be the best at it.)

Keep them coming!

Nancy Ewart said...

You know - I should add that my many years in Medical Administration gave me priceless experience in dealing with prima donna doctors, demanding patients and psychopathic supervisors. I could smile at everybody, jiggle all the problems, get the job done and not go postal. I think that I certainly qualify for a Survivor team; I'd be the one who could pull it all together and act as a lay therapist besides.
Now, if I can get the custom make up job, I'd have it made!
And I am so impressed by all our experience - whoever said that artists don't understand the "real world" never met this bunch!

Anonymous said...

Jeez, my parents might read this so I'll keep it clean.
My first job was as a Congressional Intern for Shirley Chisholm, teaching me boundless respect and awe for hard working, idealistic but practical politicians - truly public servants.
I sold ties at Saks 5th Ave and skis in Denver, never having tried on either of those. A stint as a copy editor at the Boston Globe polished an eye for detail. I studied political science and math but went into the music business to help a boyfriend with his career. I certainly learned the resourceful tactics used by obnoxious bosses bent on sexual harassment in the 70s and that the only way to change that was to change jobs. Moved into advertising and that helped in all aspects of art related businesses later. Music production for commercials evolved into being Music Director for a tv network (I am tone deaf but the studio musicians are excellent) and I learned the overhauled copyright law well enough to explain it to others.
The employer who best taught me to adapt to change was the tv network VP who gave me two days notice to move NY to LA in the midst of a heavy production schedule. It's true - professional movers really do pack the trash that's in your trash cans, and they unpack it, too.
Running a production company in LA proved that you really can have a friend as a business partner and flourish and remain friends.
Ah, nobody has mentioned motherhood. That's been the most fun 'job' and the real boss in those years, my daughter, still keeps me pointed forward. I try to leave the early, negative work experiences in the past and keep the content of my art more positive. Moving to a rural setting and leaving the entertainment business sure have made everything just look better and that's reflected in my work. Second to learning expansive thinking from my daughter, I have learned that my art students have questions and ideas that stretch my imagination and hope for the future of the art world beyond any limits we assumed exist.

Pamela Farrell said...

caterer's assistant/waitress
warehouse packer/shipper/order picker
hotel front desk
phone sales...lasted one day
drove an ice cream truck
customer service (various)
recreation assistant/youth worker
deli worker
clerk in a drug manufacturer's clean room
assembly worker at a cosmetics/perfume manufacturer (2 different ones)
material handler at one of the cosmetics manufacturers
t-shirt silk screener
picture framer (sales and design mostly, but I got to arrange the little gallery in the back of the store and occasionally fit some stuff into frames.) Often I did speed and cleaned/rearranged the whole frame room. It was the 70's.
Lots of boring office jobs, too numerous to remember or mention.
Claims/customer service for the NY market of a china company.
Antique sales
Cook for a caterer
Proofreader/Copy editor for a weekly business newspaper. My job was to be perfect. Not only was I not allowed to make mistakes, I was responsible for finding everyone else's mistakes. After nearly having a nervous breakdown, I decided to start therapy. A short time later I left that job and decided to go to grad school to get my masters in social work. This is where the jobs get more interesting:
Domestic violence counselor
Youth mentor
Therapist at a community mental health center, then same at a behavioral health program
Counselor at a shelter for adolescents
Developer of educational conferences on sexual orientation/gender identity for social workers
Workshop instructor
Research assistant
Social worker in a state psychiatric hospital
Primary therapist at an outpatient program for women survivors of trauma
Psychotherapist in a wonderful private practice. This is where I am now. Everything has led up to this. Being where I am now has led me to find balance in my life. Being a therapist feeds my art, and my art feeds my work as a therapist.

Donna Dodson said...

other odd jobs- home depot sales clerk, advisor to high school glbt group, college radio station dj, volunteer in a shelter for homeless cats and group leader for teenagers on camping trips in the wilderness

Anonymous said...

I worked in an art store, great for learning what the alkyd resin actually is, and it always came with a few freebies, not to mention the mat cutter, etc.

I also worked in a sign shop, this alone has had more impact on my work then anything else. For one the owner was a stickler for craft, it had to be perfect or it was done again. I kept the scraps of vinyl we used and made numerous paintings. When my paintings got larger, I switched to the enamel we used there. "oneShot" great stuff, stinky (respirator required), but it levels beautifully. I also now paint on a sign substrate, Lustreboard, aluminum panel with construction plywood inside. Great for signs, great for fine art. I have screenprinted from the knowledge gained there too. The sign industry has so much to offer to fine artists, substrates alone, there are hundreds. I even became my own sign shop by name so a wholesaler will deliver me products to my studio, that's the best.

Last I worked in a small graphic/motion design firm doing small websites, this again has continued my knowledge of making my own websites, and actually doing a few cross over pieces for installation.


mel prest said...

Wow, I love this post and the responses. I think a part of being an artist is that you must be good at a lot of things-- to get by financially, to stay interested and grounded in life, etc.

A short list:

telephone interviewer for market research (first job at 15)
insurance sales over the phone (also at 15)
cashier at nursery and crafts store
swimming pool attendant
nude model ("artistic photography")
artists model
caricature artist at pre-teen birthday parties
short order cook
scagliola tile and sculptural relief fabricator
silkscreener at men's apparel company
gingerbread cookie froster (i lasted one day)
studio assistant for Hung Liu
studio assistant for Ron Nagle

and now i continue to teach drawing and painting-- something i feel is a part of my studio practice. it's thrilling to work with people who are finding their own creative voice-- and it keeps me thinking and learning. i'm grateful that i can choose my schedule and still travel too. and i don't smell like food when i come home anymore, which is fantastic!

And I almost did the 90s version of go-go dancing in Boston but was too chicken...

I look forward to your upcoming posts Joanne!
PS I just bought your book on encaustic painting and brought it to a lecture I did at MIlls-- they loved it!

* said...

I'm probably forgetting something, but:

Clay tennis court sweeper and racket stringer.
Prep cook.
Sandwich maker.
Bookstore clerk.
Adjunct professor.
Museum gallery gaurd (Cranbrook Art Museum).
Stripper (not what you think-- worked in a design and printing office, setting up pages for printing plates, old-school).
Sign painter (old-school also, with brushes).
Night porter (in a high-rise).
Museum gallery guard (the Whitney).
Studio assistant (to famous painter).
K-12 art teacher (private boarding school).
Museum security (the Guggenheim).
Co-founder, editor, etc., (artists' & writers' publication).
Art teacher and art gallery director.
Development officer (an arts council).
Director of programs (same arts council).
Art teacher, gallery director, department chair.

Some of these jobs have pretty good stories attached, but I'll spare you.

I've learned specific things from all of them (for instance, I learned I don't want to be the night porter in that high-rise.) In every job I've met great people and acquired skills that I'd never have got to except out of necessity.

I tend to be most nostalgic about dishwasher. The pay wasn't great, but I liked the work and my colleagues. And I could work hard and daydream at the same time-- a great plus.

My wife, also an artist, has this one: Actress in the old Haunted Mansion attraction at the jersey shore. Apparently she was their best screamer.

Ken Weathersby

Pamela Farrell said...

Seeing Ken's post about waxing nostalgic about his dishwashing days reminded me that I too held a job for a while as a dishwasher. I loved it. I could listen to the radio and smoke cigarettes. Alice, the short order cook liked me and used to braid my hair when things were slow. I often had to chase off the busboy with a knife. The waitresses all wore pancake makeup and pink and black uniforms. I got to eat for free and cook whatever I wanted. I was 16. It was the early 70s. Fun times!

Anonymous said...

first job was as a temporary tattoo artist at an amusement park. after that worked as a server, then waitress, then bartender at a country club all through college. worked a few falls as a percussion instructor at some high schools. got out of college and worked at a non-union 60hr/week welding job assembling and welding aluminum bakery racks. completely freaked out and had the "is this going to be my life" breakdown after finding myself too exhausted to do anything but sleep when i got home, and quit after a summer of that. then did some interning for some sculptors in new york and loved it but moved to philadelphia instead [more affordable] and ended up working at a target and trying to get a cert in graphic and web design at night. granted my list is puny compared to others but i'm only 25 and i know it will only grow over time.
s. rebecca

Joanne Mattera said...

S. Rebecca said, "granted my list is puny compared to others but i'm only 25 and i know it will only grow over time."

I hope it doesn't! I hope you will be able to realize financial success from your art sooner rather than later. (Granted this current economy doesn't create the climate for immediate art success, but that's what I would hope for you anyway.)

Anonymous said...

I worked at several full time retail jobs and one office job over the past few decades. These jobs left me drained and depleted. Over the past few years I have had the time to paint that I need but I am not able to quiet my monkey mind .I am working on that which it isn't easy. I am also dealing with the usual monetary stuff that every artist goes through. My so called art career which never got off the ground is dormant. I have had my share of success, two grants , two shows in the local museum, a few paintings purchased here & there. Yet after my last solo show back in late 2003 my "career" stalled out. I never took full advantage of that event.
Now as 2009 approaches I feel somewhat liberated. Funny thing though because I was getting very down on myself because of the so called soft addictions such as staying on the computer, hanging around the bookstore or watching the news-I am an MSNBC addict that have filled the day more than my art did. I did paint but the progress was akin to a 10 year old Chevy Celebrity burning oil and with a skipping transmission trying to cruise at a steady 60 mph on the highway I feel liberated because I am starting over again -brand new- . I am going to concentrate on trying to get some work done and not worry about what I will do with the paintings & drawings. If I have the money I am going to try and enter a few juried shows. I am not putting down any of the so called stepping stones, banks, libraries the Y. I have ben there and done that. I had a really nice show at a YM-YWHA ten years ago. I should have done some of my own publicity. The individual in charge of the gallery was very nice but who schedules the reception on Mothers Day?
I know that I need a website but first I need to do some more work, then I can save up to purchase the camera to shoot the images. I am not feeling sorry for myself and hopefully my commentary doesn't come across like that. I figure that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I tried to listen to all those suggestions about what was the right thing to do regarding work after college and it tied me up into knots.
I no longer have an answer for the young artist setting out in todays world. When I graduated from college back in 1976 it was a very different world . When I graduated with an MA in Visual Arts/Painting in 1984 there was the possibility that if you had an MFA you could get a job teaching and if the winds carried you to a safe shore you ended up in a tenured position. It was easier at one time to obtain a tenure track position in a state college but given the economic mess I think that this door is closed and will not re-open any time soon.
I am not looking to set the art world on fire. That was never my intent. I figured that at the end of the trail if I was known as a good quality regional painter of landscapes that would be OK. I also like to paint abstracts and that was one of the so called monkey mind issues that I have to deal with -what to paint and build a body of solid work. In closing I actually do have some advice for young artists. Paint your ass off, book shows in the local venues, do your own publicity and find a group of fellow artists that you can work with. If you paint landscapes for example find a plein air group.I though prefer to work alone but joining a serious group of painters that paint the same subjects could be a way to build a support network. Keep reading, painting and painting.. When I started to paint way back in 1973 the artist that I took lessons told me the secret of painting was patience. I would like to add another secret -momentum . Once you loose the Big Mo your screwed. Remember what Woody Allen said about relationships being like a shark, if it stops moving its dead. Its the same way with painting. You do not have to paint a masterpiece just paint. Oh one more thing-avoid toxic people-this will drain your energy real quick. If this means that you leave family & friends behind yo may have to do. When you are in a conversation with toxic people even if they mean well you will end up as a dead shark.
Good luck

Anonymous said...

I did not intend to be one of those "anonymi" I tried to sign it but I could not locate the paper where I wrote my password. I did not want to loose my commentary so I clicked on Anonymous. I will therefore sign the above commentary with my this signature DM/North Jersey. BTW Eric Gelbers comments brought back way too many memories. Although we had different retail experiences reading his comments made me think back to my the insanity of retail work.
There is one final comment that I would like to add to what i have written. When I was younger and worked at jobs that I could not stand I used to be up to all hours painting. Now years later when i have the time I find it hard to work on a continuous basis. Reminds me of what Oscar Wilde said that the two worst things in life are not getting what you want and getting what you want.
DM/North Jersey

Anonymous said...

You wouldn't be the first person to tell me I brought back bad memories DM. I left many of my work experiences out of my first comment because I didn't want to becloud the comment thread with my negativity.

lisa said...

Although I had brief stints working in a department store as an assistant manager, in an art supply store, and as a reservationist for People's Express airline, they were all short-lived jobs. Since then I have found a long-term job that has served me well: for the last 26 years I have worked as a waitress in the evenings. This job has fit in well with my lifestyle: I have been able to make money at night, make art during the day and raise two kids (with help from husband in the kid department).

Waitressing has taught me multi-tasking skills and most importantly people skills. I now know how to put on the game face, read people, and never make assumptions about who I am dealing with (because you never know). I also have learned that it is best to treat selling and promoting art somewhat like selling the restaurant's daily special -- it's important to lose the personal attachment to the work once it leaves the studio ("If you don't like the bass try the lamb.").

During the last 12 years, my work in the restaurant business has been in a "fine dining" environment with very high-powered and influential customers, which has enriched and expanded my "career" in small ways. The owners of the restaurant have collected and displayed my work in the restaurant -- it is very interesting to have waitressed around my art work over the years. I have overheard many comments -- some good, some not so good about my art work, but it's always entertaining. Occasionally I have introduced myself to customers as the artist and have had them become collectors. I also have waited on a few donors to MOMA,the New Museum, a couple of curators and a pretty well-known collector in my state. -- but typically I just eavesdrop unless I am formerly introduced (which I was to the collector, although it took two years of emails and face time to get her to really look and then buy). This is an uncomfortable and sort-of funny dance to learn, just like approaching galleries, working with dealers and the ins and outs of promotion. It is interesting to figure out when to be assertive and when to hold back. The older I get the less tolerant I feel about holding back just to be "appropriate".

Generally, working as a waitress has been an unusual and fortuitous situation, except for the severe burnout factor that comes from years of waiting on people. I am quite over it, although in this economy I am happy to still have the job.

Last year I decided that it was time to do less waitressing and more art-related activities, including promoting and teaching. Promoting has moved some of the work out of my state and teaching has brought me talented, interesting students with great information and questions. It is a little too early to process and evaluate all the effects of being focused on the career part of being an artist, but things are moving and changing, including my work.

Peter Arvidson said...

Burger Flipper
Dishwasher in Seafood restaurant
Sporting Goods Store Clerk
Laundry-mat attendant
Law Office Clerk
Stone Mason Assistant
Grocery Store Stocking Clerk
Building Manager
Recreation Leader
Social Worker
Concession Stand Manager
Art Gallery Assistant
Blood Donation Scheduler
Furniture Refinisher Assistant
Telephone Fundraiser
Television News Transcriber
Personal Ads Processor
Customer Service Rep
Political Pollster
Technical Secretary
Kinko's Clerk
Office Manager
Staff Assistant
Purchasing Assistant
Laboratory Coordinator

These are at least the jobs I remember! Many of them helped push me into becoming an artist as the drive to paint became more & more necessary and clear. Now I work at Harvard, live nearby in Cambridge and finally found a good combination of painting freely and living adequately and happily. Maybe poverty built some character!

Peter Arvidson said...

One more:

English Teacher in the Czech Republic (How could I leave that out? It was 6 months of fun and traveling through Europe).


Nancy Natale said...

Joanne, you are remarkable but I certainly never pictured you as a go-go dancer! You are full of surprises.

I've had a lot of jobs - mostly part time since beginning art school at age 40, but I've reached my golden years now, and at 62+ have started to collect Social Security. It's not enough to live on but is the equivalent for me of a 20 or 25 hour a week office job. I supplement it with a couple of bookkeeping jobs at home and art sales. I've finally reached the government-supported artist stage of life and it's great!

Anonymous said...

landscaper, baker, cashier convenience food store, stuffer of envelopes in bank, legal secretary (twice, fired twice) plant watering, gopher in screen print shop, receptionist, secretary, clerk, retail clerk, medical transcriptionist. i too, like another commenter, am finding it difficult to concentrate on making art after working all day for so many years. used to get up at 4am, draw until tme to leave, get home and draw late into night. i miss that alot.