Cotter: "It's day-job time in America, and that's OK"

It's Wednesday afternoon. I finally got to Holland Cotter's article, The Boom is Over: Long Live the Art in the Sunday Times. I am a huge fan of Cotter's. He consistently goes outside the box, connecting all kinds of dots --cultural, sexual, political--with insightful and interesting comments. We are a better art community for his writing.

The central tenet of his article is that there will be changes for art and artists in the coming year. He's correct, absolutely. We need to do more than think outside the box; we need to bust it open. But I jumped out of my seat when I read this sentence: "It's day-job time again in America, and that's OK." Artists may indeed be forced to seek income elsewhere. But, holy shit, OK?!

Holland, would you be "OK" with working as a copywriter at, say, an Internet firm Monday through Friday and pursuing your career as an arts writer/critic after hours? Do you think you could fit in all your gallery and museum going on Saturday and Sunday, hit the openings on Thursday nights, and then be sufficieintly inspired and energized to write every evening (and squeeze in activities like exercise, eating and sleeping and any semblance of human relationships) in the time left over?

I don't disagree that as times get more difficult, artists who have been self supporting may have to look elsewhere for income--just as many artists have been doing all along. Hell, even dealers may need to find a way to support their galleries--just as some have been doing all along. However, I have no wish to go back to a day job. If I had to, it would be, uh, what's the very opposite of OK?


Nancy Natale said...

Well, I've got one (actually two) and I'm just loving it (them). Nothing better than trying to fit in studio time around a job, I always says. We should work harder, we're artists. Remember, buying art is a luxury so making it should be, too! Duh!

Sheree Rensel said...

I have always had a day job of some sort. I have done the adjunct thing, I have taught workshops, I have had plenty of bizarre, non-art, part time jobs, etc. I work full time now. I can still make art, just not as much or as fast.
Day jobs are a part of my life, so I won't see any difference. Now, if I had had a time without one and had to go back to that, oh gosh. I think I would probably do it while kicking and screaming!
However, you don't miss what you have never experienced.

Joanne Mattera said...

After 20 years working in publishing, I have had a 10-year period in which I'm supporting myself form the sale of my work. I do have some other income streams--occasional teaching, consulting, curating, writing--but they are discretionary and occasional. In fact, I embrace those those other related activities into my practice, but it took me a long time to get to the point where I could, if I wish turn down a job offer.

So it's not the day job reference that set my phaser on stun, it was the "...and that's OK" part.

Thanks for adding your voices, Nancy and Sheree.

Jason Messinger said...

I've got to agree. Its like the old "You'll be successfull when your dead" line. How insulting!

I think a more successful strategy for artists struggling is to create alternate pricing structures for their products: posters, limited edition giclees, even T-shirts! Research shows that the buyers of Original Artwork, Edition Prints, and Posters are three different people - and they never cross over. So spreading your ideas to alternate -albeit more popular - venues might due the trick.

Stephanie Clayton said...

Joanne and others, I whole-heartedly agree. This really hits a nerve with me also. I'm not currently with a gallery, so I'm doing everything--promoting, website, career development, occasional teaching, market research...oh yes, and creating art. I cannot imagine how I'd have the time, much less the energy, to do all this with a day job. Perhaps when I was younger...
So no, it's not "ok" with me, either.
And Jason, I feel you are right. (Remember when offering posters, t-shirts & such used to be called "selling out"? Many of us can't afford to think that way any longer.)

Matt Morris said...

dear joanne,

i hope one day to have the opportunity to make a flush living as only an artist and writer. at 24, Holland's ideas aren't a huge shift from my life already. not only do i push to maintain a (basically) daily studio practice and exhibit regularly, i also write art criticism for four different publications and counting. and none of those things come close to paying my bills. so i work in a research library as my "day job." perhaps that's the lot for my age demographic, but i'm not threatened by the idea that this paradigm could be long term.

THANK YOU for all you do on this blog. it gives me energy.

Stephanie Sachs said...

Also in the NY Times on Feb 17th Economix blog Edward Glaeser wrote about how the upper class needs to spend at this time. Here is a quote, "... spend generously but discreetly. Buy things that are private and enjoy them as much as possible within a close circle of equally fortunate friends."

Sounds like a great reason to buy art.

Kate Beck said...

There is something a little under the surface here that I am not comfortable with, and I think it has to do with the suggestion that our professions are somehow a reactionary response to life. This makes me very uncomfortable. I am very much a realist (c'mon, I live on a pile of rocks in the ocean) however, for years I have had to white-knuckle struggle to embrace mySELF as an artist -- against the financial pull, the personal pull where this profession runs up hard against family, spouses, even friends sometimes. Is there a cloudy suggestion here of tossing the self? And an even more direct suggestion that as an artist we and our professions are dispensable, frivolous, trite? There is a big difference between 'making do' and stepping down from life. Sorry, I'm not making f-ing t-shirts because the economy tanked at the expense of the American working class. I ALREADY DID THAT

Joanne Mattera said...

Interesting posts, everyone.
There's an entirely different perspective between emerging artists and midcareer artists. Fair enough.

Adding to what Kate wrote, I would say that most art schools do not groom their students for financial independence. Certainly the students are groomed to understand how to show their work and present themselves, but dollars-and-cents issues, not so much. One of my students (I teach one course a semester) said, "This is the only class where we talk about money. And we talk about money a lot." Well, yes, we do. It's a professional practices class. How do you price your work? How do you apply for a grant? How do you get a Fed Ex account? How do you do basic bookkeeping? What does it cost to rent a studio, frame a drawing, ship a painting? I explain that buying a set of low-end professional photography lights for $200 and using them for 20 years is a far better deal than paying someone $300-500 a pop each time you need your work shot. (Sorry, I know photographers have to earn a living, too.)

I certainly acknowledge that they may need an outside job for many years, but I urge them to get good at the non-art part of their practice: the inventory management, accounts payable and receivable, packing and shipping, janitorial. Doing those things doesn't make you a lesser artists; they make you a better businessperson. Eventually you can pay someone to some or all of that. Or trade services with someone, perhas another artist, who does them well.

I admit that I'm rethinking my presentations, because at the moment, as Cotter acknowledges, it's no longer a great time for artists to go out into the world to make their living as artists. But the attitude has to be a positive one. If New York is not possible right now, develop your regional options. That's realistic but positive. When I was in art school, the idea was that you'd earn a living elsewhere. I bought into it. That's what I did. Only when my publishing job came to an end did I finally say, "OK, I'm going for it."

Jason makes a good point: that there's little crossover between collectors of fine art and collectors of more commercial items. So that's an avenue to explore. I share Kate's feeling about no the t-shirts (Jason, there's a t-shirt for you: No Effing T-shirts), but Jason is clearly thinking about one business supporting the other. They're separate entities. And there are degrees of sepration. When I very first started out, I produced a line of silver jewelry that brought in enough to pay some bills. The point is that thinking like a businessperson--better, like an entrepreneur--does not diminish your creativity or integrity, but it could provide you with a path to economic independence, which will free you to make the art you want, need, to make.

I hope you will excuse this passionate rant, but after all those years in a 9-5, I've been making up for lost time.

(There is one great thing that day job provides: health insurance. Boy, do I miss the corporation picking up the tab on that.)

Anonymous said...

I think when Cotter says "that's ok" he means that in the past, a recession has made artists more inventive and that's good for art. Of course no one who is currently making a living (or even half a living) from their work is happy at the prospect of going back to a day job, at having to take a step down the economic ladder. But people in almost all professions are experiencing job losses, not just in the art world. I think we have to accept that the luxury/expendable income industries are going to be hit hard. And I think Cotter is saying that, in times like these, artists have historically changed art from a luxury item industry into something else, and that that's good for art in general. (It sure aint good for those of us who have been selling pretty things to rich people to hang on their walls, even if we feel that we're already making and experiencing art as something other than (or at least more than) that.

Stephanie Sachs said...

Unsure where artists are thinking they are going to find this "day job" here it is more elusive than a collector.

Think about who is buying art. The investor is gone but I am seeing two types of people. The last of the renovators and the true collectors.
The last of renovators are finishing and looking for art work. Perhaps contacting Interior Designers through a list from the local ASID will create those connections.

The true collector is the one with the passion for art. They love the story, the conversation, the feeling they get when they enjoy their collection with friends. They love to meet the artist. I have found many doctors and dentist in this category. Perhaps you can find out if a hotel in your area is hosting a convention of doctors. Suggest a high end, well run art show in a lobby area. Offer a nice percentage say 20% think of at least two more benefits to the hotel. The artist must be there. This is the draw.

Another idea along these lines is open studio days. Not my fav but a client this week told me how much she loves them. Spring is coming to the East Coast and you can put together a group of artists provide maps for a weekend event and use the press to get the word out.

Finally, continue to connect with your collectors. Send cards, email new work add them as Facebook friends these people have invested in your talent in the past and are the most likely to invest in the future.

Joanne Mattera said...

Oriane says: I think when Cotter says "that's ok" he means that in the past, a recession has made artists more inventive and that's good for art.

I hear you, Oriane. But as artists, our job is to be inventive. That's what we do--explore, invent, make, remake, reconsider. At a certain point, inventiveness is maybe not what you want to be about. I'm at the point in my career where I want to dig deeper into areas I've already staked out. I'm a painter. I'm not about to become an installation artists.

But it was not the content that set me off. It was the cavalier tone. I mean, I don't see him working at Starbucks to maintain his career. (Though if things keep up as they have at the Times, he may have to do just that.)

In any case, I don't want to demonize the guy. I really do like and respect his writing.

Anonymous said...

I'm not really defending him. In fact, I didn't like the generational implications either. Perhaps you and I were reading into it, but there was an implication that a new generation would be doing all this inventing, that the old generation of artists, working in the "old" ways are sh*t out of luck and our day is over (I don't think I had a whole day; maybe an hour). So yeah, I'm with you that I'm doing the thing that I invented now and don't want to reinvent the wheel. But I guess I don't take what Cotter says so personally; he's just delivering his prognosis; he didn't cause the situation.

Kate Beck said...

See, this is what I'm raving about. Suddenly, somebody IS trying to reinvent the wheel. I've been having a discussion with a friend about the westernization of aesthetic -- color in particular (think Chromophobia)-- which happens to be very applicable to this issue now of the naming and tagging of the profession of 'artist'. I mean look, why isn't 'artist' enough? Why is a professional definition is not enough -- to the tune of all this weighing in about who I should be and what I should be doing and how I should be doing it and how much I should get paid for it? And who feels they have an authority to even recommend this? ARE YOU KIDDING? It IS very cavalier. Joanne, somewhere along the way you likened this to asking doctors or dentists to have their professions redefined and restructured and just suck it up -- a wonderful analogy. I want to say that I'm sorry for being so hot about this and I want to say that it isn't personal, but it is personal. It's a tough subject and bravo for bringing it up, Joanne, and for allowing us access to one anothers views and comments.

Anonymous said...

Over the years I've met so many artists who came to their raison d'etre - or to some great unique skill - through the day job. Often it's a fabrication or technical skill, access to something they'd never have otherwise. Plus they can sometimes be more interesting than artists who are just reading and talking artspeak. Not always, just sayin'....

Some artists who have never had a day job - well, they need one! I'm talking about those who only came up in the recent market. Because to be an artist isn't just about making art. It can encompass so much more and maybe right now it needs to. I am not saying I know what that means already. But the idea of it is in other fields already - look at other people and their jobs, people are stretching all over the place. Many people are having to reinvent themselves if they want to keep their home.


S. Dineen said...

Its hard not to get really angry about the "OK" comment. It is the worst feeling to want so badly to spend your days making the work that means something to you while you are trapped selling shoes, framing pictures to match people's couches, selling chimney sweeps over the phone to people who don't have chimneys, working as a gallery assistant for someone who blows a gasket every time you have a question about the 1980s computer system he refuses to update, serving obese tourists large quantities of fried seafood, cleaning these same tourists' toilets, and maybe worst of all using sponges in the shapes of hydrangas and leaves to paint the most hideous pottery for again these same tourists to put in their suitcases. (Sorry, I didn't participate in the older post about jobs). The years tick by and resentment builds. Its demoralizing and humiliating. Little by little you choose what you are willing to put up with, keeping an eye on the prize of eventually spending ALL of your days making the work you NEED to make.
The person who really thinks its "OK" for artists to have a day job has obviously never been in our position.

tony said...

In the posts so far no one has really acknowledged the fact that every painter has his own way of working - I need to paint in order to paint. For me personally painting is a way of visual thinking which demands a routine and discipline which, when broken, is not that easy to pick up. I have done the 'second' job route over the years & whilst some painters can handle it relatively easily there are many who find it inordinately difficult to handle. Working practice is part of the work and immediately you start letting it drop you risk much more than an interruption -think how many art teachers took up their posts to have financial security whilst they continued with their own work and ended up with only financial security. All to her/his own but to consider work-practice like a tap is in my opinion a mistake.

Donna Dodson said...

I wonder if he meant the attitude towards artists would be more forgiving in these times if you had to have a day job since sales are slowing down, i.e. there have been blog posts about dealers/collectors perceptions of artists that if you have a day job, you aren't taken seriously... not that I am buying into it either although I have a day job, I just joined a gallery after 5 years being out of one and I am doing everything to get off my day job or at least decrease the hours and increase the pay so as to increase the time I can put towards my artwork.

Joanne Mattera said...

Tony is putting into words the very tenet of my post. Thanks. It was so obvious to me that I didn't acknowledge it.

I used this analogy on Jerry's facebook page: Imagine going to a surgeon to have a procedure, and s/he says, "I can do your knee surgery on Saturday or Sunday, or weekday evenings." You want to know why it can't be Monday afternoon. "Well," says the doc, I sell medican supplies at XYZ Medical during the week."

And yet, as educated professionals, we are doing the same thing. Teaching is a bit different, since we are sharing our skills and talents. (Again, a medical analogy holds.) But only to the point that it doesn't subsume our art lives.

Eva's comment that we may learn valuable skills in a day job is absolutely true. I learned many valuable things in my 20 years in publishing, but I'm a quick study. I didn't need 20 years. (I stayed for the income and the health insurance. The security.)

P.S. Donna, your assessment is very kind. I sure hope he meant that. And, Sarah, you almost made me weep with your job descriptions.

LXV said...

Dear Joanne,
Thank you for this discussion (and for your generous blog as well). This subject is almost too painful to write about. I am actually a little shocked at Holland Cotter for saying it's OK; it is so not OK. But he's not the first one to say it: "Amid the talk of 'creative people shining in tough time' came more sober analysis of what lies ahead. 'It’s going to be very tough for everyone,' said Salon 94 owner Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn. 'Artists are going to go back to having second jobs—the way it used to be.'"

I've been blogging about this (on a modest scale compared to you, of course) and my story is that I have always been an artist, despite not having been to school; I am an old artist now and until about 3 years ago, I had only ever sold 2 paintings. In 2007, I was finally able to support myself without any day job at all. And then...

You needn't know all the jobs I've had; not one of them matters, because they are a painful distraction from my real work. And yes, I'm a quick study also and way too many years were squandered doing high-priced babysitting for idiots, but I had rent to pay. There is no safety net when you are a perpetual freelancer, adjunct or whatever. Not only that, there is not even an employer to pay half of your Social Security contribution. I often tell people that being an artist is like having a handicapped child. It is not something you choose. It is not for sissies. You have to begin by acknowledging the reality and then providing for it in a material way, protecting it and nurturing it despite being hungry, cold and scared or having your brains bleed from the boredom of giving up 10-12 hours of your day to some exercise in frustration for the sake of a paycheck.

What Tony said: "Working practice is part of the work and immediately you start letting it drop you risk much more than an interruption" resonates with me. The real work of my life only grows when I am not distracted by the demands of a day job.

What S. Dineen said: "The years tick by and resentment builds." SO TRUE. Its hard to maintain a creative spirit when I count up all the time I could have been putting into my work. But then, to succumb to negativity is not an option. Staying strong is the biggest challenge now. Community helps. As does intelligent, informed discourse. Thank you all.

S. Dineen said...

Thanks Joanne, I almost wept after making that job list! I'm happy to say that I teach yoga now to help support my art. Although I would rather be painting, Yoga sure does help to keep all that resentment at bay. I recommend it!!

Camilla said...

Problem is there may not be many day jobs to go around if the need arises.
My experience as an artist is that employers are leery of artists and there are people with alot of work experience who are looking.

Anonymous said...

'It’s going to be very tough for everyone,' said Salon 94 owner Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn. 'Artists are going to go back to having second jobs—the way it used to be.'"

Hey, what's all this 'the way it used to be' nonsense? The vast majority of artists I know work a second job or have alternative income streams. Granted I don't know anyone who's super famous but even the artists several steps up the ladder from me are usually working other gigs.

I've done it, we've all done it. Sometimes it can be helpful in providing both stability and focus but sometimes it can suck the life out of you and your art.

John Marsh said...

Hi Everybody
Now a day, i am earning nice about throw data entry jobs, But i want to work part time job in new york.
Can any one tell me, which company provide part time jobs.