I have an unusual day job. Basically, I am paid to do a lot of hardcore thinking about the economics of creativity, technology and the law. I’m also an artist. Spending my days engaged in analysis and debate sometimes makes me forget what it means to just create. This is unfortunate.
I personally believe that the ability to choose art as a vocation and enjoy some measure of stability depends largely on external factors (or privilege, as the case may be). Yet there is no doubt that great art has been created under the most trying of circumstances. Art has served many a purpose over human history, from the ritualistic to the routine. But I’m willing to bet that the artists themselves share in common a singular obsession to create.
Achieving artistic excellence takes an investment of time, a luxury most easily secured by capital. But even that does not guarantee success, however it might be measured. It’s probably most common for an artist to do their woodshedding in their younger years, when it’s more practical (and chic) to be broke and/or malnourished. But the task of creative self-actualization is never really complete.
Some artists get rich, some get lazy. Most are never championed in their era, if at all. Many pursue expression with tremendous vigor for a duration, then surrender to life’s more quotidian struggles and pleasures. Pro tip: if it’s your time to give up, at least have the dignity to do it gracefully. Nobody likes a complainer.
I do think there’s a sweet spot though, and I suspect it’s far sweeter than any non-artist can possibly ever know. The feeling of discovery, mastery, mania, of obstruction, frustration, absorbtion, intuition, annihilation… these experiences transcend the mundane and are known to creators of every discipline. To encounter them is to encounter ecstasy.
Who cares about the business model?
Maybe your art celebrates life, reveals deep truths, humbly reflects, challenges society, invites obliteration, glorifies the unseemly, inspires adulation, revulsion, protest and retaliation. Maybe it sucks. It really doesn’t matter. If you’re an artist, you’ll chase inspiration relentlessly until you go mad, broke or complacent.
So don’t worry about it so much. Pursue distinction only within your own illumination. You might get laid, you might get rich. But probably not. And that’s OK. But don’t do it halfway. The world does not need any more bankers or coders with expensive guitar collections. Art is immolation. You are the match.