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February 26, 2003

Doing What You Love for a Living Redux

Friedrich --

As you know, one of the issues I return to over and over again (apologies for the monotony of this, by the way) is whether or not it makes sense to try to turn doing what you love into a career. Whether or not it makes sense even to imagine making a living by doing what you already love, in fact. We're encouraged (by parents, schools, friends, movies, our own dopey fantasies) to think in these terms, even to be unhappy if the dream hasn't yet come true. Yet, IMHO, it can be a ruinous and destructive way to think, especially about a life in the arts.

Why? In the first place, there's next to no chance it'll happen. In the second place, if it does happen -- or if something like it does happen -- there's a good chance that the very act of doing it for money will ruin the pleasure. You're likely to wind up with the worst of both worlds -- a perilous and not-great job doing something that has ceased to mean anything to you. (Yet what you're selling has got to seem special -- and where does that special touch come from if you've lost that special feeling? So you fake an emotion, then wind up feeling like you've betrayed a lover. And on and on the heartbreaking cycle goes ....)

A few notes from the outside world to give my argument a little weight.

The gifted erotic-art photographer (I don't know his name and can't find it on his website) who runs Eumorphia (here) is closing up the commercial side of his shop. (But be sure to visit: there's much still there at the site to explore.) Why? In his words:

I've decided to shut down the pay side of things. There are many reasons for this which I'm just not really wanting to talk about but the main issue is this:

Doing photography as a commercial enterprise is not doing photography as an artform.

I'm giving up the commercial side of things and going back to making art.

The very funny and industrious Andrew Marlatt ran SatireWire (here) for almost three years. Recently he quit. Take a guess why. Here's the way he puts it:

It's not about the money. The site actually makes money ... Nice little setup, actually. I've been very lucky. But the bottom line is, it has ceased to be fun. My heart is not in it. My head is not in it...

The thing is, SatireWire, successful as it has been, is also suffocating. I work best tangentially, meaning I work best when I let ideas just come at me, flitting about my head like confetti as I marvel at all the pretty colors, the way they turned in the wind. I would pick out the ones I liked, put them together, make a story. But the confetti no longer falls. It's all on the ground now. The parade is over. I'm just sweeping up ideas off the pavement. And that's not good enough.

You made a good point in a comment on a previous posting of mine, which is that when it comes to deciding what to do professionally, it makes a lot of sense to think of doing something that suits you (your talents, ambitions, energy level, etc). Couldn't agree more. I'll only point out that that's quite different than trying to build a career on something you do from love and pleasure.



posted by Michael at February 26, 2003


Certainly if one is raising a family, it pretty quickly becomes clear that the prime function of any job is to provide the economic resources for this far more absorbing and central life project. Even Michelangelo, who was certainly as committed to doing art as anyone in history, felt that reviving the rather flagging fortunes of his family was the real "goal" of his life--art (in this context) was simply a means. And as Nietzsche remarked, if we have a why we can get by with almost any how.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 27, 2003 1:21 PM

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