No matter how incredibly progressive your company may be, with the free lunches, the flexible and relaxed culture of wearing blue jeans or hoodies to work, or an employer who understands and supports you as an individual, if you consider yourself an artist, there will always be a moment of reckoning between your artistic pursuits and your professional identity.
This problem has nothing to do with the job you have or don’t have, nor does it have anything to do with your employer. The discord comes from the expectations you set for yourself and your idealizations of what "being an artist" means inside your head.
In a recent interview with NPR’s All Songs Considered, when discussing life and songwriting, Jack White said, "I have to talk myself out of the harsh reality that, over the years, your romance becomes tempered by realism."
The realities in your day, the slog of email, the energy-zapping assignments, and the cluttered schedules may all be the obstacles that disconnect you from getting to your artistic work.
Part of learning how to be an artist in a cubicle is managing your idealizations. Here’s how to start:
In reckoning the reality of being an artist in a cubicle, there’s finite time to produce the art you feel innately required to produce. Time is a resource that quickly dwindles, and when it’s lost it has this power to haunt you if you let it.
My main struggle with writing and other artistic pursuits is feeling in control of this creative time.
I start by giving myself "snackable" assignments for a concise period of time, a frame I know I can manage. I begin with five minutes and work up from there.
Creative types know that prioritizing time is often the most difficult part of the battle. The artist with a full-time job needs to give him or herself the permission to focus and see what that time yields.
I get lost in the dark forest of valuing results over quality, of working on shorter pieces "to get them done" rather than a scarier project because I have no idea where I stand on the map. I don’t see the immediate results; essentially, I can’t see the proverbial forest amongst the trees.
As an artist in a cubicle, you must hold this sentiment dear: Art isn’t about the end result—it’s the process.
Sometimes what you see on a wall or in a book you’ve read is merely what’s left behind, artifacts of creative experiences, the drift wood on the beach. Your waves are what you should be most concerned with.
When you work in the shadows of the that art is results driven, that there’s a moment where you’re "done," you’ll always be distant from why you originally came to the page, canvas, or stage.
People use the term work-flow often and I’d like to say that experiencing that state of focus is intrinsic in finding quality.
As an artist you may think there are only so few hours before and after a workday and all this time should be maximized with thinking about your work. But often the artist forgets about the idle time when you think or the time needed to commute, bathe, eat, and be a human. There just isn’t enough time, the artist says.
Release yourself from excuses and work with what you have. Everyone is allotted the same amount of hours in a day.
While accessing your free time productively is critical in your artistic goals, you must also make these goals achievable. When you make unrealistic goals, you self-fulfill your disappointment and discourage your future.
Ideals are beautiful to live up to but idealizations are precarious and come with the promise of a sharper disappointment. This is because idealizations are set to always be beyond what the artist actually achieves. Ideals are there because they keep the artist reaching.
The idealization of creativity and happiness often times mirrors one another. Both creativity and happiness are disguised as points of destinations when they should be states of being or a feeling rather than a result.
Creatives must reckon their individual paths to create and preserve the integrity of their work. Make decisions around how you’ll frame the production of your art, no matter the 9 to 5. And then, finally, make a decision to feel good about your decisions.
[Image: Flickr user Nana B Agyei]