We prefer to say “underemployed” (Is that a word?) I believe it’s use is to convince us that we are not homeless, heroine addicts, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Just like all areas of society, there is a heirarchy of unemployed artists. Those who have been out of work for years tend to suffer the most, becoming angry and bitter, therefore making it even more difficult to get work. The middle tier consists of artists, actors, musicians, (name your entertainment profession), who have had shorter layoffs. 3 to 9 months. The top tier consists of those who manage freelance jobs that provide a tiny income and keep the artist semi-confident in between full time work.
When I am unemployed (I use that word because I am a realist), I get to spend more time with my kids and get our home life organized. It is wonderful for a couple of weeks, helping with homerwork (oops, Freudian Simpsons slip), hearing the latest teenage gossip in the car, and taking my kids on excursions. Free, of course.
And then,....the anxiety begins. Money...Where will it come from?! My 6 year old says, “Just go to the money store Mom.” I walk the malls, the small town of Montrose, watch crazy holiday shoppers and angry working parents rushing from place to place. Sales, sales everywhere, but not a dollar to spend. The artist in me loves the people watching. I could sketch all day. I am now up on the fashion trends and “What Does the Fox Say” videos. The new high heel, wedge, spiked, with mesh detailed shoes are to die for. They are definitely more confused than I. They make me feel slightly superior, if a shoe can do that.
The joy of spending time with the kids is always overshadowed by the uncertain anxiety of my future. But, kids remind me to keep it simple. Their needs are immediate and important. Always a good distraction.
And then, the competitive artist begins playing tricks on my mind. I’m not drawing enough. I’m not producing enough new work. I need to make a new website, fix my blog, have 20 coffees and 50 lunches with work associates. I suck, and I’m a complete fraud, so I’m told, by my wonderfully positive, creative brain. Maybe I could start a new business crafting... I can learn how to knit, and quilt, and use a flame torch on metals. I can do it! That’s what I say to myself.
That is usually when I receive an email or call from a friend telling me how much they love my work. They ask if I’m still painting awesome paintings and working on fun shows. And I’m back to stomping the pavement. Calling people I’ve never met, taking tests, for studios I’ve art directed for. “Dance monkey, dance!” A co worker jokingly said to me at the end of our last job. We joke about it, but it’s true. We always have to jump through newer, more difficult hoops.
But honestly, this is the best job in the world. Telling stories drawing and painting every day with the most talented people in the world. There is nothing else like it and I’m lucky to be included. And I promise to stop beginning sentences with “and” and “but”.