Art is Work


  Photo by  Kelli Tungay  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kelli Tungay on Unsplash

I’m going to start this out by saying I have a very nice and good boyfriend. I know it is considered trite and tacky to brag about how great your boyfriend is but my boyfriend is the Funniest and Best Boy and I love him very much. I am unrepentant. FIGHT ME.

One casual day my boyfriend said something that utterly blew my mind. It was: “do you have work this afternoon?”

“No,” I said. “Just rehearsal.”

“For the show that you’re getting paid for?” he asked.

“Yeah, that one.”

“So you have work this afternoon.”

I did! I did have work that afternoon! If you are making a thing, and making that thing requires labor, that counts as work. Even if you enjoy it and it is what you want to do with your life. Even if you feel lucky to have the opportunity and you would probably do it for pennies, or exposure, or nothing. You’re doing a job. You’re creating value. You’re working.

I think as artists, we have a tendency to fall into this dangerous mindset where we fetishize overwork so much that we think we’re obligated to work ourselves to death and undervalue the work we do. We feel so lucky to get opportunities in our field that we don’t ask for what we deserve and we don’t treat our art like it’s labor. That’s a dangerous mindset and a dangerous habit. As an artist, you will likely spend at least part of your career underpaid and undervalued. That’s something the world and the industry and capitalism will do to you. Do not also do it to yourself. Acknowledge the work that you do and respect your limits and do not entertain the notion that a night at rehearsal is just as relaxing as a night spent swaddled in your duvet watching Netflix and drinking rosé through a straw (or whatever you do to relax, I don’t want to make assumptions).

It’s always been frustrating to me to have friends or partners or acquaintances even who think that my art is recreational or doesn’t count as labor. One time I told a friend I was really exhausted because I’d had a 60 hour work week and she told me tech rehearsals didn’t really count as work. Coming from someone else (and not my own brain, that constantly devalues my work) that made me so mad! Of course it was work! How dare they. But look, it’s still easy to fall into that same mindset yourself.

Anyway, this is all to say that if you are making art then you are contributing value and goodness to the world, and your art has value, and I’m proud of you, and I think you work hard enough. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Remember to buy yourself a bottle of rosé and watch 15 episodes of Veep on occasion. You’re a champ, and you’re killing it out there. Don’t sell yourself short.