Over the last couple of days I listened to the last chunk of Patti Smith’s Just Kids while I painted the front exterior of the studio. Painting is hard work, and always deceives me; I think it should be easy, but it gets boring quickly and the hand cramps and paint splatters on me in ways I didn’t expect. But listening to Patti’s low, even voice spinning out the details of her bohemian life and the creative world of New York in the 60s and 70s made the time speed on.
The whole way through the book, as she described the terrible hovels they lived in and having to resort to stealing steaks at one point in order to eat, but always, always being devoted to creating art in one form or another, I kept wondering if I’m just too middle class to be artistic (that’s probably only a question someone firmly entrenched in the middle class would ask). Then I think no, Smith and Mapplethorpe were unique, bright and blazing and no one should compare themselves to them.
But there was something about their drive, about their passion, about needing to create no matter the cost that is extremely alluring. It’s that portrait of the artist as in La Bohème, huddled in a garret with your other similarly poor, creative friends, practically starving but living life passionately and writing, painting, singing as sustenance.
Despite that romantic notion, art and poverty don’t have to go together. Smith and Mapplethorpe (and the characters from La Bohème) didn’t want to be poor.
I asked at the BHB retreat how do you know when it’s time to make the leap, to commit to being a creative full time, to eschewing the safe job in favour of the unknown? So many stories of creatives I’ve read say that their business or their art didn’t truly take off until they committed to it full time. Clare said, refreshingly, that it’s much easier to just jump and quit your job when you’re 21 and have a trust fund, but it’s a lot harder to do that when you have responsibilities (I was kind of scared she’d say you just have to jump, because I wasn’t sure if I was ready to do that). For most people you have to take it a bit at a time and do what you need to do to suit your circumstances.
Of course, I know if you want to be fully devoted to creative pursuits then you do have to make certain choices that might be a bit uncomfortable, and perhaps that’s as it should be. Having worked for non-profit Christian organisations most of my working life, I don’t have a financial buffer though, and that’s a bit scary. I know it’s possible, but it’s hard to save when you basically live from pay to pay. I’m so thankful that mum and I have this house and we’re not renting anymore, but it’s also a financial responsibility that I have to be aware of now and even though I still feel like I’m that 20-something who could just run away if she wanted to, I can’t. And I really haven’t been that girl for a very long time.
There’s the thing that busy creative people (often with small children in tow) say about having to make your art in the gaps, snatching time wherever you can. I’ve been trying to do the creative stuff in my non work time, but I find that generally work tires me out so much there isn’t much left at the end of the day to do the creative things I want to do. And I don’t even have kids! My brain is mush, my body is flat and sitting up at a sewing machine or picking up a pen or opening the piano lid is just too hard. Even though I want to.
Ramble, ramble, ramble.