A few weeks ago, I took a job in a supermarket deli. Out of sheer desperation, because in a year of living in this town where employment was never easy at the best of times, I could find nothing.
Or rather, yes, I did find a job: once a week I teach creative writing at the PHAME Academy, a wonderful organization that runs creative classes for adults with learning and developmental disabilities. As gratifying as this job is, however, it only pays for a few bus tickets a week.
So, the supermarket job: I lasted all of three weeks, before quitting. During that time, my back ached like hell from standing on a concrete floor (something apparently the union rules don't consider a health hazard); I kept getting strong headaches from the fluorescent lights and the cleaning chemicals; and I was shocked, and aggravated, by the petty attitudes of some of my co-workers (yes, as the adage goes, power corrupts; but nothing is more contemptible than the sight of powerless people yielding a power they don't really have).
Furthermore, it was utterly disparaging for me, a food lover, to sell people the kind of junk food I would not even give to my worst enemy's dog.
So, I quit. And this got me thinking: it seem that all the artists I've ever known are divided into two camps: those who would rather not "compromise" their art, and take up soul-deadening jobs that have nothing to do with anything remotely creative, just for the money, while working on their art in their spare time. And those who would rather take a job that is as close as possible to their artistic vocation: like teaching, if there's still anybody lucky enough to get that kind of gig; or practicing some kind of commercial art.
Both positions, in my mind, have their pros and cons; in the first instance, you may have more mental and creative space to do your own work if you are not absorbed in, or by, a job that doesn't require any expenditure of creative energy; but, on the other hand, you may end up so dried up at the end of your work day, or week, that the only thing you feel like doing with your time off is curl up on the couch and watch some mindless TV.
If, however, you have a somewhat creative yet commercial job, you will be immersed in your chosen craft and given talent every day of your life; yet you may end up completely burnt out by the demands of your job, and maybe jaded by the fact of having to use your talents in a commercial way, turning out artwork that you yourself may judge harshly.
What kind of artist are you? I am curious to know...
Me, after being somewhat a purist in my young age, I've decided that anything is better than a crappy, and badly paid at that, job.
I'll gladly "sell my soul" (though I doubt there's anyone out there who's buying) as long as I can make money doing something that requires me to utilize my brain rather than my "talent" for slicing ham and cheese, or scooping cooked food into a container...