“How lucky for you, you dog, that you can just get up when you feel like it, and do what you feel like, and get paid for it! It’s not really work, now is it?” I think most artists hear some version or other of this sentiment fairly often, (Along with, “When you are dead this stuff is going to be really valuable!”)
Well, this kind of got me to scratching my head (with my hind foot). Why would anyone think that grinding and sanding and sweating and welding and laboring with fire and fury isn’t work?
Art work is work! People talk about “working like a dog!” I’ve been around lots of dogs, and but for the rarest of rare cow dog, they don’t work that much. At least they won’t do my work. None of them will run an air chisel or die grinder, and I haven’t had any luck getting a dog to run a plasma cutter. Of course, my sculptures are cast in separate parts, and when it comes to assembling them, getting all four legs in the right orientation on a sculpture of an animal, for instance, a dog is pathetic. I work twice as hard as most dogs I know, and I keep my face out of peoples crotches at a picnic! If you are thinking I lie like a dog, maybe we know different dogs, or perhaps you are being lied to by a dog.
But, like a dog, I’ve never had a job where I didn’t consider some part of the work to be more like play, and I’ve never made a piece of art that I didn’t start to drag my tail in the dust during some more laborious phase of the process. Pouring metal when it is ninety degrees out, and the metal is 2000 degrees, and you are dressed in leather and Nomex, is hard work! But it also feels good doing it, like something is getting done.
I guess it all comes down to who is boss! If you are your own boss, work is not so much work. If you really need to, you can pat yourself on the head and say, “Who’s a good boy?” And besides, you don’t know who to hate on for the parts of your work you hate.
I don’t know. But I know one thing. I can’t get a dog, or anybody to sand or weld or grind on my stuff for free, so it must be work! Maybe I need to start a sanding and grinding spa! A "dude foundry". I know a rancher or two who've foisted off some of their work to unsuspecting tourists who even pay to work! (But I bet if I tried to hire people to push a little white ball across my field all day, from hole to hole, with a crooked stick, for minimum wage, nobody would apply.)
I think a lot of people assume an artist doesn’t have to be disciplined. It's all inspiration. We just go out and slip on our artist’s smock, and smock around in the “studio” until we have a piece of art. Pinkies in the air, just so, as we study the contours and colors of the world down our long crooked noses, imagining the soulless drudgery of the bustling laborers from our lofty garrets. Pity the daily grind of the potato eaters, or feast in the garden of earthly delights.
I’m not sure what sort of artist this stereotype applies to. Yes, I like my job, but my life as an artist has been a pretty diligent if not disciplined affair. If I don’t work, I don’t get any lunch. But I understand envy. It is easy to picture the carefree lives others live. I recall my dad telling of his youth as a sheep herder in the High Wallowa Mountains. I said, “I would love to be out there in the beautiful high meadows with nothing going on but me sitting on a rock amongst a thousand grazing sheep, thinking and scheming.”
At the time, my summer job was as a hay-hand. Hot, sweaty, itchy work that lasted from 7:00AM to 6:30PM, 7 days a week, 90 days in a row. My dad said, “Well, you think you will sit on a rock and think, and you do. You sit on a rock and think for a while, but pretty soon, you are just sitting on a rock.”
And maybe herein lies the challenge of these days of social distancing for the artist. We’ve already had quite a long time now to sit on a rock, thinking, and we’ve had some time to follow some of our ideas through, but how long can we make art, in our heads, or otherwise, without sharing our product with our supportive audience before we find ourselves just sitting on a rock?