The pros do it every day. Some of the best singers in the world make millions every year. Novelists sell their stories to publishers all of the time. Life as a dancer is difficult, but some make a living at it—some very successfully. People’s homes are decorated with the creations of artists, so obviously there is some money to be made in the creativity department. Writers, singers, painters, and dancers—all creative people who turn their art into a capitalistic venture.
But then, why is it so hard for me? How can creative outlets remain expressive and artistic while also acting as a capitalistic venture? How can I sell my art without the act of creating it morphing into a chore?
Since a very young age, my life has always been jam-packed with creative outlets. It was apparent from the start that if I didn’t have any way of expressing myself, I was going to be lethargic, unhappy, unmotivated, and pretty much useless. When I was little it was a very common thing to find me drawing pictures, writing stories and songs, choreographing dances for my friends, making jewelry…. all for the fun of it, because it made me happy. From writing to drawing to painting to singing, I just had to create something—anything. When I was a child, it was easy for my creative outlets to be recreational, enjoyable, and meaningful. When I was passionate about something, it came naturally to just enjoy it, to cherish it as a way of expression. As soon as one of these creative outlets became something more, though, the need to create and express turned into chore and was no longer fulfilling.
Early on, dance was the art that had my full attention. I started dancing lessons and performing before I had almost mastered the art of walking. The act of visualizing music fascinated me; poetry set to music in motion. Dancing was breathing. Practice, performances, practice, recitals, practice, competitions, and more practice. I looked forward to my Saturdays more than any other day. Saturdays were the day when Grandma Peanuts would drive me back to the “old neighborhood” to my dance studio—the place where my best friends and I would learn ballet, tap, and jazz, the place that nurtured my love for music and forms of musical expression. My other little friends couldn’t understand how I could possibly give up Saturday morning cartoons and sleepovers on Friday nights. None of that mattered to me, though. I wanted to dance. And dance I did. Until later, when high-school activities took over, that is.
In high school dance somehow became secondary to singing. I found a new passion that consumed almost all of my time. Practice, performances, practice, recitals, practice, competitions, and more practice. Singing was all I could do, all I could think about. Dancing was still a major part of my life, though. Don’t get me wrong. I was still on the dance team, I was Dance Captain of my show choir group, and I was still taking dance lessons on Saturdays. When vocal lessons came into the picture, however, my parents made me choose one or the other. It was difficult to say goodbye to the 12 or so years that I had spent dancing away on the south-side of Chicago, but it seemed time for me to move on. Singing quickly became a defining characteristic of me. I sang all day, from start to finish. I suppose now, looking back, that seems a little excessive and annoying. It was a good thing, though, that all of my friends were the same way. We harmonized on the way to school, getting ready for the big dances, on bus rides, to and from practices, and even during classes. Eventually, it was a common thing to be excused from regular classes to venture to the choir room. We could roam the hallways all day, without security butting-in, without being questioned, without suffering the wrath of some authority figure. They knew where we were headed—off to sing, of course. But those four years of high school quickly flew by, my singing friends went their separate ways, and my passions for singing and dancing suddenly had no outlet, no way to escape out into public view.
This is one of the main reasons going off to EIU was so hard for me. I tried to join the choir at EIU, but it didn’t feel the same. The director was cold and distant and the singing was down to business. It wasn’t fun and expressive. The dance team held auditions, so I quickly threw a piece together and went. I received a call-back, but didn’t go. Something was missing, again. Dancing there was down to business. Business took the thrill out of dancing. I was left with no creative outlets and entirely way too much time on my hands, which made me miserable. Of course, I was there to study and earn a degree, but it just never clicked. After three years of giving college the old college try and four changes of majors, I was ready to go home.
I searched my soul for answers. What could I be passionate about now? How can I get all of this creativity out of me? How could I mix something I was passionate for with something that could earn money? What could I do in college that could spark my creative side, but still be functional in the real world? I transferred schools, losing tons of credits in the process, and decided to major in English.
It has taken some time, but I have found many (maybe a few too many) creative outlets to pursue. Studying the English language, literature, writing, and methods of teaching became a passion for me. I’d had always loved to write, but it was always on the back-burner. I now had the chance to really find my voice and focus on strengthening it. Reading, on the other hand, was something I had to work to love. When I was very young I had loved to read, but in high school reading was more like a chore. I quickly had to overcome this mindset. When you’re an English major, it is common place to be expected to read more than a few novels per week, not to mention the additional poetry and short stories. And while, on the surface, reading doesn’t seem like much of a creative outlet, it became just that for me. My imagination was allowed to escape to so many different places and times, meet rich and interesting characters, and take part in so many diverse and fascinating adventures. Wanting to pursue a career in teaching these subjects just developed naturally. But once again, when the business of it all enters into the picture, the fun went down the drain… at least for now. Years of searching for a teaching job have put a damper on my educator’s spirit. For now, I just have to think that eventually my time will come. I wish it would hurry up!
I still have singing, though. I enjoy being part of a hip-hop cover band, singing back-up vocals. I’ll also karaoke whenever I have the chance. Nothing beats the feeling of being on stage! It’s just fun… no business involved. I have this blog, too. I get to be creative, vent a little, and it’s all for fun. I won’t be making any money for writing an online journal, that’s for sure.
I still have painting, too. Pure enjoyment! When I sit down and see a blank canvas, so many images rush through my mind. I see what I want to paint and get going. I become relaxed, yet motivated. All of the day’s worry and frustration dissolves.
Now, here’s the problem. I paint and paint and paint and the end result is a bunch of paintings lying around the garage. Each one of my creations, with no one to pay them any mind, uselessly collect dust as they wait. But wait for what? Many people say I should sell my paintings. If my long history has taught me any lesson, though, it seems when business of any kind is applied to my creative outlets, the enjoyment flees from the act losing its artistic quality in my life.
Should I just keep painting for fun, letting my paintings pile up in the garage? Will selling my art turn painting into a task instead of a relaxing form of expression? I’ve seriously been thinking of posting my art on Etsy.com. I mean, why not? I don’t have any space to hang each of my paintings around the house. I’m also not emotionally attached to each of my paintings (some, not all). I would sell them all if I could be guaranteed to not lose my passion for it. I’m nervous, though. Each time I sit down to paint, I don’t want to be worried about time-tables, deadlines, profits, expenses, and pleasing others. Painting is personal expression… and at the present, it is enjoyable and relaxing. To sell or not to sell, that is the question.
Have you been able to turn a passion into profit? Have you been able to accomplish this without losing your passion or creativity? Any tips are appreciated. I don’t think I could afford to lose yet another creative outlet!