In Praise of Side-Hustles
What makes someone a proper writer or a true artist?
Not doing other forms of work, according to Rupert Goold, Artistic Director of the Almeida Theatre.
Goold’s wildly elitist and offensive description of his own staff aside, the pervasive notion that you’re not a “true” artist until you can support yourself solely through your work is hard to shake, despite the fact Toni Morrison kept her job as an editor and Philip Glass kept his job as a plumber years in to their careers.
We’ve been glorifying rags to riches stories since time immemorial, when the truth is most artists go from rags to marginally less rags, back to full rags, to occasional riches, but mostly a whole lot of rags.
It’s a no win situation: being poor is seen as evidence of a lack of talent or hard work, yet doing other work to support your artistic endeavours is seen as demeaning. It’s no wonder artists rarely talk publicly (or even with their peers) about how they’re really doing financially.
“I hate money coz it makes me numb”
- M.I.A., Hussel
I know artists who live with their parents and others who are genuinely starving, artists who do fascinating jobs in medicine and science, teach or look after children they adore, work in bars and restaurants, sing at weddings, sell drugs, volunteer, work in shops, at record labels, drive Uber, do admin, teach pilates, work for their family business and the list goes on.
That list includes people who have large teams, have signed deals, get great press, tour the world and win prestigious awards.
The only thing that makes someone a “true artist” is their art.
Even artists who make a living full time from their work often struggle, because it’s unpredictable and sporadic and you never know when your moment in the sun is going to “end”.
Doing what you love for a living isn’t always the dream it’s made out to be.
5 Very Good Reasons To Have a Side-Hustle
1. Peace of Mind
Working as a freelance artist can be very similar to working a zero hours contract; unpredictable work coupled with financial stress due to infrequent (and often poor or late) payment.
Research shows that this is bad for your mental and physical health, so if you’re the kind of person who finds a regular paycheck helps keep you healthy and productive don’t feel bad about it, science is on your side.
There are plenty of incredible artists all over the world who do other forms of work their entire lives. Most commonly, in order to pay for the time, studio space and materials to make their work in the first place.
The reality is, not every artist wants to make the kind of work that will result in riches or even a financially sustainable career. The elitist, patronising description of artists who; make alternative or uncompromising work, don’t live in countries with a developed arts economy, or simply don’t fit the mould of a commercially attractive artist as “underrated” or “emerging” needs to go.
The transition from “struggling artist grabbing inspiration as it hits who probably has a side-hustle” to “more established artist who works at home or from their own studio” is significant.
Being alone instead of around people can be really isolating. Going from having something to push against to “freedom” isn’t always inspiring.
If you find you actually prefer your creative practice being sporadic or just one part of your day instead of the whole thing, follow whatever process makes you feel most inspired.
Saying “no” is a luxury. When you rely on your art to pay your rent, an uncompromising No can feel like a luxury you can’t afford. Especially if you’re working hard to get to the point where you can afford to turn down opportunities that don’t feel right and someone is waving a cheque with too many strings attached under your nose.
Whilst you’re in the in-between, you might find an alternative source of income helps strengthen your resolve.
We are not one-dimensional people, and whilst artists are driven by their passion, that doesn’t mean you’re only passionate about art. You might also be passionate about socioeconomics, artisanal vegan gelato or your kids.
You might even find your love of gelato begins to surpass your love of sculpture for a while, or even permanently. That doesn’t make you any less of a true artist, it just means you’re a well rounded individual who follows their passions.
It’s time to reimagine a version of “the dream” that’s healthy, sustainable and without shame. Every time you hear someone peddling the idea that a “true artist” must be someone who makes a living solely from their art, I challenge you to ask them to think again.