Writers Journey: Support and Freedom

We live in an age where we are expected to earn revenue on what we produce.  This expectation was brought about by the Age of Enlightenment and furthered by the Industrial Revolution.  If we are successful novelists, for example, we must churn out a New York Times bestseller every year or two.  Culturally, we are told a myth that insists that we earn money from our art.

This ‘Hollywood fantasy’ of earning money per project is actually very new and flies in the face of thousands of years in which artists lived under another kind of system:  namely support from a patron.  I don’t advocate that we go back to having patrons, which is what you might call feudalistic even on a good day, but I do want to point out that it’s easy to mistake one thing for another and this is where we can accidentally confuse having money and being paid for our art with true freedom to make the art that must be made.

The biggest misconception an artist faces is the definition of the word resource.  If you want something, say quality light and space to paint in, that doesn’t mean you need money to get it.  It means you need a resource (space and light) and your first inclination may well be to pay for studio space for it.  Stop right there!  What you really need is space and light.  In our consumerist mentality, we will often equate this with real estate.  But space and light is not the same thing as a studio situated downtown.  Space and light may be had in a breakfast nook, or outside at a park, or on the back lawn.  One of your friends may have space and light that they’ll willingly share with you because you can do something for them in exchange.

In the old systems, artists understood that resources were not to be equated with money.  It was easier then, when you turned to your patron and asked for space and light.  He or she might in fact provide you with a studio, or not, but in the end you’d still be given space and light, even if you soon found yourself working in the cloistered courtyard of a monastery somewhere by your home.

An artist’s chief requirement is really freedom and contrary to popular belief, freedom is not actually obtained with lots of money.  Freedom is not even gained by having access to money, since earning money can often strip freedom from you an hour at a time.  Today we earn a paycheck by doing tasks for someone else.  If you do enough tasks for someone else that you’re too brain-dead to create a poem or watercolor by the time you get home, then all your hard work to earn money is a moot point.  You’re too tired to use what little free time is left to make art.  And that precious time left to you beyond office hours is no longer your own; because unintentionally or not, it’s now given to recuperation from dedicated employment. You may have four hours to doodle before bedtime, but if you’d rather do something less creatively charged because you’re exhausted, then you’ve earned money for nothing.  Your creative freedom has been lost to the good intentions of accruing money for resources.

Now that this mix-up is made more clear, I’m not advocating that an artist should toss away their day job.  I’m really advocating that artists get clever in finding resources without having to heap on more hours in the week at their day job.  A good first step is to strip away any presuppositions that you might have about the resources you need; and even before doing that, you may want to ask yourself if you really need a particular resource in the first place, or did someone tell you that you needed it when you really didn’t?  A good way to double-check that is to ask if an artist needed it in the past.  For example, Emily Dickinson wrote her poems with a pencil and very small pieces of paper.  She didn’t need a computer.  That’s a pretty extreme example in today’s publishing world, but it does get to the heart of the point.  If you think you need a research book, you can ask for it at your library rather than buy it.  And if you can’t stomach the idea of using a library, then this same principle applies.

Lastly, I would add that artists require support in their pursuit of freedom.  Today support doesn’t have to be found in the strict, feudal principles of Patron and Artisan.  Today support may come from your spouse, your roommate, a good friend; any of these people can have understanding or resources at your disposal.  You do not have to make money at your art, your writing, or your music in order to be an authentic artist.  You just need access to resources and you need support either at home or in your community.  It’s not the money that actually matters; it’s the support.  When you have support, you find freedom to create.


Meditation for your journal:  Examine your support network and consider replacing the word ‘money’ with the word ‘resources’ when you next need something for your art.