secret summer of double existence in a big ocean of plants and poison
When people ask me what I do, I usually only tell them half of the story…that I´m an artist and make installations with plants and architecture…but I haven´t really had much time for that lately… because I have been working a job job. This summer I have been working as a garden warehouse assistant and cashier. That means that like many of my creative type friends, I have to have a side job in order to pay off student loans and eat food. What does this do to how we identify ourselves out in the world? Living two separate lives…as a cashier, barista, teacher etc. to support our studio time. So, I have decided to stop being ashamed of my failure to exist as an artist alone and share my reality.
A little info about where I´m working…The store is a corporate chain and I knew this when I filled out the application, I made a conscious choice. I just wanted for once to walk in, do my thing unnoticed, get my paycheck and leave, knowing everything else was organized like a well oiled machine. But after a very short while, I realized it wasn´t going to go as I had planned at all. Everything about working for a corporate giant goes against my years of training as a pretentious dissident…I find myself ranting to anyone who will listen about how they sell deadly poisonous Monsanto products (not one mention of the word organic in the store), they do not compost when they throw away their plants (which are so very many because they don´t pay us to keep them alive so much as to stock and sell)…and the “head office” is watching every action, every detail of every- thing- we- do. My hopes of coming to work and doing my thing unnoticed is very much impossible. As a side note: I´m also allergic to whatever the hell kind of herbicide/pesticide/growth hormone they spray on these poor leaves and flowers in the greenhouse before delivering them to us. It makes my arms itch like a demon.
Living as an artist with an MFA is not romantic, it is real. And the reality is that most of us cannot support ourselves by selling our work, don´t know how to manage the business side of the deal, or maybe don´t want to sell it in the first place, and that leads to a double life. I think we owe it to ourselves to respect our creativity and actually find a way to make a living from that alone. For some of you its selling out, but for me, selling out is spending all my waking hours walking towards a dead end. I decided to go back to school this fall and learn how to use my creative skills to support myself. This hadn´t even occurred to me when I got my MFA. The most important thing to me then was self-expression. Food and bills were an afterthought. The MFA grad school machine is pumping out professional artists at a rate that cannot be sustained and needs to be reeled in. Maybe some of us should never have chosen this path in the first place, maybe we needed better economic or organizational guidance, and maybe we just need a better socialized support system that invests more in creativity than guns. I don´t have an ultimate solution. But I think its worth talking about. I don´t regret the paths I´ve taken, I hope they have made me a wiser, more well-rounded person.
You may disagree with my point of view and have a different experience of post grad living. You may even be an artist that believes in a completely different non-monetary system outside the system, one based more on exchange, or some other nuanced community anti-system-system. I support your choices, and I have lived among you. But I think we do ourselves a disservice by ignoring that even the anti-establishment serves a purpose in capitalist society. For those of us who are currently somewhere in the grid, my reality is very common. I welcome a debate on the subject. I want something else for myself and my future family and this is my story. And until the day comes that I can live a unified life, its a summer of double existence in the big ocean of plants and poison.