I’ve read several articles recently about the intersection of passion, art, and finances. As Meron Langser points out, no one has to remind aerospace engineers that their time is valuable and they deserve to be compensated. This compensation can take two forms–monetary or emotional. Working in the arts tends to involve necessarily privileging love of the work and emotional reward over salary and stability; some even consider this instability an important pre-requisite for good art. I’d like to respectfully disagree with this perception, and see a reality where both are possible.
The thing is, too much stress hinders creativity. We’ve all been at a tense rehearsal where nothing seems to get done, or had a solution to a problem appear in the morning after a stressful night. Sure there are plenty of problems and constraints that can help push collaborators toward creative solutions and better work, but not if the artists are truly miserable. I feel the best art comes out of those the best at seeing, and too much stress creates a fog.
I’m not saying art should be easy or pay six-figure salaries. But I don’t think it needs to be a hard life either. Our culture has this romantic notion of the struggling artist, starving for his work, making deep sacrifices. We don’t have this narrative around other professions; there is no trope of a self-sacrificing architect or discussion of scientists needing to be poor to do good work. Why don’t we allow ourselves the same kindness?
Theatre isn’t, and probably wouldn’t work as, a nine to five job. Rehearsals don’t belong in corner offices and yearly raises would be hard to arrange. And it’s true that since it involves mental work, you can’t fully ‘leave work at the office.’ But I object to the idea that to be a theatre artist means letting theatre be an all-consuming lifestyle. My best ideas and connections often come out of what I learn from discussions with non-theatre friends, and my way in to understanding pieces often comes from outside coursework. I want to see us theatre folk ask for our worth, and understand that deprivation isn’t necessarily our friend. There is nothing shameful about making a living. There is nothing wrong with outside interests. Neither makes us less of an artist, and both could free up new pathways for artistic exploration.