Who Is Doing the Asking

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Someone asking “Have you ever had a real job?” is different than someone telling you to “Get a real job”.  Who is doing the asking and who is doing the telling is important. The other day over my morning coffee three of my friends, one an artist, asked if I had ever had a real job. I’ve been asked this question a dozen times over the last 50 years. Yes, I had a real job from the time I was 10 till I was 21. From paper boy to dishwasher, to janitor. I’ve never been told to get a real job, not because I was successful out of the gate, but because I was willing to live without things – like heat and healthy food at times. I cannot image a total stranger telling someone to “get a real job”. I heard the great Paul Harvey tell an artist asking for advice to “get a real job” and that was the last time I ever listened to Paul Harvey.
          By definition, a job is a regular position of paid employment. There are artists who work as employees of ad agencies, so those artists have jobs, but those who are classified as “Fine Artist” seldom have a steady income so most people see them as jobless. Some Fine Artists like Vincent Van Gogh had his brother Theo to take care of him. Several of my friends have wives who are the bread winners. A few have parents who aid in their lifestyle.
          So when my friends ask if I’ve ever had a real job I answered I am a small businessman, have been for 50 years. In the studio I’m an artist, out of the studio I’m a businessman running a business that produces art, I am employee and employer. So later that day on Facebook I come upon a post of a picture of torn pieces of paper strewn about on someone floor. Someone had told an artist to get a real job and in a fit, this artist ripped up his sketchbook. There were a lot of great comments encouraging him to continue with his dream of being an artist. I began posting a comment of encouragement also, then I wondered what kind of a person would tell this artist to get a real job? What was the whole story here? If it were a total stranger I doubt he’d rip up a sketchbook.
          I deleted my comment and for the rest of the day I thought about this posting. Over the years I’ve heard many like stories. One was of a friend who’s wife became extremely ill and could no longer work. When they could no longer afford a winter coat for their daughter the wife begged him to get a real job. A few of us got together and gave him money but that turn out to be a band-aid. His wife and daughter ended up living with his parents. He struggled for a couple more years before getting one of those “real jobs” and becoming a part-time artist.
         Sometimes even a nice comment on Facebook can do more harm than good. Sometimes comments can be taken the wrong way especially coming from another country. One comment from a person with poor English was taken so wrong that 20 people tore into this poor soul just for trying to compliment an artist on her work.  I tell my students to sit down, relax, and think about criticism given to them. Ask who is giving it, where the person giving the critique is coming from art wise, and is the critique taking you in the direction you want to go?
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