I recently read an article over on BrainPickings.org. It highlighted a letter that Sherwood Anderson had written to his son back in 1927, offering his advice on life and the artistic process:
The object of art is not to make salable pictures. It is to save yourself... The thing of course, is to make yourself alive. Most people remain all of their lives in a stupor. The point of being an artist is that you may live...
I always find it strange when someone tells me that I can't make a living on writing alone. I know they mean that there's no money in it, but isn't that an odd way to put it? Somehow, "make money" has become "make a living." For me personally, and probably for many people, I "make money" much differently than I "make a living."
My income is earned by sitting at a desk and staring at a computer screen for 40 hours a week. My living is made in all those in-between hours that are completely mine. In some of those hours, I write -- stories, comics, articles, letters, notes and blogs. Some I share, some I hide and some I destroy. Once in a while there's the rare occasion where I'm paid for something I've written, but more often than not, my words never earn a dime.
Luckily for me, I don't write to earn dimes. I write to make sense of things and to entertain myself. I think, or at least I hope, that is why most artists create anything. The artistic process (whether it is through painting, dance, photography, writing, etc...) is an outlet for us to express ourselves completely and fearlessly. Any profit we earn should be considered a bonus. That's not to say artists shouldn't be paid for what they create. They should be, and in real dollars too, not just in promises of "exposure" or having something "great" to add to a resume. When did that become an acceptable form of currency? Can you imagine hearing your boss say, "Thanks for your hard work! My two thumbs up is all the payment you need!"?
I didn't think so, and yet this is what artists deal with on a daily basis.
We rational ones, with the quieter dreams, we get day jobs and simply promise ourselves to set aside time to be creative. It never happens as often as it should, but when it does, it feels right. I can't describe it any other way. I suppose that's what it means to be "in your element."
When it comes to the art I create, I've learned to put financial gain on the back burner. I try not to do anything with the intent of making a profit, and I can count on one hand the amount of times I've received payment at all. However, that doesn't mean I didn't get something out of it.
So, yes it's true: Most artists may not be able to "make money" off of their work, but don't assume they aren't making a living off it.
I know I am.