An emphatic yes. My current job provides fulfilling work and the pay is decent, but it will not be the job that helps me pay off my staggering amount of debt (just around $100K). For the past 7 years, I was in school to obtain a PhD in Biology. Before that, I was an administrative assistant, after I obtained my undergraduate degree. As an undergraduate, I double majored in Biology and Studio Art. My parents wouldn’t help me pay for my art degree unless I had a back-up. But, I knew I wanted to be an artist. After college, I worked as an admin to pay the bills, while I tried to make large-scale multi-panel paintings. I did a lot of my work in the parking area of the four-plex where I lived. Unfortunately, I became distracted from my art, and was tired of being held to a rigid 8am-5pm schedule. I went back to school for an advanced degree in science, because it was also something I loved and I thought I could still make art. Well, no. The PhD did not work out, for a confluence of disparate reasons, including starting a family. Oh yeah, life happens! So, most of my debt is from accumulated student loans. I wouldn’t say that for the past 15 years or so I have been living wildly outside of my means. You don’t have to do that to fall into debt as large as mine. It’s just a loan here or there, to get you through a semester, and then…it’s really too easy.
I’m operating under the assumption that I must support myself in work outside of art-making, at least for now. Currently, I am working as an Events Planner within a department at a University. It is not necessarily my “dream job”, but it is honest work and I know I’m making enough to help support my family. However, it is not enough to support my family, make monthly payments on my debt, *and* revive my long-dormant art practice. My income is also limited as a temporary employee. A modest increase in my salary would go a long way towards allowing my husband and I to make a dent in our revolving debt, first by allowing us to stop using credit cards for groceries or diapers. We actually have a reasonable income for a family of three, but without anything in savings, and with constant bills to pay and rent to make, any small setback (e.g., damage to a car or my unemployment for a couple months this year) has ripple effects for months. And don’t get me started on the cost of full-time day care. It’s a fine line, how much my income is versus how much our child care costs are each month. Where can my art-making fit in with all of this?
Essentially, debt and financial insecurity render my art-making a luxury I often feel I really can’t afford. Debt also strongly affects me emotionally, by adding an undercurrent of anxiety to any thoughts I have about our household finances or financial situation. Frankly, I’m embarrassed to have such large debt, and wonder how feasible or realistic it is for me to want to pursue my art when I know I owe so much money. I’m sure others might also think the same thing! As in, you can’t make art! You’ve got to make MONEY… it’s a huge burden and makes me feel a little hopeless and sad. I am beyond numb at the thought of how much debt I have. And what if I told you that my partner is in a similar situation? Does this mean that any extra income we have should go towards paying off our debt, for the next 10-20 years? While we raise a family and try to have our careers grow? Does this mean we can’t buy a house? How can we contribute to our extended family, and look after our own parents as they age and face retirement? However, the beauty of art is that it can provide solace in the midst of this financial anguish. And I do not necessarily feel the need to use certain kinds of media, or make large-scale art (although you can always draft proposals for large-scale ideas). I just do what I can when I can, with media I have at hand.