On Tuesday, we started out our list of famous artists who had to work their way up with day jobs. As a profession, “artist” ranks pretty low in terms of financial reward. Most artists schlep their way through menial professions for years before being able to give them up for more rewarding work. Those jobs are not always fun, but they can influence an artist’s practice.
1. Taxi driver
Artists who made this job famous: Phillip Glass, Judith Braun
Pro: You’ll get to meet a wide array of people in the city you’d never meet at art openings.
Cons: 12 hour shifts, puking drunkards, and standstill traffic. Working at nighttime will put a damper on your social life, too; you’ll be driving people from art openings and bars while wishing you weren’t in the driver’s seat.
2. Small business owner
Artist who made this job famous: Richard Serra
Pro: Open your arms wide enough, and you can be the patron saint of your unemployed artist friends, just like Richard Serra who started Low-Rate Movers and hired on Chuck Close, Philip Glass, and Spalding Gray. What a guy!
Con: It can take over your entire life. It’s common to hear of people who stopped making art because they started up their own business (usually art handlers who started their own art handling companies).
3. Restaurant staff
Artists who made this job famous: Mickalene Thomas (waitress), Julian Schnabel (dishwasher and short-order cook), and Keith Haring (busboy)
Pro: With a flexible schedule, you’ll likely have free time to make art, and with cash tips, you’ll rarely need to make stops at an ATM.
Cons: Taking shit from impatient customers and spending hours on your feet. The variable pay isn’t much to write home about, either: relying almost exclusively on tips, some nights you’ll be raking in wads of cash and on others, you’ll barely be able to take a cab home.
Artist who made this job famous: Mark Bradford
Pro: Free haircuts! Also, you get paid as soon as you do the job, and transforming someone’s unkempt, hirsute mess into an updo is hugely satisfying.
Con: Screwing up on someone’s ‘do, even just by an inch, will send your client screaming. In most cases, when you put down the wrong color on a painting, you can cover it up.
5. Furniture Maker
Artist who made this job famous: Richard Artschwager
Pro: For an artist like Artschwager who became famous for his Minimalist cube-furniture-sculptures, this seems like the perfect choice: a day job that strengthens your artistic prowess.
Con: “High rates of illness and injury”. Ugh.
6. Used bookstore clerk
Artists who made this job famous: Jasper Johns and Patti Smith
Pro: Brooklyn-born litterateur Jonathan Lethem once described his many years in a bookstore clerkship as the chance for “constantly discovering all these forgotten authors that I ended up being powerfully influenced by.” There’s something to be said about being surrounded by the greatest minds of former generations, but…
Con: …for the most part, it’s a low-paying retail job. You’ll still need to be sociable, affable, even, when customers request Fifty Shades of Blah.
7. Living off your wealthy parents or significant other
Artists who made this job famous: Francis Bacon, Lawren Harris, and Alice Neel
Pro: If you’re like Francis Bacon, and you can’t hold down a job on your own, it helps to have parents who will love and support you forever with a trust fund.
Con: There’s often a time-limit: not everyone’s mommy and daddy will support them forever. In Girls’ pilot episode, Lena Dunham’s parents cut her off just one year after graduation, leaving her to fend for herself in the wilds of Greenpoint. Until the ‘rents cut you off, we see no problems with this lifestyle.
8. Programmer/Web developer
Artists who made this job famous: David Rokeby (but this was actually his work), Vuk Cosic, Ryder Ripps, and Patrick May
Pro: Often, you’re doing practically the same thing you’d be doing in your art but for money. And it pays well! Good job.
Con: Some jobs can be incredibly tedious.
9. Hotel owner
Artists who made this job famous: Alighiero Boetti
Pro: Yes, you, too, can have a jet-setting lifestyle in affordable fashion by opening up a hotel in an off-the radar destination. Italian artist Alighiero Boetti opened up the One Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan back in the early 1970s.
Con: Eventually, the Soviets might come in and, like Boetti, you’ll have to get the hell out of dodge.
Artists who made this job famous: Just look at Yale’s faculty page.
Pros: Health care, benefits, tenure, studio time, writing, reading, looking important in front of others, talking about whatever you want because you’re in charge, traveling to conferences, et cetera.
Con: Teenagers suck.