Saturday, April 10, 2010

It's work. Real work.

There is often the assumption, by people I know, that because I work for an artist, all I do is sit around and, oh, color in coloring books all day. Ho hum. That and eat bonbons. We started talking about this yesterday while on the job, and apparently it's something we've all experienced. I've heard it referred to as "my little art job." Granted, I'm not the CEO of Boeing, nor do I slug it out all day on a mechanical production line. I don't inhabit a cubicle amongst an ocean of cubicles. Neither do I sit in front of a computer screen every day for eight hours. I am actually quite fond of my job. I have the privilege of working with paint & colors most days, the daily banter is nearly always hilarious, rarely dull. I like most of the music to which we listen. My co-workers are all artists in their own rights, and educated, liberal, bohemian. We're all foodies. It's a great scene, but it's still work. For me, full-time work, with a 40-mile round-trip commute at rush hour.

It's exacting, and it requires a critical eye and steady hand, hour after hour. Some of the techniques take months to perfect, and they're ever-evolving. There are long hours with the hands in hot water, leaving fingertips and nails abraded and tender. Additional hours wearing a respirator, which leads often leads to intense claustrophobia, especially in very hot weather.
Lots of heavy lifting and maneuvering large boxes through and around crowded spaces. It takes balance, strength, endurance and patience. I leave the job most days feeling pretty much spent.

Nonetheless, I like my job. It often engages my brain in new ways, challenges me to find solutions to dilemmas I would never have imagined the previous day. Working with color, although sometimes confounding & vexing, is generally a glorious experience. We joke about "color therapy" -- but the intense pleasure to be had from a pleasing palette of colors at my fingertips is not a joke. It's real, and it makes the heart sing. (Except for the color Lamp Black, which makes me scream.)

So "my little art job" is indeed a real job, with its share of challenges and frustrations. I've spent a lot of hours this past week training a new person, and whenever I do this, it's apparent to me just how exacting the work is, and how difficult it can be to learn. But still, after 3+ years, I still, every day, pick up a piece and say, "My god, this is SO beautiful." My artist-employer seems to have successfully weathered the economic gloom, with an overfull production calendar for the remainder of 2010.

I'm lucky. People close to me have been job hunting for months, when I've had to add hours to my work schedule. My commute has become an hour+ out of every day that belongs to me only. It's my meditation time, when I can listen to whatever music I want to at however loudly I want it. Or I can listen to nothing, and the muffled drone of traffic becomes a kind of om.

Yes, I work for an artist. Yes, it's groovy. And yes, it is indeed real work.


  1. Oh, it sounds like a wonderful job, and that you do it with vigor and joy. My father used to say to me, "If you had your way, you'd spend all day in bed with a book eating bonbons." While that has a certain appeal, most people haven't a clue that, for instance, color is so heart-stopping, its almost an aphrodisiac. Or that thinking about and being near beauty requires truly hard work, and humility, but you know, if others don't, how wildly lucky you are!

  2. Vespersparrow, what a thoughtful comment! Thank you so much. You are absolutely correct about color.

  3. It is strange isn't it? I'll have to write a blog post about it from my perspective as well sometime. But I think it has something to do with the pervasive and habitual belief that it is only if one suffers can it be really called "work." So often talking about one's job or work becomes a contest to convince the other about how much one suffers. That certainly bleeds over into the perceived reality, and soon is practiced enough so that suffering becomes the definition of work. If you have the audacity to express enjoyment of your work, you will likely not be taken seriously, because "if you are not suffering you are not really working." If you described it all couched in misery you would get more credibility I think. But then I'd have to fire you. Not because of you, but because it would infect me. And I have to keep MY mind as clearly focused on the positive and on gratitude as I am able. Otherwise, this ship would sink. In a heartbreak. (I meant to write "in a heartbeat, but they both apply!)

    EVERYTHING we do here could be seen as tedious, uncomfortable, physically exhausting, frustrating, etc. In some ways we can feel lucky that it comes with a title of making "art" so that we have a larger door through which we can walk into the realm of appreciation of all the little parts of it that bring pleasure, even joy. We believe that all the little things really count toward the whole, the outcome. We have daily evidence of that. Even (or especially?) for me, the "artist", the boss, there is SOOOO much WORK. I have often tried hard to get people to understand that, as they discount my own struggles by saying "well, you are getting to be an artist, so it doesn't count". I could talk about how hard I work, how many hours I spend doing things that are physically harsh, emotionally taxing, and require incredible discipline to keep doing them over and over and over and over...
    But if I spend my time thinking that way, I'll start to believe it, and it will steal my joy.
    I actually believe that everyone can decide where to focus their attention. To appreciate, to practice gratitude (and yes, I know it's a cliche, but that doesn't make it less powerful). I think it IS easier in an environment of my own creation. I think it can be easier if one approaches it with the kind of appreciation for the little joys and glimmers, as you do, T. And I KNOW that attitude is worth protecting. Even if it means others will think your work doesn't really count. Because it's every moment of every day that matter. We can live them with a focus on the discomfort, or on the joy. And what we choose to focus on becomes the reality we experience in each moment.

    Ok. I guess I just wrote my blog post.
    Longest comment you ever gotten, I bet!

  4. Whew! That is INDEED the longest comment I've received, ever! Many thanks, Miss Melinda! It's really great to read it from your viewpoint, also. It's the icing on the cake, or perhaps (and more accurately), the table (foundation) on which the cake sits. (Oh me, here I go on and on about cake again....)

  5. Neither are writing, making music or teaching really working.

    I do at least two of them myself so I know that they are incredible amounts of work. V. does all three, so I know that all three are incredible amounts of work, grueling work, very often.

    As for the artists in our lives, gads, do they work hard.

    Plus there's all that travel, which is relentless and grueling beyond belief.

    Love, C.

  6. I've been trying to explain this to people for years. Well said!

    Bisou, Cro.

  7. We women often hear about our "little jobs." How patronizing!

    Yours is a tough job. You certainly earn those color-saturated pleasures.

  8. It's really great to know that there are others out there who get what I'm saying here. My thanks to all.

  9. I hear you sister!!!! Just because you're not punching the time clock in an office doesn't mean you're not working hard.