Despite the fact that many creatives’ success metrics exist outside the industrial model, we can still be influenced by its narratives. One of the most pervasive being the story of the single-trajectory career. It goes like this: “Do one thing really well and you will be safe. You will avoid destitution and will gain respect.” Of course, we know that accessing a rich life isn’t that simple. What’s more, some of us create our best work because we do so many different things.
An internalized version of the do-one-thing-really-well narrative is the belief that unless we are spending the majority of our time doing creative work, then we can’t claim to be artists. Deeper than that is the belief that unless we are being paid for our work, then we can’t fully live into our creative identities. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. While creative work and money intersect, one doesn’t automatically validate or discredit the other.
You are a creative because you say you are. Or it’s something you just know about yourself. You get to claim the mantle of artist, writer, performer, maker, etc. when you choose to. And while you will probably feel better when you are able to dedicate even the smallest amount of time to your creative work, not creating doesn’t make you any less an artist. Nor does it mean you’re falling behind. Because no one’s creative practice is quite like yours.
I recently realized that I do my best work when I have my finger in many different pies. Every facet of my creative practice and professional life offers its own kind of fulfillment. From consistent money to human connection to complete creative freedom, I need all of it. I know this because when I’ve focused all my attention on one or two things, I start to lose momentum. My work becomes less interesting to me and, as a result, I stop doing my best work.
Of course, it’s possible to do too many things. To overwhelm ourselves with options as another way to hide. But for many of us, we know the kind of work we want to be doing. It’s just not all the same type of work. And that means we have to take on the task of deciding how we’re going to talk about the creative identity that feels right for us. Not because it’s been blessed by the industrial model’s narrative of success but because we have the ability to tell our own stories.
You are no less of a creative because making art isn’t the thing you do the most or you haven’t been paid for your creative work. You are no less of a creative if you choose to keep a stable day job and fit your art around that. You are no less of a creative because you work in different mediums or haven’t yet found your medium. You are no less of a creative if you don’t want to only do one thing. You are a creative because you say you are. Period.
So, how do you benefit from having a finger in many pies?