Talking To The Other Side of Your Brain

I was in a diner in Tarrytown,NY,  years ago, when I had a meltdown about being a jeweler. Too many creative decisions were turning into financial ones, and I wasn’t doing what I loved, I was supporting my family with my art, and that is a different choice from meaning making. Snorgling into my mashed potatoes and watching it rain outside, I longed to return to the paper arts. But I needed to make money to support the family. But I was soooooo unhappy.

Water lillies can bloom only if their roots are in stagnant water and their blossoms are in the air.

Imagine that: unhappy in the life of an artist. How could that be? The simple answer is–I wasn’t making meaning, I was making money. For many people, making money with their art is a life time dream. For me it became an unimaginable burden. Every decision I made was based on profit margin. Could I make this design large enough to show detail? Well, if I made it smaller, I could save time because the detail wouldn’t show. Should I fabricate the clasps? That would take time, and add to the price. If I purchased them, it would mean I could sell the piece for less, and still make a profit. And save time. That meant making more. Nothing had meaning anymore. The taste in my mouth was dry and dusty. The mashed potatoes were dry and dusty. My life was dry and dusty.

Right there, in the diner, I made a decision. I would no longer make my art do the heavy lifting of paying the mortgage. I would create other business outlets to do that. On the left-brain/right brain debate, I come down right in the middle, and that’s what was causing my problem–I was trying to make meaning “equal” to making money. I was trying to say that spending equal amounts of time on left brain business and right brain creating was fair. After all, equal is fair, right? Wrong.

Just as not everyone at a meeting has equally brilliant ideas, or even equally OK ideas, everyone has an equal right to speak. So I gave my brain equal time to think and then chose what works for me–teaching business writing, teaching the under-served, writing copy. And then teaching art, making books, and making art that I don’t have to sell.

For me, it works remarkably well. I support my family through my own work, I do what I love, I am a life- and creativity coach, and I have time to work deeply on the art that influences everything else I do.

Image: Used under the Creative Commons attribution license. Photo by wasoxygen at

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, creativity coach, and the author of Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art.

6 thoughts on “Talking To The Other Side of Your Brain

  1. You’ve explored a problem for all artists who try to make a living from their art. At what point are you creating to create or have you ‘sold out’ to what is in demand? When do you do what you do because it moves you vs. doing what you do because someone has commissioned you to do something?
    For a lot of us, hobby is a better plan for art; others can manage that work IS play puzzle.

    • Each person has that line in their heart. Each person should know at what point they are crossing the line. Mine was when the pressure to make money overrode meaning-making. When the driving force behind my art was keeping groceries on the table, I wasn’t making meaning, I could have been selling someone else’s work.

  2. You remind me of something my dad said long ago. Cars (especially antique ones) were his hobby and passion. They were not his job, although they could have been. I overheard someone ask him why he didn’t open, say, a gas station (as my grandfather had done) and still remember him saying “if cars were my job it wouldn’t be the same.”

  3. This is a problem I am just beginning to run into, and I find it perplexing. I find myself thinking “what kind of photograph would a customer want to buy” and drains away the meaning making. Plus I am GUESSING what an imaginary customer might want. It makes much more sense to take the photos that make meaning for me and then see if the collectors “get” the meaning.
    However my one wish about the whole art scene is that I never again hear the following phrase: “It’s the economy.” Ugh. As long as everyone has a scapegoat to blame, there is a ready made excuse to not try quite as hard. As I said, perplexing!

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