Who Are You, Really?

When I made one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry and sold them at art festivals, the big question in any conversation was “are you a full-time artist?” It was a badge of authenticity to make your art bear the burden of supporting the family and fueling your creativity. The day I realized that all my creative decisions were approved through my marketing budget, I quit. I vowed I’d never put my art in a straight jacket again. I returned to my roots as an art journaler (before it was called that) and worked with people to challenge their inner critic.

Some of the many hats you can wear.

To support my creativity without weighing it down with spread sheets, I expanded my business to include creativity coaching, freelance writing, and developing and running business communication training programs. Oh, and I design and celebrate people’s sacred ceremonies–weddings, commitment ceremonies, new home blessings–almost anything that has to do with change and growth. I like to be busy.

Each of the pieces of my business have different cycles, and with some hard work and planning, some parts are busy when others are not. So far, ten years into running my own business, I’ve never hit a patch where all the businesses slowed down at the same time. Knock wood.

About two years ago, I made the decision to have one website instead of two. For a while, I was worried that my business clients would not understand the creative side and would be afraid that I was too far out of the box.

Interestingly enough, my business clients are fine with me being an artist. It’s something they are familiar with–artists have to do other work to be able to support their creative projects. For the corporate world, that’s a no-brainer.

What is surprising to me is how many artists frown at my business side. “Oh, so you aren’t really a full-time artist are you?” Sometimes I say, “I’m creative all the time.” Sometimes I ask, “How do you define ‘ full-time artist’?” It’s as if my creative side is tainted because I design and teach writing and communication training programs.

One of my biggest creative challenges is teaching grammar to business people who never learned it in school. Without knowing the difference between a subject and a predicate, it’s hard to explain why it’s always “between you and me,” and  never “between you and I” and why you should tell your dog to “lie down” and not “lay down.” Making up rules that don’t include grammar requires a lot of inventiveness and imagination. I find it challenging and, yes, fun.

It’s also sad for me to hear artists make up rules about who gets to claim the title of artist and who doesn’t. Or to deny business people the right to be artists. Nowhere is creativity needed more than in corporate America.

What bothers me is that artists, who know a good deal about being labeled and stereotyped, are doing a lot of that themselves. Being an artist does not demand that you sell you art and live from that money alone. Being an artist means that you face life creatively and work at the intersection of the world’s need and your determination. So yes, I’m a full-time artist. And a full-time business owner. And a full-time writer.

–Quinn McDonald is many things. She’s happier that way.