Corporate America: Death of an artist.

Alright, I am willing to admit that the title may be a bit too dramatic, but it is my firm belief that is also true in many ways.  Unlike many artists, I work for a big corporation, getting a steady paycheck and still attempting to fight an epic battle with the biggest adversary out there named Time.  But more and more, it seems, I find myself on the losing side.

While working for a company in New York, especially if you are a salary employee, it is considered normal to work sixty plus hour weeks.  It is considered normal to receive phone calls in the middle of the night, weekends and holidays with work related questions.  It is also considered normal for people not to take an hour for lunch.  In fact many companies invest into a nice little snack bar on the floor, or cafeteria or a small kitchenette only to discourage people from leaving the building.  Obviously if a person will grab a bag of chips and eats at their desk they will get more work done.  It is a sneaky ploy, but it works.

Working late nights and weekends is also quickly becoming part of everyone’s job.  If you are salaried employee you are most of the time exempt from receiving overtime pay or late night pay or anything else other than a pat on the back for that matter.  And it is better for a company to have one employee overburdened with work and forcing them into such a routine than hiring someone to help.

Where am I going with this?  Very recently I caught myself asking my boss if it was alright with him if I do a shoot on a weekend.  Luckily I realized how stupid that sounded before the words left my mouth.  Why should I run my personal time off with someone who in no way, shape or form should have a say about what I do with it?  But it seems that once you join a company you eventually get beaten down and broken down to the point where you give your time freely without even realizing it.  Your job is no longer your second home.  It is now your first.  People take time away from family, from hobbies and from their passions just to keep up with the firm’s ambitions.

I have met a lot of people over the years who were painters, poets, writers, photographers, sketch artists, actors and so on.  And when I asked them why they weren’t doing what they loved to do, I got the same answer in return: “No time, have too much work.”  And I will openly stand up and salute anyone who has managed to unshackle themselves from the comfort of a steady income to take a risk and to follow their hearts.

Unfortunately the term ‘Starving Artist’ is not just an expression and certainly not a joke.  There are so many people out there who have nothing but their art to sustain them.  And when that disappears, they find themselves on the street not knowing when they will eat next.  Once you fall down that hole, it is close to impossible to climb back out.  Your credit score is destroyed, you have no phone number or home address and you can forget about getting any prestigious jobs.

In today’s economy it is almost impossible to sustain yourself on gigs that could be here one day and gone the next.  The security blanket of a steady income is too tempting and too difficult to leave especially if you have people that you must care for.  Is there a solution to this?  Is there a plan of action other than standing on the rooftop doing a Howard Beale impersonation and screaming “I am mad as hell and I am not going to take this anymore!”  Each of us must decide for ourselves on how to balance our lives.  The only suggestion I can give is a small quote from the movie Home Alone:  “Never give up!  Never surrender!”

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