People who study the arts and try to make a living from them often hear the same words time and time again: “That sounds fun.” To an extent, yes, there is something fun about pursuing what you love and feeling passionate about it. It is a similar sentiment as any person going into a field they have a passion for, whether that be nursing, athletics, writing, or psychology. Whenever someone loves what they do and pursues their dream job, they will derive some level of joy and satisfaction from it. There will, however, be many days feeling miserable and stressed after working long hours. The thing about following your passion is that it typically takes more work than accepting whatever career is available and pays well.
There is a strange disconnect between a society that is flooded with inspirational films and ideas of pursuing passions yet also looks down on those who do this in their real lives. A big part of it is certainly a misunderstanding of what goes into an artistic career, which causes a misunderstanding of what success is. Speaking from the perspective of an actor, having ten auditions in a week without landing a part is a huge success. For starters, I’ve pushed past the fear of failure and done the work to research and set up all of those auditions. More importantly, I have performed in front of ten (or maybe more) different casting directors. The next time I audition for one of them, I will stick in their head a little more. Maybe if I audition for the same director a few times, they might remember me and be more inclined to cast me based on the familiarity with my style. Even though it seems like I’m failing if I’m not landing a bunch of big roles, there are more layers than that. Another issue with looking down on artists is not valuing art in general.
Another issue with looking down on artists is not valuing art in general. People who make art their careers work well over 40 hours a week. They spend countless unpaid hours bettering themselves in addition to any paid work they do. That work is not easy, it is not playing with pretty colors on a canvas for a few minutes or acting out a goofy short scene with a friend. Sure, these things can be part of the process at times, but there is so much more that goes into the craft.
An artist reaches into their soul and does some emotionally exhausting work to find a desirable end product. Beyond that, there’s a bunch of less exciting yet necessary activities. A set designer for a play will design a beautiful set that meets their vision, they have to do a lot of math to make sure it will be architecturally sound. Each artistic profession has elements to it that don’t feel artistic at all, and artists are not exempt from creating resumes and portfolios to find work. They have to research, network, apply, and are rejected more often than the average person.
Artists of every kind are rejected on a daily basis. They might go a hundred rejections between every successful job. A successful job, by the way, does not mean they receive a living wage or even money at all. As an actor, the majority of what I’m doing at the moment is working for free. I’m building up my skills and resume. Some of the projects I audition for are paid, but it’s usually something like a $100 or $200 stipend for eight or more weeks of full-time work. Typically, the higher paid jobs in the theatre world are picky about who they consider. There is a plethora of people that want these jobs, so they are only offered to the best. Best can mean most talented, most well-known, or best represented. Often, these highly esteemed jobs require union membership, which is typically difficult to achieve. The people who are cast in these shows have usually faced years of rejection. Even very talented people will not get cast for every show they audition for. If the casting director wanted a tall brunette and you are a short blonde, that is enough to ruin your chances if there is a similarly talented tall brunette actor auditioning.
All difficulties and rejections aside, artists continue to pursue the arts because we know our work has value deeper than ourselves. Art changes the way people feel. It is transformative. I’m grateful to be a part of the process. I wish more people outside of my discipline took it seriously and understood the hardships, but even without that validation I’m happy to pursue my passion.