Note: The opinions expressed by the author,Andy Cooperman, in this post are his and his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ASKHarriete or Harriete Estel Berman. No endorsement or refutation is intended or implied.
A friend and colleague once offered this bit of wisdom (I paraphrase): “It’s not always about making a living in Craft. It’s really about making a life in Craft”. This is certainly to a degree true-- and validating. But recent posts have got me thinking about what we mean when we say “making a living”, “supporting ourselves” or simply “making it” as a craftsperson, maker or artist. I am curious about what we mean when we talk about being a successful artist.
Are we talking about financial independence? Selling enough of our work or services to pay studio overhead, rent or mortgage payments on our home, apartment, loft or condo without a second income from another job? Are we including in this definition health care and insurance payments, paying for transportation, food, and taxes? Does making a living in craft extend to raising children (if we have made that decision) and paying for their education? Do our studio incomes allow for travel, entertainment and luxuries such as cable, dinner out, and nice clothes?
I have supported myself making one of a kind jewelry, working as a commission and custom metalsmith, doing some repairs and limited production and, increasingly, teaching workshops, seminars and classes (which have yielded the benefit of occasional sales). I chose not to have children but I do have a nice home and don’t want for much. The fact that I have a partner who does have a career and a stable--but not stellar-- income and who has been incredibly supportive about my choice of profession has no doubt and to no small degree allowed me to make a life in Craft. But the studio pays its own bills, puts some money towards retirement and covers my half of our expenses as a family. Still, as I get older, I wonder if it will be enough.
Are “success” and “making a living” two different things? There are many artists and makers who have achieved fame, whose work is published and whose names are well known but who support themselves financially through other means. This is certainly success on one level. There are metalsmiths and craftspeople who don’t care at all about this type of notoriety but are driven by a love of making and sell enough work to allow them to keep making more work and maintain a lifestyle that they are comfortable with. They may or may not have a car, a television, their own home or great shoes. They may no doubt define themselves as successful while others might question their definition based on their own needs and lifestyle choices. And there are those jewelers who like what they do but see it more as a business: a job or a profession that allows them to support their families or themselves and do the things that they are really passionate about.
What do people really think? Let’s have a frank discussion.