For this post, Andy Cooperman is the guest author for ASK Harriete. In response to recent posts, online discussions and conversations related to the Professional Development Seminar, Andy Cooperman asks all of us, "What do you mean by "Success"? You are welcome to post your comments in response.
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.
FROM THE PEN OF ANDY COOPERMAN
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.
It’s important to remember, I think, that all things are not equal when we talk about the realities of rent and the cost of living. The Seattle area is an expensive place to live and if I were starting out right now, I’m not sure that we could afford to establish ourselves here. Fortunately, we got in a little bit ahead of the curve housing-wise, but it is still a costly place to live. There are less expensive places, to be sure. I understand that we all live within limits. This is simply reality. But if we choose where we live based primarily on affordability (due to our choice of career) and it is not where we really want to be can we truly say that we are successful?
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 a 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.
So I’m wondering: How do we characterize success? How do we define “making a living” from what we do? What is your fantasy of a life in Craft or Art? Is it a money thing? Have the things that you wanted from life when you began your career as a maker remained the same? (Mine haven’t.) If you are embarking on your career do you think that there is a possibility one day that you may not get the same charge from making as you once did? Can/will you make enough money to compensate for that possibility?
What do people really think? Let’s have a frank discussion.
This post was updated on January 5, 2022, to provide current links.