Tips For Artists: To Freelance or Find a Job?

My Maya

My inside cat looked out the window this morning and spotted a large shadowy figure sleeking through the open area between some bushes. Maya’s tail switches; she’s rapt, excited, attentive, and follows its every move. The outside cat stops to sense the air.  He’s a very large, beautiful calico cat. He feels eyes on him.

He knows he’s been spotted, but cannot detect the source. So he nonchalantly turns in another direction and trapezes off. He does not run, in complete confidence, he just picks up his pace and slips away into the distance.

I wonder if my Maya wishes to be an outside cat, free to roam wherever she wants; or if the dark male wishes to have steady meals and be loved. There are trade offs to both. For the privilege of freedom, a stray lives on the edge. Life is uncertain, often violent and short.

For the privilege of being kept, there are many trade-offs. Rules must be obeyed. There’s neutering and worse, de-clawing. There are borders never to be crossed, and sometimes imprisonment within a small space. Some suffer the indignity of the play of little children. Everything depends on the luck of getting the right human master.

There are many stories where an outside kitty “chooses” their human. And if the cat chooses well, the result is happy for all concerned.

What does this have to do with art? The outside cat is a metaphor for making a living solely on your art. Be prepared to live on the edge. There will be times of feast and meager times of famine. Everything teeters on uncertainty. Society preys on artists. They are easy pickings. With little bargaining power, it’s difficult for freelance artists to get a fair price for their talents.

The inside cat represents those artists who have agreed to be at the disposal of an employer. For the sake of steady income, they often give up their rights and their original works. Or they are squeezed and wrung until they can produce no more. Thus, burnt out, they are then discarded in favor of the eager young college graduate, who will work at entry level pay scales. Or they may land into happier circumstances — everything depends upon finding the right master.

This is the dilemma for those cats thinking about freelancing their artistic talents. It’s possible for some alley cats to find steady work in the right situation. A lot of this depends upon luck. Often, being talented is not the deciding factor, but how well you begged. To get fed, the alley cat has to show it is friendly and deserving enough to receive food.

This shakes out as being flexible (with illogical changes), being able to read minds, always meeting deadlines, always being available on demand, able to work for cheap and (believe it or not) grateful for the work. This describes an employer’s dream freelancer.

Of course, the very same criteria can equally be applied to the pet on the inside. Linear thinkers in management positions cannot fathom the process of creative thinking. They wonder: why can’t the artist conform to a schedule like everyone else? It’s sad, but chances are, the employed artist will always be misunderstood and marginalized by those who did the hiring.

There are other cats who are employed in other sectors but choose to do their art solely on their own time. With so little time left at the end of their day, hobbyists risk the energy needed to create. Being able to make a living is the freelancer’s motivation. What is the hobbyist’s motivation when money is not a factor? The hobbyist has to have the discipline to be self-motivated.

That’s pretty much the territory. Me? I’ve run the gamut from being an alley cat to being kept cat. A corporate reorganization pushed me back out on the street. So this li’l ole cat is back to freelancing again.

What kind of cat do you want to be?

6 thoughts on “Tips For Artists: To Freelance or Find a Job?

    1. Darlene Post author

      Well, my dear stray–you know what to do…

      * Dust off your Linked-In Entries and post some articles to get some buzz
      * Look into {{cringe}} Fiver for odd jobs work and leads to build your portfolio
      * Find a headhunter or otherwise check into on-line employment agencies
      * Be willing to cut your hair, and get some good interview duds
      * Most importantly, keep a positive outlook

      Good luck! Who knows, you might get some cat-nip right away….

  1. Morning

    Very well said. It would be nice if we could find balance between the two… selling our art and creative abilities or selling our time for the paycheck. I don’t see that balance ever happening for most, certainly not me. I need change, conforming is boring and structure is way to confining.

  2. Joe Piela

    Back when I ran my armour & sword forging business full time, even when things were good money- wise, the situation was still risky. I had barely enough money to cover things like rent and car repairs. I would sometimes take on commissions that were ok but not my favorite stuff to make (because I needed the money!).
    When I phased out my forging business and got into my factory job seriously, things became so much better. I have the money I need for all the necessities and benefits like company health insurance to really help things along. I even have plenty of money for art projects, and now I do the art that I’m inspired to do and that I want to do; I don’t have to follow the desires of customers.
    So, Darlene, all of your observations here are very accurate (as usual!). I can certainly attest to them from my own experience.


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