I've gained a few readers in the last year (hi, reader!) so what I'm about to write about may come as a shock to you. I need to confess that I not only dropped out of grad school and left my career in the arts, but I'm also an avid reader of web comics and web graphic novels.
I know; shocking isn't it? Who'd ever peg me as a comic book nerd?
Anyways, Haley recently had a great post about grad school not being end-all-be-all of intellectual life and it really got me thinking about if this idea translates into the artistic world. It's one thing for an academic to keep reading journals, but what does an artistic do when they choose to leave their field?
To make a long story short back in 2006 I tried out, and left a grad program in Theatre Design (namely costume design). It was clear as day that it was a good time to abandon a Masters Degree and focus on building a resume; it was the recession and one was beginning to give more sway than the other. So I went out and worked. I worked for some amazing companies and with some amazing artists, though like any shmuck in their mid-twenties I didn't always appreciate what I had or what I was doing. Five years later it was time for my life to change again and I happily set down my seam ripper and black apron for the next role of motherhood.
It was a big change, and while I do miss my old days of travel and new projects every six months, I don't regret it one bit. It was the right call for me. I'm confident one day I'll return to it on some scale, but on my own terms and not as my only source of income.
During those five years the tides were changing and it's been fascinating to watch how the theatrical world has change with it. The artistic world in general has become this bright new thing thanks to the great time sucker that is the internet and the new media world that it has spawned.
The one place I've seen this explode is in the world of comic books. Thanks to internet and photoshop and digital art it's a complete new world and it's rather fascinating to watch. Over the course of years you can watch a person develop their artistic skills before your eyes, you can purchase books that might never be published otherwise, you can even raise enough money to fund someone to work solely on their art. It's no longer necessary to even have an "arts job" to pursue your craft and that is amazingly freeing.
One of the things I actually hated while working in the arts was having to dish out my skills to pay my rent, and for my food, and my gas, and my bills, and my loans. Feeling like you had to take work, that you wouldn't necessarily, in order to just survive can suck a lot of fun out of life - artistic or not.
It is an amazing day and age where you can step out of the artistic rat race and still produce your art and still use your skills. So many of the online comic artists I've witness over the years weren't doing art professionally; in fact quite a few of them weren't even that good. But they had an idea, and a drive and a new outlet and they've created wonderful things. It is inspiring to witness, to watch something done in the brief hours between work and sleep becoming something really beautiful. To have access to a world of stories and pictures just because someone decides to hit publish without the middlemen of editors and publishing companies
To someone looking at "leaving" the arts world I just advise this - it's a new world and there are so many ways to develop, hone and enjoy our skills. There are new ways other than the old, obvious monoliths of the arts world in which to enjoy those skills and reach your audience. I have no idea where my artistic life is going; truth be told I've enjoyed my break and don't want it to be my day job again anytime soon, but I look forward to seeing where it could head and what I can still do. I look forward to these up coming years and seeing what I can create on my own terms, surrounded and supported by those who real understand what is I'm doing. My artistic life is not over because I left the professional sector and you do not need to be there either to create wonderful things.