Danderfer’s Message To Part-Time Artists…

cjd_quiltHello, good morning, and welcome to the Saturday Morning News Post!

Readers, we all know how much I like to talk about myself, and that mine is a story that simply can’t fail to excite. Every so often however, I feel obliged to talk about something else for a change. (Don’t worry, next week will again be all about me!)

So this post goes out to my friends and readers who are part-time artists, and by “part-time” I simply mean that they’ve chosen other careers to make a living by. As artists, some of them are beginners, some amateurs, and some of them are at a very high and “professional” level, it’s just… not their profession.

I believe this group (which includes a number of good friends of mine) needs a little wake-up call encouragement every so often from us “full-time” artists. They need to be reminded that we’re not so different from one another and that amidst all of their numerous commitments in life, their art is important.

So allow JD to break it down…

Embracing Your Creative Outlet As A Lifestyle Choice

You see, whether a part-timer or a full-timer, most of us only have only one creative outlet if we’re lucky. It’s our release, the release of something which can’t be put into words. Obviously, full-timers face a lot of challenges on their way to making a living as artists but part-timers face a whole other type of challenge as they carry full-time day jobs (in some cases completely unrelated to their craft), while continuing to try and make time for their art that they love so much.

So when the part-timer’s “real-life” intervenes with a stack of monthly bills, social commitments, excercise routines, cooking, etc., then taking time out for their creative outlet begins to look less necessary/important and more like a self-indulgence. After all, their art can wait, it will always be there to come back to at some point, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. I believe what we’re talking about here is a kind of lifestyle choice. It’s like excercise, excercise for the heart/soul/mind. No, it’s never too late to start jogging either but a 70 year-old guy who’s never laid eyes on a treadmill, well,… the damage has been done, that guy lost a lot of strength. People who see the importance of taking care of their bodies while they’re young are much more likely to continue these habits as they get older. The same is true for your heart/soul/mind! If you wait until retirement to address your creative process, your soul is going to be obese, bitter, and lost with nothing more than a retirement plan, home renovations, and senior discount cruise ship vacations to look forward to.

Now, maybe talking about “the soul” seems a little too abstract for your liking? And perhaps the fact that it’s really enjoyable and interesting for you isn’t justification enough?

Fine, let’s talk about your mind. Creating art is a work out for your mind, a fun and challenging workout which involves many parts of the brain and helps to keep you not only contented but sharp as well. If you don’t believe me, read through some of “This Is Your Brain On Music” written by Dr. Daniel Levitin, neuroscientist and former sound engineer/ record producer, who explains in detail how playing music coordinates more disparate parts of the brain than almost anything else human beings can do. The same, or at least similar, is true of all arts. I know I’ve got at least a few doctors who read the SMNP so back me up in the comments section would ya?! (Paging Dr. Chops Grande? Dr. Vertesi?)

There’s one more connection I’d like to make between excercising and creating art. Even once you’re convinced of how important it is for your well-being (as you no doubt are by now) it will not just happen. You’re aware that excercise is good for you, it even kinda feels good, but you still have to force/push/motivate yourself to be disciplined about it and get your ass back in the gym again the next time, right? Same with your art! You gotta get back into that Soul Gym every goddamn week, throw some weights around with your creative mind until your heart can clean and jerk your body weight. (ps I’ve been waiting a long time for an excuse to use the term “clean and jerk”)

I hear some believers out there who are still thinking: “That’s all well and good JD, but I’ve got a lot on my plate. Taking “me-time” out for drawing a picture seems a bit selfish, no?”

You’re damn right it is. It’s the good kind of selfish. In a nutshell, it’s the kind of selfish that makes you a more independently content person. Your art becomes one more, very important, source of contentment in your life. And the more sources the better.

The Power of Options

I was talking to a friend and “part-timer” the other day whose job has kept her preoccupied and somewhat anxious for quite some time now. I reminded her that she wasn’t committed to staying at that job, that there were other options out there for someone with her talent and skills, “Having options = having power” I said, “the power to change your situation for the better. The moment you forget you have options is the moment you’ll be anxiety ridden because you feel “stuck,” helpless, and frustrated.”

After we talked, I was thinking of that “options = power” idea as it might apply to my part-time artist friends, but more along the lines of “the more healthy, fun things you indulge in (booze = fun indulgence, but doesn’t really = healthy), the more you have to give to other areas of your life” More sources of contentment = balance and freedom.

These sources may include: family, friends/relationships, career, hobbies, interests, and creative outlets.

Career is a source if you’re fortunate enough to like your job. I differentiate between hobbies and interests vs. creative outlet because the hobbies/interests (ie movies, excercise, etc.) are fun of course, but are not offering you a creative outlet, the value of which (as I’m trying to explain) is seriously underestimated.

So, the fewer sources you have, the more pressure remains on whatever’s left. If my creative outlet, music, was the only source of contentment (as occasionally it has been) there would be a lot riding on how I sounded on any given day. If your job is the solitary focus in your life, then you’ll be miserable if it’s not going well. Likewise, if a relationship is what’s keeping you going, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on that. (By the way, ladies, I’m looking at you on this one! Guys do it too but women seem to be way more likely to drop everything and give 110% to their relationship, which is just fucking terrific for the guy who is now walking on egg shells to reciprocate this 110% lest his girlfriend go into a downward spiral of disappointment. I mean come on already!em,… alright, clearly, I have some issues there,… that’s besides the point.)

Anyways, back on topic. You see where I’m coming from with the whole “sources of contentment = power” thing. The power to find balance and happiness in life.

Again, I’m not saying art = the key to happiness, it works both ways, if a professional artist’s life revolves around their craft and nothing else then he/she will put undue pressure on that element and probably choke it to death.

Part-time Or Full-time,… Not So Different After All

Those friends of mine who play/paint/write on the side, I always try to encourage them to continue on, to stick with it and heed the call of their so-called indulgence. They probably think I’m just being nice, or perhaps they think that their moving on to other careers has cast a shadow of doubt for me on what I’ve chosen to make a career out of.

I’m not, and it hasn’t.

What it is, is that I know that their art really means something special to them. I know that making art/music is something they could spend all day doing while the hours just disappeared without notice, if only they had the time. I see this, and I can relate to it in a way most people can’t because I’m an artist. I can see that the special relationship and sense of release (and unique sense of struggle) that they have with their art is really no different than mine. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not like these people are miserable at all, I mean, you wouldn’t think to meet them that they’re in any way missing something in their lives. But Danderfer knows,…oh yes, Danderfer knows alright.

I also know that some of them have stopped truly considering themselves artists simply because they chose not to pursue it as a full-time career. Now that’s a mistake, I’m sure of it. Why does it have to be so black and white? They have dreams of what they’d like to accomplish artistically some day but more than that they are simply still chipping away at it! And with all the responsibilities that they have in their lives, that fact alone speaks volumes. Again, thinking of several part-time artist friends of mine, I can’t say that my art means any more to me than theirs does to them. The choice to work a different job for better pay can simply be a lifestyle choice, it doesn’t necessarily reflect on one’s passion for creating. Hell, if I could walk into a steady and interesting job tomorrow, well,… I don’t know if I’d take it, but you can be damn sure I’d at least consider it!… Because as much as I love my job, it’s fucking rough out here in the trenches of professional artist-dom people!

Good For Everyone

This is worth mentioning again: indulging in their art (even part-time) is not only good for the people doing it, it’s good for everyone else around them. Working on their craft gives them a deep sense of satisfaction and joy that they will, perhaps unknowingly, share with others. I learned this from my Mother (big aww…), who for as long as I can remember, has always found ways to be artistically active, whether it be painting, drawing, sculpting, or quilting. She too felt that is was a selfish thing to be involved in, and it was, but again, it was the good kind of selfishness, the kind that makes you a better, happier person. (The proof is in the pudding folks, I mean look how good her kids turned out. Please!)

Let me wrap it up with this: Few people have any creative outlet whatsoever, full-time OR part-time. Cherish it. I believe the first step is to realize just how important it is, for you and those around you, for you to “indulge” in this source of contentment. Keep trying to think of new ways to push/motivate yourself to continue, you’re not part of a full-time community anymore so it’s tough and don’t expect non-artists to understand this (I’m not saying non-artists can’t understand, it’s just that they often don’t). And just because you haven’t found the time for it yet doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not committed to it (certainly not for the people I’m thinking of!), it may just mean that you haven’t found the right motivation yet! So step back and come up with some more ideas, maybe you become part of a community of artists, sign up for a class or regular private lessons, or my personal favourite: commit yourself to a goal you can’t back out of like a gig, or a recording, or a show, etc.

There you go part-timers, that’s your JD shout out! Print up this SMNP, and post it on your wall, or better yet, frame it for Christ’s sake. Now come up with a plan (you know I couldn’t write a whole SMNP without the word “plan” in it), make it happen, and kick some ass. When one plan fails, come up with another one until finally you find what works best for you. The world will be a better place for it. If you feel like it, tell me what your plan involves, or just do it and tell me later how it worked out for you.

Wow! Arts counseling, life AND relationship advice from a guy not qualified to offer any of the above! This is how we do it here on the SMNP!

Thanks for reading and have a great week everybody! jd

*Above artwork by Mrs. Cathy Danderfer

  • Morgasm

    Print it out and frame it? You’d need a frame the size of a refrigerator.

  • Gabriel Daniel Bonin

    Couldn’t agree more with all of this. I was just thinking about something very similar the other day about what it was like being younger and having dreams about what you wanted to do when you got older, be it a fireman, painter, writer, chef, etc. and how as we got older we got stuck in the routine of the mundane and slowly forgot our dreams of old because it’s just not viable when you work a job, or two or three jobs. It’s still possible. Even if it is just part-time or once a week or month, it’s good for the soul. And as you said James, it’s selfish but a good selfish because it’s for the Self, the soul/heart/mind.

    I, my Self, have been writing on and off for over 12 years, lately though it gets harder because of everything and “writer’s block” that I use an excuse. But when I do write something it really excites me because of how incredible I think it is. I hope it’s like that for all artists or part-time, that’s what it should be about, it should make you feel something, happiness, joy, love, courage or even anger if it suits you. I try to encourage friends to keep at it, most of us think it’s not good enough or too weird but a lot of people can relate in one way or another because we are all the same in some way. We are all made of the same basic elements, water, carbon, etc. Different tangent there, heh.

    I remember back to high school watching you play, standing up to do your solos and how everyone applauded and was in a good mood because of how amazing you were at it, and still are!

    Getting back to being an artist, it can get stagnant if it is your profession and you go through the motions of forcing yourself to create. A lot of how art turns out has to do with the mood or mind state you are in before you begin. Art begins with preperation most importantly. If you are forcing yourself and putting negative doubt into it then it won’t be as good as you wanted it to be. But if you are excited about an idea you have and bring it to completion, it’s so much better! I have 3 or 4 books of poetry I wrote from Spring 2000 until Winter 2001. I wrote every day. I took it everywhere with me, all my friends knew I had a pen when they needed one. I even took it to bars, I didn’t drink and act stupid, I wrote, some people thought it was kind of odd that I would do that but when they read some of it they were shocked and amazed. I did force a lot of it just for the sake of filling the books. Most of it was free verse because I filled the lines from front to back, there was no structure. Rhymed whatever I could. But what I did think out and plan when I got excited about something it turned out better than I thought it would and those are the pieces that I remember the most as well as cherish.

    Good on ya, James for encouraging others, we are all family and need a push sometimes!

  • Freddy

    This reminds me of an interview I listened to on CBC today, (I think it was today), anyway it was a guy who had created a group called something like “50 cent guitar” for people interested in performing who are not professional musicians. He made an analogy to hockey, in that when we hear “hockey”, we automatically think of the NHL, while the vast majority of hockey is actually played by amateurs on ponds, rivers, rinks etc. across the country, NOT by professionals, and that the amateur contribution to hockey is just as valid as that of professional. Basically he was saying, “just play”. I like it.

  • Christian Beleznai

    My buddy Dan who wrote the post above mine turned me on to this article and I’m grateful he did.

    All throughout my childhood, teens and for the first few years of University art was a huge priority in life. I would get so much enjoyment and satisfaction of letting this huge amount of creative energy out in whatever fashion. Somewhere near the end of University I started to feel critical and insecure of doing art for two main reasons: I didn’t feel it was good enough (which looking at this now makes no sense), and that it wasn’t going to help me survive in the world. Well I can’t tell you how wrong both those statements are.

    First of all the thought that your art is not up to snuff doesn’t make any sense. You do your art because you feel compelled to not because it is some kind of competition – that’s madness!! The only reason for this thinking I can think of is being in the competitive, comparing, environment I was in (Computer Science Co-Op) developed this terrible world view. I think a lot of people are held back by this excuse when it comes to sitting down and doing their art. I want to hug them, let them know I know how they feel and then give them a shake and say that this idea is totally artificial and has been instilled in them from our competitive society (it works for capitalism but it does not work for your soul!).

    For the other point of not being able to survive well… I ended up basically cutting my creativity off as I convinced myself it was a waste of time and would take me down a path of pain. What really ended up happening is that I did not have any outlet for all my creative energy so it manifested itself in self destructive behavior – for me that was binge drinking. I also felt like I was denying my soul nourishment it needed. I would not admit it but a feelings of self-loathing developed for not respecting my soul and for engaging in stupid behavior. It has been incredibly hard to get out of this rut too because just like a winning momentum this negative momentum and bad habits built up. So basically, yeah, art is NECESSARY for my survival and happiness.

    It took something big in my life to really shake me up and get out of that rut. Something super important I have had to accept and love truly knowing is that LIFE IS IN THE PROCESS NOT THE GOAL! If you live your life for the process, or journey, and not whether you succeed in the goal (something totally subjective anyway – think about it) then there is never any failure and you are always winning. It does not mean you should shoot for the big goals you want to but in the end those ‘goal points’ do not define your life. YOUR LIVING DEFINES YOUR LIFE!!! Since I realized this completely I know that I am always learning and always experiencing life – so, I win. That feels good…

    My whole life is changing like you would not believe now that I have gotten back in touch with my creative energy. My friends tell me I look ten years younger. I get up early in the morning totally excited to see what the day will bring. And I feel happy like I did like I was when I was a little kid doing battle drawing on 10 sheets of dot matrix computer paper (do you remember? the stuff that was all attached and had perforated edges you had to rip off). I hope I feel like a happy kid the rest of my life!

    Thanks so much for this article.

  • Dione :)

    This is exactly what I needed to read just now, James. I admit, I was just popping in to see if that image was of one of your mom’s quilts and ended up reading your very inspiring entry. (OK, most times, your entries are inspiring, but sometimes, I just skip to the end, sorry!) :) Anyhow, just wanted to share that lately I have been working with some amazing people in hospice, all at the end of their lives. One particular patient loves to sing a song at the beginning of our sessions, another loves to read his poetry and yet another has a house-full of stained glass windows she made herself. Whenever I meet these creative souls and ask what their greatest accomplishments are in life, they ALL say that it is raising their kids and/or pets, speaking their minds honestly and sticking to their art. And what beautiful legacies they are leaving behind for those of us left in this life! You are on point, my friend. So, with that, and your cyber ass-kicking, I guess I don’t have another excuse to skip choir rehearsal tomorrow night (working on Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang, 2nd Symphony in German). Danggit! I mean, danke schoen! Keep up the excellent blogging and hello to your mom! She is amazing!

  • Dr. Chops Grande

    My pager went off on Saturday, but I was not on call so I took my sweet time getting back to it. Turns out it was my old friend (and yes, longtime brother artist) paging, with a request for ‘official’ back up to grand statements about the mind. So here are my two cents as a doctor of the mind:

    First off: to all of James’s readers, he is, in fact, correct about the brain and music. Two important and well researched facts are key here.
    The brain changes with use even as an adult. It grows in certain areas when those areas are used more often. Neuroplasticity is well accepted by most docs these days. We used to think your brain stopped development at the end of adolescence and that was it, all down hill from there. Not so! It’s a bit like a muscle growing with use but of course more complex and subtler. You can see by way of neuroimaging that musicians have larger, more active brains in areas that correspond to their chosen craft. Piano player=big hand coordination area in the brain etc.
    Music, especially making it, requires multiple areas of the brain and is very demanding cognitively. Nothing lights up a brain perfusion scan like playing music, especially improvised music.

    So to summarize James’s point, yes music (and art) is good for you and unfortunately it is not like riding a bike, you lose it if you don’t use it. In a very real way your brain starts to shrink. Too bad for me it turns out…

    On a personal note, I’m definitely one of those part timers that James is lecturing/speaking to in his SMNP. I found myself starting to get a little defensive when reading the post. I thought some of the following defensive things:
    ‘Who does James think he is to assume that I’m just not making time by choice?’
    ‘How does he know what my life demands of me?’
    ‘I’d like to see him walk a mile in my shoes!’
    ‘What makes him think that what I do every day doesn’t bring me just as much, if not more pleasure than music?’
    ‘He can TELL something is missing..what!!’ ‘Where did he get that idea, do I look like something is missing?! Do I, PUNK?’…etc, etc…I have my issues too:)

    After I had some time to digest, as I rushed to work to manage another very stressful day, I started thinking about it a little deeper. Hmmm, perhaps it does bother me a bit more than I realize. Why would I be so defensive? Maybe I really agree with what James is saying and don’t want to admit it? I don’t really want to confront this reality because it is much easier to let it go. (I talk to myself). I let this sink in for a couple of days and talked it over with my wife, (at least I don’t have commitment issues) and started to face a couple of realities:
    I haven’t played my instrument more than twice since August, and once was only because James made me (thank you for the beat down James). I have to do something about that. I’ve been talking about writing some original music for years now. Last time I did it was 2004! That’s just pathetic. I have to do something about that! I haven’t played a real gig in at least two years. COME ON! I don’t remember the last time I went to a Jam session but I’m pretty sure it was before people had cell phones en masse! I’m not trying in anyway to make these things happen so I should not be surprised. But I am surprised. And that’s the disconnect. Granted, I’ve been in med school and then residency since 2004 so often I literally have no time of my own. But James’s post has made me look at my attitude and how I prioritize my life in a new way. There are times I choose to do other things with my rare free time. In truth, most of the time. I think this goes back to my defensiveness and thus avoidance of the reality that I have not prioritized music. I just ignore that dusty sax case in the corner because then I don’t feel bad.
    So I have a new plan. Every night, that I’m not on call (sorry I can’t turn the pager off to practice or I lose my license) I’m going to dedicate at least one hour to music. I know that’s not much but it’s a huge step for me. I started yesterday. I loved it. The hour went by in a flash and I only stopped because I had to. The other cool part of this plan is that it just has to be related to music. That means if I feel like working on writing I will. Tonight my hour was spent writing this post to James. What ever it is it has to be related to music in some way that is creative and constructive.

    To conclude; I hope everyone who reads James’s post takes it to heart. He knows what he is talking about and is preaching the gospel truth.

    James this post seems to have sparked a lot of interest and passion in people. It has in me. Thank you.

    Keep the truth hose flowing my verbose friend.

  • Janet

    i’m gonna print it out and hang it up in my practice space. :) thanks, james!