I’m not sure how people “make it” in the arts. I’ve been an artist all my life, not to mention a musician, carpenter, stair-builder, laborer, landscaper, cab driver, security guard, short order cook, waiter, bus boy, dishwasher, and parent to two teenagers. Pretty much everything I know in life I’ve picked up by trial and error.
Both my kids are creative. They play a variety of instruments, write music, and draw. Like so many talented children today, they could play all the parts in a band, record a bunch of songs, and then design the album cover. When they perform on stage they play with confidence and skill. My wife and I have spent many years enjoying their music. Hearing and seeing them play makes us very proud and happy. And sometimes it makes me uncomfortable. What if someday they want to become professional musicians?
Today, I consider myself lucky to be a working artist, but I remain painfully aware that there is no clear linear path to what my mom would call “securing your earthly existence.” I’m not sure how one finds a balance between creative success and financial stability. My kids have been fortunate to enjoy privileges and opportunities that many don’t. My daughter is thinking about going to New York to give music a shot after college. I think she should go for it and that’s scary. She’ll have to find her way and make mistakes and work day jobs and learn new life lessons. Hopefully, she’ll find a way to creatively balance her personal responsibilities with her musical growth. Maybe I should tell her again that Philip Glass was a plumber into his 40’s, and the 20th century composer Charles Ives was an insurance salesman.
Defining artistic success in America is difficult. It can be a never-ending soul drain. It’s a topic that can overwhelm both parents and kids. Maybe it’s obvious to some, but it helps me to see creative success as something different than financial success. If they need advice, I can help my kids become creatively successful. And of course, as parents, my wife and I work together with them so they can also find a way to secure their earthly existence.
I’m happy to share my experiences exploring the mysterious, painful and thrilling life-long pursuit of art making. I tell my daughter, a drummer, that when she has a show or a gig she should show everyone how much she loves it. When my son played bass in a high school rock and roll band, the advice was the same. Why? It’s not just because the audience enjoys the enthusiasm and wants to connect to the creative experience. It’s because an artist’s source of power and strength comes from accepting and demonstrating how much they love making art.
Their are zillions of reasons not to make art, but if you are going to push forward and go for it, you have got to throw it down and find a way to completely commit to your discipline. Great art connects people and especially these days, people want to connect. I certainly want to feel connected to something meaningful, so I’m trying to engage with what I find compelling and hope others connect, too.
If you have a creative child, you already know no one can guarantee financial success. All any serious artist can do – be it through music, painting, writing, acting or whatever – is honor, nurture and respect the need to create. It’s important for artists to think about how they want to define success for themselves. In fact, it might just be that success is measured in ways we did not imagine. I like the John Cage idea that art is not about trying to make order out of the chaos; it’s about waking up to the life we are living.
Being an artist can be hard and scary. Hell, being alive can be hard and scary, but there is a lot of power and strength in connecting to others by standing up for what you love. Like I said, I’m not sure how to “make it” in the arts but I love my family and I love making art.
Michael Finnegan is a visual artist who majored in Guitar and Composition at Berklee College of Music. He was raised in Annapolis on the Chesapeake Bay and in Hawaii, and has worked and lived in Deer Isle, Maine and commuted by boat to work on Bainbridge Island in the Puget Sound. He pays close attention to ideas inspired by waves, water, fluid motion, light and color. His exposure to the works of various musicians also influences his art and he sometimes arranges and composes the visual motifs in his work using concepts borrowed from his understanding of music theory and rhythm.
Michael’s work is currently on display through September at Metropolitan Capital, Chicago. You can also learn more about him at https://www.michaelfinneganart.com, and follow him on Instagram @michaelfinneganart