Being so busy this past year (and barely even making art!) really got me thinking about how to make sure what I’m doing is sustainable. For way too long, I’ve felt like I’m always just one step away from burnout. So I decided to set some ground rules for myself to help me make good choices about what I commit myself to, with the idea of eventually turning it into one of those spiffy decision tree flowchart things.
It’s funny, as soon as I began sketching it out in my head I started making better choices. I said no to things I would have said yes to before without hesitation. I started protecting my time and my energy. I feel like I’ve given myself breathing room.
The final product isn’t overly complicated (jump to the end of the post to see it), and I won’t walk you through every part of it, but let me take you on a quick tour of the highlights.
The obvious starting question is: do I have time? Like really have time, where I’ll still have a semblance of work-life balance and I won’t be tired and grumpy and resentful? Also, when I say yes to things like artist talks, that usually means I need to take a vacation day at work, and I’m not particularly keen on spending my vacation days trading one job for another. So the question isn’t only do I have time, but also, is this how I want to spend my limited time?
Another very important one is that I am done paying to participate in shows. Application fees are ok. Participation fees are not. Also not ok: insanely high out-of-pocket shipping expenses, especially if they’re for international shows, because the stress that goes along with international shipping just isn’t worth it. And bonus points will go to shows that pay me (hello CARFAC fees!).
The same goes for speaking gigs. I did some speeches this year that I spent huge chunks of time writing and practicing for—because I’m not a natural public speaker and I want to do a good job—and I didn’t get paid a cent. I did this knowingly and willingly, but I’m done with that. On the flip side, there were also those that compensated me very fairly for my time, which was much appreciated! Now, if you just want me to show up and do a general artist talk that I’ve done a million times before, sure, maybe… But if you want me to produce new content, you need to pay me for it, just like you would pay to buy my art. It’s all work.
While I don’t need the money (thank you, day job), when I don’t insist on getting paid for my work, it undercuts those artists who do earn a living from their art. So, everyone say it together: Pay artists for their work!
Now, because of the kind of art I do, there will always be exceptions to this rule, which is why I’ve built in flexibility. Like if it’s for a good cause and will really make a difference, but it doesn’t pay, then OK, let’s talk. Or if I’ll get something out of it (other than money), that’s great. Like if I’ll learn something, or if I’ll make important connections, or if it helps move me beyond the traditional mosaic circles. Those, to me, are all valid and important reasons to say yes. But those one-way gigs where I’m the only one giving? No thank you. Only two-way streets from here on out.
You’d be surprised how much fluff just these few rules cut out. And for what does make it through the first few hurdles, I’ve built in two final checks to ensure I’m making good choices…
One of the things that has become really apparent to me during the pandemic is just how much shit white men get away with. Of course I knew this before, but I really experienced it first-hand during the pandemic and it’s both exhausting and infuriating (and also sort of grimly fascinating how these dudes are just so shameless). So one of my final checks is: Would they ask a white dude to do the same thing for the same money / under the same conditions? (And also important: would he say yes?) I will channel my inner white dude for a quick sec to answer that, before the final check, which is where I usually fail hard: am I doing it because I feel guilty saying no? I have been roped into so many things in the past because of that.
So that’s it! I am going to print this out and slap it up on my studio wall. Here’s to making good choices, avoiding burnout, getting paid (sometimes), and growing and thriving!