Hello. My name is Sarah Duffield and I am a full time artist.

A ramble all about answering the inevitable question and owning my profession as an artist.
09/08/2018
I’m at a social gathering - a BBQ at a friend’s house and I meet someone new, I think we could be friends, I’d like to impress; we exchange names, maybe some polite conversation about the state of the nation or the burnt sausages before quickly, irrevocably the inevitable question is asked …

“So Sarah, what do you do?”

I’m not entirely sure why I find this a difficult question to answer, maybe it’s because I feel that the answer I have isn’t a socially acceptable one for a grown up to give.

When asked what they want to be when they grow up children are indulged and encouraged when they answer with pop star or astronaut, prime minister or inventor (and rightly so) as children we are taught we can be anything we want to be. Usually childhood ambitions change as we learn more about the world and ourselves, our passions develop, grow and mature just as the children who hold them do.

As a child other than a brief flirtation with wanting to be a plumber I always wanted to be an artist, my ambition was indulged and encouraged but unlike most of my friends and siblings it never changed as I grew older.

A childs drawing of an owl
 

So when I answer the inevitable question “What do you do?” with “I’m an Artist” I feel childlike with childlike ambitions and rightly or wrongly I suspect the person who has just heard my answer believes that somewhere, someone is indulging my childlike ambition, my make believe lets play at being an adult job.

When people ask “do you manage to make a living as an artist?” what I hear is “So, you never got a real job after university and now you’re playing at painting while your husband supports you” and I respond with an apologetic, rambling explanation of how I have worked many other jobs to support my art career, that I do manage to make some money and I do some teaching which is a real job so it’s all fine and grown up really.

When people say “That’s amazing, good for you, I’d love to be able to stay at home and do something I love all day” I gush in return about how lucky I am to have never grown out of my childhood dream and I mean it but I don’t ever say (because I don't want to disappoint) that like many other other jobs, even jobs people are passionate about my job has its down side; the loneliness, the paperwork, the website building, social media skill learning, the guilt when once again I don’t have time to cook my children a proper meal or I miss a financial goal because despite working hard my income is never guaranteed.

I struggle.

I struggle to find adequate words to describe my profession, the reasons I do it and the hardship that comes with it.

I do realise that “I’m an artist” is a perfectly sufficient (and truthful) answer to give to the inevitable question, that it is nothing to be embarrassed of and yet regardless of my skill and dedication ‘Artist’ does not feel like a grown up profession, it is my childhood fantasy like joining a circus or becoming a magician might have been for others. If you look at the list of accepted professions for counter signatories on a passport application ‘Artist’ is not there (neither I would like to add is circus performer or magician) it is not a recognised profession by either myself or the government and yet without it, without all of the creative jobs being done by people who are following their childhood dreams the world would be an incredibly dull and boring place.

I am one hundred percent sure that the issue with my profession is my own and not other peoples. The questions are ninety-nine percent of the time out of genuine interest and often surprise – you do not after all come across artists at a friend’s BBQ very often.

So I have decided that I need to own my profession. I need to learn to say that I am an artist, that yes I make a living from selling my work (even though I suspect a person in a “recognised profession” would never be asked about their ability to earn money or pay bills, it is quite simply rather rude but I understand the interest) and I need to acknowledge that yes I am lucky to be working in a job that is my passion but I am not the only one, teachers, nurses, engineers many people working in recognised fields do so because it is their passion and just like those recognised jobs working as an artist has its downsides.

I need to learn to stand up and say loud and proud “Hello, my name is Sarah Duffield and I am a full time artist”

S x

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