Stop me if you've heard this one:
Curious bystander: And what do you do for a living?
Artist: I'm an artist.
Curious bystander (chuckling): Sure. But what's your REAL job?
Artist: Oh, right. I teach during the school year and paint houses all summer.
OK, so it's not really a laugh-out-loud funny kind of joke, but this is frequently how conversations go when artists introduce themselves.
And not without good reason.
Ask anyone to name more than a handful of artists in Lawrence who can pay the bills by selling their artwork and, chances are, you'll come up empty-handed most of the time.
"It's not easy making a living as an artist in this country," says Randy Cohen, vice president for research and information at Americans for the Arts, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization. "I'd certainly say that the vast majority of artists need multiple income strings beyond the arts."
Indeed, artists moonlight (hold a second regular job) more than all other workers in the labor force, according to a National Endowment for the Arts study. What's more, the artists who moonlight most live in the Midwest and West.
The most common reason cited for working multiple jobs: to meet regular household expenses.
Marty Olson, who creates paintings, drawings and prints as his avocation, also owns Do's Deluxe, a downtown hairstyling fixture since 1976.
Would he like to focus more on his art? Perhaps. But it's a scary proposition.
"I'm afraid I would probably starve even more than I have," Olson says, laughing.
|14,820Number of artists in Kansas, out of a total civilian labor force of 1,374,6991.08Percentage of the Kansas labor force that artists comprise77 to 88Percentage of average annual income that artists earn compared to other professionals12Average number of hours spent by moonlighting artists at their second jobsReasons artists gave for moonlighting(in order of importance):1. To meet regular household expenses2. Enjoying the work on the second job3. The desire to obtain different experiencePeople working as artists in their second job more often cited enjoying the work and obtaining a different experience, and less often cited the need to meet regular household expenses.Source: National Endowment for the Arts|
Olson picked up the scissors and comb in 1973 after studying art at Northwest Missouri State University and then trying to begin a career during the recession of the early '70s.
"There weren't a lot of terrific jobs," he recalls.
But the stylist gig has turned out to be a good one for Olson. Design and creativity figure into sculpting coiffures, he says, nearly as much as they do working in his home studio.
"We're constantly dealing with design and how to balance bone structure versus fashion and how people want to express their personalities through their hair," he says. "There's a lot of problem-solving that goes into both processes."
Olson's simultaneous happiness in both his vocation and avocation jibe with one of the findings of the National Endowment for the Arts study. Next to making ends meet, artists most often cited enjoying work on their second job as their moonlighting motive.
Baldwin craftsman Don Gauthier fits into that category. The woodworker and ceramist has been crafting decorative pipes for pipe organs at Reuter Pipe Organ Co. for nearly 20 years.
"Working at Reuter has just been a terrific experience for me," he says. "I couldn't imagine what I could have done for the last 20 years that would have been as enjoyable or as creative or as challenging."
Early on, Gauthier and his wife, Gale Carter, also an artist, concentrated solely on making their own art. They worked through wholesalers, galleries, markets and fairs to draw income. And they made money, but not enough to live on.
"It was just so difficult we decided it really wasn't the direction we saw ourselves going," Gauthier says. "If you're in your 20s or your 30s, it's kind of fun to be poor and an artist. But you get to a point where you really would like to buy a house and have a decent car and all that. So we made the decision that we'd go other directions. We became part-time artists, and we got real jobs."
Bread and olives
Jill Kleinhans isn't waiting until she exits her 20s to create a little financial security for herself.
The artist and co-owner of Olive Gallery and Art Supply also works about 20 hours a week in the bakery at Dillons, 3000 W. Sixth St. She endures the tedious chores of packaging pastries and putting bread in bags because occasionally she gets to exercise her creativity and design skills by decorating cakes.
"It's mostly about ... what I can do with frosting. I think it's just a really fun medium," she says. "The fact that you can eat it, too, and it's sweet is really fun."
A secondary perk: Kleinhans is gaining useful experience for a potential career in pastry design. (Obtaining a different experience was the third reason artists cited for moonlighting in the National Endowment for the Arts study).
Kleinhans recently noticed that her artwork was intersecting with food. For example, she found herself shellacking Pop Tarts and drawing pictures on them. So she's been entertaining the idea of enrolling in a culinary school for pastry arts.
While she's on vacation this week, Kleinhans will be decorating a slew of cakes to enter in a cake-decorating contest by Wilton, the granddaddy of dessert adornment. The top prize, she says, is $1,000 and a two-week trip to Chicago to take a decorating class.
The whole experience will keep her creative muscles working, leaving open the possibility that, eventually, she'll be able to do what she really wants: make art full time.
"I would like to say it's a habit," Kleinhans says of her artwork, "but I don't get to feed that habit hardly ever, so it's unfortunately just become a luxury. I think I would really love to be able to make my money that way."