The Shame of Calling Yourself an Artist or Crafter

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There is little that makes me more uncomfortable around people I just met than being asked what I do. A few people are fascinated when I tell them “Oh, I’m a glass beadmaker,” but the majority give me a reaction that tells me they just heard me say “I’m an unemployed, uneducated person who has a lot of time for crafts.”

It’s not their fault that they hear that. If I didn’t do what I do I’d think the same thing. That’s because most of our society has the following assumptions.

1. We don’t produce goods in America. Most people haven’t even met someone who works full time making something themselves. The people who do that are found in Chinese factories, or at least they have more important people telling them what to make.

2. You can’t make a living doing something creative.

3. Things made to be decorative or beautiful are worth little. Unless they have some recognized name brand stuck on them somewhere of course.

4. When you tell me what you do for work, I can infer from your job title how educated you are and how much value you are to society… in other words how much money you make.

The responses almost always make me feel uncomfortable and even bad about myself if I let them. Most people assume that because I’m married I don’t have to work so they don’t ask further questions but I can tell what they are thinking. If I’m really lucky the next part of the conversation is about Chihuly or some glass blower they saw somewhere on vacation or how glass art is made in general.

Sometimes I’m asked “Can you actually make money doing that?” I love the people who ask that, awkward though it is. I’ll usually answer with something like “Yeah, I know it’s crazy!” or “Who would have thought?”

But I don’t think that’s true. I really don’t think it’s crazy at all.

I think I stumbled on an opportunity that no one seeks for themselves because no one knows it’s possible. How sad is that?

Please stop thinking that creativity is just some rare stroke of genius that is only someone like Steve Jobs had. Please stop thinking that you have to have employees, or that you can’t produce a product yourself to have a successful business. Please stop thinking that you can’t work at home, doing what you love and maybe even make a very good living.

I’m here to tell you that you can! Is it easy?

No! I have put in more unpaid hours of work learning to work with glass and doing research than I would have getting a bachelor’s and then master’s degree. I had to figure out through trial and error what would not work both on the level of making my beads and then solving the problem of how to sell them. All the time there was no “finish line” in sight. I never knew if I’d ever get to say “O.k, that worked, I made it.” But in return I get to do exactly what I want with my time. I get to research what I want to research, learn the skills I want to learn. I’m free to take my work in whatever direction I want to take it. And because the whole time I was so very engaged with what I was learning, it really didn’t feel like work at all most of the time.

Here’s the secret. One of the most fun, rewarding jobs there is out there isn’t pursued by many people. No one respects crafts because no one takes them seriously. They are considered nothing more than just a hobby that people pick up and drop within the span of a month. But if you love something enough to take it seriously and put thousands upon thousands of hours into it, you’re eventually going to come up with something great enough that people can’t ignore. Sometimes great doesn’t translate to money, but often it does. And as long as we have our basic needs met is more money important or is it more important to wake up every morning inspired to start your day?

If you are a creative person, take your creativity seriously. Stop thinking of crafters as crazy people who love to use glue guns to stick ribbons and doilies on everything in sight. Make time for your creativity and honor it. Especially if you are one of those previously described crafters with a glue gun. :) You never know where it could take you.

It’s enough just to make the world a more beautiful place. No matter how small the beautiful things you make are. :)

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