I'm an artist going crazy in a dysfunctional magazine!

There's no editor, the staff sleep at their desks, and we steal copyrighted material off the Internet!


Cary Tennis
March 1, 2006 4:11PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I'm in a quandary about my career. I currently work as an advertising designer for a tiny company that publishes a magazine. On paper, the job would seem to fit me well. It's in my career field (graphic design/journalism), no long hours, no mammoth corporate bureaucracy, and hey, I even get health insurance.

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The problem is this: I have no respect for the people I work with and the company has no integrity. My co-workers can be found sleeping at their desks or surfing porn sites, the management is out shopping or at the spa, and sexual harassment is an everyday occurrence. Also, the magazine has no editor, and there's not even a pretense of journalistic integrity. We've gone so far as to copy and paste stories right off the Internet and publish them in the magazine in blatant violation of copyright laws. To sum it up, my workplace is a chaotic circus inhabited by incompetents.

The immediate question is this: Do I sit down, shut up and do as I'm told for the sake of a meager paycheck or look for greener pastures? And how do I avoid ending up in the same dysfunctional environment at a different company? This also raises deeper questions such as: Is it too much to expect for a job to be fulfilling or should just getting paid be enough?

I'm also caught in a repeating pattern of getting a job that seems well suited to me, initially enjoying the job, but then growing to hate it in a year's time. I don't have a particularly lengthy career history, but still long enough to see this pattern emerge. Ideally, I'd like to be self-employed as a fine artist, but given the odds against artists, I'm not willing to risk homelessness in pursuit of my art. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Future Postal Worker

Dear Future Postal Worker,

So your co-workers are sleeping at their desks and surfing porn sites, the management is out shopping or at the spa, and sexual harassment is an everyday occurrence?

Are you sure you don't work at Salon?

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Seriously, it is time to look for greener pastures. It shouldn't be hard to find greener pastures, actually. Your case is pretty rare. In fact, I doubt you could easily find another magazine this strange and dysfunctional. Even the worst magazines have editors, or at least people who call themselves editors when they fire you. It sounds like what you're working for is some kind of criminal front rather than an actual magazine. I would get out of there.

Publishing attracts the crazies. Some are crazy and well-meaning. Some are just crazy. There's usually some strange economic arrangements whereby, for instance, instead of a paycheck management offers you free dental work. You notice the publisher's new scarily white teeth. Your new assignment is to interview the proprietor of Mister ShinyTeeth Cosmetic Dentistry and Bikini Waxing, and soon it's, You know, this job just is not a good fit.

The larger question you raise is about how to live one's life as an artist. That's the big question.

While everyone who is called to be an artist is different, I think certain general things can be said about the practical problem of finding time and space in life to pursue art.

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First of all, it's not optional. If you are an artist, you are called. Ignoring your desire to make art is not possible. That will only kill you. You must make a choice as to how to make art. You must consciously decide how to marshal your material resources to meet your spiritual needs.

One choice is to take the plunge and determine to make your art and live on it, come what may. You find the cheapest place you can find where there is space for you to work. You minimize all your expenses. You strip down your life to the essentials. You figure out what it costs to eat and clothe yourself and you get to work. You don't spend money on anything except what it takes to survive and do your work. Either you have money saved or you sell pieces or you have a part-time job that does not require you to think about anything, so you just show up and do your job and then go home and do your art. This is not complicated but neither is it easy. Our desires are many, as are the lures of pleasure and entertainment and comfort. But it can be done. You are free to do this. I encourage you to try it if it appeals to you, and if it doesn't work, if it is too harsh an existence, then you are free to stop doing it and find something more comfortable.

The other option, which is more comfortable, is to take a gradualist approach. Find a job or an area of work that is not too taxing, and make for yourself a space where you can work on your art an hour or three a day, and on weekends. Work steadily over the years. Sell work as you can. Make friendships and be a part of an arts community. Take classes. Practice. Study. Get better. Keep at it. Use your art as a vehicle to know yourself. Eventually you may reach a point where you can support yourself on your art, or you may not. But you have a sustainable life that includes art even though it may not be completely about art.

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Some artists find that, if they must have a job, it is better to have a job not in their field. The problem with having a job in your field is that all your creative powers may be brought to bear in your job. Whereas if you are flipping burgers or something, you may be free to save up all your creative energy for your artwork.

In either case, the important thing is to start now. The worst thing to do is to drift, thinking that one day soon you will settle down and get to work on your craft in some way. Decide today whether you are going to go for broke or try to build a sustainable long-term life that includes art.

This is a serious matter. You must do something. Experiment. Find something that works for you. Seek support from others. Be kind to yourself. Do not despair. Keep at it. Make a life of it.

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And stay out of dysfunctional magazines.

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