Drawing the Line

Erika and I recently met with an artist who mentioned trying to distance her art work from her commercial work. This is something that I often think about in my own life. Should I have a separate website for my art work? Is my commercial work having a negative impact on my personal work? Will my commercial work influence how other view my art work? This is an important issue to consider – where do you draw the line, if at all?

Drawing the Line

Why it Happens

There are many valid reasons for your job to be in a field related to your art work. As a photographer, I end up investing a lot of time and money into technology. By working commercially, the skills and resources I acquire transfer over to personal projects. Also, working freelance allows me a flexible schedule which is great when pushing to finish a project or a subject is only available on short notice. The details vary from field to field but this applies to all the art forms I can think of – authors work as copy writers, painters do murals, and photographers do headshots. It certainly makes sense, but is this the best idea?

Possible Problems

There can often be unforeseen consequences to this type of work arrangement. Burn out is a big issue –after writing for a TV show all week it can be hard to motivate yourself to work on your novel. After photographing a couple hundred make-up brushes finding subjects for your own shoot is the last thing on your mind (personal experience). And what if your commercial work starts directly influencing your personal work? Your portraits start looking increasingly corporate or that character you’ve been agonizing over, morphs into Snooki over the course of a few months.

What Then?

How much you separate your commercial work from your art work depends entirely on you and your work. On one side there are those who make no distinction between the two. This is hard to do when you’re starting out and money is a big issue. However, some people’s personal work lends itself easily to the commercial market or vice-versa.

Others completely separate their work – they have a day job that is unrelated to their art. While this avoids many of the problems above, it does little for emerging artists with scarce resources and a fine art degree. The third option is a compromise, it’s where I find myself and the most convenient for emerging artists – an average between the two extremes.

I try to keep commercial and personal work separate in my head while recognizing the benefits I receive from doing both. This presents opportunities as well as obstacles. For example, I’m currently starting a new personal project which will incorporate portraits, because I shoot portraits for magazines, I find myself worrying that the portraits will look too editorial. Should I change my style of shooting? Should I stop doing editorial work? Should I care?

Regardless of your own situation, it is worth thinking about the relationship between the different types of work you do. There is no perfect way to split the two and it is something you will have to figure out over time for yourself. I’d love to hear how you frame this in your own context and what strategies you use to deal with the issues. Let me know in the comments!