Survival Of The Artists And The Nonartists, Too

Guest Commentary

By Maryevelyn Jones

Don’t worry if you’re not a starving artist yet. Elaborate penny pinching may be the only kind of common sense upheld by those of us struggling to create original art.

Artist or not, clinging to the hope of money can wear down even the most obnoxious optimist. The notion of saving money by spending less of it doesn’t compare to not spending money at all in order to survive. Many artists survive long-term hardship in the name of doing what we love, so we get creative with money.

Juggling money has meant deciding between filling my tank with gas and staying healthy. Are you eating Ramen noodles for the umpteenth time in two weeks because you’re sick of peanut butter and jelly? How about eggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Try them boiled, scrambled, fried, with salsa, without salsa, poached, toad in the holed, with plain yogurt, omelet-ed, in refried rice and green with ham.

I saved money during a backpack trip across Europe by eating little more than bread and cheese. Coincidentally, I now suffer intolerances to both wheat and lactose. The daughter of a Louisiana artist told me that her mom went to a church to ask for food. The church folks asked for an address inside the parish limits. My friend’s mom lied. Someone said “Oh, we know some people at that address.” So, my friend, her mom and siblings grabbed three bags of food, ran to the car, and sped away in embarrassment.

Perhaps you can’t ask your landlord to fix things when you’re behind on the cheap rent. This taught me to do my own home repair without being a nightmare tenant.

Imagine applying for jobs. Maybe you’ve sent out 20 resumes and finally have an interview. But every time you use a hair dryer, all the lights go out. A battery backup outlet may help you avoid calling that landlord who you haven’t paid yet. The extra hour of power lets you simultaneously heat up the iron, check your e-mail and print out a cover letter without blindly feeling the walls for some antique fuse box.

Can’t afford to move away from a moldy basement apartment? I once spent six months living with a garden hose going from the hallway dehumidifier into my shower drain. When the noisy machine got turned off my ceilings dripped from condensation.

Of course, I’ll never forget the time I made a deal with one landlord to tear bricks off a collapsing wall. My roommate came home and discovered me next to a pile of loose bricks. I held a hammer and chisel in front of exposed insulation. She asked me what the HELL I was doing. “I’m contemplating the irony of tearing apart my own home so I can afford to live in it,” I answered.

Newcomers to the economic stress endurance test could learn a lot from artists.

Did you know there’s a perfectly good AA battery inside that disposable camera? Just tear off the paper camera backing before handing over its undeveloped film.

Occasional bartering for haircuts and professional massages has given me luxuries that nonartists may not have attained as, eh hem, easily. Unfortunately, not everybody who I need to buy things from wants my creations.

Accepting donations from a relative unravels the core of my proud independence. I do my best to be resourceful. I can’t count how many local artists I’ve talked with about the best times and places to go diving into trash receptacles.

I’ve heard about independent filmmakers using the big box stores as rental stores. They bought expensive professional video equipment, did the project, and took the equipment back for a refund.

So, if you’re not a starving artist yet, don’t worry. We can all find ways to endure.

Maryevelyn Jones is a Fayetteville artist.

Categories: Commentary