Artists have been a part of society since before recorded history, yet their perception by the public and how they function in a community has changed. Everyone can claim they possess talent, but it takes courage to make your art a full-time career. Today’s economy doesn’t make it easy to earn a living writing, singing, acting, or painting, but artists still manage not because they want to, but because they have to. Art is a part of people, and it needs to be expressed or there is this gaping hole that consumes them.
This brings up some important questions: is it more important to be creative or to be financially stable as an artist? Do “starving artists” still exist? What doubts come with being an artist? How does being an artist affect relationships? What inspires artists to start out their career today? Is it easier to make a living as a singer but harder as an actor, or vice versa? How does an artist measure success? What regrets can come from being an artist? What are some things up-and-coming artists need to know before diving in? By asking some of Regina’s prominent artists, hopefully some of the grey area surrounding these questions will be lifted.
So let’s start at the beginning. What is more important, money or creativity? Chris Prprich of The Lazy MKs and The Lonesome Weekends suggests that while going commercial might bring in more money, it doesn’t make it better than being “original” or vice versa. “Everyone appreciates everything differently,” said Prpich. In other words, there is room for everyone in the art world; those who are looking for stability and those seeking a creative outlet. Yet if people want a certain lifestyle, they can’t get too attached to what it is they want rather than just doing what they love because they love it.
“Anyone can do whatever they want to do whether it’s art or not,” said Prpich.
Melanie Hankewich, who you may better know by her stage name, Belle Plaine, agrees that it is difficult to survive as an artist alone. She mentioned receiving helpful advice from Chad Juran, a local graffiti artist who spoke about setting a number that, if you reached it in terms of debt, you would go out and look for a job. This takes the fear out of being a full-time artist because you “can pursue it for as long as you want and if it’s not working out financially then go and find something till you can get back at it.” People have to make the difficult choice for themselves because there really is no guarantee of a financial return. As Hankewich says, people have to do what resonates with them. “Follow what feels right and create what’s true for you,” said Hankewich.
Despite the stable number of artists in the country, there are still biased conceptions of artists many people hold, like the “starving artists” term. “Artists like to wear the badge as much as people like to pin it to us,” said Hankewich. She makes the valid point that “artists will create art whether they can afford to or not.”
Improviser and comedian Jayden Pfeifer, who has been a part of the improv world since high school, explains the term holds little context. As he puts it, “If I was starving, I would quit what I was doing and work at a gas station to survive.” Pfeifer points out the majority of his and other artists’ work are done for free because it’s what they love to do, which could refer to the loosely-based term, yet he would never label himself that. “I don't even really like calling myself an artist.”
As with anything, though, doubt usually follows. People, artists especially, will question themselves and the path they are taking. Judy Wensel, an improviser since the age of twelve, says that whenever she starts to feel doubt “rear its ugly head,” she asks herself “would I be happy doing anything else right now,” and her answer is always no. It takes time to establish a career in any field and patience as well as resilience is needed to reach those big, lofty goals every artist has at some point in their career. As long as the answer is always no, you know you’re on the right track.
Of course, some artists won’t have doubt. Pfeifer, once having solidified the belief that he wanted to make comedy/performance a full-time career a few years after high school, felt that it was exactly what he was supposed to do. “Once I chose to make it a career, this has been my only clear interest. I often doubt my ability but not my desire to do it.” This is important, because ability and desire are two different things, and while some might doubt their ability, as long as the desire is strong they can achieve what they desire.
“Once I chose to make it a career, this has been my only clear interest. I often doubt my ability but not my desire to do it.” – Jayden Pfeifer
Something people might worry about is how being an artist would affect their relationships with people. Often their thoughts drift negatively. Will their families ridicule them? How will they fit in the artist world? Yet most artists, like Hankewich, have experienced positive relationship affects. “Relationships built in the city and community have amazed me,” Hankewich said. The community reached out to her once she put herself out there as an artist and they “have changed the way I live my life both in the financial realm and I work a lot harder than I ever have.” Her work is more beneficial which is necessary for her at this stage of her successful career.
Wensel has also had positive experiences, especially with her good friends and immediate family who are either artists or art supporters. She mentions the feeling of solidarity that comes from being a part of the community and how it brings about a sense of being “in it” together. This also creates opportunities for collaboration as she has discovered.
“Regina is such a tiny city – if you don't know most people personally who are working in the arts sector in this city, you are certainly aware of them to some extent. That is exciting … that is what makes Regina special,” said Wensel.
Prprich touches on how it can affect relationships both positively and negatively. Having the ability to run his book store, Buy the Book, with his father for the past seventeen years has given him the chance to pursue his career and be financially stable, suggesting a positive effect on his relationships. It “affords me the ability to do things I want to do and not worry about business”, he said.
“I have far more and better friends than I deserve”, said Pfeifer.
Sometimes it is hard to pinpoint what inspires artists to start. It can be different for everyone in every industry. For Prprich, it was about being involved in the musical process and shaping the sound of each project he was a part of. For four years, Hankewich watched the development of careers and it was those achievements that inspired her to leave her job at the Globe Theatre as head of lights and go into music full time. By forming the General Fools Improvisational Team with friends just as he was exiting high school inspired Pfeifer to begin.
“I just loved being in front of people and making them laugh, I would have done anything to keep doing it,” Pfeifer said.
Since there are many different kinds of artists, this leads to the question, is it easier to be one kind of artist than another? Wensel said that while it might be easier, an artist still has to be flexible; their work as an artist may include different facets. She believes that this flexibility is what makes artists better in their field. Some might only work as playwrights or actors but find opportunities to self-produce or direct.
“Being malleable is the key,” said Wensel.
Pfeifer concludes that no area of artistry is easy, comedy included. “You spend very little time ‘working’ and most of your time trying to find your next job.” That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it, of course, but he mentions how the term “making a living” needs to be redefined because very few working artists can support themselves by their craft alone. “If you're making any money at all, you’re doing at least a few things right.”
In today’s world, measuring success usually means how much income you bring home at the end of every month. Yet for an artist, success can mean something completely different.
Prprich concedes that if success was based on money, he wouldn’t be very successful at all. But in terms of accomplishments and interesting things he has done as a musician, he would mark himself as more of a success. Hankewich, however, mentions you can measure success by the accomplishments of others. Yet keeping focused on your own goals is a better idea. Since starting her music career in May 2010, she has gone on half a dozen tours and put out two albums in that short amount of time. While compared to others it might not seem like much, but to her it is something she can be proud to say she has done. She sees her success through a more personal lens and tries not to get caught up in what she “should” be doing, which is something artists need to consider.
Regrets are common with most people, whether personal or professional. As an artist, what kinds of regrets can lie under the surface for some? Pfeifer explained that while he doesn’t regret a lot now, a few years ago he would have wished for more venues to be involved with. But now with Regina’s artist scene growing, he’s glad to be “in the thick of it”. Some venues he mentions are Artesian on 13th, The Artful Dodger, and Creative City Centre. “I've been lucky to stay connected to the things I like and Regina has provided me a lot of opportunity to try new ideas and showcase them,” said Pfeifer.
As in every part of life, if something changes, good or bad, it changes the final experience. Prprich is unsure if he would want things to happen differently. “It’s what makes life interesting,” he said. If anything, he mentions starting full-time younger.
Hankewich agrees with starting younger, but she is also glad she started when she did. She sees younger artists and looks at what they’ve done; while admiring their early start, she noted that isn’t the case for her. She’s had to take on the “work with what you got” attitude in terms of regret.
‘Wise words from our elders can lead to successes in the future.’ For artists, this is true too. Pulling from her experience, Wensel stresses the need for patience to up-and-comers. She mentions that being in school is easy because of the constant deadlines and validation. Once entering the working world where there are no deadlines and no “magic finish line” changes the game and artists have to be ready for that. “The real challenge has been the pursuit of my art without wanting that validation from outside sources,” said Wensel. Artists have to continually search for more – something that inspires and provokes them. Yet there will be work that isn’t as stimulating but it still needs to get done because it’s a part of being an artist.
Pfeifer suggests enjoying the show and trying not to over-scrutinize every choice you make as an artist. “It did help me see where I could improve, but I know for a fact I could have been enjoying myself more while I was learning,” said Pfeifer.
The most important piece of advice Hankewich could give is, “The only thing that brings you reward in life is doing something that you love.”
“At the end of the day people have to ask themselves what it is they want to do, and if they want to do art, then they should just do that but they have to let go of the things that are holding them back,” said Prprich.
So, to all the people who are itching to be the next Michael Angelo or Poet Laureate, take that chance. Humans are only blessed with one life and wasting chances while you still have time will leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth.
Photo courtesy Sage Herriot