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Career, Hobby or Vocation: What Does it Mean to Be an Artist?

Career, Hobby or Vocation: What Does it Mean to Be an Artist? April 16, 2020

Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash
Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

Once again, I find myself in the search for a day job. Like so many Americans, I’ve filed for unemployment and am searching online for jobs that are no longer hiring. And, like so many Americans, I’ve had a lot of time to think what am I doing with my lifeI fill my days with creative projects, most of which are unpaid. Can I really call myself a professional if I don’t make a living off my work? Rationally, I know that a career in art can’t be measured in the same way as a career in finance. But as much as artists philosophically reject society’s standard of payment-equals-professionalism, we still practically accept it. (Equity shows are professional. Community theater is not.)

So there are two options: is playwriting a career or a hobby? Claiming it’s a career feels like a lie. If it were a career I wouldn’t need another career to maintain myself. Calling it a hobby sounds like giving up. It’s not something I do simply for fun on the weekends. My entire life is oriented towards it. But in a society structured around supply-and-demand (of which there is little for playwrights) what other option is there? Perhaps the answer lies in the Catholic concept of vocation.

What is Vocation?

CatholicCulture.org defines vocation as a call from God to a distinctive state of life. In Catholic school, I was taught that there are three possible vocations: religious (such as becoming a priest or nun), marriage, and single. The implication is that a person’s vocation is nothing more than their marital status, and as long as we find the right marital status God’s plan for us will be fulfilled. However, the Second Vatican Council declared that there is also a “universal vocation to holiness in the Church.” So there must be more to the concept of vocation.

Another definition for vocation, which I first heard in college, is where your great talent meets the world’s great need. I believe the world needs art. Therefore art can, and should, be treated as a vocation rather than a hobby.

A Third Option

I truly hope to be a professional playwright one day. I also know that there are only a handful of people who are able to make their living from writing plays alone. But financial success has never been an adequate measure of artistic success. This makes a career in art unsustainable for most Americans. Our system simply isn’t set up for it. However, a vocation is possible. It is possible to fill our cultural void with stories of faith, doubt, and love. It is possible to dedicate our lives to examining the human condition.

We might not get paid for it, but that doesn’t make it a hobby.

About Emily Schmitt
Emily Claire Schmitt is a playwright and screenwriter focused on uncovering the mystical in the modern world. She is a Core Member of The Skeleton Rep(resents) and is currently developing an original movie with The Hallmark Channel. Follow her on Twitter at @Eclaire082 You can read more about the author here.
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