Elevate Difference

The Artist in the Office: How to Creatively Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week

I was looking forward to reviewing The Artist in the Office because it seemed so relevant to the situation many people I know find themselves in, myself included. Making it as an artist these days is tricky, and without a patron to support them, most emerging artists need another job to make ends meet.

In this book, Summer Pierre hits many of the emotional highs and lows people in my position feel: guilt because they’re not doing art full-time, frustration that they are unable to be creative at work, suffocation at the restraints of a nine-to-five schedule, and the constant nagging question of what your “real job” is. An artist herself, Pierre demonstrates noticeable insight in to the day-to-day life of the average creative worker.

There’s a lot to be talked about on this topic and no easy answers. This book never tries to solve the “problem” of how to be an artist in the office, which is for the best because there’s no magic solution that will resolve this anxiety. What Pierre does suggest is a change in approach. The most solid advice I took away from this book was to remain positive and keep focused on the specifics of what you really want. I know from experience that it’s easy to get stuck in the “If I only had xyz than I would be happy” mindset, which gets you nowhere. Pierre reminds us that working in an office—having a “day job”—while being an artist is hardly the end of the world, and in fact can often benefit your creative work.

Unfortunately, when these benefits are discussed in detail, the book tends to lose some of its insightful commentary and switches to somewhat condescending advice and cutesy pictures to get the point across. Most artists who work in an office hardly need a full-page illustration telling them how the company photocopier can be useful for... photocopying. Or how work computers can be used for non-work stuff. Surely most of us know these things already? The book also could have done without the handwritten doodling of things to do on your lunch hour or how to play “bingo” on your morning commute.

This book is at its strongest when the author seriously engages with the question of what it means to be an artist in a culture that doesn’t necessarily value art. Part four of the book, “Ideas for Change,” is the strongest section. It reads like a heartfelt conversation with a friend who in the end convinces you to not be so hard on yourself and reminds you that you have to value yourself before anyone else will.

Written by: Jennifer Burgess, March 31st 2010

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