The “Day” Job and the “Real” Job

Since pretty much the beginning of time it’s been the case that artists support themselves with “day” jobs. Even Vincent van Gogh had a number of “day” jobs—he worked as an apprentice to an art dealer, a lay preacher, at a bookstore, and even as a schoolteacher in England (Nix). Teaching is often a route many artists take to make a living. Angela McRobbie, in “Re-thinking Creative Economy as Radical Social Enterprise,” questions the artistic mindset: “[Creative workers] rely on a second job which is in effect a real job, even though it may be on a project or on a casual contract…many of the creatives find themselves earning the bulk of their income from the second job” (McRobbie, 32-33). At what point in someone’s life does their day job become their real job?

Many artists consider teaching to be just a “day” job. Eli Catlin, a friend and musician from the Western Mass area, has pursued his music career from a very young age. Catlin opted out of college and instead, lived with his parents for a year after high school, working and saving up enough to give himself a financial cushion. Now he lives on his own and supports himself from teaching lessons 4-6 times a week, to students of all ages and levels of guitar proficiency; playing three standing gigs every week (at local bars and restaurants); and performing at any other festivals and concerts he can book. Catlin doesn’t consider teaching to be his “real” career—he considers himself solely a musician and songwriter and intends to follow that career path for the rest of his life.

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Musician, Eli Catlin. Courtesy of

Some musicians I have spoken with though, do identify as teachers. John Sheldon, long-time successful rock/folk musician, lead guitarist for Van Morrison’s band, and songwriter for James Taylor, was my guitar teacher from age ten to fourteen. He’s retired now and only plays concerts locally, and very sporadically. Janet Mills, in “Working in Music: Becoming a Performer-Teacher,” explains that teachers overall perform significantly more in the first five years of their careers than later on down the line, when, presumably, teaching takes over more of the lives and becomes more of a vocation than an avocation (Mills, 258).

So, what are the reasons for choosing employment in education as an artist? The primary reason musicians teach is stability of income and health insurance. Embedded creative graduates (graduates who work as creatives in non-creative industries, including education) make a larger income generally than arts specialists, with an overall higher employment rate (Comunian, 359). On top of the monetary gain, many older arts teachers believe it can improve self-analysis of artistry, grow technique, introduce otherwise neglected repertoire, etc. (Mills, 258). When rating personal career success, a study showed that creatives felt more successful than non-creatives, and that creatives working as educators felt more successful than creatives working in other fields (Goldsmith, 383).


Exhausted counselors at DASAC, summer 2017

Last summer I worked as a film and music counselor at Deerfield Academy Summer Arts Camp for middle-through-high schoolers. After a week into it, I realized I was teaching. I had always believed that teaching is not a field I would consider going into, nor be proficient in. And although it was the most challenging and exhausting job I’d ever had, it was the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.





Student at PVPA. Courtesy of

But teaching for creatives extends beyond the arts departments. I attended a performing arts public charter school (PVPA) for six years (middle through high school). All of my professors (generally ages 40 and up), in the arts and academic subjects, were creative individuals. My English teacher, Lewis Goff was a pianist and a writer; my history teacher, Jim Cox was an actor; and my physics teacher, Mike Pfeiffer was a bassist, comedian, and film buff. All of these artistic influences were incorporated daily in the work we did in class, whether it was analyzing Bruce Springsteen lyrics, writing out and performing a rap musical number about the Declaration of Independence, or dissecting the logistics of the Flux Capacitor from Back to the Future. My teachers (academics and artists alike) considered themselves teachers because at that point in their lives, they found education to be more rewarding than only making art.


PVPA’s West African dance company, WOFA. Courtesy of


At a certain point in one’s life and artistic career, the “day” job inevitably becomes the “real” job. But I believe that in teaching, older artists recognize the positive change. All we can hope for as young artists going into different careers is that if and when we get to that point—the point at which we can say we no longer have a “day” job and only have a “real” job, whether that be in teaching or other fields—we will still want to do it.

Works Cited

Comunian, Roberta, et al. “Digital Technology and Creative Arts Career Patterns in the UK Creative Economy.” Journal of Education and Work, vol. 28, no. 4, 2015, pp. 346-368., doi:10.1080/13639080.2014.997683.

Goldsmith, Ben, and Ruth Bridgstock. “Embedded Creative Workers and Creative Work in Education.” Journal of Education and Work, vol. 28, no. 4, 2015, pp. 369-387., doi:10.1080/13639080.2014.997684.

McRobbie, Angela. “Re-thinking Creative Economy as Radical Social Enterprise.” Variant, no. 41, 2010, pp. 32-33.,

Mills, Janet. “Working in Music: Becoming a Performer-Teacher.” Music Education Research, vol. 6, no. 3, 2004, pp. 245-261., doi:10.1080/1461380042000281712.

Nix, Elizabeth. “Seven Things You May Not Know About Vincent Van Gogh.”, A&E Television Networks, 8 July 2015,


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