In this four-part series, I unpack how I went from corporate slavery to creative freedom by quitting my day job and investing in my art career.
While working this series of desk jobs that were satisfying in some ways (I was always lucky enough to hold jobs in the arts – which I have come to find is a rarity in itself for a graduate of art school) I found myself increasingly frustrated by the low-pay and long hours – they often extended way beyond 5pm. There was never time for my art practice. In the four years I lived in New York, I made one painting, and in the three after New York, I made three more. In the seven years I held day jobs outside of college, I made a total of four paintings. I felt so stuck by these institutional jobs, who lured me with their health-insurance and retirement-saving ways, but oppressed my creative spirit. In addition, my boyfriend (now husband) Eric still lived in Austin and we had been dating long-distance. I needed a way out.
I applied to, and got in to get a Masters of Art in Teaching (at St. Edwards University in Austin). The two years prior, I had applied to the University of Texas’ Master of Fine Arts program two times — and was twice rejected. I thought grad school may be a way out. I thought maybe the only way I could be an artist was by getting a teaching job, because that’s the way I’d seen so many other artists do it.
Right before I quit the McNay, the chief curator/curator of art after 1950 asked me to have a small solo exhibition at the museum as part of a series of exhibitions highlighting local and regional artists, many emerging. So I went to St. Edward’s for a semester living off of school loans while painting more than I had painted in years – I had a new studio on my back porch and was working on a series of paintings for my upcoming exhibition at the McNay. To this day, I thank three people for really believing in me and giving me the necessary kick-in-the-butt confidence I needed to dive into my art career and Rene was certainly one of them. (The other two: Cary Leibowitz who I worked with at Christie’s who gave me my first commission, and Eric Manche, my incredibly talented and undyingly supportive husband.)
Partially influenced by how much I was enjoying my new painting lifestyle, I ended up not liking the program at St. Ed’s because it wasn’t about art, it was about teaching — we studied a lot about all of the testing that’s going on in the United States and how our education system is broken. It was at once fascinating and depressing to learn about the history of education leading to our now education industrial complex, but once again, I found myself in another institution without art.
Still thinking that teaching art might be my best route (I couldn’t live off of student loans for the rest of my life), I decided to try again at the University of Texas in Austin. This time, I applied to the art education department, not the fine art department like I’d tried twice before — and this time I got in. But even a generous scholarship and in-state tuition, it was $20,000 a year. I looked at my student loan offer and decided $40,000 of debt to do something I wasn’t sure I wanted to do was not a good plan.
Teaching is incredibly important, noble and altruistic — but as I was trying out this path, I found that I sucked at it. It wasn’t natural for me. I don’t want to be a bad teacher; there are plenty of bad teachers so I’d rather not be a teacher at all if I’m not actually good at it. I wanted to find something to be good at.
Stay tuned for next Monday’s third installment. If you missed the riveting account of Sara’s jerk boss in part one, read it here.