Recent research at the National University of Singapore suggests that feelings of job satisfaction may be built into our genes. Certain genes apparently determine how happy we will be at work — while other genes seem to be linked to lower job satisfaction. If our folks were grumpy about their jobs, we too are likely to be grumpy — and maybe even put in a poor performance. In a study of 1,772 people, researchers found that two genetic markers — a dopamine receptor gene and a serotonin transporter gene — are more likely to be found in folks who like what they do.
Why do some of us choose the job of art? Similar to genes linked to leadership and entrepreneurship, some of us may have genes that favour independence and freedom. I used to worry that my need for art had something to do with chronic laziness or that I was incompetent in pretty well everything else. Now I realize picking up a brush had a lot to do with my folks, particularly my dad, who valued ideas, individualism, accomplishments, work habits and craftsmanship. A self-employed kind of guy, for most of his life he happily ran his own sign shop. I always thought it was my environment, but now it seems it may also be hereditary.
More problematic research shows that people need to be a bit nuts to excel, and that nut cases excel particularly well when under stress. But very few of the truly excellent artists I know might be classified as nuts. Underutilization of therapists is widespread in the visual arts. I think it’s because we often prefer to take our own advice, but I may be nuts.
It’s a given that an independent life gives courage to the next generation. Those who do not have this advantage owe it to themselves to hook up with those who do. One might even be able to shake off generations of chartered accountancy or other fields that attract therapists. Art is a job like any other, but it’s also a calling that tests the depths of character. Genes or no genes, the calling should at least be examined. It’s important that we be happy in our work. We’re going to spend a third of our life there. In artists it may be closer to 100%.
The job of art has the beguiling quality of pulling you into it. I’m sure there are lots of professions that do the same, but somehow seeing those first morning glimpses of yesterday’s winnings and losings keeps you coming back for more.
PS: “Human beings are of two classes: those whose work is work and whose pleasure is pleasure; and those whose work and pleasure are one.” (Winston Churchill)
Esoterica: And what about talent? Is talent inherited? Current researchers don’t think so. The older generation may give energy, example and support to the younger, but the younger has to go about inventing her own wheel. Talent is 99% hard work. Talent takes focus and focus takes character. Unlike a baronetcy, talent is not passed down the generations.
Best job in the world
by Esther J. Williams, Laguna Niguel, CA, USA
I never thought of it like that, but now that you mention it, I guess I have inherited my mother and father’s free will. My mother was busy with ten children while my father was a vacuum cleaner salesman. After the kids grew up a little, my mother joined my father in the vacuum business. She repaired and polished the vacuums while my dad went out in the field to make sales and service calls. It fed the family and put a roof over our heads. I was taught how to sell things on my own and it did seem to come naturally. Both the art skills and the ability to create items came very naturally. My father brought me butcher paper so I could draw on it at an early age. I have felt it was instilled in me to be an entrepreneur by my parents. If I had a job at a company, I was most unsettled and did not look forward to working for a boss. I was most happy when self-directed in my art and design projects. I had my own business selling flower seeds, potholders and berries when I was young. When I was nineteen, I opened a leather goods shop and did very well. I still work for myself; I do not hold a company job. Yes, I must have that happy dopamine flowing and the serotonin gene delivering it all over in my nervous system. I do not need a drug to get feeling optimistic, I just need to paint. Waking up the next morning to see what I created the day before is an eager jumpstart to everyday. Being a self-employed artist is like nothing else in the world.
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Boogying to the music
by Alan Soffer, Wallingford, PA, USA
Most of my life I have found joy in my work, which functioned as my pleasure too, in both of my careers. Art is so therapeutic for me that it probably does function to nourish the soul. Every day I am challenged in every way to succeed in art. I must say, more rejection and financial problems occur in art than nearly any other business. The adage “don’t leave your day job” surely applies. I do believe that if you are able to be free of economic pressure the art work can flourish. Worrying about pleasing the customer may yield sales, but not necessarily better art. It kind of is the defining issue between art and craft. Craft, in my opinion, is directed for the client’s use, which diminishes the artist’s expression.
My dad ran a small business and was extremely grumpy. He switched from engineering to a small wholesale food business during the depression and probably regretted every minute of it. He was a very good primitive painter during his retirement and wrote quite decent poetry his whole life. I, for one, was pretty upbeat and happy in my work as a dentist and then as an artist. Sometimes I can be seen boogying to the music that permeates my studio.
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Every day workout
by Louise Francke, NC, USA
Art has come down genetically in my family and continues to go forth. What I find more important is that the doing of it brings one back every day. Recently, I’ve prepped art works for show (now up) — all that inventory stuff — and then my quest to challenge my brain with something looser and more abstract stifled my desire to return to the studio. Fortunately, it wasn’t a long hiatus. Once back, it has driven me forward and I’m doing it again, day after day. Without ART I’m depressed and lost in a dark quagmire. People ask, “How long do you work? I don’t think I ever really stop working — all those down hours are spent observing and thinking. Swimming my morning mile allows me to plan ahead where I will go that day.
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Enjoy the ride
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA
The idea that my dad was unhappy at his job had more to do with the fact that he had little choice in what profession he would do for his entire life. My dad was first generation American from Italian decent. When he arrived here, my grandfather literally told my dad he was to be a barber and that was that. In those days you obeyed your father and did what you were told to make a living. I am the only artist in the family of my father’s and my generation, and believe me they were not too happy about the prospect of my making art for a “living.”
I’ve been in the arts in one form or another all my life. I started out in the commercial art field and hated it. I moved on to theater and the various forms therein; actor director, stage manager, scene builder. From there it was on to being a successful musician to eventually fine artist.
To say the very least, I was happy doing these “jobs.” All the while my dad performed day in and day out at something he hated to do but he had a wife and two children to feed and house and the old work ethic that is sorely missing today held my dad to a job he did all his life. I don’t believe genes make one like or dislike working. I believe some are taken with industry and drive and some are not. True, if you feel you were given a raw deal at the outset you may feel unhappy at whatever you do, but to his credit, my dad made the most of it and was successful. He was a success because he knew something many don’t; whatever you do, you must make the best of it and make it work for you. Depending on which way you look, today there are opportunities if you only stop feeling sorry for yourself and enjoy the ride. I love what I do and it may be due to my genes. On the surface when growing up, I never got the sense my dad didn’t like what he did because he did it without complaint or visible regret. It was only later, when I was an adult, that the truth became known to me. Credit should be given to those who toil at jobs they hate, but they get up every day to get the job done, many with little joy.
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All in the family
by Angela Treat Lyon, Kailua, Hawaii, USA
As one in the fourth generation of women artists, I can clearly see how family genes could pass an artistic tendency down. Granny, Ma, aunties, cousins, all women, all painters (pastels, landscapes, portrait artists), and I’m the only one making a living at it, although more as a sculptor than painter. And oh, yes, there’s one cousin who paints duck decoys for Audubon.
My dad was always grumbling about his job; my mom was always complaining about how “hard it is to sell my work” And yet she never once showed at any gallery — she sold to friends and neighbors. It was only after I trained myself out of the “Family Grumble Thinking” that I really started making any sales (It had been kind of like walking along, cutting myself off at the knees as I tried to keep walking).
It’s disheartening to see people so sucked into the something-is-wrong-with-you thinking. Doctors are so quick to diagnose ADD, ADHD or manic-depression, when all it might be is a genius thinking in different lines. My son was diagnosed with a “learning disorder” in the first grade because he read upside down and backwards. Turns out it was because his teacher was reading from her book at the front of the room, and he learned by following her! He spent years feeling humiliated in special education classes, knowing he was as smart, if not smarter and more creative, than the others in his class. He finally broke free in 12th grade and taught himself to read right and graduated in the top of his class. He now has a very successful health clinic.
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by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada
When I was a child I was very happy drawing, making creative things or reading all the time. Then, when I was not permitted to pursue art education, I became very unhappy. Later engulfed in a non-art career, I was generally mildly unhappy without examining why. I started studying art and understood that my unhappiness was for the lack of art. I became so happy making art again that I was reasonably happy with my non-art career as well. Then, suddenly, all I wanted to do was make art, and I became extremely unhappy with my non-art career. It’s been a rollercoaster ever since, from the situation of loving my art and hating my job, to being content with both, to those dark lows when making art goes into a block and I am glad to have my job. It has become a familiar ride by now and I manage to make a lot of art despite the happy-unhappy rollercoaster. I do have a therapist, though — I think we all do — his name is Bob Genn.
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Inherited work habits
by Sandra Bos, Cookeville, TN, USA
My dad never missed a day’s work except for the time he had a really bad heart attack. He was a cabinet maker and at one time had his own business creating novelties that were all about the Dutch world. With brush in hand, I remember feeling his presence many times. I wasn’t particularly close with my dad but he gave me a good work ethic and a need to do the best job I could. It most often is in the genes; we inherit work habits.
It’s kind of nice to actually feel the presence and love and appreciate those who have given us these gifts that make our lives more fulfilled. I hope that somehow I am giving my children hope and encouragement, through example, to be true to themselves and maybe a bit more ‘fearless’ and independent as they walk this planet.
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A taste of the good life…
by Karin Snoots, Harbeson, DE, USA
I’m grateful to have part-time work to help make the ends meet, but I don’t find the rewards and satisfaction that I receive at the easel. I had the opportunity to get a “taste” of the good life… painting every day, sun up to sun down, but last winter was very hard, painting sales were down and my husband was on unemployment for a few months. Your letter rang a note of truth to me. My father worked for 35 or more years at a very respectable printing firm. He worked his way up the corporate ladder to become a foreman. Unfortunately, his job was just that — a job, day in and day out. On the other hand, my mother, a wonderful artist, worked at home as a Commercial Artist. I have degrees in both Illustration and Graphic Design, and before making the leap of faith in 2006, worked as a Senior Illustrator for a major corporate firm. My husband and I moved to the beach to follow our dreams, creating a life for ourselves.
I have always found ways to earn money through my art. When in school, my friends worked in retail while I sold pastels in shows and galleries. Now I find myself working retail, but burning the midnight oil at the easel. It’s hard for some folks to understand the deep desire that burns within the creative spirit. Painting provides me with such immense joy. I equate it with the birth of a child — sometimes the labor of love is easy and the brushes seem to work their own magic, yet other times painting is the most intense, most personally challenging thing I could ever imagine doing. Yet the end result is the same. I offer a prayer of thanks at the easel before the beginning of each session. I pray for the focus to stay on the passionate path, to continually raise the bar on my level of ability with the help of the Holy Universal Spirit. Painting is practice. Desire — that’s different. It takes a huge amount of desire to push through fears of failure and frustration to pursue the passion to create. I was once told by a fellow artist not to quit my day job… Well, I’m not stupid, health insurance is expensive, but I’m not giving up. I tell myself that the galleries representing my art believe in me, so I do too!
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acrylic ink painting, 12 x 9 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Paol Serret of Australia, who wrote, “Art is work… selling it is art.”
And also Diane Overmyer of Wakarusa, IN, USA, who wrote, “I haven’t worked a single day since I have been working full time as an artist!”
And also Barbara Wild of Sherwood, OR, USA, who wrote, “Looking back into my family’s makeup I find that almost half were involved in the arts, while the other half were in one of the helping professions. None of us are particularly ‘nuts,’ but the happiest ones are definitely passionate about their work.”