“Time is money”: No, its your LIFE

How we talk about things makes a difference. By identifying two things that supposedly go together we are taught how to behave and what to think. They are the connections that map things out for us. We are led down roads we might otherwise not have traveled. But there are surprises when ‘A’ gets connected to ‘B’. Its not always the trip we signed up for. We didn’t see all the potholes and seedy neighborhoods it sometimes leads us through……

I can’t tell how often I’ve heard the concern from working artists contemplating the ‘cost’ of their creative vision, whether it balances out to cut corners or to go whole hog. Usually this comes out as “Time is money” and that they simply can’t afford to do all the things they would like to. Its as if the only significant value for their creative efforts was how much they can get paid for doing it. The ends justify the means. “Sure, make it the best you can, but make certain you get paid your going rate.” The getting paid is what seems to justify the efforts, ends to means, not the other way around.

And not, it seems, the work itself. The intrinsic value of doing a thing for the sake of doing it no longer enters the equation. Looking at it through the lens of a balance sheet its not the art that justifies the effort….

Tony Clennell asked these very same questions just the other day:

“What I have figured out over 35 years of making pots is that no one cares except you. They don’t care whether it is fired in oxidation, salt fired, wood fired or fired in a microwave. If it matches the kitchen or the sofa you are in good hands.  You are the one that cares!
Every little mark you make in a pot takes time. Each little mark is lost money! Straight forward cylinder mugs are easy to make and you can actually make a profit on them. Each time you add a whoopie in the bottom of the cup, a pinch of the rim or shoulder, a trimmed foot and a wedgie to let water drain from the foot ring you are loosing money. Add to that a pulled handle and then decide should I add that wedge in the crotch of the handle or not? Remember no one cares but you!”

This is Tony playing devil’s advocate. Obviously he is not intimidated by anything as pedestrian as whether what he makes can sell (much of it does, anyway). He is constantly inventing, constantly shifting the sands of his audience’s expectations. He makes what he wants to make, not what will best fit the couch in prospective customer’s homes…… This is not his problem: He’s setting it out as a general issue for our contemplation. Perhaps many artisans think this way. Occasionally I think this way too, if I’m not careful. We sometimes need reminders to stay on course…..

the lure of money

Is it more important to get paid or that we do what we want to be doing? Are we business people before we are artists? Did we decide to become artists to make money, or did we decide to make money because we already were artists? Making money from what we do is sometimes (often) necessary, but not the only concern. Not even the first concern for many of us. Its not irrelevant, but its not always directly related to why we choose to lead the creative life….

What you do with your time isn’t an equation for how much money you can make: ITS YOUR LIFE. What you do with your time is what you do with your life.

We don’t, for instance, calculate out the cash bonuses for having kids. Monetary value is not a thing in their favor. The financial payback will only ever be slim pickings. If time truly were money, we’d never have kids. The gains never balance out with the investment we make. We know this. Kids are not profitable.

But that’s it, isn’t it? The things we love have intrinsic value for us. When we turn them into things that are profit oriented we sometimes begin to confuse very important issues: These things are worth the effort despite the financial and logistical burdens. They are often the rewards of our lives. And being an artist has to be like that too. Making our art is how we live. Its what we do to be alive. Its what we add to the world, a gift, not something purely calculated for its take away value.

But life is never pure sweetness, unicorns, and cotton candy. We face difficult roads to make ends meet. If you care about things besides money it will always be a question whether the intrinsic values are sustainable or compatible with the other choices you’ve made. Sometimes we do have to cut corners. Its not what we want to do. Sometimes this is the cost of keeping ourselves afloat. There is no other way…..

So, the question is, do we make art to make money, or do we make money to make art? As Tony Clennell reminds us, “each little mark is lost money” when looked at a certain way. Somewhere there’s a balance sheet. Are we doing it for ourselves or for the paying customers? But consider this also, the cost in time and effort goes profoundly beyond the duration it takes to make the actual creative marks. There is a whole history of creative evolution that preceded and eventually gave birth to those artistic expressions. Our growth as artists is linked to our growth as human beings. Our art is so much more than just the things we are working on now. It reaches back into our past and forward into our future. It is the flowers that bloom and the roots from which we came. ‘Time is money’ can’t usually fit that into an easy equation…..

As Jane Sparkowski puts it: “I always pause when people ask me,” how long did it take you to make that?”…because the answer is, “my lifetime thus far”.”

Things to think about….

Peace all!

Make beauty real!


About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
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19 Responses to “Time is money”: No, its your LIFE

  1. Brandon Phillips says:

    “I got into it for the money.” said no potter ever. Even though the pay is comparable I like making pots better than I’d like working at walmart.

    • I met a ‘potter’ once who had an extreme aversion to working. He made on average 63 pots a year. Not good ones. Hardly even remedial student level work. But he had a patron who funded his ‘efforts’. He had this whole ‘folk potter” shtick and made glorious comparisons of his work to Dave the slave’s. His whole approach was to just make enough from those few pots from collectors to fund his existence. He may not have gotten into it for the money, but I can’t help feeling it was always a well rehearsed scam that he fully intended to pull on his future potential customers. Its hard for me to even think of him as a potter, really. Even though he probably makes more money at it than I do…..

      I know there were things you enjoyed working as a carpenter, but I have to say that after at least a dozen jobs working for other people throughout my life I know the difference between doing something I love and doing something for a paycheck. Working as a potter is something I’d do even if all my bills were taken care of. Its who I want to be. Its what I’d want to do with my life regardless of other possibilities. Maybe visit Hawaii or Japan, but come back home and be a potter……

      Thanks for the comment, Brandon! So glad you still read this blog. I really miss your blog too. I hope it comes out of mothballs at some point!

  2. Brandon Phillips says:

    I’ve always said that I wish I made more money so I could sell my pots cheaper. Money is a variable, making pots is a constant. At least to those of us with integrity (i.e. not the aforementioned dave the slave knockoff manipulator.) My fondness for being a carpenter is mostly nostalgic, and perhaps I am appreciative of the fruits of that labor. I’m not doing it anymore as a job but not because I didn’t enjoy the work. I worked for a brilliant carpenter/functioning alcoholic who varied between slave driver, brilliant teacher, and complete flake. He was skilled with numbers, math, and geometry as most master carpenters should be but sometimes he seemed to fall short of those math skills come payday. Still, wouldn’t trade it, but that’s the past.

  3. Chuck Wendig just offered up his take on the pressure to write for a market or write for one’s self:

    Write What You Love, Or Write What Sells?

    Got another email that spurred a response from me that I thought I might share, both because maybe it’s useful thought-meat for my fellow wordivores, but also because maybe you have a differing or more nuanced opinion you might share. The email below, and my response after:

    Hey Chuck,

    So a buddy and I have this ongoing debate with a group of our author friends.

    The gist of it is: If you’re going to be a writer, what’s better? To write what you love and make money eventually… or to write what sells and support your dream right now.

    So I thought I would ask an expert. 😉

    Your name came up because your work is pretty diverse, so in theory you would know a fair bit about how to earn a living from your writing.

    At any rate, I would love to get your opinion on the matter, and hopefully settle things once and for all.

    Thanks very much.

    And my YMMV IMHO response:

    The truth is, every writer is going to come at this differently.

    And no wrong way really exists.

    A writer who cares first about money — not just in a “I want to buy a jetboat made of unicorn horn” greed-hungry way, but in a “I’d like to pay my mortgage regularly and occasionally afford things like meals and new shoes” — may choose to examine the market and see that certain things seem to sell well and other things don’t and then try to aim his arrow for the bullseye scrawled with dollar signs.

    Another writer who cares about money in a secondary fashion — or even not at all — might instead choose to say, “Fuck that, this is my craft and my art and I’m going to write exactly what I want to write.”

    Again: you’ve no wrong way forward. Famous artists like Da Vinci and Michelangelo worked on commission to create work for other people, but they brought themselves into the art whether that was what they wanted to create or not, leaving behind a legacy no matter the origin.

    Other artists and authors have succeeded financially by acting without financial interest.

    For my mileage, I think finding the way to do both of these things is the real magic trick. The shared space in the Venn diagram between STORY I WANT TO WRITE and STORY EVERYONE WANTS TO READ is the real miracle mile.

    And I think the way you get into the space is by writing first what you want to write. When you write the thing that truly speaks to you — where you rip out your own heart and squeeze its blood on the page, where you smear your mind across the story in order to leave a slug’s trail of memories and arguments and ideas — you’re likelier to plant a more fertile garden, narratively-speaking. Write what you want, and you’ve a greater chance, I suspect, of putting passion and power into the characters and into the story. If you like what you’re writing, and you’re affected by it, you stand a greater chance to affect the audience in the same way. Surprise yourself. Make yourself feel something. Tell the story you want to tell.

    That’s not to say you can’t engineer it a little the other way, too. Writers rarely have one idea, or one story, they want to tell. They often have hundreds, or thousands. I often say that the question you should ask an author isn’t “how do you get your ideas?” but rather, “how do you make them stop?” And so, from that overgrown garden of possibility you may choose to pluck the flowers that you think your readers will find most attractive. If young adult appears to be selling very well and one of your ideas is a young adult idea — well, there you go.

    Further, you can take a genre or an idea or even a work-for-hire assignment that didn’t originate from you and still put yourself into it. You can still love what you write even if it’s something meant to support your dream right now.

    At the end of the day, writing can be a way to make money. And pretty good money, too. But if money was your only concern I’d say — go be an accountant, a lawyer, a doctor, an assassin. Writing is an uncertain enough career that even trying to write for a market or chase trends is tricksy business and still offers you no guarantee. And so I lean more toward it being better to commit your desire to the page in order to write what you want to write first and foremost. Even if that means writing one thing that’s commercial, then writing another thing that’s more personal.

    Don’t bend to the market. Make the market bend to you. Fuck chasing trends. Why not be the trend everyone else is chasing?

    • Scott "blogs are still a thing" Cooper says:

      There’s a bizarre idea in that original question posed to Wendig: “To write what you love and make money eventually… or to write what sells and support your dream right now.”

      So, in that formulation, the “dream” is to just write something, anything, and make money from it. Even if it’s the most hacky, tasteless, market-driven crap to ever exist in English. Yikes. I mean, what sort of person dreams of that?

      But then it occurs to me that this might help explain some of the really bad pottery that is seemingly everywhere. That there are people who just want to make money (or “a living”) from making pots, no matter what those pots are like, or what it takes to get them made, or who buys them, or if they even make it back out of the bag in one piece. That somehow, there are people who really did “get into it for the money”. Or who switched from whatever impulse caused them to first sit down at the wheel to sellout mode so quickly that there wasn’t time for any more laudable motive to germinate. [Shiver.]

      I dunno. Is this bleeding obvious, or conspiracy-theory-caliber bonkers?

      • I think the dynamic he’s aiming at is that getting established might mean writing for magazines or newspapers or copy for commercials, or whatever. If you do that stuff well you may eventually get more liberty to do projects more to your liking. Its like working your way up to finally being able to direct a ‘Gone with the Wind’ project by first fetching coffee, doing the lights, editing some scripts for continuity, writing scripts, assisting the director, doing some second unit direction, doing the camera work, etc. In the writer’s world there are real jobs out there that require some sort of industry validation. It would be like saying we wanted to teach at the University and we start applying straight out of high school ceramics, or we go to workshops, go to college, go to grad school, teach at community centers, etc. Its all a question of how many hoops there are to get to your dream. If we want to teach we could always haul a wheel out to the city park and start disseminating our wisdom to the pigeons and random passers by….

        That’s my take on what he was saying, at least…..

        • Scott "cynic" Cooper says:

          I think that’s what Wendig is getting into, and I totally agree with him (and you). But — and maybe this is just my paranoia or my inclination to paint others with an overly broad brush — but in that question Wendig was replying to, I detect a hint of the Quit My Dayjob dream, as opposed to the Be A Writer dream. In my experience, those are two different things; different sets of motives. And while it’s possible to have both dreams at once — I did — a lot of people seem to think they have the second one when it’s really just the first.

        • That’s very true. Nice distinction, by the way! I think maybe you just described my lifestyle as well: I thought I was going to be a potter, but all I really did in the end was just quitting my job. I sell a few times more pots than I did before, but my total income (including part-time teaching) is just about half of what I used to make. I’m not really much more of a potter than I was, and the net effect is more that I simply quit my day job. If that wasn’t so hilarious I’d probably cry…..

        • Your Friend, Diogenes says:

          I know what you mean, but surely the net effect is more than that.

          I mean, you are what you do, right? So therefore, you are also not that which you don’t do, and what you don’t do any more is work some dumb, meaningless (to you) day job to earn more money.

        • Thankfully that’s true! But at the same time it weakens the distinction between the two sorts of dream (this is confusing carrying different threads of conversations across different threads). Am I only pretending to be a potter? Sometimes it feels like that….. I’m no longer a health food store manager, but I’m also not an astronaut. But to the extent that I’m a potter I’m also a number of other things, one of which is a former health food store manager, another being a part time teacher. The question of identity is ever so tangled…. I guess my own sense of my being is always in flux, depending on the situation.

          I always thought this was funny:

          “The French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre was sitting in a cafe when a waitress approached him: “Can I get you something to drink, Monsieur Sartre?”

          Sartre replied, “Yes, I’d like a cup of coffee with sugar, but no cream”.

          Nodding agreement, the waitress walked off to fill the order and Sartre returned to working. A few minutes later, however, the waitress returned and said, “I’m sorry, Monsieur Sartre, we are all out of cream — how about with no milk?”

        • OKSC says:

          Because I posited the two different kinds of dreams, I’m OK with weakening the distinction. They’re pretty entangled for most people, I think; perhaps only clearer in retrospect.

          And I think your impostor syndrome about being a potter is also pretty common, too — even among some pretty damn good potters. I used to believe that “being a potter” (or, in an even more harmful formulation: “being a REAL potter”) meant it was your sole source of income, and that you did it “full time”. Setting aside such complexities and conditional factors as your economic history, marital status, lifestyle, and whether “full time” meant 35+ hours per week or 40 or 80.

          That seemed to be the litmus test, and the result had to binary. Either you were a potter or you weren’t, and if you weren’t than that meant you were something else: a dabbler, or someone lacking in commitment or, god forbid, an *amateur*.

          I still think it’d be awfully nice to dedicate all my time and efforts to making pots, in a perfect world where money was no object. But I’m glad to not have all the enormous challenges and consequences of taking that path, and I don’t think I’m not a potter because I only work at it 3-4 days a week.

          So I don’t think you should let a relative lack of success or failure to meet your original goals or the amount of money that it puts in your bank account every year undercut your sense of yourself as “a potter”. I don’t think anyone should.

          Plus, there are so much more important questions to ask, right? Like: are these pots I’m making any good? What could make them better? What am I missing? How do I get them into the hands of people who will value and, perhaps, learn from them? Etc.

        • For me THOSE are the more important questions. Way to get the conversation back on track!

          Yeah, some questions don’t deserve to be asked. Just because you can phrase it doesn’t make it worth asking. The problem is that they sound so reasonable from the outside. Never mind that questions like “Am I a potter?” only aim at sabotaging our fragile confidence. Or bolstering it with some useless validation.

          The only really good question is “Do you like doing what you are doing, and does it add value to the world rather than take away from it? Is there POETRY in what I’m doing?” In the end, it doesn’t matter what you call what you are doing. Labels always fall short or mislead. Think to the art first, and all else will fall into place.

  4. Scott Cooper, guilty party says:

    It seems like there must be some equivalent opposite to “Each little mark is lost money!”

    Something like: Each little mark you wanted to make, but didn’t for fear of profitability, is lost _____.”

    Problem is, I’m not sure what exactly is lost, but it’s something… important.

    And, of course, that’s more nuanced than the direct, brutal simplicity of “lost money!”. And perhaps too nebulous to grab onto easily, or to remember when the shit hits the fan. And definitely harder to fit on a t-shirt. All of which leads me to believe it’s just as true, if not more true, than what Tony’s devil’s advocate said.

    • Agreed! I’ll have to think on that one.

      I think it comes down to settling for less than our best. We lose opportunity, but also the slim chance at greatness. By not leaving those marks we squander the gift of creativity that aims at making a real difference. We settle for less. And the world is poorer.

      Maybe: “Leave your mark on the world. Show that you care. Show that it matters. Show others the way.” Something like that?

      • Scott "I like that it lets me type anything in this box" Cooper says:

        Yeah. I was tempted to fill in the blank above with “soul”, but I don’t believe in souls, so…

        I guess I’m thinking that not only is the world poorer for that choice, for that failure to act based on fear or craven greed, but the individual is poorer for it as well. That making each of those incremental compromises chips away at something as valuable (or even more valuable, in the longer term) than cash. Whether that’s the potter’s enthusiasm for their craft, or the spark that lead them to clay in the first place, or a sense of their own autonomy and worth… I dunno. Maybe a little of each of those, or a different combination for each person.

        It seems to me that most of the time, the process of selling out is gradual and accumulative, and pretty easily justified one pot at a time.

        • That’s a chilling indictment!

          But I wouldn’t be too hasty in judging that the loss is incremental. It happens, sure, but we can recover. We can head down dark roads and then make u-turns. Of course it CAN look like what you are saying. It often does. But my suspicion is that these are the people who were going to go down that road no matter what. Their disposition was to sell out. I think for others our disposition is at least partly to make the best work we can. Sometimes we fall short, but knowing the difference and CARING cannot be undervalued. People who are inclined to care can always be brought back to the light. The ones who couldn’t care less will always fall down that dark hole, and may not realize their mistake until its too late. Maybe there’s even hope of an eventual redemption for them….. I just think the world is so full of compromise that there almost can’t be said to be a thing in human behavior described as pure principle. To be human is to be a hypocrite, I’ve found. Sometimes just larger or smaller is all….. Its not all black and white, and its not all straightforward purity or the path to hell….

        • Using Religious Language By Default says:

          Agreed. Redemption, on that score, is certainly possible. There are plenty of great potters who spent their time wandering in the wilderness, so to speak, before eventually reforming their approach.

          And I guess that’s why having the conversation is worth while. If it was only a one-way trip, then it’d be too late for those who have already gone over to the dark side. It’s also a good reminder or cautionary tale for those of us that are on the bubble, or that waver back and forth over that theoretical “sellout” line. Like with karma, it’s not only good to be in the black, it’s also good to be aware of how far in the black you are at any point in time.

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