Is working on our craft/art real work and why that matters.

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Is working on art real work? How we answer this question is key to how seriously we take our pursuit of art and creativity. If we get paid for our work it is seen as important. It feels important. If I write for a magazine and get paid my writing is seen as important and as having worth. If I write for a blog and don’t make any money I have a cute hobby. I have that little something that I do to cope with life. Our hobbies, art, craft, and creativity isn’t taken seriously by others when we don’t get paid to do it. What could possibly be of value that doesn’t earn money?

In our pursuit to create, we must see our art, craft, and creativity as real work. It may be the work of our lives. If we don’t take it seriously no one else will and we will not persevere and create what is inherent to who we are. Leo Tolstoy describes real art as being infectious stating that, “A real work of art destroys, in the consciousness of the receiver, the separation between himself and the artist. Its as if what it expresses were just what he had long been wishing to express” (1896).

This exchanged happened when I read Irving Stone’s book, Lust for Life, about Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh painted for eight years and considered his art real work. When Van Gogh started painting he compared his work to others who did manual labor. His family mocked his sketching and painting and did not take him seriously. Van Gogh pleaded with his mother to “have a little faith in me. I know how this job has to be done, and if you will only give me time I will succeed” (Stone, 1984). Part of Van Gogh’s journey included gaining an acceptance that he was working despite not getting paid for his work.

There is no question today that Van Gogh’s work is valuable, but at the time he painted his masterpieces they were mocked, scorned, and often destroyed by the master himself. Where would his work be if he hadn’t taken his art seriously and treated it as a real work? What if Van Gogh had succumbed to the world’s definition of valuable work as being work that we get paid for.

Taking our work seriously will help us persevere, overcome obstacles, and accomplish our goals, or just do the work in the first place. If we don’t take our art seriously who will? If we look at what we want to do and shrug it off as some little hobby or just a part of a life stage we will not succeed in “infecting the condition of another’s soul, convey emotion, or create a union with others” (Tolstoy, 1896). We will not create real art.

The world considers certain types of unpaid work as valuable. Students become interns to get their foot into companies and learn skills. Apprentices learn skills on the job that can lead to good full-time jobs. Some of the most valuable qualities of paid employees are traits they aren’t paid for. Parents spend eighteen years raising children and earn nothing for all their time and work and I think most of us would agree that raising children is a lot of very real work.

Internships date back to the medieval times and are an accepted way of receiving on-the-job training and exploring a profession or corporation (Pologeorgis, 2018). Internships can be paid or unpaid, but both are an accepted way of gaining work experience while going to school. An apprentice works under a master craftsman to learn a trade or skill and learns by watching and working together with the craftsman (Apprenticeship, 2018). Apprentices are often paid, but not always, and usually sign a contract agreeing to enter into employment with the business after the apprenticeship is over (Apprenticeship, 2018). While this method is accepted it is not as common as simply entering into employment and is often overlooked as an effective way of passing on a skill, craft, and cultural values of the master craftsman.

An article in Inc. highlights signs that people can look for to indicate they are a valuable employee. These traits include honesty, self-improvement, integrity, reliability, proactive, good communicator, and completes projects (Cain, 2016). These are also the traits of an artisan. They are the traits of a good worker. Inc. doesn’t say that you are valuable because of what you get paid, but because of who you are. I can be all those things anywhere and so can you. Who we are and what we do matter despite how much we get paid.

Google unpaid work and you will see many articles on parenting and being a mother. Unpaid work is “the production of goods and services by family members that are not sold on the market” (Rucker, 2011). Unpaid work is work and it includes cooking, gardening, cleaning, childcare, laundry, mowing the lawn, and fixing the car (2011). We could argue if women do more unpaid work than men, but I believe we could agree that parents do a lot of unpaid work. No one is questioning the validity or seriousness of that work. That unpaid work.

I went on a trip once. My brother was there. He looked at my “go-bag” and laughed. Where did you get that? I sheepishly replied, “At a vintage store. Isn’t it the best?” More laughter. Why do you need a bag like that? I need it for my books, journals, and paper. Is that for your job? No. I like to study and I like to write. Silence. Do you get paid for that? No. He walked away. It was as if I was a freak. As if I couldn’t be taken seriously because I wasn’t getting paid to study, or wasn’t filtering that activity through an accepted norm like college.

I wasn’t working for a magazine or doing research for an institution. I was simply studying and trying to put ideas together. Two things that I absolutely love doing. Later I would start writing. It was excused as that thing I do to cope with depression, our emptying nest, and my career crisis. She’s just coping. I wasn’t taking it seriously at the time either. I had just reached the end of my rope. Life sucked and I was grasping for something that would give it meaning.

Van Gogh considered the eight to ten hours a day he spent painting as real work. It was what he was supposed to do. The more he painted the more he took his work seriously. This was key to him persevering through starvation, suffering, relationship problems, and desolate conditions. This is what will be key for us to persevere through life’s challenges. We must see what we do as real work. Real work is not based on whether we get paid for it or not, but on the effort, we put into it. Have faith in yourself and do the job the way you know it should be done. In time you will succeed.

Marcy Pedersen


Apprenticeship. (2018). New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 31, 2018 from

Cain, A. (2016). 11 Signs that you’re an incredibly valuable employee. Inc. Retrieved October 31, 2018 from

Pologeorgis, N. (2018). The impact unpaid internships have on the labor market. Investopedia. Retrieved October 31, 2018 from

Rucker, J. (2011). Unpaid work (such as cleaning the house) differs around the world. Fast Company. Retrieved October 31, 2018 from

Stone, I. (1984). Lust for Life. Plume.

Tolstoy, L. (1896). What is art? Retrieved October 31, 2018 from

Originally published at on November 1, 2018.

Writer, analyst, life-long learner, and obsessed about improving life and work processes. Connect at

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