J. M. Harris
It’s a mystery as old as time — keeping the balance between making art and making money. Artists of all kinds meet this challenge — everyday wizards, who conjure art and summon money too.
After events, many of us will gather informally for food and drinks, and one of the favorite conversation topics is how each of us tries, successfully or not, to make art and also make a living in a city with a high unemployment rate, low wages, and limited opportunities to be paid as artists.
J. M. Harris is a writer (mostly poetry) living in Portland OR.
S&TG: Do you use the word artist, poet, etc. to describe yourself? Do you feel like you don’t “deserve” to call yourself that because you’re not paid, published, etc. or famous? Have you always thought of yourself as an artist?
I disagree with any conceptual framework that validates or invalidates any part of your identity or artistic expression based on whether or not you earn financial or social capital from it. It is a terrible form of servitude to have one’s creativity and psychological center bound entirely to context and the will of others. “Deserve”: by what authority could someone keep the song of myself from myself? Not any authority I or any other person drawn to creative endeavor should recognize.
S&TG: And what does it mean to you to be an artist, poet, etc? And have you always thought of yourself as one? If not, when did you? How long have you been making art?
I have been writing poetry and stories from the age of 4. The personal and social construction of an autodidact is always a strange history. The writer that journaled obsessively for years properly exhausted herself so she could give poetry better attention. While I am no longer so naive as to imagine writing as a holy calling that writing school profanes, the logic of the corporate ladder often has a blunting effect on artistic pursuits, and as such should be treated with appropriate caution and distrust.
S&TG: Are there habits or places that help you create or get you inspired?
Reading. Anything that I take in.
S&TG: Who are your creative heroes?
There is a legion on that pedestal, but then again I would rather imagine us all standing around together on the same ground.
S&TG: What excites you as an artist?
Anything that makes a puncture in the shape of bliss. Stepping with willing others through that breach.
S&TG: What are your dreams?
To work in whatever way possible toward a world where kyriarchy does not constrain us all so thoroughly, bound hand and foot with thick mass culture blindfolds.
S&TG: What’s the most important lesson that you want to share with a beginning artist about how to be creative?
To understand that they have the permission to manifest their creativity in whatever form it takes or they wish it to take. That the only thing to center yourself should be the desire that leads them to create in the first place, and if you always remember that desire your connection to your art cannot be severed.
Making a living
S&TG: Do you feel having to make money limits your creative life?
I find myself very creative during times of emotional and financial duress, and during times when I am not under a great deal of strain. I can be barely writing when everything else is going perfectly. The art of living is all-consuming; everything in our lives becomes stagnant if you are not engaging in the world in a creative manner.