Sunday, September 17, 2006

A portfolio life

Last week I had a really great time doing a five-day workshop with Sally Strand organised by the Pastel Painters Society of Cape Cod (of which more later) in Chatham on Cape Cod.

Most of my fellow workshop participants were women and most of us are enjoying a more mature perspective on life! As with many such workshops, learning extended beyond the tutor and the studio and involved interesting exchanges over lunchtime sandwiches and the dinner table in the evening. Listening to how people had arrived at their art and this particular workshop prompted me to write what follows.

But first a quick bit of context. About 20 years ago, while doing my MBA, I was fortunate to be taught by Professor Charles Handy who has been very influential in relation to organisational theory and management thinking. His own career path was very interesting and I remember one of the assignments he set for my class involved defining a future career path for ourselves. He was at the time developing and writing about the idea of the portfolio worker - somebody who works independently and derives their income from a number of sources - and the portfolio career for people who may not do the same type of job all their life. At the time I was more inclined to relate the notion of a portfolio career to my experience of doing an advanced degree part-time over three years (with enough class contact hours to entitle me to a national union of students card!) at the same time as holding down a senior management job. Later, the notion of changing direction and looking to develop income streams from different types of work began to hold much more attraction. Always I hoped to get back to my art in some way or other. I wasn't alone.

While listening, in Cape Cod, to people's stories of what part art had played in their lives I was struck by how many people had lived a 'portfolio' life. For many of them, art had been an undercurrent within their portfolio of responsibilities, activities and interests for many years. A number had fine arts degrees or had previously studied art but had taken long breaks from their art to attend to other matters - whether that was making their way in the world or helping others to do likewise. Most people had held positions of considerable and time-consuming responsibility in corporations, professional offices, voluntary organisations and/or the family home.

Later in life, art began to emerge. There was more time and space for art as a major component within their life portfolio. The scope and opportunity for art to become a potential income stream instead of just an undercurrent began to emerge. A number were now pursuing their art on a serious basis, had their own studios, exhibited their work in group and individual shows and were notching up sales. As one grandmother put it to me, she has recently been classed as 'an emerging artist'. Another quipped that she had been described as a "new face' on the art scene at the age of 61!

Art is very often regarded as a 'hobby' or a pastime for retirement and I don't doubt the value art can play in a recreational sense. However it's also very stimulating to see how, as time passes and people shed the more time-consuming aspects of some previous responsibilities, they can also open doors to a 'new' career as an artist. One more for the portfolio!

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  1. THank you for writing a wonderful post. I have begun my second half of a century doing just what you are talking about. My portfolio life now includes the very thing I always wanted in it.Painting full ime. What I find interesting is that I appreciate my art life more today because of the other work I did for so many years. Art is opening so many doors for me. THe next 50 years should be a hoot.

  2. Interesting topic, being in my late 60's and only just finding art at all has been stimulating and interesting. I am not sure i have had s portfolio life, farmers wives are not looked upon as an integral part of the work force as we stay at home, nurture children, husbands, gardens, feed claves, round up sheep and have all the money worries that go with the job. But I like the concept and yes I am not retired as such but am enjoying my art work more.

  3. Katherine, nice to see that you are back and had such a successful time. Excellent post and so true of many of us that waited so many years to be able to start at the bottom at a late age but you take it up with a passion that may not be as strong when you are younger.

  4. Your experience mirrors my own quite a bit. I've worked as a musician, teacher, software engineer, Internet media executive and artist... But art is now the focus, with a little of the other stuff thrown in (when I need the money). Ah, to be a "gentleman painter", painting for the joy of it.

  5. Your experience mirrors my own quite a bit. I've worked as a musician, teacher, software engineer, Internet media executive and artist... But art is now the focus, with a little of the other stuff thrown in (when I need the money). Ah, to be a "gentleman painter", painting for the joy of it.

  6. This is certainly true for many in the textile arts as well. I have also observed that many of those who have been doing art all along as a career were the 'naughty ones' at school, while those who were 'sensible'and pursued 'proper careers' have had to delay the development of their passion til they have more time and now find themselves 20 years 'behind' :)

  7. This idea of the unchained career seems to have suddenly come to the surface in a lot of minds all at once. I connect it with a rebellion against what I call the homogenization of modern life. The tendency of all main streets to begin to look alike as the small stores with character are chased out by the huge "bargain" stores. The tendency of all well-paying jobs to be paper pushing jobs as the really fulfilling jobs are either mechanized or exported. Would you believe that I just a few days ago began a new blog (my third) called "The Self-Designed Life". I'm still learning things like adding links to my blogs, but I'll try as soon as I post this to add a link to your posting as relevant to the disccussion on my blog.


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