Apprentice, assistant and artist in her own right, Claire Douglas Lee learns what it takes to be a full time artist.


THERAPY is good. Art is good. Both are good together, and being creative has therapeutic value, but art is not therapy.

Imagine a carpenter on a rooftop in the summer, hammering away and someone yells, “Hey, you have a great job! It must be great therapy!” Yes, he is getting exercise and he’s out in the sun, but likely he never thought his job was therapeutic. He’s focused on the task at hand and bringing home the bacon.

If therapy is to be described as anything that improves your mental health, anyone who has a job that keeps them out of poverty is doing a job that will bring some form of therapy. That is, if the meaning of the word is taken at its weakest.

Poverty and underemployment suck and one’s mental health can spiral downward as a result.

Creative jobs may not bring much of an income, but the drawbacks are offset by the benefits of doing a job one loves, or at least enjoys.

Since creative people generally enjoy the act of using their brains and hands to make something, they are generally happier in their jobs, which is why many people dream of the day they can give up their day job to follow their passion.

The trouble with following your passion and making your hobby your full-time job is that you have to sacrifice what other people need from you with what you love to do. It gets harder to find that balance when you become an artist. In order to make a living you have to compete with other creative people doing the same kind of thing.

Living as an artist is complicated, requiring about five jobs just to earn a living, along with the hope and expectations beyond what is possible. It’s hard work being an artist, mitigated by its enjoyment and made opaque by the product.

If the product is beautiful and everyone loves it, most people have no idea what kind of anxiety and frustrations and effort went into its creation.

Nor how long it took to learn, perfect and practice the tools and methods required required to get to the point of creating a good work.

Many artists in our egalitarian society like to give the impression that they are cosmically linked to the source of their inspiration and that ideas and creativity just flow through them.

The results often go without criticism because in our society anyone can call themselves an artist. Art is no longer offered as part of the curriculum in many schools. The result is that artists have to battle many stereotypes. We can sadly be misunderstood. Although it does create a mystique about being an artist that can be beneficial, but there is little value otherwise.

The current growing stereotype is that the arts are therapy - one in the same. It’s an argument used by artists themselves to defend the arts, used because it’s assumed that it is easier for the public to relate to, but likely it’s causing more harm than good. It’s certainly not a convincing argument to use when imploring politicians to improve funding for the arts.

I prefer the older stereotype where artists lose their minds battling with their souls and spending decades trying to create the one masterpiece, constantly struggling, fighting it out with other artists and their patrons, demanding exposure in the galleries and then dying in poverty, but leaving the world with a bounty of great work that is one day enjoyed by the public worldwide.

It’s still a terrible stereotype, but the current feel-good friendly, new age version of what it is to be an artist lacks the weight and seriousness that really is part of our lives.

Duncan Weller is a writer and visual artist. His work can be seen Saturday mornings at the Country Market and at his gallery and studio at 118 Cumberland St. You can write to him at

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