Art and Income

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is, “How long can you model?” I don’t mind answering this question: it’s easy.  I plan on modeling for photographers for as long as they’ll let me.  I think it’s important to see how the human body ages, and I want to explore that in my art.  

But the question that bothers me is the one so frequently asked after: “What will you do once you can’t make a living from modeling?"

People ask this question in all sorts of ways.  Some are genuinely curious: they want to know how the business side of my art works. These people, however, are few and far between.  Most are worried for me, as if the fact that my job will come to an end in the future means I should be panicking now.  A few are just judgmental assholes.  They make it pretty clear that they think I should never have started such a temporary job in the first place.  

Let me assure you of something: I know modeling is not a forever job.  My breasts are going to sag.  I won’t always have my figure, and I’m completely aware that I’m going to get wrinkles.  

For those curious and who are worried, let me be clear: I do have a plan for when I stop modeling for my living.  I even have a fallback plan if the first plan doesn’t work out.  Both of these plans involve staying in the arts.  

As for the judgmental people, I used to try to defend myself on their terms.  Yes, modeling isn’t forever, but I’ve done much better with it than I would have with writing, or music, or quite a number of desk jobs. I’ve learned business skills, and helped make things I think are meaningful. When it’s over, it will have been worth it. And on top of all of that, in this economy, for my generation, a job that lasts for the better part of a decade is practically a miracle.  

But my answers never changed anybody’s mind, and the “what next” question always left me with a bad taste in my mouth, no matter how stringently I defended myself.  It took me a long time to realize why I was so uncomfortable with it: it framed modeling as my livelihood instead of my art.  And that hit on one of my biggest insecurities.

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I have a belief about my art and how it’s tied up with my income.  It’s unhealthy and inaccurate, but I still feel it.  And I’ve talked to a lot of people—artists or otherwise—that share it.  I feel that if I’m not making my living from my art, then I’m not a “real” artist anymore.  In the same way, if I’m no longer making my living from modeling, I’m somehow no longer a real model.  Even if I’m still modeling as I age, if it’s not my job, it’s not my identity.  

Making a living from my art does not make it a success, nor does doing it in my spare time make me a failure.

But why do I even care?  Making a living from my art does not make it a success, nor does doing it in my spare time make me a failure.  I can’t tell you how many models I know that work part-time jobs when they’re not traveling, or how many writers make a portion of their income from something besides their words.   I’ve never judged their art based on whether they live off of it.  Why do I hold myself to a different standard?  It’s not like when I change my profession on my tax returns, suddenly all the images I’ve created vanish into thin air.  But I can’t shake this, and it drives me nuts. 

I’m still learning this lesson.  I’m still internalizing it. 

Modeling is not a forever job.  I’ve known that for a long time—since the beginning.  But it is forever art, and that’s what matters.  

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So let me answer those questions one more time.  Not necessarily for the worriers or the judges, but for myself.  Because ultimately, that’s the one opinion that matters. 

"How long can you model?"  For as long as photographers will let me. 

“And what will you do once you can’t make your living from your modeling?”  The same damn thing.  Maybe with a job on the side.  But I’ll still be making art.