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This might sound familiar to you. You have some inspiration and start creating a new piece in whatever media and tools you use. Things are FUN because you are doing something you love, and it makes you relax and enjoy life while you get lost in it. You play your favorite music and get comfy in your chair. You are having a great time, and time just seems to fly!
Most of what we create when we are inspired comes out great, and sometimes it is difficult to decide when to stop because we keep tweaking it to perfection. The piece becomes our little child and we like to cuddle with it. After some years of experience, we just KNOW when we did a good job, and in all aspects what could be improved. But that's Ok because we are doing it for fun, and it relaxes us. We are doing what we like in the way we like to do it.
Eventually we like to learn new techniques, either because we want to better the past results, or because some of us like to challenge ourselves as means to improve since doing the same over again can become boring over time. Even when we are a bit uncomfortable using new tools and covering unfamiliar grounds, it is still FUN because of the expectations for even better results.
In time we get confident of our skills because we have tried basically everything there was to try, and for better or worse, we've been there, done that. Experience makes the task even more pleasant [and quick] to do, and we feel better about it. You open commissions and think how awesome it is to make money while doing what you like the most. I have heard people saying things like "I can't believe people are paying me money to do this because it doesn't feel like work to me".
Until one day - somebody asks you to do something you don't really want to do, but it's a commission job and it takes precedence. And that's a turning point.
Be it whatever media you use, like drawing, photography, 3D modeling, computer programming, music composing, or writing a game script, it doesn't matter - you are being asked to do something with it that you are not comfortable with, or maybe it's something you just don't quite like. At first you might think of it as a new challenge, but for one reason or another, it's not FUN to do it. And guess what - when it's not fun to do, the results will most likely not stand comparing to your other works, and some clients might see that.
Then you finish it to the best of your ability, and the client starts asking for changes. It's not uncommon when one of the changes means redoing the whole thing from scratch, and you start having mixed feelings about the whole thing being worth the stress or not. Did I mention you are STRESSING yourself while you do it? You are still using the tools and the media you love, so you may ask why is this bringing you down?
At one of the gaming companies I have worked for, I was working at the art department, and I could sense this dreadful atmosphere in there. It was absolute silence in the art room, and artists were doing repetitive tasks like robots in a factory assembly line. Over time I've got to know them personally and was shocked to know that none of them had a personal gallery, or created any art of their own. What the heck is going on here?
These artists have only created contents for the company projects, and after hours they are so exhausted, there isn't enough juice for anything else. This is where art meets company jobs, where you only create what they tell you to, and you are going to do it for the whole day. Some people actually prefer to be told what to do, while others would prefer to create their own stuff - I am of the second kind. Maybe it's just me, but I see those artists like drones, almost like zombies at work.
Making a living as an artist is tough, no doubts about it. Most likely, many of us dream of getting hired by companies - especially gaming companies because it sounds more glamorous and fun. Most likely, the LAST thing you will be thinking about would be the fact that from that on, you will be doing what THEY want, and that you might be doing the SAME thing over again for a long time.
Now if you were used to work as a freelancer like me, this might pretty quickly feel like hell on Earth. What you used to be commissioned to create by the unit, now your manager may ask you to create by the dozens every day, and you will be paid the same no matter how much you produce. In comparison to being paid by commission jobs, you are now mass-producing the same goods for peanuts. It's the kind of feeling like your work has become cheap and under-appreciated. You have finally sold your soul.
The dreams of working for gaming companies don't feel so glamorous and fun anymore. It's the reality of mass-producing art that was once our cuddly dear babies, where each one had their own history and meaning.
Perhaps a soul-crushing moment is when the floor manager casually asks you to do something so technically challenging, when you know she doesn't understand your media because she is not an artist. I can't help but to think that would be quite an expensive commission job because of the technical details, but to the floor manager it's just one more item from a long list (and so are you). That's more or less when the artist becomes a drone - a mindless zombie.
Of course, for those who have only worked for companies their whole life, the above may not have the same effect on them. They may still look like zombies by the end of the day, but that's the only reality they know, as opposed to being unemployed. They feel lucky to have a job and receive a paycheck by the end of the month - but to me, they look already dead. They have no art of their own, and neither feel compelled to do it. Makes one wonder what being an artist is all about.
In a job interview, a recruiting manager once asked me to show something I had created in the entirely by myself. Having only worked for companies by then, I looked back and there was nothing. Companies don't hire us to create entire projects - we only work in parts of them. I asked him if they were hiring people to create entire projects, and he said no. I guess that answers his own stupid question.
So the bottom line might be this: you work for many years for companies and build a nice resume. One day somebody will ask what you have created entirely on your own, and you will look back and there is nothing. You have worked on bits and parts of several projects, but never created anything whole, since that's not what they hire you for. If by chance you DID create everything at some point, then you ARE the company and should be running your own business.
When people claim that making a living out of art is tough, that is, least to say, an understatement. There is no way to put it in simple words. In many cases it may mean that you will not make any art of your own anymore, but doesn't that defeat the whole purpose of being an artist in the first place? Haha food for thought!