The hours I’ve wasted being a ‘helper’ represent many, many paintings that will never get finished.
|Drying towels, by Carol L. Douglas|
I was raised in the second wave of feminism, during the so-called “women’s lib” movement. My mother succeeded in her career while still raising six kids and volunteering. Her secret? “You can have it all” meant, “you can do it all.”
She eventually stopped volunteering at a public health clinic when she learned the doctors (then male) were being paid; the nurses (then all women) were working for free. It took a lot for her to turn her back on people in desperate need. But our society trains women to be helpers and then takes advantage of that.
I have higher hopes for my daughters. Laura, age 31, counseled me against volunteering last summer. I wish I’d listened. She’s a software engineer and she regularly refuses ‘office housekeeping’ tasks at work. She’s not heartless; she’s just picky about what she’s willing to do. She volunteers, but not in her profession.
|Little Giant, by Carol L. Douglas|
Women don’t volunteer because they are inherently more altruistic. They do so, a recent study suggests, because they’re taught from a young age to offer to help. That long silence waiting for a hand to be raised is just quiet for men; it’s a demand and rebuke to women.
Taking on these tasks blunts women’s careers. While women dutifully serve on committees, men do critical research or paint brilliant paintings. That has far-reaching consequences. I can’t blame anyone but myself for the hours I’ve wasted being a ‘helper,’ but they represent many, many paintings that will never get finished.
|A lobster pound at Tenant's Harbor, by Carol L. Douglas|
Meanwhile, I fight a constant battle between work and the artist’s need for rest and solitude. It’s a delicate balance, and few artists ever get it right. Most start off working another job to be able to afford to paint. Most of my professional artist friends are childless, and for good reason.
My friend Jane Bartlett regularly points out when I’m sliding over the ‘too much work’ line. A great friend manages to make these observations while still making you feel good about yourself. If you want to give, be like Jane: give directly to your peers by being supportive, incisive and kind. I wouldn’t be where I am today without friends like her, and I hope I’m paying that forward.
|Headlamps, by Carol L. Douglas|
“Artists have to be super careful that they're not enriching everyone else with their work,” a fellow artist remarked about pricing paintings. I think of that every time I buy art supplies. Art supply stores are an $843.1-million-a-year industry, and they didn’t get that way by selling just necessities.
But she was talking about the pernicious practice of asking artists for donations. Every time a non-profit asks you to donate work, you’re paying other people’s salaries. Their staff doesn’t work for nothing, and neither should you. And your donation is not tax-deductible, either.
It’s unlikely that your donation will do anything to advance your career, so donate a painting only if you’d have written them a check anyway. And save your real efforts for promoting your work yourself.