The creative life has never been easy



The bright lights of Broadway


By Caitlin Kelly

Imagine needing a job.

Imagine having 20 children to support.

Meet Johann Sebastian Bach, who in 1721 presented six concertos — now named the Brandenburg Concertos, named for the Margrave for whom they were written — to a local official he hoped would offer him a job.

Today, these much beloved pieces resonate still.

The Margrave did not hire him and it’s possible he never even heard them.

The 1946 Christmas film, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart and Donna Reed, is equally hailed as a great of the film classics.

It failed at the box office and the original story met with such rejection that its author decided to self-publish and send it to 200 friends instead.

At museum shows of the legends Michelangelo, Charlotte Bronte and the Japanese print-maker Hokusai — whose Great Wave is one of the most familiar of all images — I learned the more nuanced truth of these lives, of penury and struggle, their lost and cancelled commissions.

It’s tempting to think that all the great art and music and literature we still enjoy today was produced from warm homes filled with good food, with healthy children and wives and husbands. In fact, there was much sorrow to endure.



Bronte’s dress and boots


Bronte suffered the early death of all her siblings, married late (37) and died the following year.



Bronte’s writing desk


I so admire anyone who chooses the creative life.

My father made films and documentary television shows. His second wife wrote and edited television scripts. My mother worked as a print and radio journalist.

I get it!

We lived its ups and downs, emotionally, intellectually and financially. Rejection can feel annihilating, most often wielded by people with salaries and pensions, unwilling to take creative risks themselves while harshly judging those of us who do.

Without a wealthy family or partner (and some have this) it can mean many years of financial struggle, and the endless hope of recognition.

No one needs a new novel or oratorio or painting!

So I gave my husband — a freelance photo editor and photographer this book for Christmas.




One of my favorite sources of inspiration is Tharp’s first book, The Creative Habit; she’s a choreographer, but the challenges she faces, and her wisdom and practical advice, are just as fitting to many other creative efforts.


If you’re working to create something new, keep going.

The world needs it.

You need to make it.


7 thoughts on “The creative life has never been easy

  1. Ah, I hear you! Journalists have never been big earners, much less so those of us who choose the freelance life (and my partner is a photographer!). Two years ago I was lucky enough to visit “Bronte country” in England, and as a fan of the sisters’ books I was keen to learn more about how they lived. Struggle doesn’t quite cover it. A very bleak and hard life, for the most part, but such creativity! Loved this post!

    1. Thanks!

      Jose actually did very well at the NYT and I did as well, with my staff jobs (2 in Canada, both unionized.)

      Today, freelance rates are much, much lower for writing (thanks to digital) so I spend most of my energy chasing better-paid print assignments.

      I was stunned and saddened to see how very very difficult life was for the Brontes. I wish we were taught artistic/literary/musical history — not just political and military — in school. It would, I think, make people realize what it cost to produce this amazing work we enjoy centuries later — with no idea.

  2. Yeah, the creative life is a struggle, and is rarely profitable. While a few of my influences have found lots of success, just as many, if not more, have had to work day jobs or languish in obscurity until the day they died. I myself earn an income from my day job, rather than from writing.
    Still, I keep doing it, because I love it and I love doing it. And hopefully someday, I can make something of it. Fingers crossed.

  3. the lure of the creative life is hard to resist, even with all the struggles and rejection. it’s a siren call of sorts. it’s important to hear your last two lines and remember them. I love your idea of being taught creative histories, right along with the wars and conquering heroes. that book sounds intriguing and what a great gift.

    1. Right? I never understand why those histories are deemed all-important — everything has a history!

      I was a nerd at 12 and read a history of medicine, meeting Galen and Jenner and Harvey and Senmelweiss…

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