“I have always been suspicious of those who give advice without admitting their own misdeeds and missteps,” comedian and writer Sara Benincasa writes in the introduction to Real Artists Have Day Jobs, a book of life advice for missteppers everywhere. Though the collection of essays starts with advice for artists, the author (who has written some truly wonderful essays for Playboy) wanders far afield, into sex advice, career advice, relationship advice and advice on what to do when your new adorable puppy poops, pees, vomits and has its period in your spanking clean bathroom.
“I see Real Artists Have Day Jobs as being a book for any adult who feels they’ve missed a step at some stage,” Benincasa told me. “So that can be a 90-year-old person who’s figuring out how to date in the nursing home, or it can be an 18-year-old person who’s figuring out what they want to study in school. Or anyone in between.”
The first essay in your book is about how you don’t need to be paid to be a real artist. Is there a difference between being a real artist and just being a hobbyist?
I do think that there is a difference between treating art as a hobby and as a profession. If you want to do something just for fun, and you have no aspirations related to making money from that, or for getting wide acknowledgement for it, that’s awesome. I am not good at gardening, but I enjoy it. So I will be a gardening hobbyist as long as I can. I will not be entering any gardening competitions anytime soon. Because I will just kill the plants, inevitably.
And that’s okay. I think if you want to define yourself as an artist, if you want to express to the world that art is something you must do because it comes from your soul, then you know I think you need to make space in your life for it and do it quite regularly. And go for it. There’s a difference between a hobbyist and the passionate artist. It’s totally fine to just do something for fun. That’s cool. That’s awesome. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you feel that art is something inside you screaming to get out, and you must do it, then you’re probably not a hobbyist. You’re a real artist.
But that doesn’t have much to do with whether you get paid for it?
Oh, it has nothing to do with whether you’re making money at it. It has to do with the level of passion and dedication you put into it.
You talk a good bit about your own experiences with mental illness in the book. Mental illness and creativity are often presented as complimentary, or mental illness is seen as being part of being an artist. I wondered how you see mental illness and art being connected for you, if at all.
I don’t think mental illness and art are inextricably connected. And I think there is a pervasive and dangerous romantic myth or notion that the artist must be crazy or that the crazy person must be an artist. I find in my own life that if I were not in a successful treatment for depression and anxiety, I wouldn’t be able to create art. I wouldn’t be alive.
So, I think being alive is awesome, and I am a fan of it most of the time. I would like to see people be as healthy as possible so that they can continue to create art. I think it’s quite dangerous, and I see it often, for someone to associate their diagnosis or their suffering with their art. That does not have to be the case. I think that certainly sometimes creativity can mimic mania. It’s really necessary to be healthy mentally so you can go the distance and continue to make art and evolve as an artist.
A lot of your writing comes out of your personal experiences. What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing about your own life in that way?
I enjoy writing about my real life so long as I am not attempting to hurt or bother anyone else. In the book I write about some interactions with an ex who was abusive. And it was very important to me to disguise the identity of that person to the extent that it was possible.
I wasn’t writing for revenge. I was writing for kinship. The kinship that happens when someone reads your true story and says, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s me. I feel less alone now.’ And there’s a difference between writing to talk about what really happened to you and writing to hurt someone else. I don’t think that we should give a pass to people who have hurt us, but I also don’t think we should write for vengeance. Writing for justice, perhaps, but that’s different than writing for vengeance.
I think writing about oneself can be freeing and exciting if one’s using it as a way to connect with other people. If it’s just shoving a magnifying glass up your own asshole and telling the world to take a look, that’s pretty boring.
There’s also a very specific porn that enacts that literal metaphor.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
I should emphasize that the book is very sex-positive. It’s very much pro consensual adult bonetown. I absolutely think that sex-positive is part of being a happy and healthy adult. Sex-positive doesn’t mean that you fuck everybody, and it doesn’t mean that you encourage everybody to fuck everybody else. Sex-positive means that you look at sex as an inherently powerful and good thing if used correctly among consenting adults. You don’t go immediately to shame or blame people for expressing their sexual desires.
There’s a chapter called "Go Fuck Yourself: No Really, the Power of Masturbation” and I quite like that chapter. You’re always going to be in a relationship with yourself. You gotta keep that happy.