Force Majeure

A year ago I wrote about the perils of being too comfortable and how that can affect one’s motivation and growth.

Well, after 12 months of leaning into some terrific – and sometimes uncomfortable – growth, the universe must think I am still wa-a-a-y too comfortable in my current situation.  An extra dash of force majeure has been thrown into the mix.


Several weeks ago I had a consultation with an arts immigration lawyer to find out what the limitations were regarding selling my artwork on my current immigration status.  What she thought was good news was a bitter pill for me to swallow.  The conversation went something like this (note: bluntness of lawyer has been exaggerated for dramatic effect):

Lawyer: I read over your questions and I have some good news.  Since you only make about $5,000.00 annually, you can frame your practice as a hobby. 

Me: Oh [disappointed as I’ve spent the last year re-framing my practice as a business].

Lawyer: As long as you don’t do anything to promote it as a business you’ll most likely fly under the radar.

Me: So as long as I don’t have an online store, actively promote the sale of my work, or reach my projected sales goal for 2015, I’ll be fine.

Lawyer: As long as you keep it small it’s more like one person selling a piece of personal property to another.  However, there is some risk involved.

Me: What’s the worst case scenario?

Lawyer: You could be kicked out of the country and banned from returning for up to 4 years.

[30 minutes and several questions later…]

Lawyer: Have you been featured in any major newspapers or magazines?  Have you exhibited internationally?

Me: I’ve had articles written about me, but no major papers or magazines.  I’ve exhibited across Canada, but only in Canada.

Lawyer: Well, you won’t be considered special enough to get an O visa – don’t waste your money on applying.

[awkward silence]

Me: What if I decided to go back to school and do my masters?  Could I sell my work then?

Lawyer: If you went to a big enough university you would be able to apply to work in a field related to your studies.  That’s probably the only 100% legal way for you to make money while you are in the U.S. (Note: the rules regarding employment on an F-1 or J-1 visa are also limiting and wouldn’t mean I could sell my own work).


Since that enlightening conversation I’ve had several options swirling around my head.

I am loathe to re-frame my practice as a “hobby”.  I’ve worked so hard to make my practice anything BUT a hobby and it’s a mental struggle to refer to my artmaking as simply a pastime, even if it is in name only.  This pithy SNL sketch pops into my mind when I meditate on my role here in NYC.  I imagine all spouses in the U.S. on TD status must feel a certain kinship to the wife character.  I particularly love the bit about “count my own money”.

Joking aside, the option I keep coming back to is returning to school – doing my masters was a thought that occurred to me when we were contemplating our move to NYC.  Maybe the universe is trying to narrow my focus.

Maybe I’m being nudged to alter my Q3 and Q4 business plan.

Maybe it’s time for an NYC MFA adventure.

What would you do?  Would you be flexible and take the path presented to you, or would you struggle to keep your initial plan intact?  Please add your opinion to the comments below.

3 Responses to “Force Majeure”

  1. what is in a label anyway? People will apply whatever label they want- I don’t think you should sweat hobby versus professional too much- I know it is an ego blow to be called a hobbyist, but- a leaf that bends doesn’t get broke in the wind….BUT
    yep, the not promoting, online selling etc seems harsh… maybe checking out schools is the best idea!

  2. A good reminder 😉

  3. stephen sutherland says:

    Things just happen in the right way,
    at the right time, At least when you let them, when you work with circumstances instead of saying, ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening this way,’ and trying harder to make it happen some other way.
    Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh