11 Celebrated Artists Who Didn't Quit Their Day Jobs

DON EMMERT, AFP/Getty Images
DON EMMERT, AFP/Getty Images

Not all artists lock themselves away in a garret somewhere to tenderly shepherd their creations into being. Some prefer to punch a clock or run a business, stealing away to jot down a few lines here or a few notes there.

Most creative types work a regular job at some point, of course. But this list isn't about folks working as waiters or barkeeps. No, these artists took pride in their 9 to 5 work, and most of them kept at it even as they wrote and painted and otherwise created the masterpieces we know today.

1. T.S. ELIOT // BANKER

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His friends, led by Ezra Pound, thought the poet was wasting his time at Lloyds Bank in London. Eliot worked on foreign accounts there from 1917 to 1925—a span of time during which he published The Waste Land, among other essays and poems.

Eliot was desperate for financial security, and he rejected an attempt by Pound and his friends to guarantee him an annual salary to simply write. Why would he take the guarantee of a few years' salary, he asked, when he could have a lifetime's guarantee of work at the bank? Eliot only left after he found another day job—as an editor at the publishing house Faber and Faber. He then worked there full-time for four decades.

2. PHILIP GLASS // PLUMBER AND TAXI DRIVER

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The minimalist music icon supported himself with a variety of blue-collar jobs in his 20s and 30s. Even as he created avant-garde operas and musical "happenings," he worked as a cab driver and plumber. This led to surprising intersections. Said Glass in 2001: "While working, I suddenly heard a noise and looked up to find Robert Hughes, the art critic of TIME magazine, staring at me in disbelief. 'But you're Philip Glass! What are you doing here?' It was obvious that I was installing his dishwasher and I told him I would soon be finished. 'But you are an artist,' he protested. I explained that I was an artist but that I was sometimes a plumber as well and that he should go away and let me finish."

Even after the premiere of his opera Einstein at the Beach at the Met in 1976, the 39-year-old Glass went back to driving a cab. He kept at it for the next three years.

3. ANTHONY TROLLOPE // POSTAL SURVEYOR

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This 19th-century British novelist isn't the most widely read these days, but he was a popular chronicler of everyday life, and most of his books are still available. Trollope was doggedly prolific, writing nearly 50 novels, all the while climbing the rungs of the civil service. Many of his books were inspired by his journeys on behalf of the postal service. He also introduced the first pillar boxes (free-standing boxes where residents could drop off their mail) to Britain.

4. WALLACE STEVENS // INSURANCE EXECUTIVE

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If you've ever bought insurance from the Hartford (or known someone who did), you've come into contact with the longtime employer of visionary poet Wallace Stevens. There was scarcely a major literary prize that the enigmatic Stevens didn't win—he stacked up two National Book Awards, a Pulitzer, and honorary degrees. But to most people who knew him in Hartford, Connecticut, he was simply an imposing insurance lawyer.

In 1955—the year Stevens died—Harvard had asked him to come teach on the campus, but he turned down the offer. He didn't want to give up his post as vice president at the company. He used his two-mile walks to work (he never learned to drive a car) to compose poetry in his mind and would put it to paper when he arrived at the office.

5. WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS // DOCTOR

Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

He of the red wheelbarrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens worked for four decades as a pediatrician in his hometown of Rutherford, New Jersey. He used his experiences with patients as source material for his poetry and prose. But that wasn't the only reason Williams kept his day job—he also wanted to write without any commercial concerns. (He kept long hours, too—take a look at his business card.)

6. TONI MORRISON // EDITOR

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The beloved author of Beloved, Morrison worked for 20 years as an editor at Random House. For several years, she was also raising small children as a single mother. Her secret to doing all that and starting a magisterial literary career? Getting up early.

"Writing before dawn began as a necessity," she told the Paris Review. "I had small children when I first began to write and I needed to use the time before they said, Mama—and that was always around five in the morning"

7. RICHARD SERRA // MOVER

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A celebrated sculptor, Serra teamed up with fellow New York City art buddies in the 1960s to found Low-Rate Movers. Employees included painter Chuck Close, monologist Spalding Grey, and the ever-industrious Philip Glass. They shared a van and mainly moved furniture. "It was a good job because none of us would work more than two or three days a week, so we had the remaining days to do our own work," Serra said. In the 1980s, he became known for being less helpful to the public—a lengthy legal battle over one of his public sculptures, "Tilted Arc," ended with it being cut into pieces and stored in a warehouse.

8. CHARLES IVES // INSURANCE EXECUTIVE

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No, you read that job title right. Wallace Stevens wasn't the only creative type to get a shot in the arm from the insurance business. Renegade composer Ives's music really only gained popularity at the end of his life (he was awarded a Pulitzer in 1947 at the age of 73).

Before that, he was mainly known as the co-founder of the Ives & Myrick Insurance Agency, and a pioneer in the field of estate planning. Ives's sometimes-thorny, nostalgic-yet-bracing compositions were seen as a hobby by those around him, even though he self-published a collection of his songs and mailed scores to performers, hoping to interest them in his work.

9. BRAM STOKER // THEATER MANAGER

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A former civil servant, Stoker was hired by famed actor Henry Irving in the late 1870s to manage the Lyceum Theatre in the West End of London. After taking the job, Stoker found himself inspired by the creative surroundings and wrote his first horror story. More frightful tales followed, and the novel Dracula appeared in 1897. But its success didn't change his work life. Stoker kept on managing the theater and overseeing Irving's tours until his boss died, some eight years later.

10. HENRY DARGER // CUSTODIAN

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During his life, most people knew Henry Darger as the quiet janitor of a Catholic hospital in Chicago. But when the octogenarian was forced to leave his longtime apartment at the end of 1972, his landlord discovered an astonishing secret. Darger had written tens of thousands of pages of prose—a 15,000-page novel and a 5000-page autobiography, among other works—and created hundreds of watercolor paintings and collages.

The deep strangeness of Darger's work (all of the little girls he depicts have penises, and the novel imagines savage violence against children) leave plenty for interpretation, and the art world has embraced him as an outsider genius. And maybe you'll never look at that scruffy janitor in the hallway the same way again.

11. KURT VONNEGUT // CAR DEALER

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The Slaughterhouse-Five author managed a Saab dealership in Cape Cod starting in 1957. Then known as a science fiction author, Vonnegut thought it might be a way to make some extra money as he worked on various writing projects. Unfortunately, the Saabs of the time were not attractive automobiles. They required the driver to add a can of oil to the engine with each fill-up. "For whatever reason, straight women did not want to do this," Vonnegut wrote.

He was forced to close the underperforming dealership shortly after. Wrote Vonnegut in 2004: "The Saab then as now was a Swedish car, and I now believe my failure as a dealer so long ago explains what would otherwise remain a deep mystery: Why the Swedes have never given me a Nobel Prize for Literature."

This story first published in 2013.

11 Masks That Will Keep You Safe and Stylish

Design Safe/Designer Face Covers/Its All Goods
Design Safe/Designer Face Covers/Its All Goods

Face masks are going to be the norm for the foreseeable future, and with that in mind, designers and manufacturers have answered the call by providing options that are tailored for different lifestyles and fashion tastes. Almost every mask below is on sale, so you can find one that fits your needs without overspending.

1. Multicolor 5-pack of Polyester Face Masks; $22 (56 percent off)

Home Essentials

This set of five polyester masks offers the protection you need in a range of colors, so you can coordinate with whatever outfit you're wearing.

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2. 3D Comfort Masks 5-Pack; $20 (25 percent off)

Brio

The breathable, stretchy fabric in these 3D masks makes them a comfortable option for daily use.

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3. Reusable Face Masks 2-pack; $15 (50 percent off)

Triple Grade

This cotton mask pack is washable and comfortable. Use the two as a matching set with your best friend or significant other, or keep the spare for laundry day.

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4. Active Masks 3-pack; $23 (14 percent off)

RipleyRader

Don’t let masks get in the way of staying active. These double-layer cotton masks are breathable but still protect against those airborne particles.

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5. Washable Protective Cotton Face Masks 2-pack; $13 (35 percent off)

Its All Good

Avoid the accidental nose-out look with this cotton mask that stays snug to your face.

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6. Washable 3D Masks 12-pack; $24 (44 percent off)

Elicto

With this 12-pack of protective masks, you can keep a few back-ups in your car and hand the rest out to friends and family who need them.

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7. Reusable Dust-Proof Mask with 5 Filters; $22 (45 percent off)

Triple Grade

This dust-proof mask can filter out 95 percent of germs and other particles, making it a great option for anyone working around smoke and debris all day, or even if you're just outside mowing the lawn.

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8. Reusable Fun Face Cover / Neck Gaiter (Flamingo); $20

Designer Face Covers

Channel some tropical energy with this flamingo fabric neck gaiter. The style of this covering resembles a bandana, which could save your ears and head from soreness from elastic loops. Other designs include a Bauhaus-inspired mask and this retro look.

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9. Seamless Bandana Mask; $8 (52 percent off)

Eargasm Earplugs

This seamless gaiter-style mask can be worn properly for protection and fashioned up into a headband once you're in the car or a safe space. Plus, having your hair out of your face will help you avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth before washing your hands.

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10. Two-Ply "Love" Face Masks 2-Pack; $18 (40 percent off)

Design Safe

These statement masks allow you to have a voice, even if your mouth is covered.

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11. Neoprene/Fleece Neck and Face Mask (Purple); $10 (66 percent off)

Its All Good

This mask will definitely come in handy once winter rolls around. It features a fleece neck, face, and ear covering to keep your mask secure and your face warm.

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Prices subject to change.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

35 Offbeat Holidays You Can Celebrate in August

Buckle up! National Roller Coaster Day is coming.
Buckle up! National Roller Coaster Day is coming.
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Many of August's quirky holidays revolve around celebrating loved ones and seasonal delights, so grab your family (Fido included) and a bag of marshmallow and let's party.

1. August 1: National Girlfriends Day

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Rest easy, boyfriends of the world, this holiday has nothing to do with you. National Girlfriends Day honors the lady friends who are there for their fellow lady friends.

2. August 1: Respect for Parents Day

We have a feeling an unappreciated parent came up with this holiday.

3. August 1: Rounds Resounding Day

This offbeat holiday honors the art of singing rounds, so find some pitch-perfect friends and warm up those vocal chords (via Zoom is fine).

4. August 1: National Mustard Day

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We'll use any excuse to eat a hot dog—or three.

5. August 2: National Psychic Day

But don't bother planning a surprise party for your resident clairvoyant.

6. August 2: National Sisters Day

Make sure to set aside the first Sunday in August as a day to celebrate the unique bond that you have with your sister(s).

7. August 4: Single Working Women's Day

In 2006, Barbara Payne established the Single Working Women’s Affiliate Network to recognize the achievements that single women have contributed to the world. Single Working Women's Day comes at the end of Single Working Women's Week, a time to celebrate the women "who do it all. Not only do they bring home the bacon, but they also shop for it, cook it, serve it and clean it up, then take out the garbage, walk the dog, and fix the sink (or call the repairman!)."

8. August 5: National Underwear Day

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Underwear emporium Freshpair founded National Underwear Day on August 5, 2003. Since then it has grown to include events around the country that encourage the 80 percent of people who have worn the same style of underwear their whole lives to branch out.

9. August 6: National Fresh Breath Day

If ever there were a day to stage an intervention with your halitosis-afflicted friends, today’s the day. Or, give yourself an extra brush and a bonus swirl of mouthwash and say ah. Probably a good idea to lay off the onions and garlic for the day, too.

10. August 7: International Beer Day

Back in 2007, a group of friends decided to internationally dedicate a day to "gather with friends and enjoy the deliciousness that is beer, celebrate the dedicated men and women who brew and serve our beer, and bring the world together under the united banner of beer." And to that we say, cheers! Or salud! Or prost! Or gan bei! Well, you get the idea.

11. August 7: National Lighthouse Day

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In 1989, on the 200th anniversary of having signed "An Act for the Establishment and Support of Lighthouse, Beacons, Buoys and Public Piers" into law, Congress decreed August 7 to be National Lighthouse Day.

12. August 8: National Dollar Day

On this day all the way back in 1786, the Continental Congress established a monetary system for the United States of America. Today, you can honor the birth of cold hard USD cash by carrying a few Georges, Andrews, and Abrahams in your wallet. If you decide to invite Benjamin, give us a call!

13. August 8: National Happiness Happens Day

Celebrated annually on the founding date of the Society of Happy People (formerly known as the Secret Society of Happy People—but why keep that a secret?), which you can join for free.

14. August 9: National Book Lovers Day

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For most book lovers, every day is a day to celebrate reading. But for the sake of celebration let’s open up the floor to all interpretations of what it means to be a “book lover.” Perhaps you just love the physical feel of a book, and have no interest in cracking one open. Or maybe, this day is meant to honor books in love with each other. Today is the day to exalt book lovers of all shapes, sizes, covers, and word counts.

15. August 9: Veep Day

Veep Day commemorates the date in 1974 when Gerald Ford became President without ever having been elected as either vice president or president. Ford had become vice president after Spiro Agnew resigned due to a kickback scandal. When Nixon later resigned amid the Watergate scandal, Ford found himself occupying the Oval Office. This was the first time the VP had become president under these terms.

16. August 10: National Lazy Day

National Lazy Day falls on a Monday this year. So be sure to plan ahead.

17. August 10: National S’mores Day

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The original s’mores recipe, published in Scout leader Loretta Scott Crew's 1927 Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts, called these campfire treats Some Mores. Which is exactly what you'll be asking for.

18. August 11: National Presidential Joke Day

On this day in 1984, during a sound check for a radio broadcast, Ronald Reagan cracked the following joke:

“My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

Who knew the Gipper had such a dark sense of humor? He certainly didn’t know the mic was already recording, and the tape leaked. Since this little gaffe, August 11th has lived on as Presidential Joke Day.

19. August 12: National Middle Child Day

Even though birth order doesn't really affect your personality, let's hear it for the middle children of the world.

20. August 12: Vinyl Record Day

First declared such in 2002, Vinyl Record Day is held on the anniversary of Thomas Edison's 1877 invention of the phonograph.

21. August 13: International Left Handers Day

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For those world citizens who have found themselves in a right-handed-scissors world, today the world honors your special gifts. The other 364, we righties are still secretly jealous. If you’re in the UK on the 13th, the Left-handers Club sponsors members-only areas called “Lefty Zones." Okay fine, we’re jealous all 365 days.

22. August 15: Chauvin Day

If you're worried that this is a day to celebrate chauvinists—you're actually kind of right. But don't worry: On the anniversary of Napoleon Bonaparte's birthday, we celebrate the interesting etymological history of the word chauvinism, which comes from a man named Nicolas Chauvin, who idealized Napoleon so much that he became internationally mocked for his blind loyalty to a cause. From there the term became associated with any misguided or ill-intentioned adherence to a particular cause, and finally, the discriminatory mindset it refers to today. And now, for some reason, we honor him and it.

23. August 15: International Geocaching Day

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite fans all over the world will be participating in this celebration without even knowing it.

24. August 15: National Relaxation Day

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Preferably celebrated in a hammock, on a beach, or with a pooped pup.

25. August 16: Joe Miller’s Joke Day

Joe Miller was an 18th century English actor whose reputation for being serious was so well known, we now hold an offbeat joke-telling holiday in his honor.

26. August 16: National Roller Coaster Day

The amusement first took root in the U.S. as a means of distracting people from unsavory entertainments. More than 130 years later, it's still going strong.

27. August 18: Bad Poetry Day

Roses are red / Violets are blue/ You probably saw this joke coming/ But we made it anyway.

28. August 19: National Aviation Day

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt laid out the ultimate burn by declaring Orville Wright's birthday National Aviation Day. Why he chose to honor Orville over Wilbur in 1939 is a mystery to historians, but we think National Aviation Day is a great time to start preposterous rumors based on wild speculation, i.e. maybe Wilbur Wright was a figment of Orville’s imagination. (It could also have had something to do with the fact that Orville was still alive when FDR made the day official ... and Wilbur was not.)

29. August 21: National Poet's Day

A day to soothe the bruised egos of poets mocked just three days prior on August 18's Bad Poetry Day.

30. August 21: National Senior Citizens Day

Now this is the holiday for which Reagan would have wanted to be remembered. On August 19th, 1988, a proclamation was made by the then-president that deemed August 21st as a national day to give older U.S. citizens thanks and a heartfelt salute. Decades later, we're still doing it.

31. August 22: National Tooth Fairy Day

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Because anyone who can make a money magically appear under your pillow deserves a day of feting.

32. August 26: National Dog Day

Be sure to give a dog—or all the dogs—you love an extra treat or belly rub. Because they're all good boys and girls.

33. August 26: Women’s Equality Day

Celebrated on the anniversary of the certification of the 19th Amendment, which prohibits discrimination in voting rights on the basis of sex.

34. August 28: National Bow Tie Day

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Celebrate by learning how to tie one.

35. August 31: National Trail Mix Day

Also known as National GORP Day. We love us a handy bag of “good ol’ raisins and peanuts,” but let’s be honest: the addition of M&M’s are what make trail mix truly great.