Artist in a Cubicle

Emily Chen
Oct 8, 2019 · 3 min read

My first job after college was doing typical office work in a typical office setting. And like many people working at their first real job, I wondered how long I would last doing the same thing day in and day out.

I had been preparing for this job for years. An undergraduate degree in the field coupled with a string of summer internships positioned me for this role. My fate was sealed, or so it seemed. But I still found myself blindsided by an longing that would be impossible to ignore.

Photo by Vladimir Kudinov on Unsplash

I wanted to create unabashedly.

After work, I would run home to the comforting arms of my hot glue gun to make something, anything. Glitter, paint, markers. I vomited my ideas uncontrollably. My tiny apartment was cluttered with arts and crafts projects in various stages of completion. I rarely had friends over because of the mess. The little money I had after paying rent financed trips to the art store.

I was stuck in that cycle for a year. Five days out of the week feeling creatively repressed followed by two days of unbridled, artistic explosion.

Photo by Jasmin Schreiber on Unsplash

Then one day while on the way to my office, I heard an enchanting violinist performing Méditation from Thaïs in Grand Central Station. I was already late for work but stopped to listen. He played with his entire heart, a beautiful gift for anyone who could hear it.

The music filled me with a renewed ambition to be creative no matter where I was, whether it was climbing a mountain of spreadsheets, or swimming in a sea of cubicles. I began looking for art as if my life depended on it, because it did. And as if I had suddenly woken up, I began seeing art again in everything.

I found it in the office supply closet where I took great pleasure in looking at a neatly arranged rainbow of highlighters. That eventually led to smuggling a couple boxes of binder clips back to my cubicle where I would create abstract art sculptures. Sometimes during lunch, I would camp out in a vacant conference room while sketching the bustling Manhattan streets below. I even experimented with background fill colors in Microsoft Excel and made pixelated art.

And when I found myself working late nights, in an act of rebellion, I scribbled “I AM NOT A COPY” in Sharpie on my hand and stuck it in the Xerox machine. I printed out a dozen pages but didn’t know quite what to do with them.

Photo by eleni koureas on Unsplash

Crossing the street evolved into performance art as I began to savor my moments outside of my office building, stopping in the middle of the crosswalk to admire the beautifully orchestrated chaos of midtown Manhattan. I waved to people in the building across the street hoping that someone — anyone — would notice (they usually didn’t). I people watched on the subway and made up fantastical stories about random strangers.

I soon realized that my Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 job that I currently held was just another canvas, one that challenged my creativity to even greater heights. I took all that it offered me and was able to create even when the situation seemed mundane and uninspiring. It served as a training ground for my imagination and execution of artistic ideas when I had few — or no — resources at all. That typical office job was quite possibly the best thing that could have happened to me, an artist in a cubicle.

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