What does it take to support yourself as an artist? The obvious answer would be talent, but then again there are a lot of talented artists out there who will never be able to support themselves in the arts. I have been a self-supporting artist for over thirty years and the road has, of course, taken a few wrong turns. It took me years to learn from my mistakes, and it is still a learning process.
The biggest mistake is to sell yourself short. This is a complex issue where you:
- lack the confidence in your abilities,
- let your environment get in the way of your creativity,
- try to fit into someone else’s profile of you and let others opinions direct you,
- and chase the almighty dollar by changing your goals and who you now are and are becoming.
I am certain that most of you can relate to at least one of these and wonder how you can stop going down the slippery slope away from being that artist you want to be and stay on your target.
But wait….maybe you don’t have a target goal or a clear picture of who you are and where you are going. Creating art is fun and someone told you that you should be an artist. That is all you have. Well, the first thing I would suggest is to get a degree in art. Not just for the paper that says you have one but to learn about creating an artist’s statement and setting goals, figure out where you are in the greater art world, surround yourself with creative people and get a mentor (the professor you admire the most) who will be of great assistance to mold you into who you want to be. So you don’t have the time to go to school? That is nonsense! Take one course at a time at the local university or college. While you are taking that course, breathe in the surroundings. The academic environment has so very much to offer you. You will try new techniques and media. You will have a work environment that oozes creativity, and is spacious. When you are in the academic environment, you will also have the experience of setting goals, working on time management for your art, improve your abilities just by doing your art on a regular basis. And of course, that BFA or MA after your name adds to your credentials as an artist.
Ok. I am getting off topic here, so I will attempt to stay on track.
Let’s start with that lack of confidence in your abilities. Getting an education and finishing it will help immensely. There are other things too. There will always be times when your work will not sell and you will think something is wrong with it. If it is what you want to do, KEEP DOING IT! It is not an immediate success. You need to get known by what you do. Don’t vacillate between different styles. To help you with this, take some time and put down in words what your art is about. Think it through. Don’t be vague with it. Be precise but leave a little wiggle room for when you grow as an artist and then tweak it to keep it current. This is your artist’s statement. Mine goes like this:
“Art: the process of creating which involves the deconstruction and reconstruction of surface, exposing the layers lying beneath by scribing, scraping and overworking of color.
I am “inside the art” during the process but once it is completed, the work becomes an extension of my inner thoughts and essence of my being. It is my lifelong process to expose not only what lies beneath the surface texture of my art but what lies buried deeply within myself.
The subject matter I choose is the inspiration and catalyst for discovery, bringing out my inner being and emotional qualities which lie deep beneath the surface.
It is all about the process…an exceptional journey to live.
“The journey” monoprinted collagraph
I am a process artist. Currently I mainly paint trees with figures in them. Take a fresh look at my trees or other work and you will see the passion in the strokes, the working of the color, the layers. You can tell which work is MINE when it is in a gallery. The only exceptions to this (my mistake to be off-track with my work) are some of my music series, but only SOME of them. These were the ones I did quickly to enter a show. I will paint over the canvases because they just are not me.
Letting your environment get in the way of your art is the second issue. This is about those days when you just do not have time to create. Or not in the mood…or other responsibilities…or whatever else you are using as an excuse NOT to paint. That is a bunch of frustrating life stuff that is always going to be there, so just know that it is there and do your work as an artist anyway. Sounds simple when you write it down, doesn’t it? Just work over it. Don’t work under it. By this I mean, it is there. Accept it as always going to be there. Don’t let it control you, but control it.
The third part of this is trying to fit someone else’s profile of you. How many times have you heard from your friends and family things like….you need to do landscapes…you are so good at people, why don’t you do that? Can’t you do xyz? Anyway I am not sure what misdirections you are receiving from the people in your life, but I am positive that most of it is misdirection as to what style, subject matter, colors, size, etc that you should do as an artist. This is said by them (generally) as helpful ideas for you….as if you don’t have enough of your own! But they are trying to be helpful with their unsolicited advice. And, you will try their suggestions as you lack the confidence to know that what you love to do and are doing is the best thing for you. And, shortly, you will be painting over some more canvases.
When I went back to graduate school for my Masters, I originally started with a team of professors to help be along my way. I went back to school to learn to be looser as an artist because I was a Victorian Art Reproductionist. I could paint a photoreal rose with ribbons in the gobblygoo style of the era in about five minutes. I did photo real roses, ribbons, laces, flower fields and designs for a living. Well, a member of my team kept telling me to get tighter, and I was trying to get looser. So, I was working on a series of still lifes using the swiss grid system (I also came from owning an advertising agency) trying to cross over into fine art. My final piece in the series is where I ripped up the grid and became dimensional off the paper and I loved it. I found myself, fired the team member and replaced him with a professor who did shaped canvases, spatter painted and was very out of the box with his work. That is when I wrote my artist’s statement and began following it.
Now we get to chasing the almighty dollar. Of course you need to support yourself but resist temptations to give up your dreams. Granted, if you have been trying this for years and it is not working, maybe you should reevaluate your decision. Give yourself a realistic timeframe to follow your dream and if it doesn’t work….well, time to move on. BUT I cannot tell you when that is or if it should be.
I gave up my art career for a couple of years and it was difficult to build the momentum back. But I am well on my way again and I will NEVER give it up again. I gave it up to be a Garment Rep and to make a lot of money, thinking I would still have the time and the energy to do my work. I never should have done that. If you are going to be an artist, it is a full time, all encompassing lifestyle and career. Don’t loose track as you could look back as say “if only”… my idea in life is to have as few of those “if only”s possible.
Now back to painting,