What advice do you wish you had gotten when you were younger?
Art is Important!
I’m trying to imagine a younger artist sitting in front of me and what I would tell her. For starters, I would tell her that making art is important. Most of the people in your life will think it’s frivolous but it’s not. Looking at art and considering its meaning has changed me and changed how I see the world. I have learned things I didn’t know. I have had spiritual moments of awakening. Art is powerful and that is why there have always been artists throughout history. We are the stewards of ‘seeing what is going on’ and putting our version of that out into the world.
You need Support
It’s critical to surround yourself with people who understand and support your drive to make and create. They do not have to be artists themselves, although many of them will be. Other artists (and by this I mean every kind of creator) REALLY get it. They understand that making things and seeing the world through the lens of creativity is key to who you are. They will celebrate you, encourage you, lead you towards this life and eagerly share it with you.
Most of us have some level of self doubt. This is normal, especially in a culture or family that doesn’t understand how important art is to you. There’s no room here for jealousy, criticism, sniping. Cut out people like this immediately.
Find people who will help you figure out how to make an art centered life. This could be a mentor, a support group, a dear friend. Creating this life is not easy unless you are blessed with a lot of financial resources. For most people, we need to figure out how to support ourselves and also make time for our art. And maybe we also need to figure out how to be in a relationship and have a family. There’s a lot of moving parts here.
There’s also no set formula. Every artist needs to figure out how to work these elements and each life will have a different set of solutions. And trust me, this is an ever-changing conversation that you will have with yourself because life is also ever-changing.
Finding the Balance
How you balance having a family as a younger artist means making certain decisions that fall away when you are older. Having aging parents can also impact your art-centered life. Throughout all of life’s stages, you will continue recalibrating how to continue making art central. This realignment never ends but like art itself, it always evolves.
There may be years where you can make less art because you need to make more money or spend more time with your family. This does not take away from your identity of being an artist. It just may be necessary to keep things going. And sometimes you don’t have the perspective to see that you ARE moving forward. This is where having friends, especially older friends, comes in handy. They have already walked this road and can assure you that your time will come.
When I was a young mother, I was desperate to have two art days a week. Sometimes those days were only 4 hours in the studio. But those 4 hours sustained me and I never gave up on myself. Now I can work full-time. Your time will come! So never, never give up on yourself or your dream. Your circle of supporters will help you keep that dream alive with you.
Let’s talk about money. You won’t find a lot of people who are comfortable with discussing this with you. But we live in a world that requires money for overhead and enjoying a balanced life. There’s really no way around this. How you crack that nut is entirely up to you, your skills, and your personality.
The reality is that very few artists earn a living from their art. Even if they are fantastic artists. It doesn’t mean that you won’t, but it’s unlikely. I know hundreds of artists and almost none of them are self-supporting. If you are clever and social media savvy, you may be able to figure out how to support yourself from a Patronage program like Patreon. The conflict that most artists come up against is making money from more commercial avenues vs. making the art that they envision that may not be commercially viable.
Some artists will be fine with pursuing a commercial avenue. I know a photographer who was happy to do corporate photography just to keep his hand on his camera. I tried doing textile design for many years but I was deeply frustrated and unhappy. Some friends didn’t understand this. They would say “How wonderful that you are earning a living from your art!” In reality I was chained to someone else’s creative vision and spent my days making their (in many cases atrocious) ideas come to fruition. I really didn’t have the stomach for this and eventually turned to a non-art related form of income. That way, when I did have studio time I felt fresh and eager to work.
That’s what I mean about each person finding their own way. It’s perfectly fine to make a living as a barista, a lawyer, a teacher or a nurse if that avenue allows you a way to continue creating your unique art. Like trying different media, you will also need to try different solutions to solving the challenge of making a living.
Visibility and Voice
At some point in your career, you may feel pulled towards showing your work, playing your music and sharing your writing with a larger audience. It’s hard to know when you are ready for this. Sometimes opportunities present themselves and that is a signal that it’s time. Maybe visibility won’t be important to you. But for many of us, getting feedback and affirmation, and maybe money for sharing your creativity becomes a gravitational force.
The danger here is that where you show, etc may alter what you are doing. The challenge is staying true to your vision and not letting the visibility (gallery, editor, etc) steer you away from your version of creativity.
So don’t rush into this stage. Get solid with who you are creatively. Find your distinct voice. Identify your message, your content, what it is that you want to say. Solid, but not rigid.
Sharing your work should enhance your career and sense of self. I’ll talk more specifically about gallery life in another blog/video/vlog. However, the point is to be solid enough not to be swayed by current trends or other people’s opinions. Think hard about what you want from visibility. Be specific.
Art Centered Living
In closing, let me once again reaffirm that living an art-centered life is desirable and for most creatives, necessary. Be creative in all the ways that living this life demands. Keep your eye on other people who have figured it out and draw them into your conversation and evolution. Being an artist is sacred, it’s a privilege, it’s a responsibility, it’s fun and honestly, most of us don’t have a choice! Keep the flame alive and in the center of your being. You can do this!