Career Artist vs. Hobby – How To Decide

Career Artist vs. Hobby – How To Decide

“I don’t work with inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs.” Chuck Close, American Artist (b. 1940 ) I am often asked by artists to help with their professional art career. They want
THE ADVANTAGES OF WORKING WITH AN ART ADVISOR I am frequently asked by my Appraisal clients to help them sell their artwork and I work regularly with other dealers and auction houses to help facilitate this process.  I also assist my clients
“I don’t work with inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs.”
Chuck Close, American Artist (b. 1940 )

I am often asked by artists to help with their professional art career. They want me to be their agent, or represent them so they are free to create the amazing art that they do. I love marketing art and artists and I realized that I actually love the business of art, which I quickly realized that not a lot of artists do that aspect of the art business. If an artist is struggling with how to make a living with their art, and trying to determine if this should be a hobby or a career, there are 5 questions to ask which will save enormous amounts of time and energy, while also focusing on what is important as an artist.

Most artists will struggle with the concept “How do I make a living in a field I love while maintaining integrity with my art”.  Sometimes, the answer is that maybe our path needs a detour, not a complete course correction, but to look at alternative options vs. the one thing we thought we really wanted/needed when we began this journey.

Oprah Winfrey talks about how she used to want to be the next Barbara Walters, AKA the supreme journalist.  As she listened to her inner voice and true desires, her life trajectory changed in ways she never knew were possible.  She says her life path exceeded her expectations in every way imaginable.  It is difficult to stay faithful when we are on a spiritual and/or artistic path, yet if we can remain mindful and present, and true to ourselves, our life may take pathways we never even knew existed previously.

One artist I know personally started out as a fine art major, and only recently discovered her passion and true calling of being a health and wellness coach. She loved and still loves art, and paints for fun now, as a hobby and runs a successful business as a health and wellness coach to celebrities and stay at home moms.  She did not want the pressure of being a full time artist and that is a very important distinction.  I believe all spiritual and artistic paths are ways to become whole, and a path back to our true selves.  Sometimes the road includes detours, setbacks and obstacles, and the trick is learning to listen to those and know when it is time for a course correction, new path or to refocus. It is also important to know that you need to keep on the path, and move past those initial obstacles. Every successful artist or entrepreneur that I know of has a story (or two) about how they did not give up even though the obstacles and difficulties kept coming, only to finally be rewarded with the success they envisioned for themselves.

5 Questions to ask:

What kind of SH*T sandwich am I willing to put up with?
All businesses, industries and personal paths have SH*T sandwiches, those difficult and annoying aspects that are inevitable, such as — rejection of a major gallery, a commission gone wrong, not making enough money to go on vacations, etc. It is important to know yourself and what is important and what you can and cannot deal with. Personally, I would never be able to deal with being a Wall Street investment banker, even though I know I could learn how to do it. The pressure and stress of such a constant nature would overload my system, so that would be out for me. Some people need to be working and interacting with other people on a daily basis and the solitude of being an artist in the studio every day would be too lonely and isolating. Perhaps they are a filmmaker who enjoys the collaborative process. Every person is different and it is vitally important to know oneself when you commit to any long term goal.

Do you enjoy the marketing and sales of your work, or is this the most painful thing you can imagine?  
If you don’t have a supportive partner/friend to help or the money to hire an assistant or professional services to do that, then how are you going to make a living doing this? Marketing and business are vital parts of running a successful fine art business, so you either need to learn how to do it yourself, or hire someone to do it. If you intend to make a living from this, then you must run it like a business.

What is your personal measure of success as an artist?  
Is your goal to have a major museum exhibition, or to sell a few pieces a month? Do you want to be able to have recognition and appreciation of your work, or are sales more important?  These are two different goals. Just because your art is not your full time career, does not mean it is not a very important and powerful path to be on. Too many artists give up when they don’t make a living from their art, even when it gives them so much personal satisfaction and spiritual fulfillment. Money may not be the goal for your art, but it is important to determine what your measure of success is.

Is there any one thing you can imagine doing that would make you happy besides creating art? Do you love rock climbing, yoga, flying planes , etc.? Just because you love painting does not mean you have to give up everything to be a painter, there are a lot of ways to be happy while doing what you love and sometimes the answer is simply to have a way to support yourself so you can be free to create as you wish, without concern for the consumer aspect of art. If an artist were to tell me that they cannot imagine doing anything beside art, that they are willing to sacrifice time, money or whatever it takes to make it, then I would say they are on the right path and eventually with the right tools and help, their hard work will pay off.

Do you have a regular practice of making art?
The days, times and effort will be different for everyone, but if you consistently find yourself procrastinating or making excuses for why you are not able to find the time to paint, write, create , etc., then maybe it is not your number one priority. I understand life gets in the way, in more ways than one, but professional artists treat their work like a business, and go to work most days whether they feel inspired or not. They are not waiting for inspiration, but instead are creating that inspiration themselves.

This is not meant to be discouraging for artists, quite the opposite. There are many artists who make a very good living creating their art, and it is definitely possible to create that scenario, but artists need to be realistic and professional in their path to create that reality. Most professional artists I know work very hard and have a professional attitude and work ethic, which is why they are successful.

It has never been easier to break into the art world and make a living without the traditional ideas we have been accustomed to thinking was needed: an NY Gallery, a major museum show, etc. Artists can now create their own reality, which comes with pros and cons. Artists need to be proficient in marketing, business and sales skills while also being talented, creative and advanced in their craft and technique. With that being said, anybody can be an artist these days, but that also means that is that it is a very saturated field these days, with anyone who holds a paint brush can call themselves an artist. The field is wide open, which brings opportunities and also challenges to set yourself apart from the millions of other talented artists vying for recognition and sales.

One thing to keep in mind as you contemplate the ideas of being a professional artist vs. a hobby, is to know if this is a business, then it is important to treat it like a business, hire the people who can help (graphic designers, writers, marketing specialists, bookkeepers, artist career coaches , etc.) You don’t need to know everything about running a business, unless you want to learn those skills. Invest in yourself.

Who Are You? Why Artists Need To Know Who They Are

Who Are You? Why Artists Need To Know Who They Are

For artists not wanting to be pigeonholed as one genre or another, this question can seem intrusive and annoying. “Why should I have to limit myself to any one way, why can’t I be constantly evolving?”  This may seem like a valid response, but for an artist that wants to become a professional artist, it is a question you must ask yourself and answer honestly.


Who are you can be as simple as where do you live, or how old are you? It can also be as complicated and detailed as, “I’m a classically trained photorealist painter who now works with found objects, clay, and a pottery wheel to create abstract constructions based on our consumer culture.” As human beings, we are constantly evolving and I would hate to see anyone who stayed the same at 50 as they were when they were 20 years old. We need to grow and evolve, especially for creative individuals, but who you are and what your story says about you is vitally important to why people relate to your art and want to own parts of it. As an art consultant and former gallery owner myself, I found that clients and collectors were most interested in the artist’s story, who they are or were. Once you tell their story, the client feels they know you in some way and can relate to you, and possibly can be a part of your creativity.


When artists begin to write their artist statement or biographical portrait, they must know who they are, and what it is they want to share with the world. You may not be comfortable sharing everything about who you are and why you are the way you are, but it is important to know what influences you and the factors that helped shape who you are as an artist. What influences you? This does not mean listing other artists you like and try to be like, nor does it mean what art movements have been interesting enough for you to follow. When asked the question “what are your influences” an artist must be prepared to share a bit of themselves that does not have to do with copying anybody or anything else. It has to do with who you are as a person and as a creative being, and why you would continue to work so hard at something that very few ever succeed in.


Art history honors the 1st and the most original within all new movements, it does not recognize the ones who thought that movement was interesting and followed along. I tell my kids frequently, “be a leader, not a follower.”  Artists should honor that which is unique to them; be a first-rate version of your own self instead of a copy of someone else.  A museum would never give a solo show to an artist who touted themselves as “influenced by Mark Rothko.”  We all love Mark Rothko, but that is just not interesting to be purposely just like another more famous artist.  What is more interesting would be that your work was influenced by living on a farm in rural Iowa and doing crop rotations every spring, creating mathematical grid patterns within a flat surface, and that the colors you use remind you of the rotting corn in August. That is unique to only you.

Carolyn Emole and the Spiritual In Abstraction

Carolyn Emole and the Spiritual In Abstraction

Image (4) Image 1 (1) Image 1 (3)Growing up in a suburb just outside of Chicago, Carolyn Emole gained experiences and lessons seen in her art today, with multiple layers highlighting aspects of her unique experience. Carolyn describes her work as ethereal, mystical and emotional. In her paintings, whether on wood, paper or canvas, she uses layers of translucent oil paint to create what some refer to as atmospheric environments, playing with color and gesture. The black and white charcoal flowers in her paintings are reminiscent of the black and white winters in the city, juxtaposed along with the warm rich tones of summer and autumn.

In Los Angeles, Carolyn attended the Santa Monica College of Design, Art & Architecture. There she studied with such nationally recognized artist’s as Peter Alexander, Laddie John Dill, George Herms, Debra Sussman and more.  She then set off to explore the European lands of the masters, which expanded her voice and enriched her abstract forms.  Carolyn now lives in Austin, TX where she continues to gain inspiration from her surroundings and her life.

Growing up as the youngest of six, Carolyn found solace in coloring and painting alone in her room, and listening to jazz music.  Her father was a professional saxophone player and jazz music continues to be a great consolation for her when she works. In addition to music, Carolyn gives full credit to some of her influences from other artists, mainly Georgia O’Keeffe and Mark Rothko, which her work is reminiscent of, yet lighter and unique to her.


Carolyn will attest that as an abstract artist there are some misconceptions about her work.  Some people assume it symbolizes the female & male body parts, and that abstract work is either shallow or easy – and Carolyn couldn’t disagree more. The one thing she would like her collectors to know about her art is that there’s much more to each piece than meets the eye and that her work comes from her emotions and not the human figure.


The highlight of her work is highly personal as she states, “My work is first and foremost about emotions.  Emotions that are reflective of a time, a place, and/or a person.  Of things gained and things lost.  Color is the spark of the progression.  Dreams filled with movement and visions of layers and forms.  They all play themselves out to me.  And when I embrace the canvas – these things are alive in me.  The journey begins, into the future, into the past, yet they all breathe in the now.” 



When asked about her advice that she would give to young artists just starting out now, she says, “You should learn everything you possibly can; to study, to read, to listen and ask questions.  Then go lock yourself in a room and forget everything you’ve learned and just create and find your voice.” I think that is good advice. The debate over whether to get an MFA degree is one that won’t be solved anytime soon, and you’ll probably hear many different opinions on that question, but Carolyn does not believe it is necessary if what you really want to do is to sell your work and exhibit.


If there is one thing she wishes she had known in art school that she knows now, is not to listen to the skeptics and to continue to work, to create and surround herself with other artists. Carolyn’s goal as an artist is not much different from thousands of other artists, which is to be able to support her-self creating her work and to have at least one piece in a museum.


Carolyn’s work can be seen in hotels, corporations and private residences here in the US and abroad.