"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.