My First Question! – Being An Artist

12 Apr

I have so many questions, but I’ll start with one. I have a lot of creative urges and love the idea of making a living off of art, writing, etc. However, I haven’t had a lot of training, nor am I particularly good at some of the things I want to do. I work a lot and am not very good at carving out time for new things. My life always feels chaotic, especially since I work two low-paying jobs with different hours every day and live with my parents in a house that’s being renovated.

People say if you’re passionate about something, you’ll find the time, but I’m also really afraid to start (especially with the visual art, because I really am not very good. I know I’m a pretty good writer.) On the other hand, I don’t like the idea of just tinkering away at something a few nights a week after work, taking forever to learn valuable or create anything of which I can be proud, while I while away my days in a job about which I feel ambivalent. I really don’t know what to do. Any thoughts?

Well before we get started I’d like to say thanks for sending me your question!  Since you didn’t leave a witty little name for yourself like ‘Rarely Ends Designing’ or ‘Ain’t Raving Too’ so I could call you RED or ART (those are horrible examples, I apologize) and you didn’t specify a gender I’m just going to call you Sam.

Now, Sam, to your question. I go to an art conservatory and every once in a while we have special guests who give us great advice.  John Wells (CMU class of 66′) came to visit a few weeks ago.

His advice (which he got from someone famous before him I’m sure) was that if you’re a writer, then before you get hired you need to have a stack of your writing 3 ft tall.  A writer isn’t someone who gets paid for writing.  A writer is someone who writes.  If you want to be an artist that means you think you are an artist.  And artists make art.  So start making art.

And I know that sounds like I’m ignoring the last part of your question but I’m not.  It’s just that the people who say that are people who have done it successfully and know.  If you’re an artist then you have to make time to make art.  End of story.  Just look at me.  I decided I want to be an advice columnist and lo and behold.  I’m certainly not getting paid but this is important to me and judging by how awfully long this post is, I must really care about it.

As far as drawing goes, I draw horribly so I feel ya there.  My stick figures are loathe to appear at all and hate me for their mangled, wiggly limbs.  And I’ve completely given up on myself.  Because I don’t care for it.  But if you care for it then you should do it.  All the time.  If you’re a waitress then draw little failed, confused pictures on the back of checks (I bet you’ll even get better tips).  If you answer phones, duh, doodle on everything you get your hands on.  If you drive to work get a little voice recorder so you can compose on the go.  Always keep a camera/notepad with you for doodling/note taking on subways or in bank lines.

Also, as far as being a professional artist, you have to make art to try and sell it.  So make a bunch of stuff.  If you make 50 pieces then eventually you’ll be able to pick out 10 that you would be willing to buy.  Then make a portfolio and go around your neighborhood, stop into wine bars, classy shops, cute restaurants and ask them to show/sell your work.  It won’t cost you anything but a little extra time.  The next step is something that I’ve had to deal with in my freelance knitting work.  Pricing your work.  I’m still getting the hang of it so I can’t give you much advice there.  I suggest google.

The other important thing I want to mention is the importance of rejection.  An actor friend of mine once said that his job isn’t making theater.  His job is auditioning.  And when he’s lucky he gets to do theater or film.  His job every day is to go on auditions and give them 100% every single time.  So make 50 pieces.  Put them on Etsy or on a wall somewhere.  Remember that like in relationships, entrepreneurship or anything else everything you do will fail until something doesn’t.

Also, about the renovation and the parents, unless you want to write a kitchen drama I suggest writing in Starbucks or the library.  You’ll get lots of inspiration watching the crazies out the window and my guess is it’s probably quieter than jack hammers.

And one last thing.  Eventually you’ll start showing your work to people.  And eventually one of those people is going to say they hate it.  When they do this don’t freak out.  Say ‘Oh thank god!  Tell me in specific detail what you hate about it.’

It’ll hurt but that way instead of just deciding that you suck you can learn something helpful, like ‘he’s right, that color looks like puke’ or ‘if I vary my line weight there is so much more motion’ or ‘I guess I’m the only person in the world who likes the juxtaposition of concrete and lattice.’  And best of all it means that you can decide to disagree with their comments.  Cause you’re an artist and your opinions are valid too.  Right?

One Response to “My First Question! – Being An Artist”

  1. Anonymous April 12, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

    Hey, thanks for your thoughts! I DID forget to sign it cleverly, which is one thing I’ve always enjoyed about advice columns. So let’s call me “Wanna Pursue Creativity”. It sucks and there’s no good acronym, but it’s accurate!

    I guess one of the things that’s hard for me is the idea of doing so much of this on my own time, when I am already so busy and feel so unbalanced and uncentered. There’s always the possibility that adding these things would actually make me feel more balanced, I suppose. I’m also considering applying to live at an artist colony when I move out (hopefully this summer) and that will put me in a supportive environment. Perhaps having something to show in my application will be a great motivator!

    I also think I just need to surround myself with positivity. There’s not enough of it readily presenting itself in our world, but perhaps if I make a concerted effort, I can shape my environment better.

    Also, I forgot you went to a conservatory! I feel all the better having asked someone who does. 🙂 Thank you for your thoughts, and if someone else wants to add theirs, I welcome it. I’ve often thought being an advice columnist would be great, and I’m excited you’re pursuing it!!!

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