The Difficulties of Being an Artist


Los Bancos de la Iglesia (The Church’s Pews), oil on panel, ©May 2013

There are many obvious difficulties of being an artist: money, discipline, promoting & selling your work, etc. For me, the most difficult part of being an artist is people’s reaction to what I do. Not only is it a very rare thing for someone to be a full-time artist—in the studio all day and not usually getting paid for work—but it’s frowned upon in our society. Most people want to have a 9-5 job and make their hourly pay; most people are fine with that. But for me, I feel that working a 9-5 job is a distraction from the art I need to make, and there’s not a single job out there that will pay me to paint, write, travel and pursue my personal interests. Thus, I essentially work for myself, although everything I create is meant to be shared, is meant for an audience, and is not for my own enjoyment.

But I can’t stand when people ask me, “Do you have a job right now?” I’m usually inclined to reply, “No,” because I don’t have the type of “job” they’re talking about, even though I’m constantly busy working on numerous projects. I think our concept of work in this country is totally fucked. “Work” is something you get paid for, “work” is how you get by, “work” is not fun… Women have battled this problem for centuries: housewives are still trying to gain recognition as hard workers. Same goes for artists, musicians, writers, dancers, actors, etc, in this world: their hard work goes largely unrecognized, their “jobs” are not “real jobs” because the payout for their work is not usually immediate for the amount of hours they put in.

Imagine what it’s like to constantly be treated like a lesser person because you don’t do the kind of “work” that people think you should be doing. Imagine having your livelihood constantly judged by people that you are close to as well as random strangers. People ask: How do you get by? Why would you do that? What about retirement?

Would you ask Picasso these questions? Mick Jagger? Nobody questions artistic endeavors as a career once fame is achieved, but fame is not the goal for real artists. The goal is to create and create and create and create and create, and then share it with the world. What’s to judge in that?

Being an artist is often seen as a selfish endeavor, spending hours alone to make some fantasy a reality. But it really is one of the most unselfish careers a person can have because every creation is given away. Think of Roland Barthes’s “death of the author”: once the piece is finished, it is no longer mine, it now belongs to others to interpret and pick apart and love and hate and understand and destroy and grow. Even though I create visions that are partly based on reality but mostly based on my own fascinations with color, space, line and shape, I want other people to experience these fascinations. The joy that comes from experiencing unique art is probably the best thing humans can give each other in this world! The artist brings you beauty, shares his/her world with you, and shares all these private thoughts and feelings with everyone; that takes a pretty selfless person, if you ask me.



5 thoughts on “The Difficulties of Being an Artist”

  1. I love art and have a lot of respect for artists. For some reasons, the fresh grads from BFA make themselves hard to find, and most don’t even reply emails. Art is part business and part art. When people don’t even have the courtesy to reply an email, there are some disconnections…

    1. In my BFA program, there was almost no education on marketing our work. It’s something I’ve had to learn on my own. Thus, I can understand that there are plenty of young, talented artists who don’t have any business skills. Personally, the business side is the hardest part, but the more I work at it, the better the results. Also, I have many customers who say they’re going to buy something or commission something, then never follow through. There are bad business skills on both sides of the aisle, in my experience. I’ve seen it with artists of all types and ages, with professors, with students, with art patrons. Sometimes life just gets in the way and emails get over-looked, sometimes the skills just aren’t there…

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