Interesting thread; one I have pondered since I was 14 years old. I have
been an exhibiting artist for 36 years and an art teacher for 27 years! I
fully expected to make my living doing art and started out that way.
However reality finally caught up with me.
1) I would have glorious months where I sold and months where I starved.
Humm, let's see; eat, starve, eat, starve, which do I want?
2) If I wanted to only do what moved me as an artist, I had better be VERY
famous; and I wasn't!! The Medici are dead and aren't patrons of the art
3) I even had an agent for a short time who pushed me to work in "trendy
colors" - YUK!
4) Before and after the agent, I realized that it took almost full-time to
promote my art. That included developing multiple portfolios, meeting with
gallery owners, sending slides, entering competitions, shipping art to
competitions, and generally lining up opportunities to show my work. This
seriously cut into my 'studio' time.
5) In my years in the art world, I have marveled at some of the snotty
elitist attitudes among some artists and gallery owners. It's like a game.
Think about it, someone must promulgate the idea that there are real artists
and then there are 'hacks.' Who decides? It's an incredibly cutthroat game
that can seriously affect one's mental health and self-esteem. So, who are
we making art for?
6) I am a surrealist, mixed-media artist. How many pieces of surrealist
art have you seen lately hanging over the fireplace or couch in someone's
house? 90% of art is purchased as 'decor' and I wasn't producing for that
7) And finally...I am a child of the middle class and don't want to live
the life of a starving artist! Suffering doesn't lead to great art in my
mind! So, I embraced the family tradition of being a teacher, abet the first
ART teacher, and got the certification to be a public school teacher. Prior
to that I had worked in adult ed, community college, CSUS, and a museum as
an arts educator.
Now to the real meat of the issue!! (Did I mention this was a long post?)
What makes someone an artist? Is it making a living by selling one's work?
By that definition Van Gogh, who only sold one painting during his lifetime,
would NOT be an artist!
Is one an artist if people tell you that your work is great; even if they
don't buy it? Who are you making art for? Is it to express something
inside or is it to garner the admiration and approval of others?
Is one an artist to be able to take advantage of the cultural permission to
be real, eccentric, eclectic and unusual? We can give ourselves permission
to be everything we want to be, without feeling like we aren't really
artists if we aren't making art full time and selling it.
Is one an artist if they are out in the studio everyday? Or if they exhibit
their work often? Who sez?
I would like to suggest that being an artist is a life-long process, not
necessarily a product, one that will take many forms over one's entire life.
Aren't we, as artists, delighted when we arrange a vase of spring flowers
and they give us pleasure each time we pass that vase?
There have been a period of years when I didn't exhibit, but made lots of
private, cathartic art. There have been other years when I joined
grass-roots arts groups and put on the exhibitions so others could show
their work. All of this was 'being an artist.' I have had my fifteen
minutes of fame, several times and might again someday.
Being an artist is an evolving, changing personal thing that has many
different definitions that will take many different forms throughout one's
life, depending on circumstances, income, family, time, energy, health,