So you want to be an artist, you’ve realised that you are most happy when creating and you want to make it your career? You’re sure being an artist is your destiny, and I am sure it is too, but before you plan your first exhibition or start to apply to every art school you can name, take a step back. What does being an artist really involve?
There is a lot that goes into it and a lot you need to be prepared for and hey, I wish someone had told me all this stuff. So here is a list of eight things I think you should know before you take the plunge!
1. Being an artist is more than just making art
Being an artist is not just about making art. What a lot of aspiring artists get wrong here is that making art is an action whilst being an artist is a career. An artist, whether he or she likes it, is really a small business owner. Yep that means you are in charge of production (making the art), administration, record keeping, accounts, and marketing, sales and HR. It sure sounds like a lot, and it is. When you’re now starting out, you may even spend more time on the business side of things.
2. Be comfortable spending long periods of time alone
You may be tempted as your own boss to take every opportunity to spend time with family and friends. But being an artist means you have to have artwork to show or sell. You therefore need to set aside a large chunk of time to making work. Art-making is pretty time consuming, so be prepared sometimes to say no to social engagements in favour of burning the midnight oil: building that portfolio or developing that awesome exhibition collection.
3. Be prepared to network
Most artists dread coming out of the studio. However, the reality is that as much of a recluse you may want to be, to be successful you need to meet people, you need to develop a clientele and therefore you need to network. So take some time off from hiding in the studio and attend exhibition openings, charity events and other events in the field.
4. Not everyone will get it
Not everyone may be as ecstatic as you are about our choice to make art your living. Your family and friends may often not understand the work you produce or why you do it. They may even not consider what you do a legitimate job. This is totally typical! It’s OK for them to not understand. Focus on doing what you love and being true to yourself.
5. The “Starving Artist” is a myth
Artists are often meant to feel that to be an artist they cannot be financially successful and must therefore perpetuate the “Starving Artist ” myth. This simply isn’t true. Don’t purely price your art just to get it sold. People will value your work the more you place value on it. Do not think that being an artist dooms you to poverty… and that’s where number six comes in…
6. Capitalise on multiple income streams
As an artist, especially in Trinidad, it’s very difficult to survive purely on one income stream, such as gallery exhibitions. To be a successful artist you need to take advantage of creating multiple income streams. Here are some examples:
- Offering freelance art services
- Teaching your craft
- Selling artwork online
- Submitting to competitions
- Take advantage of a related skill set to develop a second business
- Even having a day job is an option!
7. Be prepared to accept and overcome failures
You are going to have face many failures throughout your career. Your work may not be accepted into an exhibition you were banking on getting into and you may not win a freelance job you spent two weeks developing a proposal for. That’s OK! Not everyone is going to like your work and you won’t be a fit for everyone’s needs but you will be a great fit for some. Embrace the small failures and learn from them, be open to critique and constructive criticism, it will take you far.
8. Be prepared to write
You’re an artist – you just want to make your work and show it to the world but you will soon find out that to be an artist actually incorporates a lot of writing. I’m betting that’s something no one ever told you before! It’s a good idea to develop some writing skills from very early on. In addition to everyday emails there are biographies, artist statements, proposals, cover letters and résumés to write!
So there you have it: eight lesser known tips to help ease you into the pursuit of your dreams. Hopefully they’ll be of some help to you as you’re starting out on your journey. Just remember to stay committed to your goals and your passion – and above all, keep making art!