In doing my homework for a client I was working on not too long ago, I came across this article (which actually had nothing to do with the client or what I was doing for them lol).
It was called 10 Reasons Why You Should Not Become an Architect by Michael Riscica, and though I am not an architect (although I’ve known my fair share both within and outside of my family), I could so totally relate.
Many of the items (if not all) on the list are so completely applicable to artists. After all, architecture is an art in its own right~and I could really feel that the author really dug deep when it was written.
So much so that 1. I felt like giving the author a hug after I read it, and 2. I felt like coming up with my own list. It had crossed my mind recently to write a sort of ‘open letter to aspiring artists’ in the same vein, but this is probably *neater*. Some of these reasons are adapted from the article, while some of them are so totally mine.
1. You care too much about your work.
Many of us pour their whole heart and soul into every canvas, every piece, every sculpture, poem, recipe and so on~so that criticism can be really, really hard to deal with. Yeah, yeah~ it’s the work being criticised, not you, yadda yadda~’don’t take it personally’ and all that jazz.
Okay. How about, if a mom heard someone talking smack about her kid, wouldn’t the mom feel bad about it (or even angry)? I’ve never been a mom, but, yeah. Of course, if my kid were let’s say, caught shoplifting or slacking off in school and it had been brought to my attention, I would own it and do something about it because I want my kid to be better. But you get the idea.
2. You’re in love with the idea of being an artist.
There are people who seem to love telling other people that they are artists, like at parties or something, and go out of their way to sort of, dress the part or, whatever. They seem to think it’s cool for some reason.
There’s really nothing wrong with that, seriously. It’s just I remember that thing I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned in another jillablog post before~the thing that that mentor guy told us at that artist’s career workshop or something I went to before I began practising in earnest:
‘Who’s the real artist? The person who’s wearing the flashy outfit and schmoozing at all the openings? Or the person who’s slaving away in the studio day in, day out and actually creating art?’
3. You’re doing it to become rich and famous.
Not that there’s anything wrong with this, either. It’s just, it shouldn’t be your prime directive~ since we’re talkin’ TOS, you shouldn’t let it interfere with your actual creative process. Or rather, you mustn’t let it become more important or the be all and end all of why you’re making art.
You’ll make something not (just) because you want to sell it, but because it’s an opportunity for you to become better or improve your skills, or because you want to explore a new technique or subject.
You’ll do it because you have an idea you want to express, or a message you want to send out. And if you don’t, you’ll explode because it’s beating around on the walls inside your brain begging or demanding to be let out. Not because you want hordes of fans or a huge payday. I mean, sure we all want that. But ask yourself: Would you still do art even if you didn’t get it?
Many artists in any artistic field~the visual arts, music, dance, literature, perfumery~can barely make a living doing nothing but art. Seriously, realistically. It’s not like in the movies, and not everybody has a Theo or a rich spouse. Those of us that don’t, have to beg, borrow or steal (or get a day job) to fund our practice and to just keep it going.
As for fame, think about how, for every Michelangelo, there were hundreds upon hundreds of other artists who lived at the same time whose hard work and names have by now been forgotten.
I’ve often been accused of being *negavibes*~I can see why. But for me I prefer to just see things as they are~the negative as well as the positive. I’m not someone who would rather just focus on the sunshine to the exclusion of all else, choosing to ignore the inevitable rain clouds or to actively sweep them under the rug.
Because it really does rain, sometimes, and in art, when it rains it bloody pours. And if you don’t like to get wet, then maybe, do yourself a favour, and don’t be an artist (or just do it as a hobby).
4. You have no interest in improving your skills.
So also recently, I was at a gallery speaking with a gallery manager who pointed out one of the works on the walls which reminded me vaguely of Dave McKean. It had a big butterfly in the foreground and the manager said ‘You know, this guy has been painting that same bloody butterfly for a bazillion years.’ (He didn’t say it in those exact words, but you get the idea.)
‘I’ve been painting the same junk for a bazillion years,’ I replied, quietly. I mean, what if butterflies (or that butterfly) was that guy’s thing, right? I mean like monsters (and horseys ^^) were mine. Anyways a long discussion followed, and what I understood of it was that the artist in question had never evolved or grown, somehow.
In any case while I did have mixed feelings about this, cos the manager said they were going to have a word with that artist to get him to try something else or something. They also said they were going to wait and see whether the artist would obey~ I do agree that well, for me at least, an art practice is also all about making yourself better as an artist.
If you don’t want to be the best artist you can be (whatever that looks like for you), and you really only want to just keep churning out the same old, uh, butterflies over and over again because it’s *safe*, then I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe you really only want to be a butterfly factory and not an artist, really.
By the way, I have nothing against butterflies, zero, zilch, nada. I actually love them and had a whole show about them (and moths, too) (in fact I’m about to start work on one).
5. You’re not willing to put in the hours.
Very simply, if you’re not willing to pay your dues or make the necessary sacrifices, again, maybe, you’re better off as a dilettante or a weekend painter. I’m also pretty sure I’ve mentioned elsewhere on the jillablog, that friend of mine whose sister-in-law (who actually had some serious technical skill) was asking her how she could maybe have an exhibit~without having to work so hard.
I don’t remember now (cos it was a bazillion years ago) what I said in response to that, but I think it was something in between a scoff and stunned silence.
What I do remember is sharing (here on the jillablog as well, I think) how much time it takes to create something, anything~regardless of technique, medium or what have you. It also often takes a lot more time and a lot more work than you thought it would.
Just ask ballet dancers or pianists how many hours of practise they had to put in~it’s the same for artists, too. (Another reason why it’s so galling for people to ask artists to work for free.) Sure, there’s technology these days, and self-help speakers who’ll tell you that working hard is so 20th century because working smart is all you need for (overnight) success. Maybe they’re right.
Call me old-fashioned (or just old lol) but seriously~if you’re not willing to do the work, maybe art is not for you.
6. It’s not about how good you are, it’s about how well you sell yourself.
I was just listening to A Study in Scarlet, where Sherly Dearest says ‘What you do in this world is a matter of no consequence. The question is, what can you make people believe that you have done.’
Of course ‘good’ is relative, subjective and all that~but sometimes you’ll just wonder how on earth some artists are able to sell their work when theirs isn’t nearly as good as this or that (or yours). Well, maybe they put their hours into their marketing rather than the actual making.
Something I’d meant to write about here for some time is how a respected martech (that’s marketing technology) provider insists on spending 60 per cent of your time on promotion (leaving the other 40 per cent for creation). That’s something I’ve never subscribed to, although, who knows~that could explain a few things LOL
In any case it may seem a little unfair or something~sometimes it’s not how well you market yourself but also who you know. It’s just one of those realities of life~like how Salieri had the Emperor’s favour and Mozart didn’t (and we all know what happened there).
7. Fifty zillion other artists can do what you do (and maybe even better).
Trust me, you’re not anything special. (Or maybe this is just Salieri talking to you, Wolfie ^_~) The video game I’ve been playing forever had this scene where this swordsman gets summoned to the game world you’re in, and you know the usual~he’s all ‘I want to be the best at the sword there is’ yadda, yadda.
Until finally someone in the game says to him, you know, there are fifty gazillion other swordsmen here, the best from the worlds they’ve been summoned from. Some have sacred or magic (or sacred magic lol) swords, some are royalty, gods, and so on~and you’re just you. (It was true~ that particular swordsman? Wasn’t even like the star of the game world he was from trololol).
The someone (I forget who it was, so sorry) asked the swordsman~are you still as committed to your goal of being the best knowing that there are so many others just like you out there?
Honestly, that swordsman is far from my favourite character (his hair is green, for one thing (I’m into red LOL) (also he’s not cute and I don’t like his name or his outfit LOOOL)~ but I remember that scene. It’s not one you see in a video game or anime every day, and naturally I couldn’t help considering that question in my own context.
I think I did answer that someone’s question, though, in this post.
8. You’ll spend more time thinking like a sales person or a project manager than an artist.
This is true, so sorry, especially when the reality is [see Reason No. 6 above]. In my case it’s more like marketing person (there is a world of difference) (and oftentimes, it’s sad for marketing huhu), and even more like a project manager.
There’s a lot of planning and organisation involved in an art practice, particularly when it comes to mounting a show. Even if you don’t do the whole 60-40 thing, you’ll inevitably find yourself spending a fair amount of time on just planning stuff, not counting the planning you do for a particular painting, let’s say, let alone an entire series.
9. All your hard work will often seem to be for nothing.
Say you were willing to put in all those hours, sacrifice the time you could’ve spent with your friends or the mall or well, anywhere else~and you’ve been making these sacrifices for the longest time. But it often happens that in spite of your many sacrifices, you don’t get the response you were hoping for, for your work~people either hate it, or, they couldn’t care less.
That’s the reality. It happens. In marketing parlance (if you’ll forgive me), everybody can’t be your target market. No matter how much work you put in, as Salieri put it in the movie, ‘If the public doesn’t like one’s work, one has to accept the fact gracefully.’
The questions now become, were you creating art for those responses? Or the sales [See Reason No. 3 above]? And again, if you knew you wouldn’t get the response you were hoping for, would you still do it? Would you allow this to stop you from creating your art?
I have some suggested viewing (not reading lol) that might help you power through this (because it can and it does happen to all artists, even the ‘successful ones’). But really, in the end, it’s all up to you and your own strength of will and determination. And no amount of rah-rah YouTube, podcasts or whatever can *save* you if you don’t, in the core of your own being, choose to be an artist.
10. A lot of people will tell you being an artist is stupid.
‘Why are you doing that? You aren’t making money (or 'won’t make money'),’ is the usual. The one I was told personally is ‘You’ll never gain anything from it’ or ‘You’ll never get anywhere with that’ (said by a couple art directors at the last ‘real’ ad agency I worked at x translated from the Filipino).
A more recent one is ‘What for when the AI can do it’ or ‘There’s no point because no matter how good you are, people will just think the AI did it’.
I have mentioned on the jillablog before how crucial it is to distance yourself from emotional vampires. These are people who are not only not supportive of your practice, but actually drain you of the *life energy* you need to create~and to create well.
A phrase I learned recently was keeping a ‘charitable distance’; in this case, it’s more charitable for them than for you because you might just bite their heads off if they keep bringing their negavibes to you ^O^
Yet again, however, this begs the question: Are you going to let people like this (there are many of them out there who firmly believe that artists are the most useless creatures in the multiverse)~stop you from making art?
11. A lot of people will also keep telling you how to run your life.
If you’re the sort who doesn’t like to be told what to do, don’t become an artist because believe me, everybody will be telling you what you should be doing. (This, after they see telling you that it was stupid didn’t stop you.)
Everybody from your step-grandmother (God rest her, she actually told me to stop because it was pointless, i.e. I wouldn’t make any money) to the HR lady at the IT company you were working at (zero relation to art). Even your fellow artists (!), even if their practice isn’t anything remotely like yours~ will be telling you how to run your art practice ‘better’.
‘You should do this on social media’, ‘you should paint this’, ‘you can find inspiration here’, ‘you should talk to so and so’~all this, very often from people who don’t even DO art themselves.
I wrote this post in answer to all these providers of unsolicited (although hopefully well-meaning?) advice~heck I and this post here might well be considered as such LOL
12. A lot of people will take advantage of you or treat you badly.
I mentioned back at Reason No. 5 how some people have the gall to ask artists to work for free (unless it’s for charity or something)~this isn’t the half of it.
It breaks my heart knowing that there are people out there who can sleep at night knowing they’re exploiting the blood, toil, tears, sweat, sleepless nights, hard-earned money and honest labour of hardworking artists. (Or maybe they don’t know-know, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are.)
If I had a nickel for every art-related scam I’ve ever seen on Instagram alone I’d be a bazillionaire by now. I myself was almost victimised earlier this year; fortunately, another, very kind artist (her mom, actually) was able to give me salient advice. I was also super penny-pinching at the time, so that I simply didn’t have the funds to *invest* into it.
I seriously believe God meant for me to be broke at that precise moment in time so I wouldn’t have given my money to the scammer. I also seriously believe in the maxim ‘God helps those who help themselves’.
Unfortunately, artists are taken advantage of not just online but in the real world~even by galleries, who either might be taking too large of a cut on a sale or not paying the artists altogether. To this day, I have never understood why some galleries treat artists so badly, when they, if galleries were McDonald’ses (lol), the artists are the ones cooking the burgers. No burgers, no sales, right?
Just as unfortunately, many artists, especially those who are just starting out or those who have challenges, let’s just say, are just happy to have been given a chance by a gallery. And as such, they are willing to put up with just about anything the gallery demands, because after all, ‘if it weren’t for us, you wouldn’t even have a show’ or something like that.
Not sure if I’ve mentioned this on the jillablog before, but there’s a website called How’s My Dealing? that warns artists of these unscrupulous people.
It’s hard enough as it is for us to make a living doing what we love and there are 10 places to put every buck we earn~let’s not make a scam one of them. We can’t give these villains the satisfaction of knowing they’ve made easy money off of our work~our hard work.
Still want to become an artist?
It is true there are many people who will treat you badly if you become an artist~if you let them. (Of course, there are many times when it isn’t a question of letting them, and you get treated horribly all the same in spite of your best efforts.) Point being, all of the things on this list can stop you from becoming an artist~if you let them.
The criticism, the challenge of walking the talk, of sacrificing your time, resources and even relationships to do what you need to do to become the best artist you can be. Having the discipline and the perseverance to just stay on track and keep your eyes on the prize, even if nobody gives a fudge brownie and everybody tells you you are stupid for even doing it.
Just like anything in life, really, becoming an artist is all about how badly you want it. You want to be an artist, you won’t let anything on this list or anything at all, stop you. You want to paint, sculpt, write that play, be the next Baryshnikov, do it~and get rid of anything that gets in the way. (I mean, you know what I mean ^^) (Seriously, though, it’s that simple.)
* Interested in any of the pieces in this post?
Drop me a line to let me know
and I'll let you know if it's still available,
or how soon I can make something similar just for you.