Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Considering an Art Career?

Question in the upcoming issue of Artists Magazine: "What would you say to someone who’s wondering whether to choose art as a career?"

My answer: If you’re meant to be an artist, nothing will stop you.* People tell you to work hard, but what does that mean? Art doesn’t even seem like work if you really love it. You’ll need to be determined, patient, resourceful, and flexible.

Keep in mind that no one is going to hand you a career. However, you might get handed an opportunity. If that happens, make the most of it. Commit totally to becoming the best artist you can be. Figure out how to do a lot of different things—framing, videography, graphic design, and photography, for example—so that you can do more than paint. If you work for a client as an illustrator, be sure to deliver on time and on budget, communicate clearly, and be pleasant to work with.
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*That line is a slightly easier-to-swallow version of a quote attributed to Howard Pyle: "If you're meant to be an artist, all Hell can't stop you. If you're not meant to be an artist, all Heaven can't help you." 

3 comments:

Forrest said...

When I (we?) were younger, if you wanted to excel at art learning, a specialized school was the obvious answer. Today, we have much more available. To that end, there are times where it feels like an 'ocean' of 'everything' making it even more difficult to stand out.

I think Halston was spot-on in an interview I read, where he stated [sic] your art isn't worth anything, unless someone important believes it is. Though he spoke in his current time and industry, I've found that to be true. Over the years, I've seen people selling art that, to me, appears to be effortless smudges for significant amounts of money. And while I appreciate that art is in the eye of the beholder, every time I see that (even today) it really p'ses me off.

These days, if you want to stand out, you need a marketing strategy. That translates into many more variables such as social media, a dedicated website with a decent showcase/design of your work, an "about" statement and so on. Keeping these matters up-to-date can, at times, be a full time job. It's difficult to be focused on the art and business side. I know some artists who are fortunate enough to hire people to take care of the tedium, while the artist focuses on content.

I guess my rant here is a reflection of what I've found to be at times a difficult reality. Galleries (on average) use or exploit artists as a commodity -- taking 40% or more of sales. So having your own gallery or presence is going to work out better -- but who has the revenue for a dedicated gallery? You have to establish yourself "first" before you even get to that step. And unless you're really, really good and someone important "sees" you, it can feel like an uphill battle.

James, I'm sure you can appreciate this perspective and I'd be very interested in your further thoughts and feedback here. My artwork: http://forrestaldrich.com

Alex said...

Thank you, Mr. Gurney. This is terrific and genuinely inspiring to read, but if you were to answer this question for someone who is considering this later in life, age 40, how much would you say it matters to obtain additional credentials? When I taught language classes for beginners we learned to recognize 'false beginners', ie people who had unsystematic exposure to the language through family or time abroad and weren't starting from scratch - those were sometimes the hardest students to teach because they didn't have the formal training, yet were bored by a lot of the lessons on fundamentals. When considering turning my lifelong love of artistic expression, painting and drawing, into a career while rapidly approaching middle age, I feel like a false beginner myself and worry whether I need to go back and fill in the gaps with some sort of formal training, and also if I need the associated credentials to be accepted as a professional. Alex from NY

Loretta said...


Art as a career is a lot different than "being an artist".
I knew I was an artist from childhood but my parents weren't having it. I did it anyway, in my own way. Had a job as a wild land firefighter half the year and then.....ART. I didn't get very good at either, not a stellar career in fire with a good retirement, and not a well known artist. BUT, I have a great life. I did what I wanted. Worked outside and came in from the cold and made whatever I wanted with no gallery taking over half the profit; not developing a "body of work" I was "to diverse". "Start making the same thing" I was told. How boring. So, be an artist, find something love for pay and then do art on the side. Have both. If it is within you, it will come out, hell or high water.
One lucky, happy artist.