Recently I was asked for a little post of advice on pursuing an art career. Let me first say that I consider myself an emerging artist. I have in no way crossed over to the promised land of living entirely off of art sales. With that said, my husband and I are making a living solely in the arts and I am lucky enough to know a lot of very successful artists who are making their way in some form or another. So I am privy to a certain amount of first and secondhand information that could potentially be of use to an individual who is just beginning their art career. Let me just start with five points today as I could bore the universe with a lengthy art post.
Let me give you a brief background on my education. I started out my college career on an art scholarship, but abandoned it for a history degree (long story). Later I went on to get a MA in art history. I have been working as an artist this entire time. My husband has pretty much an identical story. Currently he is working as an artist and museum director/curator. I am an artist and I teach art history for two colleges, online. I also teach art and art history in a variety of other formats. So now that you know a bit about me, let me share a few things that I know about being an artist, so far.
1) Know your style.
I think this is probably the most difficult advice to give/ receive. How does one know their own style? I think that for most people it comes from the place where you go when you are just creating, not when you are trying to do something. Perhaps you will be surprised by your style. I was, when I finally accepted what I do and how I do my thang (yep, thang). Identify the medium(s) that you work in, though don't be limited by that, because we are artists yo. Then start trying to get comfortable being the artist that you are, unlike any other artist. This is also an important sub-point---don't try to emulate other artists. You can certainly borrow/trade/be informed by other artists, but always do what you do best. If you try to be like someone else you will fail because a) they will do it better b) they are already filling that hole. So don't waste your time trying to be anything you aren't, embrace the weird and uncomfortable nature of your own style---it is already there waiting for you.
2) Get to know other artists and people in the art world.
While you shouldn't try to copy another artist's style it is so very important to get to know other creatives in your community---even if your community is small or extended or even online. Just get to know others, see what they are doing, where they are doing it, why they do what they do. You'll learn stuff. You will make connections. You will be plugged into the art scene in your community and as those people get to know you and your work they may be willing to help you or at least share opportunities...you would be wise to do the same. I know the art world can be competitive, but I work diligently to ignore that side of things and it has served me well. I find that when I work to help artists instead of compete with them that we all win. I truly believe that there is room for all artists.
There are also many people to know in the art world who are not artists themselves. There are the art historians, art critics, collectors, art appreciators, gallery owners, museum professionals, educators. All of these people can teach you something about your field.
3) Educate yourself constantly.
Read about the arts. Subscribe to magazines and journals. Visit museums and galleries and studios. Learn about what is going on in your state, community, country, the world, outer space, alternate realities, etc. Read about art history so you don't sound like a dumb-dumb who thinks they invented the wheel. You can never learn enough.
4) Be involved.
Be involved in your community. This is something that came to Eric and I after a visit to Missoula many years back. We were so sad to be leaving Missoula after a really happy visit and returning to our Wyoming town, because we didn't know anybody in Wyoming and we didn't have an art community. While we drove back we realized that we were in our town for an extended period of time, no plans to leave, so we should start searching for the community we wanted within our Wyoming town. Wouldn't you know it, there was already a group of people dedicated to the arts. We were able to insert ourselves into this community and add to growth as we see that we are willing and able.
When we decided to dedicate ourselves to our community we made some amazing friendships, we found patrons, we found opportunity, we found support, we found purpose. I am constantly in awe of my community and endlessly thankful for the support and acceptance that they have given to my family.
5) Create your own opportunities.
I think so many artists sit around waiting to be discovered, but that does not happen.The sooner you realize that the more successful you will be as an artist. When Eric and I were living in Denver we were unhappy with the disconnected art scene there and we wanted to have a more personal experience. So we had a salon style show at an historic home in downtown Denver. Our friend lived in one apartment in this home and she got the other residents to clear out their spaces in order to accommodate a flash gallery. It was a great success and such fun to have a more personal experience.
Since moving to Wyoming we have found so many ways to create opportunities for ourselves. Of course we pursue shows, that is the obvious, but we find other ways as well. For instance, did you know that Eric just released a couple of skate board designs? Check them out here, they are for sale and make great wall art even if you don't skate. I teach tons of classes for extra income, but more than that to build community and get to know more creatives in my area. I am able to teach these classes because I have worked hard to become involved with my art community and now when I have an idea I can propose it or people will approach me to help with their ideas.
Ultimately becoming an artist has been about working all day every day. This isn't really a career, if you are an artist you already know that, I am guessing. You don't retire from being an artist, you just eventually die. Like any passion it needs to be cultivated; contrary to popular belief passion is not something inherent to an individual, but something pursued. Also, I doubt that there is really any way to claim success as an artist as there is always a new dream on the horizon.