The Artist, Outside Looking In

painting1Naked bodies everywhere, lazy afternoons of drinking, moody passions that overflow, and embracing the sweet life.

There are a number of ideas about what a working artist does with their day and what they do, I wish a number of them were true. Movies, books, television, and outside perceptions about artists have warped a lot of ideas about artists over the years. It seems that it might be time for working artists to re-capture what they do in the public eye and put themselves back into society. Many artists do this, but they lose their recognition as “Artist” along the way.

The world has no misconceived notions about what a plumber does (Except for Super Mario). When did artist fall off the radar as a valid vocation?

Note: The following is relative to my own personal experience and opinion, your mileage may vary

I sometimes have a hard time believing that I wake up, look at my canvas, my Cintiq, or my Word docs and have to decide if I should work on that painting, illustrate those orcs, or write the next tabletop adventure. It really is the stuff I never thought I would be able to attain, or sustain. Getting to the vocation of a creative is not an easy road. It’s not without potholes, bumps, opposition or myths. I enjoy my work a great deal. I don’t think anyone actually believed the work I wanted to do was ever possible. I had barriers thrown in front of me my entire life.

Artists – Let’s dispel some myths:

“Artists are gifted. They just do that! It’s a gifted talent from the invisible deity!” – This is possibly one of the number one things that gets spoken. Words like “Talent, gift, and blessing” come up frequently when someone enjoys a work and meets the artist. These words are intended as complimentary, but they hold no water as truth. Artist, like any other profession, requires hours, days, months, years, decades of struggle, work and constant practice. When you hail your deity and dub their labor as some sort of instant ‘gift’ from the heavens, you are diminishing that individual’s perseverance  and hard work in the face of adversity. To be fair, I also think along a similar line regarding those who praise a deity instead of a doctor when a loved one has a life saving operation.

Yes, anyone can be an artist. I hate to break the news. Don’t think so? Draw your coffee cup. Draw it tomorrow, draw it every day for a year. Draw it every day for 2 years. Collect your 730 drawings of the cup. Look at day one, look at day 730. “Well yeah… that’s no mystery, of COURSE it would be better! I drew it almost a thousand times.” The same is true of any subject matter an artist renders. The same is true of any vocation.

Some artists take advantage of this myth. I LOVE the art of Frank Frazetta. He did a number of interviews where he said, “I don’t know, it’s just a gift. I wanted to draw something so I just did.” He was always discarding reference to his tutelage under a classical painter, hours spent in studio, life drawing, at the Bronx zoo sketching etc.

Romanticized artist – This is one that a number of art schools and media perpetuate that is rather bothersome. Admit it, when you think of “Fine Artist” you think of a tortured emotional sod in a studio apartment with easels and paints everywhere. Places for naked women to lounge in a post-coitus pose to become the ‘muse’ where the model rescues the heart of the artist on his way to becoming ‘famous’ and just a slight rebel in upperclass society. I don’t even know what to say to this image other than it is utterly false. Those who are able to portray this fantasy, are an enigma and will likely be picking up retail or fast food work shortly.

femartistBlossom Effect –  Another HUGE myth is that a young female artist is something akin to “Blossom”. The tweens show from the 90’s presented us with a young, starry eyed, creative type with punky brewster-like technicolor clothing. A striped shirt, a red hat with a ‘funky’ flower. No really, take a moment and go Google the term “Female Artist” and switch to ‘images’ so you aren’t sifting through musicians. You get page upon page of images like the fantasy crap posted on the left here. Male, female, or anything in between artists are NOT whatever… “This” is.

Lazy – Are some people lazy and calling themselves artists? yes.  Are some dental hygienists lazy and calling themselves dental hygienists? yes. If an artist is making ends meet, paying their bills and eating, they aren’t being lazy. They aren’t just lascivious wretches trying to get people naked in order to take advantage. To maintain the profession requires living. To be sustainable it requires creating an income. There are extremely few, if any, that exist on trust funds, or family money to be an artistic stereotype.

See also “Can’t get a real job”. I have had some “real jobs” and knew they weren’t for me. before I went full time as an artist, I had a perfectly socially proper desk job.

Depressive – People do have depression, it isn’t exclusive to artists. All artists are not depressive people. Nor are all artists dark and moody. We don’t wear funny french berets (Ok.. I did have one for some time… but it wasn’t a uniform). Working artists also are not some explosive emotional train wreck. Not if they want to retain people who pay for work.

Now Reveal Some Truths:

Art is a Business – I am very sorry to have to reveal this to a number of idealists in art school. Some think that you are not a ‘true artist’ if you sell your work, or some such chatter. The truth is, a working artist needs to be working. That means creating an income. That likely is NOT coming from hanging over priced work in a fancy gallery that takes 40-80% of the sale price.

A working artist is running a business. We either file 1099 forms, file DBA, LLC, or S-Corp paperwork. We have contracts, The wise ones do, we have clients, we have to do our own promotions, sales, packing, shipping, prints, trade shows, blog posts and web-design. The list goes on. An artist will assess what they can do, and find clients who need it. Illustration, commissions, design, concept art, all qualify as ART, and are all option for a working artist. We keep receipts, we file taxes. I am lucky enough to know a supra-genius tax woman that is my rock-star of staying afloat. If you think one is not a ‘real artist’ if they attend to the business end of the profession, good luck to you. I honestly don’t know any artists who have lived this way, nor do I recall any from history.

Artists as a whole should NOT be doing work to “get your name out there” for free or sub-acceptable pay. Doctors and plumbers don’t under-value their work. If you struggle with rates, get yourself a copy of the Graphic Artist Guild Handbook. It applies to fine artists as well, so un-bunch your undies and get to it.

Always be improving – An artist who is not striving to better their work, is likely about to become stale and not sought out as heavily. Life drawing, new materials, sharing experience, books, videos, instructional materials from the art world will be your tax-deductible friends! You will grow as an artist and a person when you feed your head. Somehow we have to fit this into our long days.

Digital Artists – Hold a new special place in pre-conceived notions about what you do. People think you are just clicking around in photoshop for ten or fifteen minutes to create any and everything you do. The word “Photoshopped” has come to be accepted as a lazy ‘fake’. “Oh that skinny girl? her stuff is “photoshopped”. Like 2 clicks of a mouse and any orangutan can instantly be on the cover of “Fit” magazine.
Many digital artists are actually painting. They work with tablets, cintiqs, or other similar interfaces and study the masters, the process is similar, and you have to let your clients in on that practice somehow, without being able to show them a stretched canvas. they are all too happy to toddle off to print though, getting all the praise on the art, while doling out pennies saying, “You just mess around in photoshop.”

Self Doubt – There is a lot of this. I think it is a factor of self-employment more than that of the creative field. If you still have clients, you are ok. Work on improving your craft and customer relations. Don’t second guess your rates and rush to the bottom dollar amount.  There really is a dollar amount that makes a project not worth doing. At some point, it is better to go get a retail job for $60 / day than it is to spend 3 or 4 days trying to satiate impossible requests for $60.

Listen to advice, don’t take it all – I have had uncountable pieces of advice. It’s not all good. It’s also not necessarily good or right for you if it comes from someone you admire or is successful in your field. Hell, this entire article might be bunk advice for you! Sort through evidence yourself. Has this advice really worked for anyone? does it apply to me? Do I care about it?

Often when people meet a working artist, one of the early conversations that pops up is,”You know what you should do….” This is typically followed up by a children’s book idea, caricatures in a public location, or applying to get in a contest or gallery show.
If this is your dream and goal as an artist, then there ya go. But unless the person offering the advice has an “in” or connection to help you execute the suggestion, it is likely just an empty conversation.

Pick tidbits carefully, discard anything that you think sounds off, and never lose sight of where you would like to go. Being a working artist requires some tenacity and determination, it requires some business acumen, a lot of work, but it can bring a sense of pure connection to yourself and the world around you when you defy the odds and barricades.

I will wake up tomorrow and paint dragons. There was no gift from any gods, no magical events. It has been a life time of working toward being the best artist I could be.

Art Tribe