The Reality Of Making A Living As An Artist

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 I think a lot of people dream about being a full-time artist. I used to dream about it too, but I never thought it would become reality. It just kind of happened to me and my husband. I'm not implying that we're wildly successful, or even financially stable yet, but we're here and we're doing it. It's terrifying, but we don't regret it. I see a lot of my fellow artists having trouble though, and I see a lot of people starting out thinking they're going to make their living as artists and ending up as computer programmers. Some of them probably could have made it with a little direction. Some of them shouldn't even have tried. So, lets say you think you want to be a full-time artist. Well, this is the blog for you. It's all about how to do that thing we do- live and eat as artists.

Before you start your journey though, you need to face the facts. There are unsustainable reasons to be an artist, reasons that often are based on a fantasy of artistic life instead or reality, reasons that will sabotage all your efforts and make you crazy when times are tough. Then There are sustainable reasons for being an artist- reasons that will encourage you in hard times, and spur you on to good, hopefully great art. If your going to try and make your living off of the art you do, you can't afford to cling to those unsustainable reasons. You'll go nuts.

Some of the most common reasons people become artists are the least sustainable. My husband Kailen became an artist for the girls, and also for an escape from himself- he has PTSD and being someone else for a while was a relief. I've met people who do art for the praise; they have a deep longing for approval, for love. When they act in a play or write a poem or paint a picture and someone says it's good, they feel as if they're needs are being met. I've met people who want to get rich and famous without doing much work, so they plan on being actors or writing novels. In high school I used to fantasize about being an artist because then I would be free to do whatever I wanted. In case you haven't figured it out yet, these are all terrible reasons to be a full-time artist. They aren't based in reality. They all focus on the artist getting something from they're art. They are also all unlikely to produce art that anyone would want to see. The important thing though, is not why you started out in art, but why you continue.

There are many misconceptions about what it's like to be an artist. People envision getting up at noon and knocking out three chapters in your jammies, and then talking to your publicist about your book tour, signing some autographs and opening your advance check in the mail. Who wouldn't want to do that?

The reality of an artists life is that you wake up at noon, stare at your computer in your jammies for an hour and a half and write three pages that you feel pretty weird about. Then you eat breakfast, and see if putting on clothes and drinking some coffee might improve your writing. It may or may not do so, but you don't smell anymore, so that's good. Then you have a meeting with your spouse about this months finances, comfort them about the terrible review they received in the paper and look at the edits you need to make on your book, do a writing exercise that always makes you feel like a kindergartener but turns up good stuff, weed the garden, and make dinner. And that's a mildly successful artist without any kids. Mundane isn't it? The truth about being an artist full time is that it's hard work for inconsistent pay. Your work is public so everyone can criticize you, and you better bet they will. It will be worse if you are a woman, or any color but white. Somehow, even though you are fodder for critics, you will also be obscure. If you get to a point where you are known, you will have to deal with a certain amount of privacy loss because being an artist is agreeing to be a public figure.

If your going to hack it as a full time artist you have to be in it for the right reasons, reasons that sustain and encourage you. You have to believe that art is worth it. That it's good. You have to love art, and you have to love the people you make art for. You must be willing to put your heart and soul into your art for those people, even if they don't like what you made. You must be passionate about it, but also know that it isn't the be all end all. You can't look to it to make you feel good, or nourish you, though it might occasionally do so. By and large art is a thing you give to other people. At the same time it's a thing that scratches an itch that nothing else does. The art itch, I guess.

Kailen and I ended up in this life because we felt called to it. We are both talented in our areas, are really bad at other things, and have the itch. But the big, capital letter reason we're here is because we follow God, and based on a long period of prayer, meditation and logical deduction, this is where we were felt led. We have to work to keep perspective- it's easy to think your writing or acting for the right reasons, and then someone gives you a little constructive criticism and suddenly you feel all hurt and defensive. You realize that there's still someone inside you who can't separate you and what you do, who wants everyone to think they're awesome all the time and never say anything at all mildly negative about anything you do ever. It's a constant battle, but we believe it's worth it. We believe that art is a way to love the people around us, and more importantly, it's one of the ways God has called us to love.

You don't need to feel that call to be an artist- if you aren't Christian, it'd be pretty weird if you did. You do need to be in it for the right reasons though. If your counting on your art to make you feel important and loved, you'll find yourself in a dark place the first time someone doesn't like your work. If your going to make your living as an artist you can't be living on an emotional rollercoaster that rises and falls based on how your work is received. Similarly you can't get discouraged if you don't make tons of money or become famous. You can make a living off of art, and I'll do my best to give you the tools you need to do it- but it's hard work. Having good reasons will make things easier.