This past week I received an email by another artist who showed interest in my work which I appreciate but he also mentioned that he desires to take the leap of dedicating as a full time artist. I hope this post will share some insight on what I think about this based on my experience so far. Before I begin I want to say that no field of work is easy if you put your all into it.
Here are the questions he had.
How did you get started as an artist?
Do you find it difficult to flex to a client's needs when you are contracted for work?
An answer to the first question. I got started as an artist at the age of 12. It became more than just making pictures but also an identity and lifestyle. I started out as a graffiti artist and in doing so, I risked a lot just to practice my medium. Eventually, I wanted to learn more about art in general, so I moved away from graffiti and decided to educate myself on whatever I could to make me a better artist. In doing so, I decided to pursue higher education because I feel like one can never know enough. What the academy gave me was the ability to critique my work and be open minded enough to have others do this for me as well.
I didn't receive serious compensation for my art until I was in my mid 20's and this still fluctuates. Getting started as an artist is a commitment you make to yourself and the larger conversation of art history. There isn't any simple formulas or measure of success. Even if you land big commissions or have collectors, if you are really trying to make a difference, you will seldom achieve satisfaction because art cannot really be measured on conventional principals of good or bad, you will always be curious. Maybe it depends on what one considers aesthetically or technically well done, but to me creating a beautiful image isn't the end goal. If you are in it to make pretty pictures and you eventually master your craft enough to do so, then you're really just good at decoration which is totally fine. So many artist will create a successful formula of working, and stop there but this leads to becoming a one trick pony and can suck the feeling out of your work. If you are content in this type of work all I am saying is to be aware of what it is. To me personally that's not enough, the work has to be original, and intriguing. This is where it becomes difficult and where you need to be able to analyze your work to see how it contributes to a larger conversation. Making work like this may or may not happen! The most important thing in whichever artistic path you choose is to constantly sharpen your skills, and I don't mean just being really good at rendering images.
Another thing to consider is that I still have a regular source of income from doing part time work as a Graphic Designer. In planning my art career, I had to make some key decisions. I didn't come from money so I have always had a second and sometimes third job. So I decided if I was going to have a second job that it should also be in the art field or something I loved and that would help to sharpen my creative skills.
I love illustration, typography and graphic design which are practical means of attaining income so I made sure to learn these and pursue them as a career. Because of this I have been able to remain in a creative environment while supporting my family. It took me a long time, hard work, and sacrifice to get the opportunity to do this, and the best part about it is I don't need to compromise my fine art practice by making it fit into a particular genre or gallery. Since I don't depend on my fine art for income, I make work regardless of gallery shows or commissions, and this is where I need to be in order to yield the most interesting work that I am capable of. So you may need to remain working and living your "normal" life, but think of yourself as a piece of art and be creative in customizing your life in the same way you would approach a painting. You may need to cut out extra social events like watching sports, or going to parties, but there's only so much time in the day and the key is to just do the work and sacrificing certain pleasures will be worth it if you feel strongly enough about your passion.
The Second question: "Do you find it difficult to flex to a client's needs when you are contracted for work?"
As I mentioned before I am a working Illustrator and Graphic Designer which is a field that requires some level of flex to a clients need. But in terms of my fine art practice, when I take commissions I share with potential clients what it is that I am currently working on and let them know that is what I can offer them. In other words, I will only take on commissions if they are in line with what I am trying to pursue at the moment. If it is a Public Art project, this is different and I go into it knowing that I am a collaborator only. Public Art requires that you work with key stake holders to execute a work of art that reflects the collective goals of all who are involved.
So in conclusion there are many levels of working that you need to be aware of and not all of them may be the right fit for you. I like working in all these different avenues because it opens me up to unexpected possibilities and ways of working. Being a an artist is an organic process that is different for each individual. Expect constant change and be mindful of long term goals. It takes the same resourcefulness and creativity to build your career as it does to build your portfolio.
I hope this was helpful. Thanks for your interest!