Art is Work – Skinny Artist

Art is Work

Art is Work

 

Art is Work

Creating art is a valid career.

There seems to be this perception in our culture that art is not really a profession but more of a hobby. That creativity is a pastime, not a true vocation.

It’s no secret that many of us see our day jobs as monotonous, boring, and something that we only do because we may need rent money.  According to this worldview, art is optional but work is not — therefore art cannot be work.

Our culture tends to believe that creating art or music is something that is only reserved for those lucky few who, for whatever reason, have too much time on their hands. In other words, being an artist is not a real job.  It is only for misfits or those who would not otherwise be able to function in polite society.

 

Art is Work

Being a creative artist is a worthwhile purpose.

Even though we seem to live in a world that is dominated by the bottom line, there is still a need for the artists and poets to show us its beauty and meaning.  To be that voice that reveals the larger picture that surrounds us, and to remind us how we are all connected to one another.

Just as there is a need for religious and spiritual leaders in our community, there is also a need for artists.  Those who’s purpose is not to make us speed up and work faster, but to slow down and notice the beauty that is already around us.  Artists who allow us to step outside of ourself and experience the world from a new perspective.

Creative artists are also there to remind us that there are still things out there that cannot be easily counted or neatly packaged inside a cardboard box.  Things that we may not always understand or even enjoy.  Things like love, jealousy, beauty, and pain.  The kind of things that keep us up at night with excitement or fear.  Things that still matter even if you will not ever find them on an expense report.

 

Art is Work

Creating art is (hard) work.

Although being an artist may be worthwhile and rewarding, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is easy.

Anyone who has ever actually tried to paint a picture, play a song, or write a novel knows that creating art is often a lot harder than it looks.  It is often a long and frustrating journey between knowing how to do something, and being able to do it well.

At the beginning, every artist secretly believes that he or she will be the exception.  The prodigy. The outlier. That one-in-a-million person to whom it just comes naturally.  We want to believe that artists are inspired by divine breath.  That images, words, and music appear fully formed inside our imagination and our job is to simply reproduce what we see or hear.   [viralpullquote box_position=”right” font_size=”13″ width=”205″ ]Work inspires inspiration. Keep working. If you succeed, keep working. If you fail, keep working. If you’re interested, keep working. If you’re bored, keep working. ~Michael Crichton[/viralpullquote]

We don’t want to believe that the experience of creating art is often messy and full of mistakes along the way.  We don’t want to believe that even the best artists may not understand where their work is heading until its finished. And we don’t want to believe that our creative vision will almost always exceed our ability.

We want to believe in the magic of being an artist, and we are often disappointed by the reality.

Being an artist is not about lightning bolts of inspiration.  Being an artist is about being willing to listen closely and then doing your best to describe what you find.   More than anything, however, being an artist is about not giving up.

 

Art is Life

Even though art is meaningful and often hard work, it’s also more then that.

Creating art is not simply another job.  Even if we are lucky enough to earn enough money from our art to financially support us, being an artist is not just what we do — it’s who we are.  It’s that little nagging voice inside that compels us to create. The one that won’t take “No” for an answer.  No matter how long we ignore it or try to distract ourselves from it, it will still be there whispering in our ear… You were born an artist, now create!

If you have heard its siren’s call, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The only real question, is what are you going to do about it?  What you are willing to give to (and give up for) your art?  Only you can decide if you’re ready to live your art, or if you are willing to let it go.

Being an artist is a choice

Being an artist is a profession

Being an artist is a way of life

But it is also work.

 

What do you think?

How do you find the time, energy, and stubbornness to be a creative artist in today’s society?

Share your story and tell us how are you are managing to make your art into your work and your life into a work of art?

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About the Author

Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.

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(20) comments

Great article, of course creating art is a valid career! I agree completely with you. The value of art to our society (if put into monetary terms) is priceless. Think of all the fine artists that bring about change in perception.

Imagine all those brain synapses firing in the creatives who don’t paint but are working in other creative industries; the triggers for ideas that abound as a result of them glimpsing an artist’s latest artwork. The fine artist creates an image that evokes emotions, questions society, makes us wonder if we could do it differently, better or if we should be justifying our actions. He/she is questioning society; making us think differently and to grow and expand our horizons, and thats just the beginning of the value of fine artists to our society.

Wow! imagine for a moment, if we thought about the value of all the incredible commercial artists out there…all those carboard cartons in our kitchens that so carefully store our food..what if they had no art on them? Oh and the clothes we wear; no florals, no checkers, no strips, no abstract patterns…oh it would be so dull, so boring. I just miss the artworks from my walls when moving from one side of the world to the other… let alone a whole world without art.

Art is created out of necessity. Its not a a luxury or a choice. All we have to do is look back to ancient times to see what is valued the most. It is the artwork that tells us so much about a certain culture, often without the surviving artifacts and artwork we wouldn’t even know the places and people existed. Cave paintings come to mind here.

Artists contribute to our society wasy that cannot possibly be quantified. Great art is esential to the health and well-being of any well-developed society. It just is. Its about time Art is considered work because its just as valid as any other ‘work’. When we are creating art we are working, we can’t help it if we love our job!

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    You’re absolutely right Cindy when you said that the artist “creates an image that evokes emotions, questions society, makes us wonder if we could do it differently, better or if we should be justifying our actions. He/she is questioning society; making us think differently and to grow and expand our horizons” I agree with you that the role of the creative artist is to look beyond the surface and to connect the dots that no one else is yet able to see.

    Art is a necessity and a natural part of our nature which is probably why we’ve been creating art far longer than we have called it “art”. As you mention, you can tell a lot about a culture by the way it treats (and values) it’s artists, writers, and religious leaders both in the past and in the present. I love the way you sum this all up with, “When we are creating art we are working, we can’t help it if we love our job!” — Maybe they are all just jealous after all ;)

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I could not imagine a world without art.
However the Principle of Somerset College was overheard saying about the art students. ‘Let them get proper jobs’ and that I am afraid is how the government as a whole feels, it trickles down from the top.
Yes it is all about bottom line; which makes me think of what Churchill said at the beginning of WWII. When cuts to the arts where discussed, he said ‘what are we fighting this war for?’
I just wish the UK government where capable of understanding this
A beautiful article Drew very well put, thank you for it.

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    I’m with you Ashar, I can’t (or at least wouldn’t want to) imagine a world without art. I think sometimes art and creativity have this tendency to get caught up in this bizarre economic argument that if it doesn’t immediately show up on the bottom line then it must be expendable.

    Unfortunately, we have seen this argument play out here in the States in the funding battles for our schools. Art and music are constantly being threatened for elimination because they are the only subjects that are considered “optional”. What they fail to realize, of course, is that a large majority of the jobs in the future are not going to be in manufacturing products but designing them. Somehow we need to find a way to change this perspective before we end up raising a generation of kids who have been fooled into believing that compliance is more important then imagination.

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I love the enthusiastic support you’re giving for working artists — I think we all need to work hard to change the way people see art professionals.
However, I feel like your closing comments about making sacrifices for art aren’t entirely realistic. As much as art crosses boundaries and is born into us, it is still a privilege. For some people, survival takes all of their time, money, and energy. Not only is making art incredibly difficult, it’s frequently straight-up impossible.
I’ve been there in my life, and I know a lot of artists who have too. I think it would be valuable for people like me to hear that affirmation from people like you — that we’re still artists even if we don’t have the time to make it in the art world, or even to make art on a daily or weekly basis. It’s not a lack of sacrifice on our parts — it’s an impossibility.

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Hi Skinny, I think this attitude in schools is really bad ‘Compliance is more important than imagination’. What this is doing for the general masses is once again dividing the rich and the poor…the priveleged and the non-priviledged. Its completely unfair. Every single child has the right to know that he can draw. Drawing needs to be taught just like reading, writing and arithmatic. I think the main problem is that some people who can’t draw still think its some sort of ‘mystical’ thing and its not. Drawing is a learnable teachable and quantifiable thing. We can’t teach people to become artists…thats a different thing, but we can teach people to know how to draw and there are loads of industries that people can work in that require drawing (and painting and using other mediums of course) but drawing is the foundation.

Ashar…as for the statement that the Principle of Somerset College made it is rediculous; ‘Let them get proper jobs’ he needs to read this http://www.artpromotivate.com/2013/05/business-ideas-for-artists.html its an absolute outcry that we are depriving our children of the right to be creative.

I do not believe that art is a privilege, its a necessity. Once again we have to think about our world without it. Its that mindset that we are trying hard to convince others to understand. I have been a working artist for 20 years and provided jobs for many others. I teach teachers how to operate successful business teaching children and adults how to draw. I haven’t been out of work in 20 years and i have helped thousands of people enrich their lives. Art is a form of healing and provides an avenue for self-expression and communication that cannot be achieved through words alone. Its important that we ourselves value our artistic contributions to society then others will. I certainly value my artistic contribution to society and see it as duty to share my knowledge and art with the world. I have worked very hard to develop my skills to a level where I can earn an income accross multiple industries in art so that I can have art as my full time job. I write art course curriculum, I paint for commission and to sell in galleries, I draw for a rubber stamp art company, I license my work for putting onto products (through an agent) I mentor artists and I operate a website where I have trained some wonderful people who teach the art course curriculum that I wrote. All of this is what has brought me a good solid income for over 20 years. So it is possible to have a career in art, we just have to plan well, make sacrifices and believe its possible because it is.

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Gypsy, I understand that its difficult to make a career as an artist, to support your family financially and do what you love thorugh having art as a career. I too know many hundreds of artists who cannot do that. However, you are of course still an Artist, the Artist in us never goes away just because we are not currently able to draw and paint. And the time isn’t always right for people to do that.

However, like myself, I know many people who have made tremendous sacrifices to create that time for their art not by choice but by necessity. I healed myself through painting and draiwng at one stage many years ago. I know many others who choose to draw and paint in the little blocks of time instead of waiting for those big ones that can’t possibly come (as you say:) Some people tell me that they sit on the bus and sketch on the way to work, others complete their art exercises in the lunchroom and/or of an evening in their Pyjama Time (the little blocks of time after everyone has gone to bed at night or in the early morning before work.) I have created entire art exhibitions in my pjs at night working one bit at a time. I was teaching up to 80 people a week in live art classes at one stage then coming home, tucking my babies into bed and then drawing and painting myself into the wee hours.

Life has many seasons and just because you can’t fulfil your love of art right now doesn’t make you or anyone else any less of an artist. I wish you luck in creating time for yourself to claim your natural birthright to draw. Everyone deserves a hobby to give them life-balance and an artist is always an artist regardless of earning any money at all from their art. Cheers!

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    Thanks, Cindy!

    I wish more people in the art world heard these affirmations. I remember getting the Etsy newsletter that said “Quit your day job!” on a regular basis, and knowing that wasn’t a risk I could take. I was working near minimum wage, barely paying bills, in a workplace so poisonous that all I could do when I got home was cry myself to sleep.

    When things are that tight (and comparatively, I’ve been lucky — I’ve only had to work one full-time job at once, and never lost the roof over my head or the food on my plate) art seems like a criminal waste of time. I was saved by the words of my dearest friends and family, all telling me that I needed art. That it was a part of me that could not be denied, and it was a beautiful part that should never bring me shame.

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Mariana

Art is more or less all I’m about yet I’m not really good at it. Not enough to be professional yet. One of my problems is that I can’t get a focus. I sculpt, and I’ve done it since I’m 5, but I’m always changing the things I do. I just… keep having ideas with different styles. I’ve been like this for years!!! I wish I could focus on something, anything, but then I get bored and unable to create more. I’m so frustrated with myself.

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Hi Mariana, have you ever considered the assistance of an Art Coach? I would love to see some of your work…do you have a website or if not, could you email me some of your artworks so that I can see if I can help you. I do charge for my services but I always give a complimentary consultation first to just chat about your whole art life and art career possibilities. I really feel for you and understand exactly what you are saying. Its not easy to stay focussed when you are a naturally born creative person, but there are several important things that you can do to help you survive life as an artist. Email me cindy@drawpj.com if you would like some help. Cheers!

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“We don’t want to believe that the experience of creating art is often messy and full of mistakes along the way. We don’t want to believe that even the best artists may not understand where their work is heading until its finished. And we don’t want to believe that our creative vision will almost always exceed our ability.

We want to believe in the magic of being an artist, and we are often disappointed by the reality.

Being an artist is not about lightning bolts of inspiration. Being an artist is about being willing to listen closely and then doing your best to describe what you find. More than anything, however, being an artist is about not giving up.” this is so true, this part kind of touched my heart, thanks for that! :)

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Especially because I’m always frustrated that my vision exceeds my abilities. I’m not sure if I will ever be comfortable with what I’m doing as I always have a feeling it is not good enough. But I guess this is the way it is…

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Kim

What a great article! I am an artist and stay at home mom, which often makes it hard to find time to create. I am a seller on Etsy, and have made some money from creating custom pet portraits. Nothing substantial, and the only reason I stay home is that we can’t afford daycare. Artists need all the support and encouragement we can get, especially in this economy!

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Oh yes, we need to be so stubborn! Every time when someone looks at me like I’m cray to be an artist or when I have realized how much I am sacrificing, I think of my dream life, my goal. If I could one day paint all day and know that most of my art will sell, then all will have been worth it.
I hope I can keep up my stubbornness until then! ‘Being an artist is about not giving up’ – wonderfully true

Btw wonderful article, such a good read!

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Great article. Perfect. Loving the comments too.

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Bervyn

You say ‘art is a valid career’ and towards the end say ‘…even if you are lucky enough to make enough money from your to support yourself’. I am confused – I thought one of the features of a valid career was income. If you need to be lucky enough to make income out of art, then how is art a valid career? I am amazed no one else noticed this.
I am sorry if I am being rude but it’s hard enough trying to make art and still keep a positive attitude. On top of that someone like you talks about ‘being lucky enough’. I wouldn’t have bothered if this was a post in a random blog. Many artists read this and sure they know art is tough but the last thing they need to hear is the word luck associated with art. It’s just depressing.

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    I agree that it can be a bit depressing when you look at it from that perspective. When I mentioned that being an artist/writer/musician is a “valid career” I was referring to the general perception in our society that the arts are unnecessary both in our culture and in our schools. Of course I happen to believe that the arts are worth far more than the sum of their economic parts and therefore shouldn’t be judged solely on their income potential.

    You’re also right that it is extremely difficult to make a full-time living in the arts, especially when you are first starting out. It can be done, of course, but those who manage to do it are more the exception rather than the rule. For the rest of us, we simply have to find a way to survive (economically) the “apprenticeship” period where we are still learning, developing, and finding our creative identity. Eventually the idea is that you will build up enough talent, creative work, and connections in the art world to produce the type of income that would allow you to work as a full-time artist.

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Deborah

People who do not work everyday as an artist, really cannot make a fair judgement on what art is or is not. Only through real experience can we know our art, and thus understand its immense value.

There is a tendency in our future to either glamorize, or demote the artistic person. Much of this comes from unresolved envy. An artist should never think that they are more special; this only promotes more envy.

If one is working hard, they needn’t pay attention to the opinions of others regarding their profession.
I have been a working artist for 35 years, until an injury took this away from me. Am I still an artist?

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“Being an artist is about being willing to listen closely and then doing your best to describe what you find. More than anything, however, being an artist is about not giving up.” – I think this is the best definition I’ve read so far.

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    Thanks Amanda for taking the time to share this, and you’re right that simple persistance/stubborness can often make up for a lot. It reminds me of that quote from the author Émile Zola, “If I cannot overwhelm with my quality, I will overwhelm with my quantity.” :)

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