Editor’s note: Aletta de Wal is one of our new writers here at EmptyEasel; please give her a warm welcome!
Clichés and myths persist because they contain at least a kernel of truth. There’s just enough truth in them that people take them at face value. But beyond every myth, or cliché, there is a much larger reality. . . and you can find it by looking at the facts.
Let’s start by debunking the cliché, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
The implication is that we lose the capacity learn anything new as we age, but that’s just not true. Recent brain research confirms that you can learn throughout your lifetime if you are willing to put in the effort.
The actual kernel of truth in this cliché is that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, if that dog does not want to learn. On the other hand, if the dog has enough incentive (like food) it can learn to do a lot.
So how does this cliché relate to artists?
When I tell artists that they need to embrace modern technology, some of them balk. They’ve bought into the myth that age gets in the way of learning “new tricks.” Unless they can get past this false belief and learn some of the new tricks of the digital age, they’ll remain at a severe disadvantage in today’s art market.
Artists who don’t buy into this myth about age and learning have a huge advantage. They believe that they can do anything they want to do (given enough time or assistance) so they seek out teachers and courses and learn from others’ experiences.
These artists have accepted that technology is as vital to their art marketing as the tools they use to create their art. Their attitude is “can do” and that attitude drives them to acquire the knowledge and skills they need to just “do!”
Some clichés and myths about how artists live and work are so tenacious, so deep-rooted in society, that even artists themselves spread these false beliefs. One of the most persistent myths is that of the “starving artist.”
Many artists hide behind this myth, and claim that handling business interferes with their art. But when you don’t have enough money for food and rent, it’s hard to keep the creative juices flowing, isn’t it?
The archetypal starving artist, Vincent van Gogh, wasn’t actually doing so badly. He came from a wealthy family of art dealers, and he worked in an important gallery for six years. While he was a painter, his brother sent him a generous monthly stipend.
The truth is, financial stability typically reduces anxiety, and makes it easier to produce masterly work. Having enough regular income to pay for both living costs and studio expenses is indispensable to artistic success.
In my research, I’ve found that artists who are particularly vulnerable to myths fall into one or more of these groups:
1. Artists who are making art without trying to sell it.
These artists focus on the creative process and have not yet experienced the rigors of making a living doing what they love. If this sounds like you, I suggest studying flourishing, successful artists. This will reveal what it takes to make money from fine art and help you prepare to enter the art marketplace.
2. Artists who trust their art school education for their success.
Some artists learn all about making fine art at amazing schools, and believe that is enough to attract buyers for their work. In truth, the business side of art is rarely taught in schools, although this is beginning to change. Most art business success comes through experience instead.
(EmptyEasel.com is full of useful articles on the business side of art, but knowledge without application gets you nowhere. Apply it, and learn what works best for you.)
3. Artists with spouses who fund their art lifestyle.
A few artists are lucky enough to have benefactors who don’t expect them to generate revenue. These well-meaning supporters may also reinforce the myth that fine artists are not business people, often out of good intentions.
However, all of the self-supporting artists I know are doing well because they take care of business while making marketable art.
4. Artists who received major publicity early in their careers.
Some artists have the good fortune to have their talents recognized soon after they begin to exhibit. Once they’ve had such success, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that they have arrived and do not have to work to stay “on top.”
But every artist who has lasting success works for it, every day. Success, like everything else, ebbs and flows. It takes consistent, strategic action to develop and maintain visibility in a crowded art market and world.
So reject the myths and clichés that trap your creative energy and keep you from making and marketing your art.
It’s time to create your own reality. Your art career is waiting.