The Artist Life: A Sea of Unpredictability

By Pat Aube Gray in Misc > Art Opinion

Life as a visual artist is remarkably different from most other life pursuits. It is a path taken when the passion to create art usurps more traditional thought processes about academic education; or about steady, reliable income with reasonable expectations of financial growth.

We become artists when we’re less worried about licenses, degrees, and certifications; when we’re not as concerned about acceptance and acknowledgment from experts in the field; or even about social interaction at our daily workplace.

The life of a fine artist is different, but it is often rewarding and very satisfying. Like any other endeavor, it has its good points. For example, we usually enjoy what we do, and we can do it anywhere. We can do it in our pajamas if we want to.

The process of making art often doesn’t even feel like work, and yet it is possible to make money at it. We can also teach others, earning a living that way, while sharing our knowledge.

Even little things make being an artist special, like listening to music while we work, decorating our homes, or making gifts of our art. Our families can be with us throughout the day, and our friends, relatives, clients, teachers and our peers are often impressed at what we do.

But the life of an artist also has its not-so-good points.

Art is one of the first products to suffer in a recessionary economy. The quality and beauty of our work, even for the most successful and skilled artists, is always subjective, always in the eye of the beholder, and dependent upon trends and fads.

While some may think our work belongs in the Metropolitan Museum, others, including jurors, newspaper critics, gallery owners, and art collectors (and even some relatives and “friends”), may tell us to keep our day jobs.

We may get into a juried exhibition and win a ribbon, yet not make the cut with the same work of art in the next exhibition. We may apply to one prestigious organization and be welcomed with giddy gratitude for “someone like you” being willing to participate, only to be rejected by another for work that is not to their standards, or lacks maturity and depth.

Or perhaps a piece of art that we consider our best work hangs in a gallery unnoticed, while one we didn’t really care to sign receives a stream of accolades.

Perhaps our real “mission” is to simply make art – but selling it, having it positively judged, and having it accepted and praised are integral factors in the measurement of our success.

Confidence, a positive spirit, and motivation can be difficult to maintain in this sea of unpredictability. One week we are on a high due to an acceptance or award, and the next we are trying to understand why our work was declined.

We artists have difficulty assessing the quality of our own work. We fully understand that each juror who views our work will have a unique opinion, we understand that we are at the mercy of that one single person, yet we can’t help but feel inadequate if our work is not “accepted.” Sometimes it makes us consider going back to our day jobs, or, in an effort to preserve our psyches, we may just decide that the juror doesn’t know good art when he sees it!

So how do we cope with the emotional roller coaster. . . with the ups and downs of our careers, and with the less than steady incomes?

I believe it is important that we support one another, not just with praise, but also within our organizations, through critique groups, by sharing educational opportunities, and by passing along information about techniques, tools, methodology and theory.

So read, look, listen, and share with your friends. Comment on each others’ websites, newsletters, blogs, facebook entries, and photos.

The more we put art in the public view, the greater the number of artists we promote. The more that the public views our art and reads artists’ comments, the more aware and (hopefully) appreciative they’ll become.

In time, they might even become collectors.

Last, but not least, even on less-inspired days, I believe we must continue to work hard at moving closer to excellence. . . and we must remember that the artistic hunger of our souls is fed by every mark we make.

For more articles by Pat Aube Gray, please visit her art blog.


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