6 Myths About The Artist’s Life

By Carrie Lewis in Art Business Advice > General Art Advice

I’ve been drawing from the time I was old enough to clutch a crayon in a pudgy hand. There was never a doubt about what I’d be when I grew up; my dreams were clear and well-defined.

I would be an artist.

However. . . I’ve come to realize those youthful dreams about what it meant to be an artist were in error. Here are 6 of my early misconceptions:

1. The life of an artist is easy

All I had to do was make art, right? No nine-to-five job. No commute. Just stand (or sit) at an easel and paint things I loved to paint. How difficult is that?

Sure, when the juices are flowing and you’re in the zone, making art is easy. But there are times when making art isn’t easy. If you’re a professional artist—if making art is how you make a living—you have to make art regardless of whether or not you’re in the mood.

You have to finish difficult paintings. You have to accept commissions you’d rather not in order to meet expenses. And you have to paint even when the latest painting grows tiresome and due dates loom.

That’s when the life of an artist is anything but easy. It is, in fact, just like the life of any working person. You do it because has to be done, plain and simple.

2. If I paint it, it will sell

This one makes me chuckle these days, but in my younger years, I believed anything I painted would sell. All I had to do was paint it.

Later on, I realized that people couldn’t buy what they didn’t know about, so I started going to shows. All I had to do was present my work. Once they saw it, they wouldn’t be able to resist it.

I can now safely say that not only does an artist have to turn out the best work they can, they also have to create something that people want and get it in front of them at a time when they have the means to buy it.

All of that is an ongoing process. . . there’s no “one-and-done” solution for artists.

3. I won’t be the one marketing my art

I’m an artist. Artists make art. That’s all I have to do. Of course, we artists understand the creating part. That’s what we were born to do. Marketing, however?

Not so much. In fact, for most of us, it’s more like “No way! I’m an artist. I don’t market!”

Think again, friend.

No one knows your work better than you do; the motivation for each piece, the things that inspire you, and all those other personal, behind-the-scenes things that go into each piece of art.

Sure, you can hire a gallery to exhibit your work or a publicist to market for you, but you’re still responsible for marketing in some form. You have to get out and among the people and engage with them.

Spend all your time in the studio and you’re likely to have a small or non-existent fan base and a studio full of unsold art.

4. I don’t need to go to college

I knew in the beginning that I needed to learn everything I could about painting in order to be the best I could be. But I eschewed college because at the time I went to college, non-representational art was all the rage.

“Let’s just express ourselves!” was the mantra. But I wasn’t into self-expression. . . that’s not why I made art. I wanted to learn how to put paint on a canvas in the best possible way to make my equine subjects look like they could blink or snort. The few classes I took didn’t teach that, so I thought I didn’t need school.

In some ways, this was the right decision. My vision wasn’t diluted by whatever was popular at the time or by the personal agenda of an art teacher whose artistic goals were in opposition to mine.

But as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to see I also failed to gain some things that could have been gained only in a classroom setting.

5. I will be able to make my living creating art

At the time, I also thought I’d be making a living from my art quickly. As in, within years of graduating high school. All I had to do was find the right client and I’d be set.

If that’s the key, then I’m still looking all these many years later.

Art has been paying for itself for many, many years. But those dreams of being a self-supporting artist have never come true. Nor are my dreams the same as they used to be.

You see, I used to think living on my art meant living on the portraits I painted. Yes, some artists do live on the sales of their artwork, but many supplement sales with other things. Teaching. Merchandise. Licensing. A day job or a spouse’s day job. Writing for art blogs.

I’ve been blessed with great clients. I’ve also been blessed to have day jobs that help me continue making art and to now have a husband who is willing to sacrifice the income of a second day job in exchange for giving me the opportunity to do more painting.

6. I will be famous

This last dream went something like this:

I’d be so well-known for my horse portraits that famous and wealthy people would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for one of my paintings. They’d pay travel expenses to have me visit their farms or race tracks or show rings so I could see their horse and create the portrait. I’d fly all around the world, painting pictures wherever I went to wide acclaim. In my own, private jet.

I laugh now as I write this, but not for the reasons you might think. You see, of all the things I’ve mentioned, this is the dream I gave up willingly. All of the rest were given up after lessons learned in the School of Life Experience. They were let go with reluctance, for the most part.

Being famous? I let that go without batting an eye. Why? Because I found other ways to measure success.

• Teary-eyed clients, joyful over a posthumous portrait of a beloved pet
• The satisfaction of a painting well done
• The joy of creation—yes, even when it’s hard work
• The places I’ve been and the things I’ve done because of my paintings

In short, I’ve learned there are things more important than wealth or fame. Things that only an artist can do. More specifically, things only I can do.

Does all this mean I’ve given up on my dreams? No way.

I’ve lived a true artist’s life, and I’ve learned that those early dreams only existed in a rose-colored version of the real world. That’s not where I live. I’ve grown as an artist and as a human being, and as a result, my goals and aspirations have also grown and matured.

As an artist who’s always wanted to live the artist’s life . . it’s a good place to be.


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