I often get asked how to work as an artist by people who feel stuck in their lives. They feel a sense of creativity and a desire to make, but they don’t know how to get the art into the world.
Why does that happen for some people but not others? Is it luck? Is it connections? Is it a trust fund or patron?
No, that’s not how to be an artist.
LET’S START WITH THE DEFINITION OF AN ARTIST
To my mind, an artist is someone who makes – whether it’s a performance, a painting, a poem – and then imbues what was made with meaning.
An artist is a meaning maker.
Do you want to know how to be an artist? Make things. Make them well. And make them meaningful.
BUT WHAT DO ARTISTS DO?
Artist Grayson Perry recently spoke about a group of schoolchildren who were asked that question by a museum curator. One little girl offered, “Artists are people who sit at Starbucks and eat organic food.”
But after touring the museum, the curator asked the question again.
This time the little girl said, “Artists notice things.”
It takes a special kind of person to notice things. And it takes courage to create something from those observations.
The real art world is a far cry from how popular culture views us – the slothful drunk, the starving dreamer and the Starbucks-sipping hippie. But being an artist goes beyond those labels into how we view the world and the choices that we make.
For making art is not just what artists do, it’s who we are.
Do you want to know how to be an artist? Start noticing in a deeper way. See everything around you and pay attention.
HOW TO DEVELOP AS AN ARTIST
Over the past few years, I’ve been interviewing artists about the course of their careers and how they developed and grew.
I always ask for advice they might have for others in regard to how to be an artist. Invariably it’s the same: “Know your art history.”
Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It flourishes through an exchange of ideas and resources and influences with others. And the best mentors are the artists who came before you.
Learn about them. Understand their work and the challenges they faced.
This is your field! Whether you go to art school or not, choose to be educated. For artists this is an ongoing task, the more you engage, the more you grow.
Do you want to know how to be an artist? Visit museums and galleries. Research other artists. Read about art. Talk to other artists. Listen to podcasts and audiobooks about art. Never stop learning.
OVERCOME THE BLOCKS
I believe that it’s important to focus on connecting with your voice and developing your craft in order to strengthen your art-making practice and to bring meaning to your work. But sometimes that’s not enough.
Why is it so hard to be an artist?
Almost always, the answer comes down to fear
- Fear of not making enough money
- Fear of not being good enough
- Fear of not being young enough, thin enough, smart enough…
It all comes down to the fear of not being enough. But the thing is, you are enough. You really are.
We all have fears to battle. I’ve got ‘em, you’ve got ‘em, and I’m here to tell you that the most successful artists in the world have them. The difference is who allows fear to stop them and who works through fear.
You can’t silence your fears, but you can choose to stop listening to them and refuse to let them slow you down.
One of the best ways I know to conquer fear is to seek inspiration. Nothing zaps fear like a big dose of AH HA!
Another method to overcoming fear is to empower yourself through education. If something scares you, learn more so that you can gain mastery over it.
Do you want to know how to be an artist? Overcome your fears and strive to learn those things that stop you.
BUT WHAT IF I’M STILL AFRAID TO WORK AS AN ARTIST?
It’s very common for artists to be afraid to take the leap. There are a lot of unknowns in the art business. Not only that, as an artist, you’re putting the most personal and most vulnerable part of yourself out there for the world to judge. It takes confidence.
But lack of confidence has stopped too many artists.
I sometimes suggest that artists who struggle with confidence, mirror other artists. Or even adopt a superhero or secret persona that they lead with.
Who you could imagine as your secret alter-ego? Who inspires you with their work or their journey? This artist can be dead or still living, it can even be fictitious. But when things get challenging, and your confidence fails, you can put on your cape (or beret) to draw upon this artist’s strength and wisdom.
I’ll give you an example. I’m currently having an artist-crush on Salvador Dali. When things don’t go my way, I meditate on Dali for a few minutes and find myself smiling in no time. I may not have a moustache to twirl, but I’m reminded to put the glint back in my eye and stop taking life so seriously.
The work is serious. Life – not so much.
How to be an artist when it’s such a terrifying prospect? Find someone to emulate and discover courage through channeling them.
HOW DO I PRESENT MYSELF AS AN ARTIST?
A lot of artists don’t know how to present themselves or package their work.
That’s why it’s important to find your brand. Now before you start weeping, let me assure you that it’s not about being slick or show-offy. It’s not about pretending that you’re someone who you’re not.
Finding your brand is about authenticity. And authenticity is the strongest way to present yourself as an artist.
I suggest that you start by looking at your art. Even if you work in several mediums or styles. What’s the golden thread that holds it altogether? What’s the “why” of why you make art?
What are you exploring with your work? Is it technical? Personal? Social?
What are you using your work to say about yourself and your world?
If your answer is “I make art to express my feelings,” go deeper. That’s not interesting and I know there’s more there. What feelings? About what? Why?
It’s important that you identify this golden thread, because from here, from this place of authenticity, driven by your creativity, this is where the work comes from. And this, quite simply, is your “brand.”
And it’s also the most powerful way for you to attract an audience. So when you use social media, when you build your website, when you send out your newsletters, when you promote your exhibitions, everything you do says to the world “Here I am.”
Do you want to know how to be an artist? Find your authentic brand and share it.
MANAGE YOUR TIME
I believe that taking the time to manage your stress is part of every artist’s creative practice. You’ve got to put tools in place to overcome overwhelm. Someone once advised when life is going too fast, put in speed bumps. Slow it down.
The best place to start is at your workspace: your studio, your desk, your computer. Your workspace is a reflection of your brain. And if that sentence just freaked you out, then it’s time to give everything a good cleaning.
Go through those piles on your desk, and those files on your desktop. Clean your studio. You’ve got to organize in order to prioritize. And prioritizing is key in time management.
Do you want to know how to be an artist? Manage your time and resources through prioritizing and organization. Handle your art practice professionally as if you were running any other business.
THINK LIKE AN ENTREPRENEUR
In business school, they talk about The Stages of Entrepreneurship. But in art school, they don’t even use the word entrepreneur.
Artists are entrepreneurs. That’s the truth. And it’s the difference between the old economy and the new. But that’s fine for people who went to business school. What about those people who want to know how to be an artist?
To start, you learn. You learn everything you can about your craft, your practice, your ideas, your voice, and about yourself.
And then you learn about the business of art. This is where I can help. I offer a powerful online course called The Working Artist Masterclass. It’s comprehensive, on-demand, and even fun! I support my artists with monthly Coaching Calls, even after you finish the course. You can learn more here.
Do you want to know how to be an artist? Do the work. Every day.
Don’t wait for the world to discover you. Show it who you are.
Do you want to learn more about transforming your own art practice? Sign up for my mailing list today!