I spent a lot of time learning how to be an artist in school, and while my various schools and mentors were helpful, and at times incredible, they fell short on a few realities of being an artist full-time, so below I am sharing some real talk, lessons learned about doing art full-time, and what that means in this crazy digital world.
1. You're only going to get to "do art" 40% of the time, and thats a conservatively high estimate. A majority of your time will be spent tracking finances, marketing, packaging for shows and sales, photographing your work, updating your website, writing artist statements and grant proposals, applications, ordering random shit you never in your life thought you would need and thanking sweet baby jaysus for amazon prime. You will also learn how to be an accountant, a customer service representative, a full sales team, a CEO and all around boss-ass-bitch. Now this may seem overwhelming, but it's not all bad, you get wear a lot of hats, when you're in a creative rut you can focus on administrative things and still put the hours in on your biz.
2. Social Media will be your best friend and your most annoying enemy. If you plan to have a retail component of your art, outside of galleries, prepare to become the person you swore you would never be; all the hashtags, all the targeted advertising, all the promotions, all the salesy things you hate but need. But don't feel overwhelmed, you don't need to do all the social medias, you need to focus on two primary venues to spend a majority of your efforts, and since you are the CEO and Marketing director, as I stated above, you get to decide what works best for you market and your preferred communication medium.
3. You don't have to show in galleries to be legit. This is a big one for me, obviously spending the amount of time I spent studying art in college, you learn that you need to be in galleries to be relevant. While I think this is true on some level, for some artists, I don't think you should feel bad if you are showing and moving work through other venues. Pop-up shops, coffee shops, hair salons, random hallways in libraries or hospitals, it doesn't matter - what matters is that your work is out in the world.
What matters most is that you are making work that leaves you feeling creatively excited and challenged.
4. No one is going to take you seriously if you don't take yourself seriously. This one seems obvious, but if you talk about your work and pursuit of that work as a hobby, or pet project, people will pick up on that. I believe part of this comes from the popularity of sites like Etsy, which has allowed the weekend crochet warrior to make a little cash off their hobby, don't get me wrong, I love this and it is incredible and great! But for those of us who are grinding it out full time, it makes it imperative that we frame discussions about our work and our business in a professional way. Call people out, "Yes, I'm still working on that 'little painting thing', which by the way pulled in 3K at my last opening, thanks for asking!", "Did you see my work published in Washingtonian Magazine last month? It was the feature story."
Talk about your studio practice like other people talk about their cubicles and spreadsheets, they are equally valid and legitimate careers.
5. Don't take it personally when people don't take you seriously. Their adverse reaction to you calling yourself, and thus being, an artist, is more a reflection of their own issues than your choices. A lot of people aren't chasing their dreams until they drop dead from exhaustion, and the reasons for them not doing this vary so much, don't let them in your head.
Keep running after your goals, don't be distracted by the haters on the sidelines.
6. Prepare to work 70 hours a week, and then some more. Your list is never ending, but the perks of having your office be a messy, colorful, challenging space where you get to critically evaluate the world and your work every single day, makes it worth every second of the grind.
7. Build a team, and I don't mean hire a staff. Well wait, if you have the funds to hire people, DO THAT, because then you will get to do more art, and have a team of cool people help you chase down your goals. But most of us can't afford a staff, so by team I mean, build your bench. You need to have people in your corner to bounce ideas, show work, edit rambling blog posts (I know you hate parentheses, but thanks Jas <3), they need to be honest when you ask for feedback, and tell you to get your ass to work when you have been slacking off. You will find these gem-human hyrids amongst your friends and family, but you also may need to seek them out online. Find a creative community where other small business owners are talking about their stuggles and their wins, I am a member of a few online groups for Etsy retailers, and also women entrpreneurs, and I have to say the adivce and comraderie I feel from my other makers, makes it possible to keep my nose to the grindstone.
Until next time, I'll be grinding it out, covered in paint, chugging coffee, sweating at my to-do list, and desperately googling how to be your own accountant when you suck at math...