Before wading into this post I will make a declaration: Working as a professional artist is wonderful. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. Period. But having declared my love for the career I have chosen, I will declare something else: professional art-making is hard work. I use the word “professional” with its formal meaning of getting paid for one’s services or output. Dreamy notions of painting en plein air on a golden summer’s day (with gentle breezes), or letting the muses take hold, resulting in artwork that brings you to tears because of its loveliness, well, these are dreamy notions. Making art for a living reminds me of the circus act of spinning plates. There is the marketing plate that must always be in rapid motion: sales, self promotion, social media, “door knocking.” Other whirling discs include grant writing, submissions for exhibitions, and “trying to stay organized.” Then there is the creativity plate, the actual making of artwork.
The actual making of art includes creating art on deadline, creating massive amounts of works for an exhibit, creating a work in a specific size and colors for a specific location, creating art purely for speculation. Sometimes I make art I am deeply proud of. Sometimes I make art that is ultimately, painfully, tossed in the garbage. All of this making of art involves creativity, hard work, frustration, reward, serendipity, happiness, despair. You must work when the muse strikes, and when it does not. Often in my basement studio I long for the warm breezes of plein air. Often in my basement studio I feel like falling to my knees and kissing the paint-stained carpet because I do not live my work life in a cubicle as I once did.
After 20 years in the “art business,” I am struck by the ethos of hard work and determination shared by my artist friends and colleagues. Driven, passionate, hard-working, a bit obsessed: these are characteristics that bubble to the surface of the personalities of the artists I have gotten to know. We all know that good work does not sell itself. It must be seen, seen where a specific someone likes what you have created, and is willing to pay for it (and that you have asked a price that is considered fair). Sounds easy. Did I mention that making art is actually hard work?