When I was younger and contemplated a life as an artist, I will admit that I looked upon it more as a lifestyle option rather than a career. I had this glamorous view of living a bohemian lifestyle, associating with interesting and like-minded people, and making a living from doing something I loved.
I think a lot of people go into the art world with the same naive and unformed views. Living the lifestyle of an artist sounds fun and very countercultural. Working for yourself rather than a boss seems fantastic. Setting your own hours rather than the humdrum nine-to-five grind also seems very appealing. And, there's that certain cachet that comes with "being in the arts."
When I began my apprenticeship, after receiving my BFA, I had the mind-set I have described. Everything seemed very bohemian, exciting, glamorous and cool. For about nine months I drifted along in my little dreamworld as I painted and thought to myself, "Wow, I can do this and people will actually pay me for just having fun." It didn't exactly turn out that way. My first big project was a commission by a man who wanted a portrait of himself standing in front of his favorite bar. I excitedly went to the bar and took pictures of him posing and went back to the studio to begin painting. Trying to paint someone else's own vision of themselves is fraught with danger. Even great artists have struggled with this problem and I was not a great artist.
After more months than I like to remember, I finished the painting and excitedly made an appointment with the man who had commissioned the it. I had the painting framed and set out to show the finished work to my client. He took one look at my painting and and said, "I don't like it." He then turned his back and walked back into his office. I was crushed but I was also angry. How dare he dismiss my weeks and weeks of hard work without so much as a pleasant word?"
I had just stumbled upon one of the great fallacies that surrounds being an aritist: the presumption that you are so special that people will immediately want to part with their hard-earned money or a non-utilitarian item. I had the cocky presumption of youth and inexperience.
I took to my bed or several days and felt sorry for myself and then returned to the studio to tell my mentor what had happened. He was not the least bit surprised. He said that he knew all along that the man wouldn't like my portrait of him. And, he pointed out that I had no reason to be angry or upset. That's the way the cookie crumbles. This was my first hard lesson about being an artist: You are not some chosen person sprinkled with gold dust. You, like everyone else who works for a living, must satisfy someone else. You are not the stream that flows with creativity to be accepted unconditionally. You must have an audience that loves your work and that audience must be earned and their interest in your work takes much honing.
So, I found myself, about six months into my apprenticeship learning something that would stay with me to this very day. Being an artist is hard work. It takes hours and hours of work to create one really good piece of art. For every good piece of art, you probably make 20 that are so-so. This art thing doesn't come easily.
As for the glamour and the lure of the bohemian lifestyle, that all becomes a pipe dream when you have to consider how you will pay the rent, how you will get your old car repaired, how you will buy groceries. Yes, you are working your own hours but you find that you are forced to work many more hours than the average nine-to-five worker with a steady paycheck. And, whenever you finish a piece and hope it sells, you are putting your ego on the line.
I learned all these lessons the hard way and that is the great thing about being an apprentice. You eventually see that even a really, really, good artist has to deal with the matter of paying the bills, of finding the right client, of satisfying someone else's image of what they want.
Most artists know that some of their work tends to sell better than others. This becomes their bread and butter. Innovative and truly creative work is appreciated by a much smaller group of people. When you have a mortgage payment due and need the money, you must paint something you are fairly sure that will sell. Those with their heads in the clouds will chastise you for "selling out." Sometimes you chastise yourself for selling out, but life brings obligations.
There is a saying among artist that "those who can't paint; teach." I heard this many times and even believed it during my heady days of innocence. The fact is that great artists often teach in order to continue painting or making their more innovative pieces of art. And, having been a teacher myself, I know that teaching brings a special kind of joy.
There is much more I could write about being an artist, but I will save that for my next ramble down memory lane. I don't have the answers. I just have the questions and I have my own experiences to draw upon. You may think I'm full of b.s. It doesn't really matter at this point in my life. All I can do is to try to point out what happened to me, in my life, and what I learned. And I am still learning every single day. I'm nearly 65 and I know that I damn sure don't know all the answers. I have more doubts and questions now than when I was a cocky young girl in pigtails who thought she could easily conquer the art world. Yeah, I was a naive and self-important little snit. But time and experience knocked me to my knees and I had to get up time and time again and try to do things the best I could. I'm still doing that every day.
Ta-Ta for now. It's late and I'm going to watch "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and relax.