Readers please note: This post was originally published on another of my blog sites ‘CreativityPro’ and the reaction over there was a mixture of hilarity (by those who have really read and understood the post) and anger from those who didn’t really read the post properly, or understand inversely motivational humour it contains. Now that this post has found a new home on DrawPj.com the humour might seem a little coarse as DrawPj is a caring and nurturing community 🙂 But still, it contains some valuable observations about becoming an artist. So that said, please make sure you put your tongue firmly in your cheek before reading, smile and enjoy the roller coaster ride!

So, having said that, on with the article…

We’ve all seen the deluded souls on Pop Idol shows, absolutely convinced that they are the next big thing, staring open mouthed in disbelief as the judges proceed to tell them that they have no hope whatsoever of going anywhere anytime soon with their dream. Are you the equivalent of that person in the art world?

If you are thinking about making the big leap into the professional art world or even if you’ve been in it for while with limited success, here are some very good reasons why you should bring your dreams to a screeching halt and go and live 9 to 5 in a cubicle.

1. You are really not very good at Art

Yes, your Mum says you are ‘so very talented’, and Uncle Ernie used to paint a bit so it must ‘run in the family’, but really, are you any good at art whatsoever? Good art has a certain something about it, an aura, special magic or just down to earth old fashioned skill embedded deep within it. It outshines other lesser art when placed on a wall beside it. Can your art do that? Can YOU do that? I suggest you think about this very carefully before you embark on your journey as professional artist. If you haven’t got the chops go and learn some technique. If you haven’t got any original or interesting ideas then go and learn how to think like a professional artist. Be honest with yourself. If you are not particularly good at art go and get a real job instead and save yourself a lot of disappointment.

2. You are Lazy

Art and being a professional artist is hard work. Yes, you may of heard about artists who seem to stumble from bar to bar, retreating at night to their studio to throw paint at canvas for a few hours of creative angst, but is this the reality of being an artist? Can you be a lazy stumbling bum and make money in this game? The reality of being a professional artist is that it is hard work, with lots of effort, thinking, organising, marketing, strategising, researching, learning, networking, and pure relentless obsessiveness with no guarantee of financial return as you make a name for yourself. Sure you might be able to slack off a bit when you finally ‘make it’, but in reality you’ll probably be in so much demand that your art dealer keeps wanting more and more from you. If you are bone-arse lazy go and get a real job where you can expend a minimum amount of effort to get by and still get paid.

3. CA$H! You are purely motivated by the lure of easy money

‘I could do that!’ you exclaim as you walk around the art gallery. ‘$3000 for a paint splat. Money for nothing! I want in on that action!’ you think to yourself. In reality the artwork that you see on the wall selling for many thousands of dollars is probably created by an artist who has spent many years developing his or her reputation to the point where they can justify a high price. There’s a whole story of development, exploration and experimentation going on behind the scenes that you just don’t see by looking at an artwork hanging on the wall. Then there are the costs involved such as advertising, materials and the gallery’s percentage. Pretty soon that $3000 is whittled down to $1200 profit for the artist. Coupled with the fact that this artist might actually only sell one of these paintings every month, the Ca$H angle starts to look a little pale if that is the only income that the artist has until their next big exhibition, which might be only every two years with a serious gallery. If you want in on the easy money scene there a plenty of other ways out there described in downloadable ebooks with ‘guaranteed systems for generating CA$$H with absolutely no effort on your part whatsoever’. If these don’t work for you, then consider a real job where the easy cash pops into your bank account simply for turning up to your cubicle every day and looking busy.

4. You have no business sense

‘Yes’ you have decided, ‘I will be a professional obsessive artist, creating fantastic artworks in my studio, the value of which will skyrocket when the world finally sees them and recognises my genius’. The question is who is the person who will get those artworks out of your studio, into the world and in front of buyers? Who will put them out there day after day until one day there is a breakthrough and you finally become recognised for your genius? Certainly at the early stages it will be YOU; at least until a super high profile Gallery director steps in to take care of all that nasty business related stuff like schmoozing collectors, marketing, sales and paying the bills. Exhibitions cost real money. Art materials cost real money. Marketing costs real money. You could seriously go down a financial black hole if you’ve been working on an exhibition for the last six months only to have the exhibition completely tank. If you have no business sense go and get some before you start. Even if you do manage to avoid this by finding someone who ‘takes care of business’ for you (who you would presumably pay handsomely for the privilege), you are leaving yourself wide open to being ripped off if you have no clue what’s going on in your accounts or your business. Go and get a real job if all of this business stuff seems too much trouble.

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5. You like financial security

Oh how comforting is the steady ebb and flow of money into your bank account as you work away in your day-to-day job. The bills are paid regularly, there’s food on the table and your retirement plan is building nicely for when you quit work at 60 and sail around the world on a never ending cruise ship holiday. When ‘the system’ works it’s great. Everything is taken care of and that’s why the system is designed this way. Comfort. On the other hand, picture this. The artworks you make cost you time and money to create. There is no guarantee of sales. Occasionally someone buys one of your artworks and bumps your bank account up a bit. You have an exhibition to prepare for and all the time you are working on this you will not be paid. Your Gallery Director tells you that half of the exhibition expenses such as advertising, food, drink and staffing will be taken out of the up front sales of your artworks, so you won’t make any money until you sell a few thousand dollars worth of paintings. Oh and the gallery takes 40 to 50% commission too. Does this sound inviting to you? If you are already financially independent then go for it. If like the rest of us, you still need to get paid in order to get by then think very carefully. You’re a bit like a venture capitalist, investing in your own future potential to make lots of money. Do you have the confidence to back yourself? Will you bail when the going gets tough? If you love your financial security blanket I suggest you be happy with your lot as a “Sunday Painter”. Don’t give up the day job.

6. You think that being represented by a Gallery will be your ticket to financial security, fame and fortune.

Out of the thousands of artists in your area, only a few are actually represented by your local upmarket art gallery. You think to yourself, ‘surely if I can get my art accepted by that gallery my work will sell’. Let’s face facts. Yes, there are galleries out there which just by being represented by them will confer some kind of specialness and value on your art. They can command many thousands of dollars for each artwork by their artists, and art collectors buy from them because they know that the chances are the art they buy will appreciate in value. If you can get into this gallery then the chances are that you have done a substantial amount of work to get there. You are an established and serious artist. These kinds of galleries tend to only look after a small stable of artists and don’t tend to bring new ones in very often. You may have to look elsewhere for gallery representation, towards the galleries that take a chance on new and emerging artists. They turn over new artists all the time, looking for gems to build up a stable of steady sellers so they too can become established and serious. There is no guarantee that you will sell anything in these galleries, but they are the ones that may take a chance on you. Yes, being represented by the right gallery can be a ticket to fame and fortune for some, but it can take years for a gallery to build your reputation. Are you willing to hang in there long enough until you are an established artist? If you are impatient try representing yourself. At least you will get to keep all the money you make. Otherwise go and get a real job, save your money, make some wise investments and you might get to retire early and live out your artist dream some way down the track.

7. You’re brilliant. Everyone says so. But you’re not quite sure

You know somewhere deep down inside that your artwork is absolutely remarkable, but you don’t really like to show people because it’s not quite perfect yet, but because everyone is saying you’re so good you’ll give it a go anyway and see what happens. If this is you I gently suggest the following – “GET OVER YOURSELF and do it QUICKLY”. Perfectionism is great, but know when to stop. Nobody cares if your painting is finished in your eyes, it only has to be finished in their eyes! Here’s the news… no artist that I know of is ever completely content with their artwork. There’s always something that can be improved upon, but you have to end your relationship with your artworks at some stage because you have to sell them. If you are reluctantly giving this profession a go but secretly think that you and your art are never good enough then make it easy on yourself and save yourself from misery. Go and get some therapy for your perfectionism, work on your self esteem and get a real job so you can be a miserable perfectionist on someone else’s money while you do this. Revisit being an artist when you’ve actually read and understood the contents of your motivational book collection.

8. You expect instant success

Lots of artists are an instant success. You see them pop up all the time in the press and on the TV. They come from nowhere and suddenly command huge sums of money for their artworks. In reality though that perceived instant success as reported by the media happened as a result of years of work on the part of the artist. Like most things in life, being a professional artist takes time, experimentation and a lot of hard work. Reputation takes time to build. Prices take time to build. Your business will take time to build. Your instant success as reported by the media will take time to build. You have to be in it to win it for the long haul. If you are impatient then maybe you should look for quick success and satisfaction in a real job. Look for a job where someone else has already built a money train for you to hop onto and is willing to pay you with cash and equity to translate your impatience for success into growth for their business.

9. You like to be completely in control of everything

You turn up to your first ever exhibition opening night and look around at your artworks which the Gallery Director has hung impeccably. The show looks great. ‘But wait…that painting over there, it isn’t in the right spot, it doesn’t look right and the lighting isn’t as good as it could be. It must be fixed or the whole show could be a disaster!’ In a worried huff you decide to tackle the gallery staff about the issue. They think it looks just fine and tell you not to worry. You insist. It must be changed or your grand vision will be compromised. The Gallery Director hears the discussion and comes over. He disagrees with you. You start to get a little upset. The Gallery Director has an ego that’s just as big as yours and he starts to get a little offended that you would question his hanging of your exhibition in his gallery. Pretty soon the situation escalates and it’s ‘handbags at ten paces’. Your need for total control is about to see you ejected from the gallery’s stable of artists after your first opening night! The situation described here may seem extreme but it does happen. It’s an easy situation to get into because like you as an aspiring superstar artist, Gallery Directors tend to have large egos too. It’s a character trait that gives them an extra swagger when dealing with artists and a larger than life aura when negotiating with clients. It’s a Yin and Yang thing. If you like to be completely in control of everything and are uncomfortable about letting your gallery do what they are best at maybe you should find real employment (possibly as the Dictator of a small country or a Hot Dog Stand operator). Of course, when you become a huge success and the money is rolling in you can afford to be a bit of a diva. Until then negotiate nicely or find alternative employment.

10. You’re not willing to compromise your art by being ‘commercial’.

Believe it or not some artists do not want their art to be seen by the masses. They want it to be exclusive, for the select few who can appreciate it, thinking that this exclusivity will demonstrate that they are serious artists. These kind of artists definitely do not want to see their art on wine bottles, t-shirts, drink coasters, posters. They do not want to change their artworks in order to accommodate a client who likes cats. They do not want to do a commission because the client wants a piece that is a little bit like the one that just sold to someone else. They do not want to paint subjects which people actually like to buy. They are unwilling to compromise their colour schemes in order to make their art easier to sell to people with fashionable homes. These artists just cannot and will not bring themselves into the commercial world whatsoever lest they devalue their Art with a capital A.

Lets face facts:

  • If you like to sell your work then you are indeed a commercial artist.
  • The work of famous artists has to be seen by the masses in order for it to become famous.
  • You will find the work of famous artists on postcards, posters, books, mugs, umbrellas, watches and other assorted memorabilia in just about any major city art gallery souvenir shop.
  • Some of the world’s most famous contemporary artists work with commercial companies to create images to promote their products.
  • Not everyone can afford your paintings, but if a million people want to buy your postcard for two dollars who cares?

If you can’t stand the thought of your art being in the commercial world, create your own job and become a professional non-commercial artist by writing lots of grant applications to extract money from government organisations to fund your non-commercial ideas. Does filling out grant applications for a living sound like fun to you? The commercial world of art beckons once more…really, it wouldn’t kill you to paint that cat.