A Life in Paint
I had a completely different topic planned for today's post, then I checked my email and decided to answer the writer's question. I've reproduced the correspondence below, with permission:
Dear Mr. Parker,
I really like your work and I've been reading your blog since my junior year. My name is Brad and I'm 19 years old. I love to paint and draw and want to be a professional artist. I cannot afford art college and am not sure whether I want to go anyway. What advice can you give me as someone who has been there and made it as an artist?
Well, Brad, first, thank you for the question. I have to admit, I did giggle a bit at the idea of someone looking to me for advice, but I do appreciate it. I'll do my best to answer your question. I've distilled my response down into 5 top tips. Here we go:
1. Art School: Yay or Nay: Let me first say, education is never a waste of time. What we learn in life shapes us into the people we become and as artists, those lessons and experiences will find a way into our work. That being said, for me, art school was a big NAY. Why? I was never much of a student, not in a classical sense. I consider myself quite intelligent, but I don't function well within the traditional classroom paradigm. I'm the kind of guy that needs to learn at my own pace, at my own time, in my own way. Also, like you, I couldn't afford it and couldn't see myself going into debt for something I didn't really need. You don't need an art school education to be an artist, what you need is an ability to, in this case, paint or draw, and the passion to do it. School can't give you that. Further, art schools don't teach you the most fundamental lesson of being a working artist, the business behind it. If I had it to do over again, I may have gone to some sort of university or college and taken a few business and/or psychology classes. If you're not the type that has a real burning desire to go to art school, I say skip it. The local library, the internet and your own desire to hone your skills are all the schoolin' you need.
2. Art is a Business, and a Real Tough One: While you're honing your style and learning all you need and want to learn, one thing you need to do immediately is to get your head out of the clouds, if indeed it's there. The chances of some rich benefactor just happening by, seeing your work and propelling you into a life a riches and glory are slim to none. It doesn't work that way. Art is a business and it's a hard one. Creating the work is the easy part. After that, you have to market the work, somehow get it out there for the world to see, and you're competing with literally millions of other artists vying for attention. You have to know how to price your work so that you're covering your costs and making a little money for things like, you know, food and shelter. That's where an understanding of business comes in. You are going to work just as hard at non art, business stuff as you are at creating work. Get a website, pay the 40 bucks or so for a professional one, it just looks better. If you really don't have the cash to do that, you can go on one of the art selling sites like Fine Art America or Etsy, but eventually, you will want to get your own website. Get on social media, post new work, works in progress, etc. Some of your first sales will likely be friends and family from the various social media sites you're active on. Also, get yourself into art shows in your local community. Be everywhere to be noticed. If people don't know about your work, they can't buy it. Think about it, how do you think the Kardashians became famous and continue to maintain that fame? They're freakin' EVERYWHERE!
3. Don't Take it Personally: When you begin to put your work out there, you're going to hear all sorts. You'll her criticism, and you'll hear accolades. Starting out, I found the accolades the toughest to deal with. That sounds funny, so I'll explain. It's not the accolades per se, that bothered me, I mean everyone loves praise, but it was the empty accolades, the people who "love your work", have got to have it, but they never take that leap to buy. Or the ones that ask a price, get you all excited and you never hear back. When your living depends on selling your work, those things are tough to take. The thing is, not everyone can afford original art, life can be expensive and art isn't food or shelter. Some people are simply browsers and never really planned to buy. Others may come back later for the piece they asked about or another. It's hard not to take it personally, or to get pissed off at what feels like a waste of your time, but it really isn't personal. Always be respectful and remember, you don't know their circumstances, just like they don't know yours.
4. Find Your Style: Practice, practice, practice. Read about other artists, look at lots of art. Experiment with different styles as you're learning. Find your voice, your unique expression, that thing that makes your work unique.
5. Do Other Stuff: Starting out, you'll likely have to keep your day job. You can't just pick up a brush and quit your job thinking you'll somehow make a living as an artist. I worked for years while I was building my career, until I didn't have to. You'll need money to survive. The romantic myth of the starving artist, the idea that that desperation, that hunger, that despair, somehow fuels creativity and makes art better is complete and utter BS! Have you ever done your best anything when your stomach is growling from hunger? Would you want a surgeon to operate on you if all he could think about was how he can't pay his rent today and the fact that he's weak from hunger? On the contrary, you do your best work when you feel free and safe, safe because the wolves aren't at the door and free to create inspiring, wonderful work. Also, get out and do other things. Don't paint 24 hours a day, I did it for years and that obsession ruined my health. I got fat and sluggish and became a very one dimensional person. Work hard, yes, but remember, there are other things in life, people who love you, people you love, fresh air, exercise, experiences. All those experiences will not only help you to be a more well rounded, happy and healthy person, but they'll also fuel your work; you can't be inspired to paint if you never see or experience new things.
That's all I can think of for now. Good luck.