Artists have always led an interesting life. Back in the days of hired portrait painters, the artists were often not able to support themselves. They had to find a “patron” in order to practice their craft. They studied for years under other painters, learning techniques and styles, and when they came out of apprenticeships, they were without money, a job, or a place to live. They would find wealthy families to work for, often living on site, and painting portraits of family members and the homes they lived in.
This post is about something that’s been on my mind quite a bit lately. I hope this doesn’t come off as a rant, because it’s not supposed to. I’m instead hoping that this can open a few more eyes to our words and how we use them.
The artists life is often looked at as the dream. “You just get to do what you love all day! Isn’t that great?” Well let me tell you, as great as it sounds, it’s not without its struggles. Just like any job!
I want to first point out that this is like any other job, and there are parts we artists enjoy and parts we do not. For instance, by running my own business, I am now my own accountant, secretary, designer, manufacturer, packaging specialist, sales clerk, social media guru, marketing & branding specialist, and product photographer. And these are just the titles I came up with off the top of my head! My life isn’t always filled with blissful days creating whatever comes to mind, it’s dictated by what sells and who orders what.
This may sound like I’m complaining. I’m not. I just want to open up the conversation about the overly romanticized idea of the life of an artist. We do love what we do, or else we wouldn’t do it. But shouldn’t everybody love what they’re doing? You don’t have to love every part of your job, but if you don’t at least have an interest in some of it, what are you doing?
The next part to this conversation is the idea of art being a hobby. I often get people who come into my booth at art fairs and rave about pottery, and how they wish they had time for their hobbies, too, because this one time they took a pottery class and made a pinch pot and they still have it and it holds pennies on their dresser and it’s really nicely. Great. I love it. More people should play in clay. It’s therapeutic and downright fun! But let’s not downgrade a profession. We all do it. In an attempt to relate to one another, we all like to compare experiences. But finding a way to still respect what others do for a living is important.
This brings us to the last part of this conversation: talent. Talent is a word that gets thrown around in the art world way too casually. I think that most people genuinely think it’s a compliment, and in some ways it is. It says that you’re good at what you do. But (and here’s the part the artists struggle with) it also implies that this is just something you are already good at. You were born with this talent, and it comes easily to you. Calling an artist simply talented often disregards the years and years of studying, working, practicing, and failing that goes along with the profession. Art is learned. I can’t tell you how many pots I’ve smashed in my lifetime (it always feels so great to do it! but that’s a blog post for another time…) because they didn’t turn out in the kiln, or I made them poorly, or I got a bad critique and realized just how ugly they were. I’ve had so many failed pieces in the past that I can’t begin to count them. There were plenty of all nighters in the studio in college that often ended in tears. I’ve attended clay conferences, artist talks, and group critiques. I’ve researched and applied to numerous shows and gallery exhibitions. As an artist, you have to track down your sales. You have to market yourself and your work, and put yourself out there to even get the slightest bit of notice. Customers don’t always come flocking. There is so much more to this career than most people even think about. So to say that an artist is successful based on talent alone really down plays every other part of what they do.
So next time you are at an artists booth or gallery show or run into them at the grocery store, try to find another word to describe what you’re trying to say. Do you think everything they make is great? Tell them they are good at what they do. Do you like their latest work? Tell them the reasons why. Do you love the colors/patterns/textures in a piece? Tell them how creative you thought that part was. I bet you that they’ll be much more interested in having a conversation with you about their work 🙂
Hopefully I didn’t scare anyone off. This isn’t a raging rant, it was meant to be a helpful post that will open the door to a more respectful conversation about artists and their work! Let me know what you think, and artists, what are your thoughts on this subject?