To Leap into An Art Career or Not to Leap?
Photo credit: Amoi Salakas
So, you're thinking of becoming a full-time artist eh? And you're looking for blogs of inspiration and wisdom to help you flip that coin of decision. Well, here's my two cents of advice on the subject. At the end of the day the decision is yours, and because I know the power of influence, I feel the need to put a disclaimer from the beginning.
Potential side effects from being a full-time artist may include: nausea, headaches, self-doubt, administration duties, relationship dramas, damaged deliveries, insomnia, night terrors, hot flashes, bankruptcy, high blood pressure, akathisia and more. rofl.
Other potential side effects are: joy, peace, freedom, abundance, love, renewal of youth, happiness, healing and endless growth.
There is a simple question you must ask yourself before leaving your "real" job to pursue this pretty hobby of yours. It is not the usual, popular quote attributed to Dr. Robert Schuller "What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?" The question you must search your soul for is rather the quote attributed to Dr. Brené Brown.
"What's worth doing even if I fail?"
Statistics are not encouraging to those of you at a crossroads. The average income of visual artists in Australia is less than $50,000 per year. In 2018, ArtNet released a survey of over 1,000 international artists and the figures showed that only 17 percent made 75-100 percent of their income through art. Nearly half stated that only 10 percent of their income could be attributed to their art. It is no secret that female artists fair worse than their male counterparts, and in the world of fine art only make 2% of the market. Only 30% of entrepreneurs make it to their 10th business anniversary.
Enough of the doom and gloom Sarah. Tell me I can make it. If you have known me for more than five minutes, then you would know I am an encouraging, happy-go-lucky, head in the clouds with the fairies sort of person. I am always telling my audiences to do what they love and to not allow any fears to stand in their way.
However, as someone who has been doing art for 17 years now, I feel obligated to transparently show you both sides of the coin. Yes, I can now gratefully say that my rent is paid and my children are fed through the sales of my paintings, speaking and performances. But you must also know that it is the biggest rollercoaster of emotions you will ever experience. By leaping into life as a full time artist in any spectrum, you are not solely an artist.
Suddenly you will find so many "hats" in your closet that some days it will be overwhelming and you will question your bravery and resolution with blood, sweat and tears dripping down your body. Overnight you will become a CEO, media specialist, marketing directory, inventory specialist, basic accountant, sales representative and more. There will be no more paid vacations, sick days or Christmas Parties. There will be no more contributions to your savings or retirement funds that you do not initiate. Shall I continue?
I may have a 4 year BFA degree in Studio Art, but I have spent just as much, if not more time over the years taking small business courses, speaking classes, and listening to YouTube training on how to manage an art business and all the shit that can hit the fan. If I can share one main takeaway from this rambled blog it is this...
know your why and release all your expectations.
Do not embark on an art career without knowing your why. Need some help in that department? Have a listen to this inspiring talk by Simon Sinek. The reason this is such a vital step is because, if your why is simply to make money being creative, this is a root system that will fail the storms of life...ie. global pandemics. If I only became a speed painter to work less hours making more money, then when all my events were cancelled due to Covid, I would have been emotionally and financially destroyed and would not still be in this career, writing this blog. If my why was to be seen on a stage and have people tell me I am inspiring and amazing, then when I get hate mail from religious zealots for my sexual orientation and how it is expressed...such as this recent mural, I would have crumbled.
My why goes far deeper than just making beautiful things and the freedom to work on my terms. From a young age, I felt a huge calling and responsibility to speak words of life and love through my paintings and keynotes on creativity. I would lay awake in bed, unable to sleep as young as 12 years old because I could see the masses of people that I was going to speak to you in my adult life. It weighed on my heart like an intriguing stone sculpture and sometimes I felt it with gratitude and at other times resentment. It helped me to study and work hard when all my friends were out shopping and going to the movies. It keeps me grounded when I have those moments of freak out when I receive yet another email apologising that my services are no longer needed at a future event due to cancellations or budget cuts with this damn virus. What is your why? What is stronger than the shit storms? Write it down. You will need to remind yourself what all the risk is for...
The other day I was listening to a podcast featuring Austin Kleon, the NY bestselling author for Steal Like An Artist and other awesome easy to read books (even for those of us who struggle to finish a book...it takes less than an hour to read! ). And when asked by the interviewer for words of encouragement for the artists out there wanting to leap into it full-time he made me laugh and do a double-take when he responded, "Don't do it! Why would you want to?" In many ways, I couldn't agree more. It's hard AF. It's often lonely. Unpredictable. No health care benefits or paid holidays.
And then yesterday I was listening to they super hyper happy successful female artist and director of The inspired Artist Academy, Stephanie Rose Freeman ramble away on a LIVE Instagram feed about just going for it as an artist and not listening to the naysayers and skeptics, to not let anyone stop you from taking the big leap forward. She made is seem like a no-brainer, obvious life choice.
You will find all the encouragement you want online if you look for it. You will also find all reasons why you are destined to fail...if you look for it. The choice is yours dear one. Jim Carrey, in his viral commencement speech did have some fabulous takeaways...one being, “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”
What are the true definitions of success and failure anyway? I have heard dozens of answers and have found it far more colourful explanation than merely solid black and white. For me personally, the answer continues to morph and evolve with each passing year. I used to relate success to income, number of events, social media analytics, how much my paintings sold or auctioned for...blah blah blah. After years of seeing this mentality only cause more stress and harm, I now have a different perspective on measuring my days.
What is my attitude towards the shitty days? Is my inner voice encouraging and growing in wisdom? On a scale of 1-10, how is my physical, emotional, spiritual, mental health? What is no longer serving me? Who or what do I need to let go of in order to take the next step? Where in my life is there resistance to change and growth? Did my face light up when my kids walked into the room or did I continue working?
At the end of the day if you take this leap of faith, the beautiful thing is...even if all goes belly up...you will have gone for it. You will have memories, learned heaps, and have stories worth telling. There is no shame in deciding later that you didn't enjoy the experience and want to have a go at something else... something more stable...if that even exists in any job description. Heck, artificial intelligence is even threatening my work as robots like Ai-Da are displaying their work in museums! Know your why. Do you. And do it fully.
I shall leave you with one final thought from the master himself, Bob Ross.
"There are no mistakes, just happy accidents."