Life as a visual fine artist is remarkably different from most other life pursuits. It is a path taken when the passion to create art and become better at it usurps even the most rational thought processes about traditional academic education; about steady, reliable income with reasonable expectations of financial growth; about licenses, degrees, certifications, or just the consensus of experts that our knowledge, skill and qualifications are sufficient to earn a living or gain entrance into specialized organizations; about acceptance and acknowledgment from experts in the field; about social interaction at our daily workplace.
The life of a visual fine artist is rewarding, satisfying, and, sometimes, necessary. Like many other endeavors, it has its good points. We enjoy what we do. We can do it anywhere. We can do it in our pajamas. We enjoy the process. We can often make money at it. We can teach it, earning extra money, and enjoy sharing our knowledge. We can listen to music while we work, we can decorate our homes, we can make gifts and donations of our life’s work. Our families can be with us. Our friends, relatives, clients, teachers and our peers pat us on the back and tell us how “good” we are.
But the life of an artist also has its not-so-good points. Art is one of the first products to suffer in a recessionary economy. The quality and beauty of our work, even for the most successful and skilled artists, is always subjective, always in the eye of the beholder, and subject to trends and fads. While some may think our work belongs in the Metropolitan Museum, others, including jurors, newspaper critics, gallery owners, and art collectors (and even some relatives and “friends”), may tell us to keep our day jobs. We may get into a juried exhibition and win a ribbon and not even make the cut with the same art in the next one. We may apply to one prestigious organization and be welcomed with giddy gratitude for “someone like you” being willing to participate, only to be rejected by another for work that is not to their standards, or lacks maturity and depth. The style and quality of our work may earn us a highly touted exhibition in a reputable gallery, while an equally successful venue nearby wouldn’t consider showing our work. A piece of art we consider our best work sits on a gallery wall without notice, while one we didn’t want to sign our names to receives a stream of accolades.
While our real “mission” is to make art, selling it, having it positively judged, and having it accepted and praised are integral factors in the measurement of our success. Confidence, a positive spirit, and motivation can be difficult to maintain in this sea of unpredictability. One week we are on a high due to an acceptance or award, and the next we are trying to understand why our work was declined. We have difficulty assessing the quality of our own work. We fully understand that each juror who views our work will have a unique opinion, we understand that we are at the mercy of that one single person, yet we can’t help but feel inadequate if our work is not “accepted.” Now we may even consider going back to our day jobs! Or, in an effort to preserve our psyches, we may decide that the juror doesn’t know good art when he sees it!
So how do we cope with the emotional roller coaster, with the ups and downs of our careers, with the less than steady incomes? The answers to that question are as different for each one of us as the art we produce. I believe it is important that we support one another, not just with praise, but also within our organizations, with critique groups, with educational opportunities, with shared information about techniques, tools, methodology and theory. And, yes, help with constructive criticism or suggestions. Read, share with your friends, and comment on each other’s websites, newsletters, blogs, facebook entries, and photos. The more we put art in the public view, the greater the number of artists we promote. The more the public views our art and reads artists’ comments, the more aware and, hopefully, appreciative they become. Maybe they will even become collectors.
When our muses are sitting on our shoulders and we are free from insecurities, we are able to paint with excitement and vigor. But even on less inspired days I believe we must continue to work hard, remaining vigilant for that elusive sensibility that will allow us to move closer to excellence, and tune in to the satisfying realization that the artistic hunger of our souls is fed by every mark we make.