I went to get a haircut early last week and endured a barrage of questions about my choice of career. Did I go to school? Do I make any money? Do I have a house? Do I have a family? Was I the type of kid who couldn’t pay attention in class?
I went to school. I do make money. I do own a house. I do have a family. I was a good student.
Later in the week I went to the dentist. The dental assistant again began assaulting me with similar questions. After a beat the dentist came into the room and said “Artist, what does that mean? Do you have CDs?”
CDs in 2019? “No. I am a painter, visual artist.” I said flatly.
“Well that’s not something you hear every day.” He replied.
I don’t know what dentists hear every day. I do know, as an artist, I often get interrogated about being an artist. “I am an artist.” Is often followed by a moment of silent horror. Then sympathy for my situation. Then a deluge of questions.
I want to answer some of the most common, and respectful, questions I receive about being an artist. Each of my answers could be vastly expanded into their own chapters and represent my own opinion. However, I find that when I am actually in conversation people tend to want the short response.
Why did I want to become an artist?
It seemed like the best possible job a person could have.
What are the benefits of being an artist?
The main benefit I can think of quickly is I do not have a boss. No one has control over what I choose to paint. This became more important to me the longer I was employed. Simply put, an art job was not of interest to me after a decade as a toy designer and product developer. I wanted to create freely as a visual artist.
How long have you been on your own selling your art?
Since October of 2007.
Could I have had a different career?
Yes, and no.
Is being an artist a good career?
Yes, if you have a passion for art. Otherwise you will see it as a difficult job. I think this goes for any career.
Why is art so important?
I like the quote, “...because we’re creative. The least important, most important thing.” -Don Draper from Mad Men Season 4 Episode 12
What is the purpose of art anyway?
I imagine that is different for all artists. I could answer that question so many ways depending on my mood. In general, I feel art is a conversation that happens over time. Many people participate in advancing the dialogue. Art is also typically seen as an elective study. As such, participation isn’t mandatory.
How do I start a career in art?
I find that developing skills are important. Spending time developing a process results in objects I can sell. Progressing as an artist is, in part, the act of creating sellable art objects.
Can you be a successful artist without a degree?
Yes, and many have. I went to Art Center College of Design and graduated with a BFA. I value my education and I feel it has been instrumental to my success. If you do not want to be in school anymore… If you have no regular art making activities… If you have no portfolio of art beyond a few pages in a sketchbook… Then an art college is not for you. Again many successful artists have not gone to college. However, you will be competing against people who enjoyed college and took an art education seriously. Be prepared.
Now I am getting down to more of the nuts and bolts questions. These answers are more specific to my career. I graduated college in 1999. Almost twenty years to moment I am writing this now. When I graduated I did not have a cell phone. I barely had access to the internet. There was no idea of social media. I worked for many years as a toy designer and product developer. In 2007, at age twenty-nine, I started selling my art full time. There is so much about art that has changed since I made the decision to go to an art college. To choose a career in art also means embracing change as it comes. Nevertheless, I feel there are some fundamental things that remain true over time.
Is it important to know about business to be an artist?
Only if you want to make money. The artists that artists admire are perhaps, as Bukowski wrote, the strongest of the strange. People with seemingly no outward desire or need to monetize anything in their life. People who live as art incarnate. I find it is important to know about business and product development to be a fully self-sufficient artist. Otherwise, I would need someone I can trust to manage my career. In my opinion this is a lazy approach and should be avoided at all costs. I recognize, many people will disagree strongly with me about that.
How much does an artist get paid?
Artist can get paid when something they create sells. If you represent yourself, it is as easy as that. The price of art has nothing to with the cost of raw materials used. In theory your income has no limit. The most recent employment statistics given by the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics for May 2018 stated the annual mean wage for all Independent Artist, Writers, and Performers was $52,200. This is slightly above the average wage of all Americans across all industries during the same period. I question the perpetuation of the starving artist mythos. There are failures across all career types.
How do I get my art noticed?
You have to go sell in places where people are buying. I have enjoyed exhibiting at art festivals. Without a doubt people who attend art fairs are most likely to spend money on art. People who attend art fairs are in a mindset where they are searching for deals on objects that interest them. I “got noticed” by exhibiting at art fairs. There are other “highbrow” ways to become an artist. This is the way I know how to sell. I enjoy selling directly face to face to an audience interested in art.
What type of paintings sell best?
I have found that it is best to paint the paintings I want to see. I feel it is impossible to predict which paintings will be received better than others. I see my work like little flags waving at the people passing by. The paintings engage the audience and find like-minded individuals. These individuals will give you their ideas about what you should paint next.
How do you price your art?
It is important that there is logic behind the pricing of the artwork you present. In general, I price my originals high and make my prints affordable. I find all people want their investments to go up in value over time. Many people who buy original art see it as physical asset with the potential to increase over time.
How do I sell my art locally?
At first, I applied to exhibit at the art fairs both locally and nationwide with the largest attendance. The time I spend at a show is the same no matter how large or small it is. My thinking was; a larger attendance will give me statistically higher opportunity to sell. This turned out to be great for me. It served both my sales (income) and marketing (getting noticed). As my career has progressed I have had less of a desire to travel to exhibit my art. The rise of social media during this same period changed how people could become exposed to new artists. I still enjoy exhibiting in person but internet sales and marketing allow me to spend more time at home and in my studio painting. I have recently begun to see art fairs as a way to gain an unfiltered critique of my work. Online sales and marketing are extremely effective tools. However, it isolating and disconnected from reality painting for the internet alone. For me there are interactions with the customers that help me develop as an artist. I feel this development cannot be replaced by the internet alone at this time.
How can I sell my paintings at home?
You will need to invite people over to your house to buy paintings. Or reach out to them through the internet. Or both. Inviting people over to my house is a bit too much for me. I opened and ran a gallery for seven years across a few locations. It served as a place that separated my art career from my home. Opening your studio space to your audience come with benefits and consequences. So many. Too many to talk about quickly.
How do I start a career in art?
I started once I made a passionate commitment to art. It began with a drawing of Nolan Ryan the baseball player. I was fourteen and enjoyed baseball. I sat down and looked at someone else’s pencil drawing of the all-star pitcher and thought “I want to do that.” The process of making a drawing was so enjoyable to me. The results of showing people my work made me excited to draw more. It wasn’t long before I was in high school selling copies of drawings I made. I kept the originals because my peers would only pay twenty-five cents for art in high school. None of my peers in high school cared if the drawing was an original or a print. They were buying because they liked what I was drawing. I have always felt it is good to value the original work I create. Prints cost me ten cents to make in the library at the time. Originals took time. I would keep them in the transparent cover of my three ring binder and bring the binder to all my classes.
How do artists become famous?
This question like many of these questions my answer could be a book. Also, there are many ways this question could be answered. A friend of mine who works as a real-estate agent told me; on average it takes six interactions with a person for that person to remember his name. People will need to come into contact with your work multiple times before they remember you. You are responsible for making that happen for yourself. I don’t consider myself famous but I am known well enough to a select group of people. I have an ever expanding group of people that buy my art to display in their homes. To think about fame as anything more than abstract measure of your marketing efforts seems narcissistic to me.
What do you need to be an artist?
The passion to create something is essential. I think the rest is debatable.
Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts. I would love to hear yours. Let me know what do you think? What questions do you have?
I am always interested in talking art.