The number one goal for every person I do career counseling with is to leave their job and pursue their art career full-time. However, the biggest concern is how to do it and most importantly, when. I tell every artist who's serious about leaving their 9-5 the same thing - have an established business, a well-thought-out plan and don't be capricious or you'll be looking for another day job in a few months time.
Sometimes it seems that you make some steps forward and then suddenly, nothing is working. I've seen many artists experience a setback or two and want to throw in the towel and quit. Then, in a fit of anger and depression, they go online and look at successful artists with absolute contempt and wonder how the hell they did it. Instead of employing some reflection and accepting that all careers have challenges, they choose to feed the jealousy and begin a deadly cycle of self-pity and projection. If they keep this destructive behavior up, in a short amount of time they have the perfect recipe for depression, anger, and career suicide.
I've confessed many times here that I really didn't have any support early on in my career and because of that, I always promised myself that when I achieved some level of success I'd never refuse anyone who asked for help. This brings me to the subject of this blog post; the number one question I get asked the most - what advice would you give to an artist just starting out? Here's are 5 mandatory tips for emerging artists.
Greatness is not something you are born with. Greatness is something you achieve, and most of the time; it’s acquired through great struggle, failure and disappointment. There’s no equation or scientific formula that can predict who will become great or who doesn't. Being born into a wealthy or prominent family cannot guarantee you greatness nor can it be deterred by a lack of money or opportunity. At the source, greatness comes from the soul of a human being.
Its been said that envy is an illness so deeply ingrained in human nature that if entertained, it becomes a spiritual cancer. Envy is ruthless, cruel and often, intoxicating. I’ve seen many people become drunk on envy and it’s painful to witness. The worst and darkest part of any individual emerges when they are made to feel inferior - either by the direct behavior of an individual or by an implied feeling of not being ‘good enough’. To be specific, as artists, this emotion emerges when we see one of our contemporaries "making it" when we are in fact, still struggling and maybe even failing.
No one likes to be told what to do. I occasionally hate when people give me unsolicited advice but sometimes, we have to listen. I'm certainly not in the business of changing minds or forcing opinions on anyone - it's not my style. The only desire I have is to inspire and encourage anyone who's walking down the same challenging path. That being said, let's take a moment to talk about your art business presence on social media.
It's no secret I love the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nothing empowers me more and helps me focus on what is important. It took many years and a lot of background noise to penetrate but at 42, I feel more alive and full of energy than ever before. It wasn't always the case though – I had to wade in the same pool of self-doubt and uncertainly as many before me. I had to grow a thick skin and learn not to obsess on all the negative and ‘constructive’ criticism I seemed to attract. The journey to self-empowerment was difficult and many lessons were learned the hard way but in the end, I emerged a warrior.
I’m always upset when I hear an artist trying to qualify him or herself as a professional by admitting they are "self-taught." It's very sad to hear someone who may have spent the last 10-20 years of their lives working as a professional but just because they didn't have the chance to attend college or an academy they feel insecure or illegitimate.
Everyone has a story. The story can either be one of immense struggle that eventually yields great rewards, or an uneventful story of safe, well calculated mediocrity. But to me, the saddest story is the unmemorable life full of excuses and failure – it often reaps misery, bitterness and contempt. Look at the great figures of history before you and their disadvantages and ask yourself - what's my excuse?
Aside from the personal nature of what failure does to an artists, I'd like for you to consider another way of thinking. Consider this: what pushes you to grow more - success or failure? I can say with absolute confidence that my failures have made me the artist I am today. Artist advice: embrace failure.
You can read about how to be an artist. You can study all the latest trends. You can ask for advice and you can take a lot of notes. You can pray, ask the universe, use the law of attraction or any other mystical force to try to guide your career with positivity but one thing is for sure, if you don't do the work you'll never get anywhere as an artist.
It's easy to just focus on one facet of your life and let the whole world fall behind you. You've seen it time and time again in movies where the suave and sophisticated man is stockbroker of the year but his personal life is riddled with failure. I've seen it many times over the last few decades with some of my peers in the art business. They will sacrifice everything to make it big, even if it means leaving a wife, children and even a conscience behind. Life is not worth living unless you can share your success and failures with someone you love.
When I was starting out as a struggling figurative painter things were so inconvenient. You had to get slides made for any submissions. If that wasn't inconvenient I would print out entire pages of sticky paper with titles of paintings, my name with a copyright symbol and any other silly request a competition, a gallery or a slide registry would ask for you to do. We had the mail and the phone as our means of communication and sending your work only worked for one of them. Today, you point, click and send to have your art reach the entire world. Now I keep my portfolio with me in my pocket at all times. What is this amazing tool? You guessed it, the iPhone.