What is a Successful Artist?

I teach art here. As a volunteer. It’s a blast.

We seem to have this dream that our artistic skill will lead to fame and fortune-if we just work hard enough and get that degree. That is baloney. Do not count on making fame and fortune as an artist-you have as much chance at that as all those poor potential movie stars waiting tables until they are discovered. The unemployment rate for artists is similar to actors-a bit over 90%. Got that? The unemployment rate is a bit over 90%. Only 10% of art school grads end up working as artists-and art school is expensive-and pretty much a waste of time and money. Educate yourself.

If you are young, get a trade that will pay the bills and make art in your spare time. Seriously. Even those who work their butt off make $10-20,000 a year, and spend most of their time in marketing themselves, not arting. 

First of all, what is a successful artist? In our world, success is measured by income. If you have a high income, you are labeled successful. That’s a shallow definition of success. What is a professional artist? One who gets paid for their art. Is a professional artist a better artist than an amateur artist, who does not get paid? No. It’s just our culture that judges a person by how much money they have-even if they inherited it. By the income=success formula, Mafioso and drug lords are successful.

What is an artist? There are two parts to the definition. An artist is a person who sees-the beautiful and profound. That is a gift that not everyone has. They then want to communicate that beauty or profundity to others. A successful artist is one who effectively communicates what they see. It has nothing to do with money. Effectively communicating what you see will take all your life-and it will be a rich and fun life. Meanwhile, get a career that will pay the bills-and pay for your art supplies.

Having said all this, it is obvious that some still hope to win the lottery. They hope for a Horatio Alger outcome-if only I am good enough and work hard, etc, etc. People! Horatio Alger stories are fiction, written by a pedophile.

If you are an artist, make art! Have fun, communicate beauty to others-the world needs it. But forget becoming rich and famous. I went to art school, had a couple of ‘art jobs’ (paid crap,) was a professional portrait painter, won some awards-and was pretty poor. That is normal.  I got ‘regular’ jobs that paid the bills and provided health insurance and painted whatever I wanted.

Let’s be real, O.K? And let’s jump into the joy of creation without the soul-destroying, workaholic, phony success hype our society is marinated in.

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