Okay. So I know there isn't only one right way to be an artist, and I really don't know if there are 50 (or only 50) different ways to be one, but I thought I'd share my experience as an artist. Many, many years ago I began to study art formally and because I was told I had potential, I pursued it further. I continued my studies, painted like the dickens and then, because I didn't trust myself and believed that everyone else, especially those in the 'industry' knew better, I followed all the advice I received...to my detriment.
I loved painting. Then I went to art college and almost stopped painting. But, I persevered, I continued to paint, even though I believed that being a potter or printmaker or jeweller or sculptor would be more lucrative. Why? Well, because each of those disciplines required certain tools that not just anyone has and because they were really, really fun to watch. So, I ventured into each of those different media for a time but continued to come back to paint.
Anyway, I was told that I had to quit my job (which I was really good at) and focus on painting full-time if I wanted to be taken seriously. I was told to invest in myself...use credit, whatever it takes in order to be taken seriously. I studied business, focusing on art business. I was involved in every exhibit, publication, and investment described as an opportunity. Galleries represented me across the country but some of the galleries never paid me for the sale of my work, or never returned unsold pieces. And the financial investment that I was required to make almost broke me...both financially and spiritually. These opportunities ended up being opportunities for those that wanted my financial investment, but not for me. Granted, I sold work, I connected with people, but never recouped my losses.
I was crushed. I never wanted to paint again. My husband and I decided to take a big leap, to sell our home in order repay the debt, to put our things into storage, and to move to a farmhouse in the prairies. Slowly my spirit healed. I began walking through the fields and down the gravel roads and found that spark inside of me once again. I began to paint again. I received such great support from the community. And we came home again.
This time I decided I would do things on my own terms. No more financial investment except in myself. I paid attention to the things that pulled at my heart-strings. I no longer invested more than I was willing to lose. And I began to notice that there was more than one way to be a professional artist.
Now, my career as a professional artist consists of five separate roles that are important to me...
1. Art Program Coordinator - I have a paid position with our local public library where I get to curate exhibits, write statements, organize children's art programs, and whatever else creative is required. It's fun and it's a steady paycheque (more money for art supplies!).
2. Painter - I get to experiment, explore, and get back to the roots of why I loved art in the first place. And I get to share this work I love with others through exhibits and sales.
3. Writer - My writing has been published in numerous newspapers, magazines and books. And I get paid to do it! How fantastic is that?
4. Student - I love to study and I love art so I am finally continuing my fine arts education. It's a huge goal for me to complete my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and I don't really care how long it takes.
5. Volunteer - This is probably the biggest change for me as I used to feel unworthy. Because I hadn't completed my degree I didn't know how I could possibly contribute as a professional. And it is amazing as I've been involved in numerous art projects which included hundreds of people and I get to support and encourage other creatives.
I've been asked for many years to teach, so that looks like a direction I may be heading in next. Who knows what is in store for me?
If you're wondering about the 50 ways to be an artist, well, I actually think there are more. I believe we each need to focus on what is really important to us, to trust our intuition when someone or something doesn't feel right for us, and to remember that this career choice is different, and because of that we all need to approach it differently. And if you trust yourself, you'll know exactly what it is you need to do. Trust me.