A wonderful question to ask, difficult when directed at you. This came my way during a podcast interview.
A decade ago I had, miraculously, everything an artist could hope for. A big New York City gallery, exhibitions, sales, but the real miracle, unlimited time to work in a killer studio.
And I couldn’t have been more stressed.
Stressed, because I missed the teaching I’d given up in my thirties. The design work I gave up in my twenties. The outdoor labor jobs before that. The friendships with students and co-workers.
To get just a little dramatic, the studio that I loved felt like a prison and I was the warden. I wouldn’t let myself leave.
I told the podcast host about my favorite painters- Velasquez, Rubens, William Nicholson, and Robert Rauschenberg* successful artists with vocations outside of their art, and contemporary artist-entrepreneurs like Israel Hershberg and Jacob Collins.
The great artist-teachers, past and present, all passionately involved in things that fed them creatively, and still do.
Somehow I had forgotten this while buying into the myth that you were not a “real artist” unless 100% of your income came from the production of art. I believed this right up until the time it happened for me in the early 2000’s.
The desire for personal success aside, we want to please others, the collectors, the gallery staff, and especially the people we are closest to.
Internal and external pressure to sell each piece will quickly put the kibosh on experimentation, causing a painter to play it too safe. Freedom to experiment and make mistakes are crucial.
That said, my hat goes off to anyone who paints and exhibits full-time because these guys are a special breed.
These were the thoughts that surfaced as I considered the advice I would give a young artist, younger self-included.
And the advice would simply be this:
Have a sideline, whether you need one or not. 15-20 hours a week in another activity will make you more creative, not less.
The teaching has long since returned. So has the physical labor (just on my own property). The freelance design work is returning. And the painting is more enjoyable than ever.
Technology makes it easy to wear a couple of hats.
I used to believe that hard work and narrow focus were the answers to everything. I’ve since learned that balance, though difficult for everyone these days, is more powerful.
*Velazquez worked for the court, Nicholson was a graphic designer, Rubens was a diplomat and Rauschenberg, at the height of his career, designed sets and costumes for the stage.