Monday, October 23, 2006

working art

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is how I got into doing what I do, what art school I went to, and how I manage to make a living at being an artist. I get emails from art students all over the country who ask me this. In our culture and many others, artists hold a special place in society and are worshipped as almost supernatural beings. As an artist, I am constantly admired for what I do. At the same time, the idea that you have to be someone really special to be an artist has the effect of discouraging many people from making art a career. Creating art is generally looked upon as a hobby, or something one does on the side when not working at a "real" job. People are fascinated and intrigued when they meet someone who is a full-time artist, and always want to know what my secret is.

I don't have a secret, but I really wish I had supernatural powers. I always wanted to be an artist when I grew up, and I thought I would be a painter. I started painting when I was still in diapers, and that seemed to be where my talent lay. I went to a high school on the east coast that had an excellent art program for students who were planning on going to art school. At the time, I thought art school was the only place that could show me the way to an artist's life. As I approached my senior year though, it was becoming clear that I had little motivation to apply to any schools-- I was barely attending high school by this point-- much less do the work to get the scholarships and grants I would need to pay for the expensive art schools I was interested in.

In the end, after moving myself to California and spending a few years hanging out on the beaches of Santa Cruz, I skipped art school in favor of a degree in another subject that fascinates me, Anthropology. I went to UCSC where I learned to think critically, sharpen my writing skills, and acquire knowledge in many different fields I don't think I would have had the opportunity to delve into had I been ensconced in an art school. I took my first clay throwing classes at Cabrillo, a junior college (where I also met my husband, Andrew; that was a fabulous semester), and got my first job with ceramicist Sandi Dihl as a clay assistant within the year. That was my version of art school, and that's where I learned how to be an artist for a living. I can say without reservation that working for Sandi was the single most valuable experience I had in learning how to make art a business. Eeeew! Two words that should not go together? That will be a subject for another day...

Okay, I do have a secret, and this is it: If you want to be an artist for a living, work for another artist who is doing what you want to do. There is not an artist that I know that doesn't need some kind of help in their studio. If you know how to work and show up when you say you're going to show up, call up a professional artist right now and get yourself hired. You might not get paid very much, or anything at all, but to my mind, it's better than paying that $35,000 a year tuition at art school!


  1. Lisa Knowlton5:11 PM

    ...I second that! I am a yoga instructor (among the many) and inside my body lies a creative motivator who supplies me with endless ways to communicate/translate what yoga brings to my life. She's the artist in me who carefully listened my mentor and found the key to my success as a teacher. Alongside my teaching passion is also your "typical" artist which is presently appearing as a fabric designer, and while still in school finishing my portfolio, I am also working for a small company and this has been the nuts and bolts that hold together what I'm learning in class... My experience, like yours, is what allows me to demonstrate the possibility of 'making money doing what I love' which happens to be substantially creative.

  2. I just found your blog (gorgeous work, wow!) and I particularly loved this post. I'm an established magazine journalist but have embarked on a creative journey that is leading me - pulling me! - toward textile art. I believe that everyone has the ability to create - we simply have to allow ourselves to do so. It doesn't matter how "good" we are - it just matters that we try, and have fun. :)

  3. Here I am delving into your older posts...
    This one was really interesting. I've been taking art classes for the past year~ and have been continually struggling with whether or not I want to continue... reasons being financial output AND a lot of times it feels more about giving the instructor what they want versus finding your own artistic voice...
    It seems you found mentor(s) in your community college class as well as in your job as a studio asst.
    Food for thought...