Monday, March 09, 2009

reinforcing the dream

Every once in a while, I like to read through posts on my blog to get a sense of how my writing may be coming across to my legion of readers. When I first started writing this blog, I was a bit tentative. I knew I had a lot to say, but I was trying to squeeze it down into a form I was not totally comfortable with. I had an idea that I needed to be professional and positive, and stay on general topics. I'm not sure why I thought this was a good idea, other than I didn't want to scare off potential customers with my occasionally acerbic personality . That all came to an end with a post about a terrible show I had, and I suddenly realized I like to write about the real part of making a living as an artist, the downfalls and failures, more than trying to present a particular image. It was a hell of a lot more interesting and entertaining.

When I read through a group of posts, what I often come away with is how repetitive I am. I'm okay with that, because I have a message, and when you have a message, you have to repeat it over and over again to get heard. Just in case you missed it, here it is: Being an artist and making a living off art is a totally legitimate way to make one's way through the world. We live in a culture that has a different message: being an artist is not a legitimate way to make a living, and if you try, you will likely fail because artists are flaky, crazy people, often not in touch with reality. And you have no talent anyway. Or, you can be an artist, but learn a back-up trade, like lawyering or typing, in case the art thing doesn't work out.

I'm here to reinforce the dream, and to challenge the culture in its beliefs about what an artist is and what the artist can be. I have said before that our western society worships and admires the artist, and at the same time demeans and puts the artist down. Artists are the dreamers and the prophets, questioning the conventions and mores of culture. And we make stuff, pulling these ideas down and making it into something physical that other people can experience. This ability to make, to create, truly is a superpower. And many are blessed with it. Denying your artist time to create is an act of cruelty, and I think many artists are regularly denying themselves. I'm here to remind you: the time to be an artist is now. And that goes for me too.


  1. Shout that message from the hill tops Whitney! I forwarded it to my daughter who is currently an apprentice tattoo artist and hears lots of "oh"s when she tells people what she's doing. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. hear hear!
    I always laugh when people assume I'm poor or that my husband supports me!I know the work you put in and how legimate what you (we) do is, so shout it lady!!! I think I will too!

  3. I hear ya! I've just started following your blog in the past week or so...sharing all those horrible show experiences in the past, wow! what perseverance! I love to hear about the ups and downs of an artists' process, so thanks for sharing!

  4. BRAVA!!!!!

    Keep telling it like it is.

    michele d.

  5. Oh, I know what you mean! In my area, even artists say you can't make a living in art, and they have day jobs to support themselves. I'm not saying having a day job is wrong, but they are so negative about their own passion! So thank you for reinforcing the dream!

  6. A very lucrative graphic design career/business financially fueled our family for years -and completely BURNED ME OUT. I now enjoy a much less lucrative career as a metal and clay sculptor but my life is WONDERFUL and my family LOVES me again.

    BTW -the honesty of your Blog is one of the primary reasons I am a loyal reader, as I'm not yet brave enough to post the realities of being a full time artist on my Blog... thanks.

  7. I'm always happy to come upon one of your posts, especially since I make my living as an artist.

    Last week I had a featured article on etsy, Quit Your Day Job, and endured a number of snarky comments in my in box about how that couldn't be possible.

    It's laugh out loud funny since etsy is truly only a part of my growing "living"
    xo Sherry

  8. The patronizing look of "how sweet she paints pictures" as if I am some sort of drop out, possibly incapable of doing anything but paint pictures... annoying. If they use the word "arteeest" that really sends me over the edge.

    I often hear people say "I wish I could do are so lucky" And it's said in the same way that someone would say, "I wish I could live on a tropical island". I do feel lucky, actually not LUCKY but very blessed and happy to be doing what I do! But it's not all sunshine and roses (especially here in Seattle) I work my ass off as do many of the other working artists I know.

    But like "undaunted" said, often it's other artists that perpetuate this notion of the starving artist as if it should be enough to just be doing your art. To expect more is somehow indulgent or greedy or unrealistic. It's true I would make art even if I wasn't being paid for it. But this is my business and I intend to be successful at it!

    Sometimes people congratulate me on selling my work or having a show or even having a website and they say things like, "wow you are really organized" or "this is really like a real business!" and I have to tell them think to myself "It IS a fucking business! what did you expect?"

    Ok back to work...
    ps I love your blog--thanks for taking the time to share your words with us. Great inspiration.

  9. I'm pretty sure you just put in to words what every artist has experienced at one time or another, and put it quite well might I add. It is incredibly irksome dealing with the condecending looks and patronizing comments when I talk to people about being a potter. Of course that is just until I tell them that I am planning to get my masters degree and would like to teach college. Then they get this look of, "oh, so you do plan to do something with your life."
    And sadly the most bothersome can be my wife who supports what I do, but at the same time says that I can try to be a full time potter when I can make money at it. Until then I should have another job. And on that note, now I have to go apply for a job as a librarian.

  10. Interesting, the notion that you even have to be "good" to follow the artist path... as if all doctors, lawyers, teachers, construction workers, secretaries, etc, are "good" at what they do. No one tells a CEO to have a back up plan in case the gig doesn't work out. Hey, have passion and follow your heart. If you're "good" enough to make a success of it- a success by YOUR measure, then dammit, you're "good".

  11. Well said Whitney!! Many including myself have dealt with this struggle to be an artist full time and pay the bills.

    It is wonderful to read about your highs and lows in this journey.

  12. Whitney, this post reverberated with me. Thank you. I have more to say, but not the time at the moment, but I felt compelled to say that I felt your writing deeply.

  13. Saw your "story" Buyers Market marketing piece in Clay Times- you go girl!

  14. thank you for this post! i'm a fellow potter that really needs to be encouraged by brave souls like yourself that are willing to express things like you've written. the light in me (and the little devil too) bows to you!

  15. Anonymous1:03 AM

    Your post spoke to me so clearly. Thank you for your honestly and willingness to say what you feel in a public forum.

    I was so sad earlier this evening when someone close to me told me that they thought my blog needed to filter out the overly personal part of me that I was including in my writing. The part the let the reader in to see me as a Mom making art in her freezing cold garage amongst the bikes, scooters and rakes - racing to the bus stop to pick up the kids in the middle of it all.

    He said it took away from the image of what people want to think of when they think of an artist. Wha?!!? Talk about taking the wind out of my sails. I struggle so much with that anyway - balancing my life as a mother of three young kids with my desire to create in clay. Struggling with what people really see as a legitimate job and how they view what I do. Just because I don't go to an "office", wear dress clothes or get a bi-weekly paycheck, doesn't mean I don't have a "job".

    So why do people see it that way? Why should being a Mom even matter when it comes to what people think about my work?

    I decided to read other ceramic artist's blogs that I follow because I wanted to see how personal other people were getting and how it made me feel. Then I read your blog and found your honesty to be really refreshing. It's easy to find a generic blog. I want to read the honest ones.

    I guess I have my answer.

    Thank you for helping me see it more clearly.