If I were not a potter, my dream job would be advice columnist. It combines two of my favorite activities: writing and dispensing with advice. I loved Ann Landers when I was a kid, and nowadays I can't wait for Wednesday when Dan Savage publishes his column. I actually get a number of emails, mainly from art students, who want to know how I manage to make a living, and if they should even try. I love these letters, because I get a chance to brainwash them with MY point of view, and give them an alternative voice to listen to, maybe for the first time in their lives. I received this letter recently from a student:
I'm almost done with my degree in ceramics from University. You seem like you got your shit together, do you make your living off of your artwork? If so, how and how did you start? How did you decide that being a potter is what you were going to do knowing that most artists end up "starving artists?" Is it worth it or do you wish you would have chosen an easier more steady career? I've been getting so much slack lately (especially with graduation near) for choosing art as a major. What do you say to people that think what you do is all for nothing?
This letter hit on a number of issues that I addressed with the author, but I think one of the most important points that came up was dealing with people who think that getting a degree in art or pursuing art as a career is a waste of time. People who think this are some of the most annoying people on the face of the earth, and dealing with them is a challenge. It makes me grateful that I have always had people in my life, including my parents and my husband (who has been with me since my second semester of pottery class), who never questioned my ambition to pursue art. Also, I have never been very interested in what other people think I should do with my life.
But if you don't have it as easy as I do in that department, I'm about to give you the secret weapon and some heavy-duty armor: have a plan. Make a plan for yourself, and when people question what you're up to, have an answer ready. People who are vague about what they are going to do, or lack a plan, are usually not that successful, no matter what they are doing. With art, I think it's especially important to have a direction, because it's way too easy to float. In fact, people will expect you to drift until you finally give up the art thing. With a plan, you are going to seem more confident with where you are going, and that will usually make the underminers think twice before they try to knock you back. And making people think twice is always a good thing.
How do you pull a plan together is easier than you think. You have to start with the statement "I want to be an artist." Say it to yourself all the time. Do not end that sentence with a question mark. Make a list of all the things you think you need to do --and have-- to succeed. Memorize it, and when people ask, keep repeating it your plan. As you grown and learn, your plan will change. That's normal and right. Your initial plan may be total bullshit, but make it anyway, because you have to start somewhere.