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!