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So you wanna be an artist. A successful artist.

So you wanna be an artist. A successful artist. Then these are some rules to live by. Granted, artists are good at breaking rules (and should), and you can take or leave what you like here. But as far as I can tell, the successful artists I know have internalized this stuff.

About you:

  • Admit that you want to be an artist and that you’ll do whatever it takes to be one.
  • Accept that you are not Picasso. You are almost certainly not a genius, as there are fewer than one of these per generation. Make up for it by working your ass off.
  • If you have low or limited energy, avoid relationships that drain it, i.e. marriage and children.
  • Have a studio that’s not in your own home.
  • Take a job only to pay for what you need to be an artist.
  • Retain a healthy sense of absurdity. Accept that you will likely be funded by the buying habits of Republicans (because they have the money).
  • Keep up with news and ideas and art that’s happening in other places. Form some opinions. Be able to talk about it.
  • Spend a lot of time with and around other artists.  Talk. Drink with them. Go to openings with them.
  • Be both supportive and competitive with your peers.
  • Do not wait for a dealer or curator or collector to give you a place to show. Especially these days. Get together with your peers and make it happen.
  • Go to school to get your MFA; you’ll need the connections you make there.
  • Don’t even think about getting a doctorate in studio art. It’s total bullshit and it’s just a way to hide from the real world. Working in the real world is the lifeline to your work.
  • Until you’re so rich and famous that you can check out, you have to live in a community with an art scene, and you have to be a part of it.
  • Exchange studio visits and artwork with other artists as much as you can stand it.
  • Pay attention to the world and people around you.  You’ll need those observations.

About your artwork:

  • Let your audience fill in the blanks. Don’t be so literal.
  • Be investigative rather than self-indulgent.

I don’t want to complicate it by adding anything else.

Okay. Good luck out there.













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24 Responses

  1. Ram 23

    Second article from Glasstire in the last month telling artists what to do. Work your ass off and support your peers are the two best here, but if artists don’t already know that then their out of luck.

  2. tilda hensen

    …avoid relationships that drain like children or a spouse? i hope the author doesn’t plan on committing to anyone. or having children. those extra weights couldn’t possibly add to the content or substance of one’s creative work.

    1. In fairness, the author precedes that excerpt with “If you have low or limited energy…” I have a spouse and kids myself, so I appreciate that she qualifies that bit of advice.

      Dave Hickey has said that an artist ought to live in a state of anxiety b/c anxiety seems to be a great creativity engine. He was referring to life in a big noisy city (and definitely not endorsing having kids), but I can say that parenthood has provided me with all kinds of stress that has fueled my productivity in the studio.

      Still, the bit of advice in question is a sensible one, even if you and I have chosen to leave it.

  3. Chad Davonport

    Was really hoping this was going to be another “I’m taking a crap on your art scene and moving to another town for a salaried position” letter but alas it is simply another slop pile of parental pseudo-wisdom. So . . . I guess it’s just like all the others. Thanks for keeping it true 😉

  4. Good list. I wouldn’t call this pseudo-wisdom. I feel like I see similar tendencies in the more successful of our peers as well. I appreciate the frank comment on MFA programs, which are certainly a major point of contention. I’m not sure I believe in the concept of “genius”, but the point is taken that there are very few successful artists who don’t work their asses off. I think much of the wisdom that resides in these “rules” lay in the concept of investment: in oneself, in one’s work, and in one’s community. Investment means taking some chances and risking failure, and this is an interesting time to be thinking about this kind of risk.

  5. Y. Martinez

    If you create any artistic expression, if you have this spiritual necessity, if you were born with the urge to express yourself and tell thing through images, then, you are an artist. Anything else is bullshit; you don’t have to dress like a “monkey”, pretending to be an elevated intellectual and go to exhibitions talking crap and holding stupidly a glass of wine. Keep on painting, do whatever you want with your life, and forget about the rest of the world, especially critics and “specialist in the field”.

  6. How did Hemingway, Faulkner, Joyce, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Miller, Kerouac, et al, do it without an MFA program?

    Every graduate of an MFW program I’ve ever met writes almost exactly like every other graduate of an MFW program or creative writing program I’ve met. I’ve asked more than a few, “What did they do up there? Put you on a table and rip your heart out?” They’re like clone factories, these programs.

    Programs don’t create artists. Programs create robots. Programs enforce conformity. Programs program. No good writer, and certainly no great writer, ever followed a program.

    My debt is book bills and bar bills. My money lines the pockets of booksellers and bartenders, not university regents and administrators.

  7. Silverman

    -steal a mannerism to be found in New York now. Matthew Brannon suggests photographing books and book covers.

    -always say clever things, but never say what you mean.

    -play down subjectivity or pretend to. never mention words like ‘expression’.

    -if you want the opportunities of an MFA. show up around campus, hang out and go to the bar with all the cool students and professors. don’t bother getting in debt.

    -sell. the market is dominant so let go of the trappings of content.

    -look pretty. it is time to accept that attractive people are successful.

    -hang out with attractive people in public.

    -if you are a young wealthy man or woman, your chances for success are much higher. marry a person lower on the class status than yourself. this is insurance against ruts, take their ideas and manners to borrow whenever you are lacking.

  8. Silverman

    sorry, I have one more tip.

    Never ever let people see you work, you are meant to be a person of leisure. If you have a side job in the art industry as in a museum or gallery, quit now. Get a job as a plumber or work in I.T.

  9. Christina Rees

    Silverman. Congrats. Another way to be a successful artist is to take something someone else has already started or done and riff on it shamelessly or outright steal it. Call it evocation or homage.

  10. silverman

    I agree Christina, look at Jonathan Monk’s career.
    In the case of blog comments, I would not take it so seriously, although my suggestions are better.

  11. Pingback : Tips for Becoming a Successful Artist | FLUX.

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