Are you a real artist?

The Myth: You have to make art full-time to be a "real artist". Real artists live in big cities, mainly New York. Real artists have massive, paint splattered studios in old warehouses where they toil over immense canvases day and night. Sure, some real artists also teach at important universities, but other than that, they certainly do not have "day jobs".

When I graduated art school and moved to NYC, this was my narrow definition of an artist. I believed that no one would ever consider me a real artist or show my work if it wasn't my full-time occupation.

I wasted many years not making art partially because I believed in this outdated model.

It's bullshit.

It took me at least 15 years to realize that wasn't the only option.

Helen-Frankenthaler - Image are from the Ernst Haas estate
Helen Frankenthaler in her studio, photographed by Ernst Haas.
Photograph belongs to the Ernst Haas estate.

First, let's address this thing about who gets to claim the artist label.

If you make art, guess what, you're an artist. Feel free to pin that label on proudly.

If you make art but you....haven't sold a single piece of art, work another job (or three), or are a stay at home are still an artist.

If you make art but you didn't go to art school.....yes, you are an artist.

No one has to give you a seal of approval before you can call yourself an artist.

When someone asks what you do (why is that all anyone ever asks), would you rather have a conversation about art or a boring job? If you don't feel like discussing the latest irritating thing happening at work, tell them you're an artist!

Most people are interested and if they aren't, they're probably boring and you'll be better off having promptly killed the conversation! (It's amusing, try it)

Second, most of us cannot live on our art sales alone.

Your goal may be to become a full-time artist but you don't have to go all in when you're starting out. In fact, that's a terrible idea, don't do it until you're ready!

We need other income to support our lives.

If you have another job, or even an entire career, that has nothing to do with art, it's okay. You don't have to give up that artist label.

Other jobs help fund our art or provide inspiration or other useful knowledge and experiences.

It can feel soul crushing to do a job that doesn't fulfill you, but it may be a means to an end. If that job allows you to buy art supplies, pay for a class or teaches you something about marketing that you can use to sell your art, those are major benefits.

I had a career that required me to travel all over the world. Although I enjoyed the travel and had great experiences, I didn't make art during most of that time.

Eventually, when I started making art again, my job provided the financial resources I needed and the travel provided the inspiration
(I wrote about it here).

As an added bonus, making art made my job more tolerable since I had a fulfilling project to look forward at the end of each day. I also felt like I more purpose and was allowing myself to be the person I had suppressed for a long time.

Once I returned to making art, I also began to consider myself an artist again – and I began introducing myself that way. I think that seeing myself as an artist helped motivate me to create more and take my practice more seriously.

(Side note here: if you don't feel like your work is ready for viewing, it's okay, you can keep it to yourself for now.)

If you're still struggling to call yourself an artist, practice telling people. Next time the dental hygienist or hair stylist starts asking personal questions, talk about your art. You can get away without having to show them your work so there isn't as much pressure, you're free to just talk about it.

If you don't mind having your work seen by a few people, bring some of it to the office to keep on your desk. It might prompt a conversation with a coworker. Give some of your art to friends and family for birthdays or holidays.

It's easier to see yourself as an artist when others think of you that way.

So, are you a real artist? If not, what's stopping you from saying you are?

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