You might think you’re a special little snowflake living a completely original life, but you’re not. Your whole existence is boring and predictable and that won’t change even if you manage to wield the magical skills of an artist.
“The problems of today’s artist are the problems of yesterday’s artist — and I suspect, of tomorrow’s also. As the French say, ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.’ (The more things change, the more they remain the same.)”
— Michelle Gaugy, Art Consultant, via Quora
A lot of the struggles you face in life are timeless. You could choose to see that as a bad thing, but there’s also a flip side to it: knowing what to expect allows you to be prepared.
In that spirit, I did some research and asked fellow artists what their biggest struggles are, and boy did I get some answers. So if you think you wanna be an artist, read on for the top 5 struggles you must overcome.
1. You have to find a way to pay your bills
Unless you magically start getting a universal basic income in the near future, you have to find a way to make enough money in order to live your life.
While the rest of your problems will be art related, paying rent every month is going to be the mother of them all. You have two options: get a day job or monetize your art.
If you choose the day job, then you can make whatever money you need to live your life at the level you desire in a pretty straightforward way.
If you choose to monetize your art, however, you have elected the way of pain.
Congratulations on owning a business! You are now in charge of marketing, sales, inventory, fulfillment, and bookkeeping. Let me know when you get around to that art, ah-hyuck!
Bonus option: become a sugar baby to fund your art.
2. You’ll never have enough time in the day
“The biggest problem I face? That’s easy. Time. Never enough, given the demands of making a living.”
— Anne Cox, Painter and Rug-hooker, via The St. George Dragon
If you’ve been following along, a portion of your day has already been allocated to your financial concerns, anywhere from 2–8 hours probably.
You now have between 0 and 6 hours of energy left for the day, woo!
If you expect to be productive for every single one of those hours you better get ready for some bad news, bub. Andrew Lewis expertly describes your next problem here:
The timing of your time! How complicated do things have to get?! Chuck Close famously said “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work,” but sometimes it’s just not that easy Chuckie baby!
On Quora, art consultant Michelle Gaugy also discussed another phenomenon where it takes time for artists to switch from a defended business mode to a more vulnerable and open artistic mode. So that’s a thing you’ll have to cope with. Will it take minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years to switch modes?! Bet you can’t wait to find out.
On top of all that, you need a well of experience to draw from. Yes, you need to consume as well as create. You gotta fill yourself up to spill yourself out, and that takes time, which you’ll never have enough of ever again if you want to be an artist.
3. You have to master your craft and find your style
This may surprise you, but artists don’t just plop out of the womb with magical art abilities.
You’ll spend a not-insignificant number of years sharpening your skills and finding your style. How fast that happens depends on a number of factors including your level of talent, consistency, methods of learning, amount of privilege, and more.
Anyhoo, the first thing you should do is learn the fundamentals of art and get yourself to a point where you have a reasonable understanding of what the heck you’re doing. One day you might even look back on this as the easy part.
When it comes to finding your style, Coty Schwabe, an abstract painter, said it “was my biggest kryptonite as an artist.” And when he says kryptonite he means it was his ultimate weakness. I’m just explaining that to you in case you somehow haven’t heard the story of Superman, the most famous superhero of all time. As if.
Ultimately, it will probably take you a few years to figure out what a style even is, if you ever do. Best of luck with that!
4. You will have impostor syndrome
The biggest malignant lump of struggles you’ll deal with as an artist will come from your own brain. You will be your own worst enemy.
It may pain you to find out that quite a few struggles you’ll deal with as an artist fall under the umbrella of impostor syndrome. You’ve worked hard to become a good artist but now you don’t believe you are. Ain’t that some shit?
Impostor syndrome means you’ll doubt your accomplishments, lack self-confidence, feel inadequate, compare yourself to others, have anxiety, talk down to yourself, and more. In fact, you’ll find perfectionism is best friends with impostor syndrome.
“Indeed, a body of research has shown that perfectionism often goes hand in hand with impostor syndrome.”
— Agata Boxe, via Discover
Another interesting aspect of the impostor syndrome you might experience was brought up by illustrator Christine Garner: “I feel guilty doing art rather than doing something useful.” Society has a way of making you feel bad about choosing an art profession even though everyone on the planet consumes art in some form.
I myself am one of many artists who chose to go into a non-creative field because I felt like people didn’t consider the arts a respectable or profitable form of work.
But don’t take it from me, take it from this guy:
5. You will wish for an audience and then loathe it
“When you’re just starting out (at anything), you’re going to be a nobody.”
— Coty Schwabe, Abstract Painter, via Quora
Despite “big artists” (social media accounts with lots of followers) telling you that your following is not a good measure of your success as an artist, you will be envious of their shiny numbers.
After all, you’re launching your art into the void of the internet and getting zero response, or you’re being rejected by galleries, publications, and the marketplace in general. Don’t you deserve some sort of break?!
Then one day, after you’ve consistently put in the hard work required, it happens: senpai notices you. You are now a “big artist.”
But along with all the praise you ever wanted comes the criticism. If you allow one to influence you, so will the other. Soon you’ll be held captive by your audience and their desire to see the work they want you to make. Will you break free or will you dance to their demands for eternity? Success isn’t quite what you thought it would be, is it?
As the saying goes, “if you only play for the applause, then you place your happiness in the hands of the audience.” And they haven’t washed their hands in years.
The fully framed picture
So as it turns out there’s nothing special about you even if you do become an artist. There’s nothing special about anyone really. You can choose to let that sobering fact depress you or you can arm yourself with the knowledge you need to succeed. Yes, you too can be like Biff Tannen when he gets the sports almanac in Back to the Future (Part II). This is your chance.
These are the five struggles you must overcome if you want to be an artist:
- You have to find a way to pay your bills
- You’ll never have enough time in the day
- You have to master your craft and find your style
- You will have impostor syndrome
- You will wish for an audience and then loathe it
Now go solve these problems and you’ll be at the top of the art game in no time, Biff Tannen style.
Hey there, reader! If you like what I’m working with and want me to keep grinding out that Grade A all-beef Nate-flavored writing please support me and my art here.
(tofu available upon request)