Reality Check – Being an Artist

Most of the artists I know see reality in different ways to normal people. Their feet don’t seem to touch the ground when they walk and they often bump into real things as their head is usually in the clouds. There are exceptions, but reality usually makes artists uncomfortable.

Sylvia White recently published an interesting article called “5 Facts Artists Have To Face To Succeed In Business”. She calls it her cold water splash in the face for artists. Here’s the 5 points..

  • You will not get “discovered.”
  • You will not find a gallery that “understands your work” and feels as passionately about it as you do.
  • No matter how original you think your work is, it has been done before.
  • Just because your work looks just like Jackson Pollock, (or, fill in the blank) doesn’t mean it’s as good, or that you can price it the same.
  • You will not be able to make a living off the sale of your work.

Read the full article over at Art Advice (site no longer up, but the information above is still valid)

I had a go at my own reality check for artists last year and called it the Do or Die List for Artists, which was inspired by a much more optimistic list for artists by Robert Genn.

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. Those links made for great reading as well as some food for thought.

    Of course, now I have to do something with the new knowledge…


  2. Sounds par for the course.

    For the sake of argument I’ll add:

    1) If you need to explain your art, don’t bother; just give up.

    2) If you haven’t got a diploma in art, you stand even less chance of succeeding than poeple who do. And arts graduates mainly survive by getting handouts from Art Council England and other daft, elitist charities.

    3) Consider the possibility that you’re merely a pretentious pleb who’s trying to jump 4 or 5 social classes in one bound! (Creative people are at the top of the modern social structure.)

    4) Social climbers, don’t bother. The Arts are controlled by a social elite who don’t want bum-scratching plebs joining their private club, no matter how good the art is. In fact talent might scare the hell out of them, because they don’t know what it is.

    5) Take a long, hard look in the mirror. Are you young, female and beautiful? If not, forget your artistic/social ambitions. Female beauty is an upwardly mobile attribute, no matter what your field of endeavour.

  3. Anonymous says:

    What is success? Is it money or is it life satisfaction. I was once told by a very smart art historian, if you have the calling to be an artist there is little you can do about it; except give into the creative urges you have and make art. Regardless of money, talent, intelligence, relationships, you file in the blank. You will have to make art; it is in your blood, your cells, your being. And I don’t believe it is a true statement that you can not make a living as an artist. Many artists do make a living. It may not look like the living a Banker or Doctor or other professional makes, it may be many multi-faceted and far more adventurous. Embrace who you are, after all if you are called to an artist you have little choice but to be, who you are. Yes it is true that the art world of dealers and collectors may not embrace you with their money, they buy art for its monetary and or its investment value. But is that why you make art? I would suggest that you as an artist put on the creative thinking hat and build your self an income, an income that serves your practical needs, rent, food, beer and so forth that works for you. When I say works for you I mean it serves an end and that end enables you to make your art. I would caution you though not to get into anything that drains you of all your energy, save that for making art. You may not get the suburban dream, but as another artist, Mort Grossman told me when I was young you will get a wonderful life. He was right. One more thought, we artists comment on life, on our time in the world, where better to observe all that is going on around us, than being in the mix of it somehow. What ever our experience, we take it in as an artist, we see the world through our artist eyes. So even if you have to wait tables or sell shoes you will gain artistic perspective of your place in this world and you will pass that through to your art. So like the addict you are except the fact you are an artist and work from there. Let the dealers, collectors and art historians figure out the rest. You figure out your art, that’s your job. And when someone asks you what you do for a living tell them you are an ARTIST, with pride.

  4. I read all that stuff before, including coxsofts list, and you know what I don’t really give a rat’s behind. I got tired of all the should and shouldn’t, art rules, marketing rules, etc etc. I just do what I need with my art and follow my own rules.

  5. Thomas Nigel says:

    The older artists like Thornton Willis and Pat Lipsky can tell you that being an artist can be tough if you look at success in regards to how much you have made. I was reading some interviews on the Myartspace Blog and I was surprised to see how many older artists, like Sylvia Sleigh, almost have a sad view of what art has become. Here is a link, . I’m not sure who Brian Sherwin is, but he has interviewed a lot of artists.

  6. That’s pretty good except for one you are off on and that is this, my style is different, My paintings, art works, come to life, literally, they move around and are moody, they are feelings. I’m not sure it transfers digital, but in reality they are alive. but the rest, mmm, good, you are pretty sophisticated in your analytical ways, dear, one, who wrote this,

  7. RE: Coxsofts list..not sure female young and beautiful always we regard Tracey Emin like that?
    Agree there is elitism in art and like JafaBrits stand. In my case, if I want to sell art, I paint subjects and in styles I perceive as saleable. This is not necessarily because I like painting cliches or kitsch, but because I like to produce something that may sell. When I paint what I want to explore, or do experimental stuff, selling is not a primary objective.

  8. I disagree with the wording of her last point because it isn’t consistent with her elaboration in the full article where she does say ‘It is possible’ to earn a living from the sale of your art.

    The reality is, earning a living from the sale of your art will take a lot of commitment, hard work and some very good marketing skills. I think it’s something that many artists work towards but those who understand the reality know it will take time to achieve. They understand that they will need to find other sources of income in the interim.

  9. Ultimately I think one should go into art because they are passionate about expressing themselves and feel that they have a message to convey. It is wonderful if one can make a living purely as an artist but we all know that is rare.

    I definitely enjoyed the article but I disagree with a lot of the comment replies:
    (1) If you need to explain your art, then it isn’t time to give up. Rather its time to keep making your art, thinking more about what you are trying to communicate and of course making sure the audience is well matched.
    (2) There is original work. Sure a root of an idea always pre-exists but people have been saying for 100′s of years that there are “no new ideas in art”…obviously they were wrong!
    (3) In so many fields, including arts, science, education…people lament the loss of innocence. Art world changes just like all of worlds but let’s not pretend that its a recent phenomena that art is driven by money. Art, like most parts of societs, has always been driven by money.

    OK, enough of my rambling. I say, have fun, love creating your art and hopefully other people will be inspired by your work. If you cna pay the bills with it you are very lucky. Otherwise, marry rich :)

  10. yeah, marry rich, is probably the best option for artist’s

  11. Ouch! name is Milo…I didn’t go to art school. In fact I am a high school dropout. I make a living at my art!
    BUT…..I invented a new medium and because of that I have interest. I probably wouldn’t sell if it were some established medium but I only do what is me so I hate to say what if.
    Art is dead if it stops moving. With me art is alive!!!! Sometimes depressing, sometimes something else. I am alive so I AM art!?


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