Are you an artist?

May 29, 2013

Did any of you notice the recent trend? It’s becoming increasingly popular to call yourself an artist these days. When someone asks you: “What do you do for a living?” You can answer with pride, a mischievous look, and that special air of impenetrability: “Oh, I am an artist.”

Definition of an artist is very vague. Most often, the term describes people who use imagination, talent or skill to create works that may have an aesthetic value. I believe the term is largely overused these days. When I first came to Oman in 1999, I could count all the artists in the country on my right hand. Now, every second person seems to be involved, directly or indirectly, into some sort of artistic activity. Nothing wrong with that, but let’s try to clarify the difference between amateur artists and professional ones.

Being a professional means that you have decided to take this creative obsession of yours and make it your career. Most of the artists will say that they don’t do it for the money, but without the money, they won’t have the time or energy to create their art.

If you are determined to become an artist, and make it your full time job, you have to be prepared to overcome a lot of hurdles in your artistic career.

Many of you might think it’s one of those noble and classy jobs; and picture yourself with a palette and a brush in your hand in front of a canvas doing something rather remarkable. Don’t fool yourself. Being an artist is the toughest job one can pick, and you have to be little nuts to take it on.
First and most of all, you are going to be sentenced to many years of solitude, which is one of the hardest verdicts life can give you. A painter is a loner; paint and canvas and you in a room. Day in and day out. And I am talking out of experience here.

You have to understand that the work of an artist is very difficult, because it cannot be done with force, with diligence, or with intelligence. You can do everything else in life using strength, and application, and intellect, but in art these things produce absolutely no result. Do your research, take time to study, learn techniques, practice, experiment, make mistakes, start over, and, most of all, think about what you are doing and what you are trying to produce before you start showing your work in art exhibitions.

A professional artist does not simply sit down for an hour and paint a few strokes on the canvas and call it a day because their favourite TV show is starting in five minutes. A professional artist continues to work until he used every last bit of creative energy in his body and his mind, and then keeps on working just to make sure that nothing is forgotten or left behind. The first hour or two of work is simply a warm-up exercise.

Remember that being self-employed means you are without pension, holiday pay, bonus, housing allowance, maternity leave, and any other benefits that employment might give you. Being ill or having children might require some financial planning. Be prepared.

Apart from creating art, you need to know how to market and sell it. Find out who your potential customers are and what they do. Try to develop a relationship with these potential customers before you ask them to look at your art. Get involved in the right artistic circles, and whether you're searching for commissions or trying to advance your career, networking gives you the chance to meet different people and expose yourself to new opportunities.

For years, you might have to deal with rejection, unappreciation, lack of motivation, and lack of interest in your work. Nothing in the world is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Talent alone is no guarantee of success, or explanation as to why some mediocre artists become popular, whilst better artists wait for a call that never comes. Be patient.

And if, after reading this, you feel rather discouraged and want to put your brushes away, remember what happened to Picasso: “My mother said to me: If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope. Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.”