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A 7th Observation on Being an Artist

August 31, 2009

abstract paintingThe other day while reading Byrne Smith’s blog OrbisPlanis, I came across his list of six observations he’s made during his career as an artist. To summarize, he says you need to (1) know where you are as an artist, (2) be comfortable with yourself, (3) understand why you do art, (4) persevere, (5) please only yourself, and (6) make creating art your only goal. To read more about Byrne’s observations, visit Six Observations on Being an “Artist.”


Where are you and where are you going?

I agree 100% with the first five points. As an artist, you need to know where you are, where you’re going and what drives you. Just like anything else, you need to set concrete goals and take the steps you need to achieve them. I am slowly learning this myself! Things don’t just happen in most people’s lives. Ok, some people seem to have been born with horseshoes… but the rest of us have to make it happen for ourselves!

Despite what many think, it takes hard work to be an artist! First, there’s the challenge of finding time for art amongst the other demends of daily life. If you’re like me, you have a day job to pay the bills, which makes this even harder! Then you have the “business” side of art: writing exhibition proposals and artist statements, documenting your work… On top of that is the actual struggle of your art practice!

Being an artist requires a huge amount of dedication and commitment, especially since most of the time we are accountable only to ourselves. Unless there’s an exhibition looming, no one else is pushing you to create. It’s all on you!


Is artwork your only goal?

I might be taking it too literally, but I can’t totally agree with Byrne’s last observation: your only goal should be to create art. If this was the case, I’d definitely get way more done! But aside from being an artist I’m also a person: a daughter, a girlfriend, a friend, a sister. I have other interests and other goals like being able to pay my bills, relationships with friends and family, one day buying a house and having kids, travelling… I realize that achieving these might get in the way of my art sometimes, but that’s all part of a well-rounded life. Everything we do informs our art, however indirectly.

I’ve always thought the idea of the artist who lives, breathes and eats art was a bit of a romantic notion. Kind of like the starving artist and the tormented artist.

That said, you definitely need to be focused on what you want and how you’re going to get it. It’s up to you to decide what you’re willing to sacrifice for your work and what you’re willing to sacrifice your work for.


A 7th Observation

Byrne’s list offers some insight into what you need to do to be an artist, and I’d like to offer a seventh observation of my own:

In order to get anywhere in your art career, you need to constantly put yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable.

This has proven true again and again in my own art career. If I avoided everything that made me uncomfortable, I wouldn’t have done anything but paint in isolation. My first exhibition terrified me. Being at the opening made me so nervous I had trouble sleeping the week before! But I did it anyways, because I knew it was important and I knew I had to do it.

The opening for my second exhibition was easier, until I was introduced and had to say a few words. I wasn’t prepared for that! Then, a few weeks later, I had to give a one hour long artist talk at the gallery. Then another at the University. Each time it gets a little bit easier. In a few days I’m meeting with one of my professors from school so he can give me some feedback on my work. I haven’t had any real critical feedback in two years and I’m not sure what to expect!

Sometimes it can be the actual artwork that makes you uncomfortable. My first abstract painting (the above picture) made of layered pieces of wood made me extremely uncomfortable. Could this little pile of scraps actually be art? It looked like part of a garbage heap! I eventually got over my prejudice and began to see things within the piece that interested me. Three years later I’m still exploring the layers and depth and tension that intrigued me in that first painting. If I’d scrapped it because it confused me, I would probably still be painting the safe little still lifes that were my crutch.

What makes me uncomfortable may not be what makes you uncomfortable, but the point is that you have to step outside your comfort zone to move forward in art and in life.

Leave a comment and tell me about something you’ve learned about life as an artist, or about life in general. What kinds of observations have you made?


From → Art General

  1. This is an interesting post to be sure. I know for me, sometimes my art goals are revealed to me as I work through my art. Of course there are those infamous, necessary business goals which absolutely drive me crazy. I have often said if artists could have wives (husbands don’t seem to be as notorious for putting things into place so all the artist has to do is create) there would be more artist with public note.

    Like you, I cannot say my art is my only goal, but I can say many aspects of my life drive my art. Clearly the person who has their art as their only goal has a “wife” to take care of the other aspects of living…such as paying bills and taxes, buying and preparing meals, taking care of health issues, children, home repairs, etc. Shy of those highly linear activities, I can say most aspects of my life play a part in my art. It doesn’t seem obvious to the casual art observer, but you can see some of these thoughts play out and discussed on my own blog ( ). Your seventh observation is an excellent one. I know this is very true in life and I speak of it often, so putting it into the context of art makes perfect sense.

    I look forward to exploring and following this wonderful blog further. Thank you for the contemplations.

    • Hi Kim! I’d love a wife to take care of the everyday mundane household things! Even so, I’d still explore my other interests besides art. I once had an art teacher who advised his students to take other courses besides studio courses. Whether it was astronomy or biology or sociology, he believed it was important to have other activities to inform your artwork. I will be checking out your blog shortly, thanks for the discussion!

  2. Thank you. All amazing points, but your second-to-end paragraph resonates right now. I’m not an artist who paints figures or landscapes or portraits, I am an artist who builds her own canvas because I like the texture and sizes better, I am an artist who uses drips and layers and I’ve wondered far too often if I’m an artist at all because of it. Thank you for the reminder to look inside what I actually do and not to compare with what other artists do.

    • Hi Heather! I’ve struggled a lot with that as well. I’m not very expressive as an artist; my work is more logical and linear. I’m actually more of a left-brained thinker, which is not what you’d expect of an artist. I don’t always feel like I fit into conventional art circles because my approach to art is so different, but I’ve come to accept that I’m not wrong, just different. Thanks for stopping by, hope to see you again soon!

  3. hey, I’m going to live by the ocean ocean day, even if I have to live in a pop up tent! 😉

  4. Sounds good Trish! I’ll set mine up right next to yours!!

  5. Hi-and thanks for sparking discussion on this interesting subject! A couple of comments–
    I agree, artists should be (and probably are moreso than most people) well rounded.
    Your 7th goal is true but scary–taking risks is the very only way to make progress; otherwise, there are no peaks and valleys, only plains.
    Thanks again.

  6. Miranda, that is cool that you are a left-brained thinking artist. So am I! I don’t think of myself as very artsty. I’m creative in a different way. Sometimes I think I plan my paintings out like puzzles, deciding which piece goes where; there is a certain order to things.

    I also think that it’s the left-brained side of us that drives us to blog, twitter, and explore the business side of art. In the beginning I was better at marketing than at painting. lol Putting my art out there definitely felt uncomfortable – until it was happening and then it was exhilerating. I agree that you have to push your own boundaries and then you will leap forward.

    • Byrne, thanks for stopping by! Taking risks is definitely scary, but it does pay off in the end. Thanks for the great article that got the ideas flowing!

      Hi Kendra! Wow, it’s awesome to hear from another left-brained artist! There doesn’t seem to be too many of us. You’re right, though, being organized and analytical definitely helps with the business side of art. There have been times when I’ve been grateful for that side of myself. Your paintings, by the way, are gorgeous, they really capture the beauty of BC! Thanks for the discussion, hope to see you again soon!

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