Living and Sustaining a Creative Life: Book Review

I highly recommend the book Living and Sustaining a Creative Life, a book of 40 artist essays edited by Sharon Louden.

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From these successful artists, you'll discover:

  • You are not alone.
  • The life of an artist doesn't get easier with success. More people depend on you as you add to your list of obligations.
  • All artists struggle to find balance between studio time and family time. The mothers in the book say that kids have forced them to be productive. There is no time to waste.
  • Socializing and self-promotion are necessary. As is writing.
  • Art might happen in the private confines of the studio, but a career requires all kinds of connections outside of the studio. You must learn to work well with others.

Not to Be Missed

I really enjoyed essays by Peter Drake and Richard Klein. Drake writes about the numerous academic positions he has had and his gallery relationships. He says, “The idea of a primary dealer who is in control of your entire professional life is almost extinct. Most galleries do not have the staff to engage in real career development, and so that has fallen more to the artist to accomplish than the dealer.”
Klein is both artist and curator who rises before dawn to start his work. I appreciated his words about the importance of seeking inspiration outside of the studio for a full and creative life: “. . . the solitary world of the studio doesn't consistently provide the inspiration I require for a full and active intellectual life.”
Read the Kate Shepherd essay for an accounting of how she gets help from her assistants.
And don't miss Julie Blackmon‘s humor. I practically laughed out loud as she told of balancing studio time and a 12-year-old kid who wants Nacho Cheese Doritos for dinner. When she starts a new piece, she gives herself “permission to be a really bad mother for a few days.”
But you should read all of the essays. There are little gems from each artist. 


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11 thoughts on “Living and Sustaining a Creative Life: Book Review”

  1. In the spirit of the book, I bought it, paperback version…Here is the MATH…(I really really really want artists to learn MATH now! ASAP)…
    Item(s) Subtotal: $31.95
    Shipping & Handling: $9.48
    Total before tax: $41.43
    Estimated tax to be collected: $0.00
    Import Fees Deposit $1.60
    Grand Total: $43.03

  2. I too read the book and got a lot out of it. (I bought the kindle edition, and it was very affordable.) The biggest eye opener for me was realizing that 99% of artists, including nationally recognized “successful” ones, support themselves with something other than art sales. Be it teaching, other jobs, a spouse, a grant, a trust fund etc, I think only two or three of the forty (I didn’t go back to count) survive only on sales. SO we need to place art sales on the What It Takes To Be Successful list but… maybe not #1, if we do. The other take away, is that we have to just keep moving forward and not be traumatized too much by rejection or too terribly elated by the “big break”. For whatever reason, in the arts world, there is usually not a linear progression to “success”. Sometimes, yes, sometimes no. You have to keep at it, every day.

    1. So if 3 out of 40 survive on sales, that is 7.5%…Meaning you have to be above the 92.5 percentile to survive on sales alone as an artist, based on Donna Gordon’s having been smart enough to have bought the Kindle version & read it already, whilst I will be behind since it will take 2 weeks to get here…

  3. Thank you Alyson for pointing out this wonderful resource.
    I’ve just downloaded it from Kobo and the Canadian price was:
    Subtotal $12.39
    GST/TPS $0.62
    HST $1.24
    Total $14.25
    I can’t wait to dip into it!

  4. Based on your review of this book, I went ahead and bought the Kindle version. I am about 1/3 into it, and have already found it interesting and very helpful. It has helped me remember that I started my adult life as an artist, and that even though I found it necessary to enter a different field after several years in order to survive, and didn’t start making art seriously again until my fifties, I never lost my interest in or involvement in art. When I closed my studio and went back to school in January of 1984, I promised myself that, once I could afford it, I would fill my home with original art and fine craft, and over a period of 15 years or so, did exactly that. About 7 years ago I changed jobs, accepting a 2/3 cut in my income, in order to gain more free time so that I could get both music making and art making back into my life. Even so, balancing the demands of a full time job with trying to be an artist again is quite difficult, particularly in terms of trying to get my work out there to be seen and hopefully sold. These essays say to me that I am, and in a very real way, always have been an artist, and that the struggles I have experienced in manifesting this are all just part of the journey.

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