On getting into galleries and being an artist

Nice interview with Edward Winkleman, New York gallerist. One of the things he said really struck home. it's something I often feel when I talk with a potential client.

He said that you should only be an artist if you HAVE to be an artist–that the "real" artist has no choice.
The "real" artist goes out and gets six jobs if that's what it takes to support herself and her art. It's a hard life and you have to have that passion. You have to feel like you have no other options.

I struggle with the term "real artist," but it comes up all of the time since there are (1) so many people taking up art later in life and (2) artists without art degrees who lack confidence. Either they don't feel like they've paid their dues enough to call themselves artists or they have little patience with hobbyists. (Don't get mad at me. I'm just the messenger relating what I hear on the streets, in my workshops, in emails, and on blogs.)

I think Winkleman is talking about the artists who aren't playing around and testing the market for their art. Instead, they have made a decision. They have decided that they're artists and that there is no turning back.

I hear this from success gurus, too: That you won't find the success you seek until you have decided and until you leave yourself with no other options.

Have you decided to be an artist?

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20 thoughts on “On getting into galleries and being an artist”

  1. Sue Favinger Smith

    I do understand what Edward Winkleman is talking about – being an artist is hard work, in that you must be self-sustaining in areas not traditionally considered as “part-of-the-job”. You must be constantly improving your craft, nurturing your self-confidence in the face of nearly constant rejection/self-doubt/disappointment, getting up and going back into the studio despite the mounting pile of finished but unsold canvases. For some people, they find that reconcilling their expectations with their reality seems just too hard. For others, they let envy for others’ “easy success” get in their own way. So, if the word passion best describes the necessary component for being a “real artist” then it’s as good as any. As one of those taking up art later in life, I got to a point where I had to make a conscious choice to be an artist no matter what the consequences. It takes that intention to push through the hard times. It’s still not easy, but I’m an painter. That’s just the way it is.

  2. I’m still listening to the podcast, and am loving it. Thank you! “Deciding” to be an artist was never really a choice for me–sure, I’ve thought about doing all the other things that I would be good at (massage, counselor, occupational therapy, teacher, lawyer, etc.) but in the end I decided that if I was going to spend the majority of hours/day in my life working, I’d better be doing something I loved. I now work for 3 families as a nanny (all are part time, which is why there’s so many), while finishing my BFA degree. I eventually want to get my master’s, and become an instructor in some capacity. Because as much as I love kids, I do want a more stable income and way to support my art. Of course, I would love to be making enough on my jewelry/metalsmithing alone, but I’ve found that sometimes that kills some of the creativity (making things with the intention of selling them) of the pieces. I do know, however, that if I go long enough without making ANYTHING, I tend to go a little crazy. My creative endeavors start manifesting themselves in cooking, or building dollhouses. It’s not pretty 🙂

  3. Hmmm… having just spent an inordinate amount of time working day and night to prepare for a show, I GET what he’s saying. The passion has to be there. In the eyes of most people it is insane to keep this sort of grueling schedule with no definite reward in sight, other than knowing you’ve done your best and have created something that is meaningful, at least to you. And maybe a few sales along the way. But this pace is just life as usual for the artist. I recently did some consulting for a Voc Rehab organization who are facilitating their clients who have a dream of becoming an artist. The well-intentioned, good hearted organizers were not familiar with the term “day job.” They were hoping that I could outline the way to how to be a successful artist in 5 easy steps. They hadn’t a clue that being an artist is risky, demanding and not a straightforward path. Not for the faint hearted. Many good discussions followed, and we were able to help some aspiring artists. But the bottom line is not the bottom line. The passion is sustaining, and keeps moving us forward.

  4. I would add that one of the reasons that getting ready for the show was additionally grueling is that I’m teaching several college studio courses, and consulting in addition to making art, which I has been my passion and profession for my entire adult life. Way too long! And not long enough!

  5. I am an artist. And a writer. A creative person. Prepared to do what it takes to make the work. How else is there to live? I’ve just given up incapacity benefit (UK equivalent of Invalidity) to be a full time artist and writer. It’s not a sure path, but it’s mine, all mine, the only way I have of being truly authentic in a constantly changing world.

  6. Hi In all professions there are people who are more or less driven. Some lawyers work 24-7 and make it big. Others take a 9-5 job. They are both lawyers. Some artists sacrifice all and work their socks off. Others are part-timers, come to it later in life or whatever. They are still artists. Why do we need to define ‘real’ artists? When is someone ‘real’ in their profession? It is not important. I am real. I am an artist. And I am lots of other things too.

  7. I am an older artist. And in a number of earlier life situations that presented themselves to me, my artist’s life was at risk. But I never allowed anything or anyone to do that and so even when it was just a matter of squeaking by, I did it and so I have this love and activity of art in full bloom now. You have to protect what you know is your life, the heart of your life….whether it is a person or your work. Lynne

  8. Rather than “Real Artist” maybe what Mr. Winkelman should have said was “professional” artist? That term would cover all of the people who want to make either their whole or part of their income from making art.

  9. I’ve been working as a prof artist for about 15 years… however, I’ve always lacked the amount of passion that I see so often in my artist friends’ lives. Lately I’ve been doing more writing for the arts (which I’ve also done professionally for a decade) and I’m finding that writing is my REAL passion. I can’t NOT write. However, I will continue to paint as I find much pleasure in it, and I write instructional articles as well. I’m in my early 50’s. Don’t fool yourself into becoming something you aren’t just because you have ability in that area.

  10. He speaks in such absolutes! Did I fall asleep and miss something in our culture? In a round about way, though, I agree with what Winkleman is trying to say. Analogies work best for me. When I was a mountain climber, I had little use for half measures. Commitment had teeth. Is it complete dedication to split one’s energies between art and several other jobs? Since I’m wandering around here I’ll leave it at that.

  11. “He said that you should only be an artist if you HAVE to be an artist — that the ‘real’ artist has no choice.” Sigh. This kind of over glamorization of the decision to be an artist really tires me. It helps perpetuate all of the myths of what an artist can or can’t be. Yes, an art career is tough, so you’d better really want it. But the same is true for nearly every profession.

  12. Some really great comments here! Fiona: Yes, “Professional artist” is a better term. Lori: I get it. I started out as a painting major and realized I didn’t have the passion and commitment. I just liked the art history classes a lot more. All: Sometimes trying to be a professional artist gets in the way of the passion. There are some people who just want to make art for themselves and trying to make a living from it ruins the passion. Too much pressure! That’s why “professional artist” is a better term. I think it’s important to know where you stand. I also think its vital to know how incredibly difficult it is to make a living from your art. Daniel, you’re right. There are other professions that require similar commitment. I think those who are self-employed (like me, like artists) require the most commitment since the fire has to come from within.

  13. Oh Alyson, Thank you SO MUCH for posting this! The Winkleman quote: “He said that you should only be an artist if you HAVE to be an artist–that the “real” artist has no choice. The “real” artist goes out and gets six jobs if that’s what it takes to support herself and her art. It’s a hard life and you have to have that passion. You have to feel like you have no other options” resonates with me. I mean, it is heartfelt. I have found myself trying to defend myself lately. I never had a choice. I have always had the passion. I never really had any other emotional/spiritual option either. I have been an artist since I was born! I spent 17 years doing the bohemian artist thing. I did quite well. I had collectors driving up to my studio in their Jaguars. I made a living and supported myself and daugher. However, it was a sparse living. I wasn’t making enough to buy a car, let alone a Jacq! This is because I do the kind of art I want to do. I don’t create for the clients. I make my art. If someone wants to buy it, great. I don’t change my mode of work to satisfy the market. I know, I know, that sounds stupid. So be it. If you are the type of artist who likes to do that, there is nothing wrong with that at all. However, I just didn’t want to follow that path. Anyway, there came a moment in which I made the decision to take a full time day job for the simple reason I wanted to be an artist who can afford to be the kind of artist I want to be (without painting for the client.) I still sell my work. I produce tons. I am still a “certified” REAL, professional artist. I am not a bad person because I don’t try to survive on Etsy or Ebay sales. I am glad Winkleman said this. I know for sure. I AM AN ARTIST AND THERE IS NO TURNING BACK! (Day job or not) If anyone looks at my CV, what else in the world could they call me other than an ARTIST????? Sheree Rensel wizzlewolf.com

  14. I’m an older artist as well who became a professional artist in my 50’s, yet I always thought like an artist. I have always thought in images and in terms of how I could capture a feeling or idea or pattern. For those of us who grew up in communities with no art instruction in school or access to art museums and in homes where the closest to a painting we got was a Norman Rockwell calendar the possibilities of becoming a professional artist was not something I for one knew existed. Only after having access to art museums and galleries as an adult, did I slowly realize that this ‘thing’ I loved to do–create art–could happen at any time of my life. And yes, I am obsessed. Sometimes I feel like I’m making up for all the hours I missed creating in the past but this is what I must do. Do I consider myself a ‘real artist?’ Yes.

  15. I never had a choice. my art keeps me going, it gives me purpose and life. it is inextricable from my daily existence and I think about it 24/7. my disability keeps me out of a day job so I have no excuses not to push as hard as I can at this. sometimes I resent that fact that I don’t have a choice, I’m not allergic to money afterall! but I resent the time I have to stay away from the studio much more. so I work as hard as possible to succeed -even when the daily grind of working at my career detracts from the pure joy of creating and I’m working so hard on the business that I can’t get to the studio. all I need to do is read the comments from collectors and fans and get into my studio, or sketch in bed if I can’t stand, to recapture the passion.

  16. Excellent post, Alyson, and such an interesting discussion! As someone who has always had other jobs to support myself, I still consider myself a ‘real artist’. I’m getting better at calling myself a ‘profesional’ artist because that has more of an implication (to me) of being the main source of your income. It’s all semantics. Either way, I know that I am miserable to be around when I haven’t painted for a few days. I guess I see it written for those who want to be more on the ‘professional’ side of the continuum and need a spur to get there. Thanks for offering such food for thought! I’ll have to ponder this! (Is it Thursday?)

  17. Once you develop a real vision (through years of painting) it becomes a lot easier to keep it in a central place in your life. As I see it, the stronger your work, the more you own your work the love and energy to see to it that it will be collected, preserved and admired. Being an artist is a romance alright. But it is also a practical matter of balancing emotional concerns with financial and time demands. The last thing we want to see are young artists giving it their all only to crash and burn. A life in art is an endurance race, not a sprint.

  18. Wonderful post, I am an artist, real or not. I have no choice in the matter it is what I am and what I do. I work two day jobs, and I spend all my free time workin in studio and marketing my work to the outside world. It’s hard work, I never feel like I have made it…but I know I will someday. With direct and thoughtful marketing, with desire and passion, with not knowing how it will all turn out…I do it all anyway. I have no choice, I am an artist, I must continue, and so I do. What I am is enough and I am happy with what I create, share and learn in this world. Thanks for posting this, it’s just what my tired end of the year brain needed.

  19. Pingback: The business of art… Getting a foot in the door. : ArtStuff

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