Is the Artist's Life Selfish?

From a follower:

I am thinking about leaving a high-paying job for an art career.
While my husband can cover our family's needs, I am having trouble letting go of knowing I can provide for my children – on my own. It feels too selfish.

Julia Dziuba Still Life
©2011 Julia Dziuba, Country Still Life. Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 48 inches. Based on Paul Cézanne's Still Life with Compotier. Commissioned.

Deep Thought

The person who wrote the above wants to hear from you . . .
Do you feel guilty for sacrificing security for love and passion?
Is the artist's life selfish?

Share this post

Your mailing list is your #1 marketing asset.

Your Artist Mailing List report

A transcript with the 3 lists every artist should have + a 3-page assessment for understanding the health of your list. FREE with opt-in.

63 thoughts on “Is the Artist's Life Selfish?”

  1. Oh how i know that feeling, I do agree with Katherine. It is a hard decision, but since making the same one a few years ago my life quality has improved! My blog came about as a way to record my journey & when i look back I can see how far I have come. I am doing something i love & have so much passion for and all agree I am a better person for it. Follow your heart.

    1. Hi, Julia here (the artist that wrote Alyson). I want to thank everyone for their feedback.
      Ruthie, your line about doing something you love and being a better person for it sings loudly to me. There are many many reasons I am considering this change: to follow my heart, do something I am truly passionate for, etc. but also I know (or suspect) this will a lot of hard work and make me grow in many ways and I really want to be the person I will have to be to find success in this area. I want this hard journey and the self discovery it will force.
      I too started a blog to record my journey but haven’t written for weeks now because I’m just blocked. What I do with the time I have for art is very different if it remains just a hobby for years to come or if I’m building toward a career. I don’t want to waste my time. I want to make a decision (for the next couple of years at least). I think I know which way I’m going to go but I have to answer this question and others and be honest with myself and those that depend on me.

    2. Julie, I went to your page & wanted to add some thoughts…Jewelry leans more into craft as a category, & in doing so, has a much better chance for income opportunity…Your background as a scientist leads me to wonder if you could amalgamate science with the jewelry…What I mean to say is that many stones have specific healing properties that you would understand…ie: pyrite is iron, for iron anemics, lepidolites are lithium, malachite is copper for Parkinson’s spleen support, and so on…Was also wondering how much the 7000 bead one might cost? (it is really something)…

    3. Great thoughts, Sari. I’d love to hear more. I looked you up after your comment below but wanted to think about it more before responding. If you have the time and interested I’d love to start a conversation with you “off air”.

  2. I don’t think anything I can say will alter how this person feels! And anyway my circumstances are completely different. What about working part time for a while? If you are so concerned about feeling selfish, chances are you won’t dedicate yourself in the way you need to to make a career from art, so you could end up sabotaging yourself. Taking your art seriously requires dedication and effort but it doesn’t have to mean makings leaps you don’t yet feel ready to make. There’s no shame in doing it gradually!

  3. I am single and have worked at my passion as a fiber artist for 5 years now. I find the financial stress is too great and am going back to work two days a week. i have an older dog and a son in college and i find I really want to be able to provide things for them. I do feel like I have been a bit selfish. I wouldn’t trade for the last 5 years, I’ve done some wonderful things and feel more whole as a person, but I want to provide for all of us and this work has not gone that way. tired of just making ends meet and hope for more balance in my life!

  4. I was in your shoes years ago and took the leap. What’s more important to teach our children? to stay in a job that’s only pro is more money in the bank, or to follow our hearts and reach for goals that are more than just fiscal?
    Also think about your mental well-being – for me, painting is a release that I just can’t get doing anything else. When I paint, I am happier outside the studio, which translates to a less-stressed parent and someone who can be present at a greater degree.
    There also are perks to being an artist, like flexing your day around your children’s needs and including them in studio operations. My kids do data entry, help address mailings, wrap paintings, track inventory, test drive new lesson plans and materials, and brainstorm marketing ideas.
    It’s scarey, no doubt. But leaving the traditional workforce was one of the best decisions I ever made. Hope you are able to come to terms with your crossroads soon!

  5. Selfish people are selfish, regardless of their profession.
    If she were studying to be a doctor or CPA would we be having this conversation?
    Having said that, I admit I do feel guilty sometimes. If I had a paycheck job we could have more stuff, and we could travel more to get that stuff. Lots of things would be easier for sure. Not better, but easier.
    Julie’s tipping point will be when going to work is more uncomfortable than not being at her easel. If she really wants this she – and her family – will figure out a way.

    1. Patty, your wisdom shines. Thank you for your reply. I’d like to bring this a little farther though.
      It is obvious readers read different things into the word selfish. I know I am not selfish. But when you have committed yourself to being responsible for two people you love dearly is anything less than selfless selfish?
      I think the difference between art and other professions is what is at stake and why people pursue them.
      Let’s have this conversation about doctors. Let’s pretend I was very passionate about helping people improve their health but we lived in a society that did not value this profession as much as it should. Let’s pretend I had to buy all of my supplies out of pocket, apply to work for month stretches in hospitals sometimes all over the country and hope that someone that valued my skills bought my serves.
      It is not just about the specific profession – it is about the risks associated with this profession. Is it selfish of me to introduce such uncertainty into my life?
      I do think you are right.

    2. Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Julia.
      I belive women, especially women with children, generally see anything they do that might take focus away from the family, as selfish. From my experience, a parent who is engaged, loves their work, shows enthusiasm about their work and is a good example to their kids is a fine parent regardless of how much income they produce. If giving up your job means your kids don’t eat, that’s a different story of course, but I doubt that’s the case here.
      And you’re right, being in the arts does not ensure income like the medical profession does. It is a riskier proposition, no doubt. There’s a difference between risk and selfishness though.
      I appreciate your hesitation, and you’re being smart to play this carefully. This is the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life – and I’ve never been happier.

  6. The economic downturn caused my work-from-home marketing job to disappear in 2008. At that time, i was a couple of years into showing and marketing my work thru galleries and juryied fine art fairs. It took until 2010 to build a mailing list and clientele large enough to earn any real income. As this year closes, I will have replaced my income though not the benefits. The flexibility for my young family including the ability to feed them hot breakfast and home cooked dinners along with the benefit to my spouse of not having to decide who will cover sick kids and summer vacation…priceless.
    My husband stopped worrying about my not having a day job a couple of years ago. We have adjusted to my income being “lumpy” and are living fairly comfortably. My kids help load and unload shows. They help with mailings and tinting canvases. My 9 year old daughter wants to be an artist entrepreneur and I think she is learning exactly what that entails. Making the leap was the best decision of my life!!

  7. Assuming that the artist is looking to make a living with their art, then the artist’s life is no more selfish than any other career path. However, if it is simply “self-fulfillment”, then they had better be financially independent lest they become a leech on the production of others.

  8. I had a show a few years ago. It was a pretty significant one for me in a very large gallery space with 52 paintings and 12 sculpture. At that point my son was an adult living across the country. I bought him a ticket to come to the opening “so that he could see his neglected childhood made visible.”
    But really it was because it seemed very important to share that with him, just as it had been very important to share the process of creating art all through his life, from when he used to bounce in a johnny-jump-up seat in my studio when I was in grad school, to when he (at age six) helped me set up an installation in a storefront window in Burlington VT, and on through his entire childhood.
    For quite a few years it was just the two of us. I had to pick between buying food and paying for the electricity. Not trying to be pathetic. That’s just the way it was. But, even with that financial stress, it was never an option for me to not make art. I just had to fit it in with everything else, which was usually full time teaching in public and private schools.
    Yes, I felt selfish. To top it off, though I’m not a practicing Quaker, I was raised as a Quaker. And despite Benjamin West’s example, making art is not a Quaker-ly thing to do. It’s egotistical (BTW Quakers are not Shakers). I love rock and roll and wild colors. But I had that niggling worry in my head much of the time.
    I would have loved to quit my day job. If I possibly could have I would have.
    It was never a feasible proposition.
    But here’s a thought.
    If they’d taught me the sorts of things in undergrad OR grad school that Alyson teaches about how to run a viable business as an artist, I’d have been miles ahead. But in those days being commercial and marketing your work was considered to be prostituting the muse. Thank you Alyson!
    SO DO IT!
    We probably can’t save the world by ourselves but only you can make your art.
    Gosh- there goes my first cup of coffee.
    Sorry for the reminiscent rant.
    What I want to say, and what I always say to my students is:

  9. Some of the things we do are selfish. But i find that i am very focused on only myself and the work in the creation phase. After that when i am networking and selling i flip the page if you will, and do everything with an attitude of serving the customer. Genuine care for people is the easiest selling point ever.
    I am a father of 4, and my wife only works to pay for the kids schooling. I have made the decision to make my business around architectural art, which is marketable. That in turn allows me to be set up in the studio to pursue the things that only i want to do.
    Help others, and they will help you.
    At a recent Renoir exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a quote that he said really stood out.
    It was something to the effect of……
    ” now that i am in my eighties, i finally have the time to create the art i want to”. Point being, before that he was painting what sold.
    We need balance between what is creative and what is actually marketable.

  10. I am in the same boat. My wife has been unemployed for close to a year, her ex husband has quit paying her child support for two young children, and my job is the only one existing, but I am an artist. I have been very unsatisfied with my job as a Graphic Artist for about 8 months now, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I asked to be moved part time starting in Feb 2013, which means a cut in pay and loss of state benefits, but the desire to work on my own art is too strong. I feel guilty and selfish for making this choice, but it is one I could not resist. I want to try. If things don’t work out, I feel I can easily go back to my full-time position in a year or so, but I hope that is not needed. I have a business studio I pay for, I have a business license, I just need and WANT to start my own career in art. It’s a little nervous, but I’m up for a challenge.

  11. i envy here bravery to do such a thing for herself. I am the breadwinner in our household, who provides the health insurance and the stable income. my art career is part-time, nights and weekends. if wish i could let go, jump in and do it full time. but right now, we just can’t make it work. good luck and no, i don’t think it’s selfish @ all, as long as when the time comes for your partner to do something for himself, that you are there to support him. that’s what relationships are about.

    1. Thanks, Lorraine. My family is in a position to consider this because I was the breadwinner for a couple years while my husband took a couple chances (and the last one paid off). I saw his growth and I want that for myself too.

  12. You’ve been given a gift to share with people. Is it selfish to share that talent? There is someone out there who needs what you have to give. In the long run you and your husband and children will benefit because you are living out of what you’ve been called to do.

  13. Every situation is different. I personally have a well paying part time day job that supports my art habit/career. The income I bring in there is critical to our families financial stability and it allows me to make the art I want rather than needing to focus on what sells. (It turns out that the art I want to make sells too. Having the day job just took away the stress of worrying about sales as a criteria for my art making).
    My situation aside, this artist asks if she would be selfish to give up a well-paying day job to focus on her art when there is another income in the household that offers the security of basic needs.
    Assuming her partner is all for the shift I would ask what it is she really wants to teach her children, because they do as you do, not as you say. If she wants to teach then they should value economic success over all else than she should stay in her job. If she wants to teach them to give up some financial security to develop and contribute their creative and critical voices to the world than she should do the same.
    As I said, I walk the middle path, securing financial security for the very basics but giving up the additional income a full time job would bring me in exchange for the time for my studio and to carry on my art career. My step-children know my spouse and I have made choice to have less money, a smaller house, used cars, and all that goes with lower income to have a creative life and build an art career (that is slowly expanding economically and may some day replace the day job).
    Our circumstances make a huge difference in the choices we have. But if you have the choice to go for it than you are choosing if you value your creative life more than extra money. That selfishness thing is a social construct based on valuing financial success over all other things. In this world, with such out of wack values, I think being an artists at all is an act of resistance. Good luck!!!!

  14. Well, of course it helps to have a working spouse. That being said, of course those noisy demons occasionally shout in my brain: “For the cost of all those entry fees you could have redone the downstairs bathroom!” But art is no different from any other business; it requires visibility, marketing, and perseverance. I see so many good artists who do none of the above. What a shame.

    1. I agree, but I also see that what ‘fills us with passion’ can change over our lifetimes.
      When I was young, my main ‘passion’ was getting out there and becoming independent, which meant studying and then finding work which appealed to me – nursing. That made me happy.
      When my children came along, my main ‘passion’ was spending time with them, taking them for walks to the part every day, doing crafts with them, playing games with them, watching them change and grow. That made me happy.
      As they got older and needed less of ‘me’, my ‘passion’ shifted more and more to the creative side of myself. Now that they are all grown, and the grandchildren are half-grown, I finally feel free to focus entirely on the artistic side of my nature. This is what now makes me happy.
      That’s what I meant in my earlier post – live can be a series of stages, or even a series of passions.

  15. Victoria Pendragon

    I think that the best thing you can do for your children is to set an example of how you would want them to live their lives. (And love, not money or material goods, is children’s greatest need.)

  16. The Artist’s life is indeed selfish, and the decision of which direction to take in life is a purely personal one. I think women struggle with this far moreso than men. For myself, I tend to view my life as a series of ‘states’.
    I’ve been passionate about art for all my life, and have always spent at least part of my time working at it. However, when I was a Nurse, my main energy went into doing that as well as I could. When I became a mother, my prime purpose became caring for and raising my children. Later, the children grown and gone and the marriage dissolved, I was back ‘out in the workforce’ again, and my prime energy went into supporting myself. Then the grandchildren arrived, and I was ‘the Grandma’.
    Now that the grandchildren are no longer ‘little kids’ anymore, and I’m retired from the ‘daily grind’, I finally have allowed myself the selfish choice of devoting the bulk of my time to pursuing my passion of creating art. I’ve waited my entire life to reach this ‘stage’, and I feel no guilt about choosing this path for myself. A little late, perhaps, but I see it as just the ‘next step’ in a lifetime of different stages.

  17. As a mother of three grown children I found the perfect balance for me was to find a way to work with a reliable income two to three days per week and the rest of the time do other things that rounded out my life. I wasn’t doing much art then, and I must admit that the job was my creative outlet. Taking care of the kids and doing housework was actually more difficult for me. But I do think this option could be constructed in such a way that a part time job balanced with art and the family might be possible as long as the person is young and has energy. In fact it’s probably more life enhancing than sticking to only one thing!

  18. I feel it is a ‘calling’ rather than a decision. Something inside you that you just have to do no matter what, to become the best artist you can be, showing your unique art voice through paint, until your time is on earth done.But there are sacrifices you make to follow your art full time and earn a living from it. It is hard work. You have to be disciplined. You often work in isolation (without health benefits) and your car might be an older model. You also can’t coast calling in sick to the office when you don’t quite feel like working, or kill time chatting with colleagues at the water cooler for five o’clock to roll around. My children, now grown, who watched me work full time as an artist during their childhood, say that they learned a lot from me about work ethic along with following your dream.

  19. If you do what you love it will never be work. I had the same thoughts 15 years ago when I left a great engineering job to pursue my love of web design while staying home with my babies. Although it was a tough transition for ME, it has been worth everything I gave up in the work world. My oldest is in his first year of college and I don’t believe I could have been the kind of parent (super involved) he needed without working from home. My kids are definitely better from experience. And 15 years later, I still love doing web design and social media marketing for local businesses (including a few artists). Praying you are able to take the leap!

  20. I think it depends on what kind of artist you want to be. I know many who do beautiful work and don’t spend the time marketing it or their prices are so high they rarely sell their pieces.
    If you’re serious, put in the effort and want to succeed you most likely will and you shouldn’t feel selfish.
    I transitioned from running a family furniture business to full time artist 2 1/2 years ago and now do much better than I ever did selling furniture, but I work longer and harder at it. Because I love it most of it doesn’t feel like work.

  21. I’d like to make a case for healthy selfishness. Years ago when I decided to hang up my apron and pick up my paint brushes, my son said, “Mom, we’ve never seen you so happy.” I was a bit surprised at the realization that I had a low grade depression from not expressing my creativity.
    I quickly found out that the greatest gift you can give your children is a happy mom. The adage, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” is so true. By following your passion you teach your children to follow theirs. In our society we have a misguided notion that money and possessions are the measure of success. In fact, true success is the amount of joy you have and that comes from making your dreams a reality – not your employers.
    I would suggest you consider working part-time, build your own nest egg and have a plan in case you leave your marriage or your husband’s job situation changes. As for as letting go -let go of the idea that taking care of yourself is selfish. More on my story of how I incorporated Art in my new life at
    BTW My youngest son just moved to Nashville to follow his dream and my oldest teaches guitar and has written Guitar Roads an instruction text with CD. Both have big dreams.

  22. What troubles me in the letter is that the person writing is already in a high paying job…Which means that he or she has achieved a level of excellence in that position…The sense of possible guilt is also a trigger for me…I’d suggest reading some of Richard Florida’s writings, where he talks about how people who are creative can be creative within their current job…The idea is to carve out some creativity within your current position rather than assume that the only way to be creative is to quit it all & do the traditional paint, sculpt, thing…I find it fascinating when people innovate within their own “square” job frames…The waitress who invents the bendy straw for disabled people, the retail salesperson who does fabulous window dressings each holiday season, the doctor who teaches Tai Chi on weekends, the dentist who artfully creates porcelain veneers…You can be an artist within your current confines…Just expand your mind instead of your credit card debt…

  23. We don’t know much about the OP’s situation. Her comment about no longer being able to provide for her children on her own is interesting — is her marriage and family dynamic in such a state that she thinks she will need to draw upon that ability? Further, does she work in an area in which “stepping out” for a couple of years spells technical obsolescence?
    Assuming these factors are addressed, then, as Patty (poster #6 above) stated, choosing a career in art is no more or less selfish than choosing a career in any other field. We are fortunate that we can choose the work we do and pursue our passions. The OP may just find that she is emotionally invested enough in her art to make money at it, erasing some of her concerns.
    In any case, she is demonstrating to her children that work is too much a part of our lives to be abandoned to just any job that pays. And, given the current U.S. political/economic climate, teaching children to avoid the HSSJ (Horrible Soul-Sucking Job) whenever possible is that much more important.

  24. it’s all about balance and being happy…if you’re unhappy in a 9-5, your kids know it, sense it, feel it. every mother feels guilt, it comes with the territory, no matter what you do…you have to consciously work thru it. you set an example for your kids by letting them know you won’t settle for an unfulfilled life….money is not the end all. i have to deal with these issues all the time as a single mom of two girls that works a 9-5, and also an artist. my girls see how hard i work and we have great conversations about money, wanting things we can’t afford, how they will live their lives, etc. you don’t have to sacrifice your happiness/or art…you can have most of what you want…no life is perfect…you work through these issues…your happiness is extremely important, cuz if you’re not happy no one around you is happy!!

  25. As long as you and your husband have a reasonable budget, remember how you want to raise your children – with love and passion. Perhaps being an artist can help you do that better than the high-paying (and stressful? unfulfilling?) job can ever do. Think of ALL the angles, and good luck with your decision … and your art career … 😉

  26. My belief is that you follow your heart, it is healthier and more intelligent in the long run. A happy person is a better parent, does not pass on his/her misery to the children, and will not end up bitter. After all consistent focus will reap benefits, I’m sure of that. If possible try some part time job to back the cost, but always keep your goal in mind.

  27. I went back to school and got an art degree when my children were quite young. Then I worked at art as a freelance commercial artist and later a pet portrait artist while working part time for my husband’s business. I have often felt guilty about all the lost hours with my children in those early days of their formative years. But, I keep coming back to the same response. I would have been a worse mother if I had not followed my dream and passion which was art.
    A certain amount of selfishness is needed if women are to find their own fulfillment outside of the family. I say that if it’s at all possible without throwing the family into poverty, then do it and don’t look back. If you don’t try, you’ll never know if you could have succeeded as an artist, even if you don’t market your art. It will eat at you the rest of your days.

  28. Yep, an artist’s life is selfish. Your art has to come before almost everything if you want to get anything done. Take your husband up on his offer of providing for the family. Try it for a year. If a full time artist’s life doesn’t work out for you, you can always go back to working a day job or working part-time.

  29. “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” -Howard Thurman
    It is not selfish to make yourself happy, because in making yourself happy, you will radiate positive energy which will benefit every person you come into contact with.

  30. Because we cannot live without the arts, a life devoted to creating art serves the greater good as much as anything else. What greater gift can you possibly give your children than demonstrating that a person can choose to live a creative life, striving to succeed independently rather than as an employee.

  31. I think it can be selfish depending on the kind of artist. An artist that needs isolation and their mind completely focused on their art, might not be able to detach at scheduled times to participate with their family. if the artist does not have any issue with “turning it off” at a set time, i.e. when the kids are home from school, or whatever, then it probably works better. The money thing, ehn. Doesn’t seem to be a big of a deal. In my opinion is, are we selfish with our time and emotional availability?

  32. If you are truly doing what you feel you know inside is the thing you were meant to do how can that be selfish? If it makes you happy and a more balanced person that energy can translate to everyone you touch in your life. I do struggle with making much less money than I used to in my cushy government job; I do worry about financial security in my old age; I do want to enjoy some of the finder things in life as I see others around me do, but as crazy as it sounds and as a number have said, I too wouldn’t trade the experience of being a working artist for the world. I finally feel like I’m in the right place, surrounded by the right people.

  33. Valerie Samuel Henderson

    We can be self absorbed in any field, or we can use our life to support and encourage others as part of the work we do as an artist as well as how we live our daily life and the example of care and courage we create.

  34. Rose City Photographer Ed Devereaux

    Everyday when my wife leaves the house to go to her job and I go out to make images, draw or other forms of creative endeavors I feel selfish. She comforts my feelings but the guilt never goes away.

  35. Probably not Julie. I am struggling myself to make a decision to leave a well paying job and admit myself into a culinary college to become a chef for a profession. Though I am not a mother( and it does make a lot of difference) maybe i do partly understand what is happening to you.
    Its not selfish. Rather the courage to follow their heart would be fed into your children’s mind. Children look up to their parents u see, there is bliss in art. An aura which it gives you is strong, and happy ! And don’t be harsh on yourself , you might just as well start earning a lot with art too 🙂 You children will do fine !! 🙂

  36. Trust the call, trust the passion. Guilt, worry, practical concerns, etc…, will thrust again and again into your thinking because we live in this culture. Giving yourself over to the call will be plagued by them but trust the journey.
    It has been a long process for me to trust but the breakthrough and every moment since has developed and deepened me as an artist and a human. When I hold to that clean, clear, joyful place of making magic happens, for me and, as appears more and more, for those who experience the work as well.
    Selfishness might be giving over to uncertainty when the world is waiting/wanting for what only you can bring into being, including your own joy in the doing.

  37. This is a very interesting thread, and the comments others have made about following your passion; that making yourself happy will make others happy, I think is true. I have been working as a full-time artist now for over 4 1/2 years. I know that watching me follow my dreams has encouraged others around me to do the same. While I certainly made more money when I worked as an editor and then a graphic designer, I couldn’t say waking up that I loved what I did, every day. And I do now. I do wonder when I have kids how that will work. I know I will have less time for my art. But I refuse to give up on spending time on it. I’ve realized how much happier I am being creative; I’m nicer to everyone. And that is the opposite of being selfish, I think.

  38. Both my husband and I work from home, choosing to take the low-cost/low-income route of life. But we’re doing what we want.
    The other day my 13yo came to me in tears, angry because she isn’t getting big gifts for Christmas. She said it’s not fair to her and that it really makes her jealous of her “rich” friends.
    I reminded her that everything is a trade off. She has parents at home, available 24/7. She has parents who are happy. And that just as we’ve made the choice to be home and frugal…her friends’ parents have made the choice to be “climbing the ladder” and extravagant. And that choice has to do with a set of values that we hold dear. That there is more going on here than being able to buy THINGS. I reminded her that her jealousy is HER problem and is a result of how she chooses to experience the situation.
    That being said, I’ve had a lot of time over the years with feeling guilty for doing the things that I want to do. We’re taught that to be responsible and good we should be doing what’s best for others. Mothers always eat the burned toast. Fathers always work long hours and miss their children’s concerts. Choosing to live a different life does mean that we swim against the current. But it doesn’t mean that we’re wrong.

  39. How is wanting to pursue a career as an artist anymore selfish than any other career? I believe a few others have touched on this point already, but I think it’s one that should really hit home. Just because you are wanting to leave the employ of someone else to pursue setting up your own business as a practicing artist doesn’t make you selfish – it makes you entreprenual (yeah probably didn’t spell that last word right). How is this any different from the insurance salesman that leaves the employ of an insurance company to open his own brokerage (I know this from experience, my father did this)?
    Will it work out? Maybe, maybe not. That’s the risk of trying to run your own business. I think the biggest part of the problem for most people who ponder this question is the simple fact that, by pursuing the career of a practicing artist, they might actually enjoy themselves. I think most people equate a job to a necessary, but mostly joyless, part of life. They do it because they have to pay the bills (and please don’t misunderstand me, some people truly love what they do at their job, but, if it was always that way, would the average person switch careers three or four times in their lifetime?) So when your occupation all of the sudden is something you love doing already, I think most people feel guilty about it.
    The flip side of this is, can you separate the act of making art from being a career artist? I am currently a self-employed artist. I use my skills as an artist and designer to do everything I can to make my business succeed. But, if something happens that requires me to seek employment from someone else (a medical expense, never showing income growth as an artist, etc.), I will be willing to step away from art as a business. It doesn’t mean I stop making art, it means I no longer strive to make it my sole source of income.
    The bottom line is, are you in a situation that allows you to make this leap? Do you have savings or another source of income that will allow you to put every effort into it? If so, put a business plan together, set your goals, and make the transition. Give it every effort to make your art business grow and thrive and be successful.
    I’ve never felt that my desire to make a living as an artist is selfish. I’ve always felt that it was risky, brave, and aggressive. The same as trying to open my own insurance brokerage, auto garage, or clothes shop. It’s risky. It may or may not work. But I know I have a skill set that sets me apart from a lot of other people, a skill set that I’ve worked hard to develop and evolve. I think this skill set can be of value to others. All I have to do is figure out how to use that skill set to generate income. That isn’t selfish, that’s living to my potential and capitalizing on what I do well.

  40. Do what you know will make you happy, if your husband can support you guys alone I don’t see the problem with having a lower paying job if its a path you want to follow… Plus I believe making yourself happy in turn will help resonate positivity within your family.
    Hope that helps! Good luck and happy holidays. 🙂

  41. Pingback: Most Active Posts on the Art Biz Blog in 2012 — Art Biz Blog

  42. I agree with Ed’s comment – I feel very guilty creating art while my husband goes to work a job that makes him feel unfulfilled. He tells me he wouldn’t have it any other way and he’s very proud of me but it still feels terribly indulgent.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Suzie: I’m guessing you do some stuff for your household that isn’t necessarily fulfilling for you. Yes? And you are trying to make money in order to contribute to household finances, yes?
      Give that husband a big hug!

  43. Alyson, perhaps you answered this question in this thread, and I apologize for not reading through all of them. In the next 1-3 years, I want to leave my decent paying job as a dental technician and go full speed on my business as a sculptor. My wife gets paranoid about business risk and does not understand the realm of entrepreneurship. I certainly do. How should I approach her with convincing her that things will be OK. We have aggressively paid off personal debts and that should be enough evidence that we can make it through my transition. Any thoughts? Thanx!!!

  44. Travis, you don’t mention particularly *why* your wife is unconvinced. Is there a specific concern she has? Meeting household expenses? The length of time income may be below average (or nonexistent)?
    Your third-to-last sentence gives a bit of a clue. If your wife is the visual type, could you create a budget that you could show her? Show your expenses as you see them as a full-time sculptor. Pare it down to essentials (mortgage, typical gas & electric bills, etc.). Discuss together how far you could trim spending categories like dining out or hobby expenses — or even trading a favored but gas-guzzling truck for a used economy car if it makes sense to do so. Don’t forget to include savings for big-ticket expenses like retirement/college/car/new furnace; money saved from no longer working as a dental tech (uniforms, lunches out, etc.); and added expenses for your sculpting business (insurance, fees, studio space, etc.).
    Then discuss how much you hope/plan to be able to bring in as a full-time sculptor. Think as if you were persuading a bank to loan you money — what is your realistic earning potential? Is it enough to cover expenses?
    Or do you need to discuss how long you can/want to go without sculpting income before you or she picks up a different or additional job (even a McJob)?
    The key really is addressing what makes your wife uncomfortable about this. I tracked our expenses for months to confirm our budget and found that we were good with my wife’s income and some money-saving strategies we could take on now that I was home more. It’s worked out well for us without any income coming in. But you won’t have a good idea where you’re going if you don’t even have a map.

  45. Pingback: Selfish or Self-driven « Julia Dziuba

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top

Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

Where can we send it? 

To ensure delivery, please triple check your email address.

You’ll also receive my regular news for your art business.

Privacy + Terms

You're invited!


  • More than 7 strategies for growing your list lists, and why 1 shines above all.
  • How to redirect your energy for better results.
  • How a gratitude practice can help you shift your mindset.

I’ll also give you a peek behind the scenes at our classes and community.

This event is coming up soon. Will you come?