a comment that really ought to be a post

I got a bit carried away today, ranting about the idea of making it as an artist, over at my friend Colleen Doran's blog. Since some of you don't read her blog (and why not? hmm?), I thought I'd bring the discussion here.


I’ve been thinking about the idea of making it as an artist, and freelancing vs. a day job, and how money relates to all this. So many things have to happen to make it in the arts (and by ‘arts,’ I mean all of them):

  • You have to have the aptitude and talent for your art;
  • you have to be disciplined enough to develop your skills;
  • you have to get your ass in the chair and produce work;
  • then you have to get your work seen;
  • then you need to be able to follow through on deadlines and not shoot yourself in the foot by being a pain in the ass to work with;
  • then you need to get paid well enough, and in a timely fashion;
  • then you need either business sense, or enough common sense to hire someone you can trust to manage your business;
  • you have to be able to keep on doing this for decades;
  • and then you need to stay current, change, and grow artistically, in order to have a career, instead of being a fad.

Talent’s only one of many factors. It’s crucial, but only one. Work ethic, discipline, time management, and luck: you need them whether you’re doing art as a salaried monkey, or as a freelancer, or as a part-timer. Yet, there is this great schism between people who do art part-time vs. full-time. The part-timers feel like wannabes; the full-time people feel like they have some innate trait that sets them apart from lower beings who are not Real Artists.™ And this idea that Real Artists™ are able to completely support themselves financially in every way, and have no worries, because they’re Just That Good and can turn jobs down…

…well, that idea makes me stabby. The real distinction is whether or not you’re a professional; not how much time you devote to it, or how much money you make from it.

To use myself as an example -- I do some sorts of art (art direction, design, and writing) during the day, as a full-time salaried gig. I do some sorts of art on the side (illustration, painting, design, writing). Regardless of what sort of art, or when I do it, 100% of my income is generated by art. It’s fair to say I’m a professional artist.

I make a decent living. Compared to some of my friends who are also professionals, I don’t make much. I envy their flexible schedules and in some instances, the insane money. Some of them envy the stability and insanely good benefits I have, because they often spend weeks between jobs every year. Couple of my friends are ones who you wouldn’t imagine ever being out of work. And yet, they too must scramble to cover the gap financially when pipes burst and cars die -- so they work on smaller things to keep everything going as they look for more work. I know only one professional creator who doesn’t ever have to worry about money, and he’s totally blowing the curve for all of us.

What many people forget is that even someone who does art on a freelance basis full-time isn’t spending 100% of their time generating art. There’s looking for work, bills, invoices, taxes, client meetings, phone calls, conference calls, emails, research, and then the simple business of living the rest of one’s life. It’s not a glamorous gig.