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Earning a Living as an Artist
Sometimes, as a writer, I kind of feel like a musician. People ask "Do you take requests?" It's always interesting and gratifying when readers suggest outstanding artists they've stumbled upon, and also embarrassing sometimes when they ask if I've ever heard of so and so, whereupon I usually have to confess that, no, I can't say as I have. A few let the matter drop there and a few others send me some web material on this "new discovery" they've stumbled upon. I feel a little guilty in some cases when I have to make the decision to ignore their effort for varying good reasons. For one thing I seldom write about living artists, or at least young living artists. I'm not a PR person and I see no point in discussing an artist who is a "work in progress." That's not to say that I never utilise the suggestions of my readers in deciding what to write about, it's just that more often than not, they are inadvertent suggestions, and usually not about an artist but about some topic that is important to artists in general.

That is the case recently when someone asked, "How does one make a living as an artist?" You can't get much more universal than that! I could be flip and answer such a basic question in the same manner as the guy who asked the musician how to get to Carnegie Hall, whereupon the artist replied, "Practice, practice..." And certainly, even in its tired humour, there is a real grain of truth there--ya gotta work at it. Along the same line, a college professor I once had insisted that to make a living as an artist you had to be an exhibitionist, willing to stand naked to the world every time you exhibited your art. Of course that rings up all kinds of interesting mental pictures, but like the first instance, there is an element of truth there too--you need a healthy ego.

However, in general, one earns in direct relationship to four factors, the effort applied, the responsibility you are willing to assume, the credentials you have attained (or what you know from experience), and the rarity of one's skills. (The last two of these being somewhat murky and interdependent.) For the artist, we probably should top off this list by adding the uniqueness of ones ideas. This is a pyramidal hierarchy. The more you have going for you toward the top of the pyramid the less you have to depend on items toward the bottom of the hierarchy. For the artist, there has to be a willingness to pop your head up above the crowd of thousands of other talented artist and do that which the others are either unable or unwilling to do...and to do it better for less. Add to that the healthy ego I mentioned before and you have a recipe for success. These are the economic facts of life, and if you were expecting a laundry lists of ways artists can earn a buck, sorry, they don't make laundry lists that long.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
20 December 1998


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