Thursday, May 28, 2009

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

"Last Light, Monarch Lake"
Oil on Panel

My fortune at the Chinese restaurant last night said, "Chance favors those in motion." I read it to my husband and we both laughed - after all, I've spent the last few months trying to move as little as possible!

Isn't this common sense, though? I think of it as "making luck" - making the effort required to position ourselves where we can take advantage of new opportunities. I'm painfully aware that when I'm not working, I'm not in a position to go anywhere with my art but down. The more effort I put into making and selling my paintings, the more likely I am to get results. Being an artist is not an easy job - it requires commitment and elbow grease.

Alyson Stanfield touched on this in her Deep Thought Thursday blog last week, asking her readers how many hours per week an artist should devote to his or her career, referencing Michael Shane Neal's suggestion of 12-18 hour days.

I usually love reading the responses to Alyson's Thursday questions, and this one was no different - the answer was obviously that there is no answer and that it depends on the artist. I think most agreed, however, that the more time you can put in given your circumstances, the better. But there was one post that implied that anyone who thinks of their art making in terms of time is not an artist, and it got my blood boiling a bit. I might have even fired off a hasty response without taking the time to cool down - hehe...

Suffice it to say, I totally disagree. First of all, it's downright insulting to say someone else is not an "artist" simply because of their working habits. We could argue all day about what is "art" and what is not, but I daresay it has very little to do with whether the artist works 9-5 or in the dead of the night. Second of all, I think this type of attitude can be very dangerous to those who wish to start a career in the arts. There's a misconception that being an artist is fun and relaxing, and the minute things get tough a lot of young artists run for another career.

I know a lot of artists in real life, and they all have different work habits. Some are very regimented and schedule every hour of every day to optimize their art making time. Some are more laid back and work different hours every day, depending on what else is going on. But regardless of style, every artist I know who actually makes a living from their art (meaning does art full time and makes enough money to support themself and often their family) works damn hard. A lot of these guys paint more than 40 hours a week, and then spend 20 hours more working on business and networking. They take their art careers as seriously as anyone else who runs a small business, and it shows.

I have yet to meet an artist who got worse by putting in more hours. Have you?


  1. Well said, Stacey. I agree with you. You have to be self-disciplined and put in the time on both the art making end and the business end to reach whatever goals you've set for yourself. No one else is going to do it for you. I like how you handled the water in this painting. Love the reflections. I hope you're feeling better.

  2. I agree too. It really ticks me off when some elitest artists set a criteria that a person must reach before they are considered a "real" artist - such as an illustrator not being considered a real artist. Who makes us these rules? Grrrrrrrrr

  3. Hmmm. A sticky subject no doubt since I have heard a similar position to the poster you mentioned from another professional artist. Having spent about 20 years in business where the measure of greatness is not judged by technological achievement alone but also by what the technology delivers in the way of gross margin, net profits, and cash flow, it is hard for me to think any other way. As a new painter, I don't think about how much time I spend while I am painting, but I do reflect on the time spent and the economic realities after I am done. Does that make me less of an artist or less passionate about my work? I don't think so. I have met a number of people with brilliant talent (artistic or otherwise) but no sense of how to monetize it. In fact, I feel that ignoring the relevant business aspects of a professional art career can result in one ending their pursuits prematurely instead of fully realizing their creative potential as an artist. Just thinking out loud. I certainly hope not to offend anyone here!

  4. Stacey,
    Your post was a real eye-opener for me. I have to acknowledge that unfortunately, I often fall under the 'hardly working' heading rather than 'working hard'.

    I get frustrated often because my work doesn't get any better, and tell myself that I must not be that talented of an artist in the final analysis. Whether I am or not, probably is not as relevant right now, as the need to work so much harder at my painting, and then see what the final outcome is. I keep thinking over and over about your comment that you know of artists that work damn hard. That is what I need to do, too.

    By the way, love the painting you posted!

  5. Patrice - you're right on with "no one else is going to do it for you"!

    Mary - I know this was a bit of a rant, but it was precisely the elitism of the statement that got to me. As artists, we should be building each other up, not tearing each other down.

    Lee - I agree with you. There are some amazingly talented painters I've met through the years who haven't really gone anywhere because they ignore the business. Which is okay, as long as they're happy - they're still making the great art they set out to make! It all depends on a person's goals, I guess. I just hate the misconception there is that art can't be a business - for many who feed their families with it, it is, and I don't think that diminishes the value of their work in any way.

    Ann - I think it's tough as an artist to realize that you've worked at it for so long and still have a long way to go. We all have moments when we tell ourselves that we aren't talented enough or should be better - it's inevitable. The hard part for me has been learning how to take those negative moments and use them as fuel to get better - whether they motivate me to work more hours, seek out an honest critique, or take workshop to get myself out of my comfort zone!

  6. Another nice painting. Which is why I come back again and again and am never dissapointed. There is no easy living. If you are making money you have to work for it. One of the scary parts of making a living as a painter is there is no guarantee of income no matter how good you are or how hard you work. You need skill, luck, and a ton of hard work.

    Clearly you have and are improving the skill part.