It’s rare that I wake up thinking to myself, “Today is going to be a rainbows and unicorns kind of day!!!!!”
It would be nice if I did, but when you make your living as an artist, those kind of days are very few and far between.
Of course I enjoy what I do but I don’t really have a choice – I’ve tried living and working in the “real world” and it didn’t pan out very well for me. I’m not the type of person who enjoys working for someone else. I don’t want to work to make someone else’s dreams come true, I want to work to make my own dreams come true.
Art is more than just a passion for me, it is an obsession. I am always thinking about my art. It’s not uncommon for my wife to have to snap me back to reality because I’ve been off in my own little world, thinking about the next cut I have to make on a piece in progress or daydreaming about the next fantastical form I want to create. She’s used to saying, “Paul….PAUL! Did you hear a word I said?” and I’m used to responding, “I’m sorry babe, can you say that again?”
In order to make a living as an artist, art has to be an obsession. It’s something you think about all the time. It’s something you can see everywhere you look. It keeps you up at night because you’re excited. It frustrates you to the point of quitting. It motivates you. It drives you (completely crazy sometimes). It creeps its way into most conversations. It seeps its way into your dreams at night.
Never mind the fact that it – the art – is 100 per cent responsible for paying the rent, putting food on the table, putting clothes on our backs and ensuring we are able to get through another day, week, month, year.
I’ve talked to a lot of people who romanticize what it means to be a “professional artist.”
These are the people who imagine that I, along with all my professional artist friends, spend our time effortlessly creating art and living in that rainbows and unicorns world I have yet to find for myself. When we are not creating, these same people imagine that we host/attend lavish dinner parties where we sit around eating paté, fancy cheese and French bread, drinking expensive wine, immerse ourselves in intellectual conversations about art and our tortured artist souls, while new age smooth jazz offers up a peppy yet mysterious soundtrack to compliment our oh-so-artistic gathering.
The reality is a lot less romantic and a lot more difficult than most people realize. Although I make my living as an artist, I would never, ever advise someone to do the same, unless I despised them.
Being a professional artist is hard – probably the hardest job I’ve ever had in my life.
I’ve shed blood for my art. My body is a map of scars from grinder blades and jagged pieces of stone. Despite wearing a mask when I carve, I do have breathing problems which are caused by the sheer amount of dust I create when I sculpt. I’ve broken two fingers. I’ve had stone chips fly past my protective eye-wear into my eye. I’ve nearly sanded the fingertips right off my fingers.
While I am blessed to have excellent relationships with the galleries that carry my art, each piece I create comes with a risk. There is always a slight possibility that the galleries won’t love a piece enough to buy it – it’s rare, but it happens. My wife and I have had to get creative with our finances more than once – figuring out what absolutely needs to be paid versus what can wait. There have been times when we haven’t had the money to put oil in the furnace in the dead of winter and received disconnection threats from hydro.
I once had to sell a gorgeous trailer I bought to haul stone from the quarry, a trailer I had wanted for a long time and worked hard to get, just so we could eat and keep a roof over our heads.
When my wife was pregnant with our son, I was having a particularly hard time selling art. It just wasn’t a good time to be an artist and almost no one was interested in buying. I remember having to sell massive polar bear sculpture to a gallery for next to nothing so we could buy things like clothes, diapers and other necessities to prepare for the arrival of our son.
That’s the thing about being a professional artist – you have to create and you have to sell in order to keep creating, selling and surviving. You have to be willing to make sacrifices and you need to have a partner, like my wife, who is willing to make sacrifices too. I am well aware that my profession limits us in terms of where we can live and what we can do and I am truly blessed to have a wife that doesn’t mind.
I’m not writing this to get pity from anyone or to garner sympathy – after all, I’m the one with the crazy obsession for art and I’ve made a career out of it. But I do think it’s important for people to understand that this artist life is not all rainbows and unicorns.
It’s a difficult job, but it’s also the most rewarding and fulfilling job I’ve had. At the end of the day, despite all the challenges and obstacles, there is nothing else I’d rather be doing with my life than creating art. But this life comes with a price and that price can be quite hefty if you and your loved ones aren’t prepared to pay it.
If this artist life was all about rainbows and unicorns, I doubt many of us artists would choose to live it. It’s the beauty we find in the grit, blood, sweat and tears that makes this life worth living.