An Artist’s Life, Part I

Artist_AnonWell, I have not been at work (*corporate work) for five weeks and today I was surprised to find that I disliked not being around people. There are times when I’m positively Sartre (“Hell is other people”) and then there are days like today when I am alone and ruminant and not feeling the urge to paint or spend my time productively.

Through the reuniting powers of Facebook, I had coffee with an old actor friend who I hadn’t seen in about 20 years. The conversation sparked off a series of weirdly parallel but mismatched memories of our high-school days. It is strange how our memories shift and idealize over time, like candy or crystal or something metamorphic that needs time and heat and pressure to become perfect. Memories are inevitably more appealing than the past reality. He also gave me an interesting perspective on doing what you love for a living: it is hard, uncertain, and he spends a lot of time chasing government grants.

I am wondering about life as an artist lately. I have been sticking my toe in for a year or so, pondering a cannonball leap. The past few weeks have seen a series of ups and downs. The show up at Whistler went okay, I guess, but I didn’t sell anything, so does that mean it was a failure? Meanwhile, I’m still waiting to hear jury results on a couple of shows to which I submitted works and the silence is deafening. Then I met with a client and an art agent yesterday and both of those meetings were validating, complimentary, and that buoyed me quite a bit. But then all over again, there were more e-mails, chasing, rejections, non-responses. Do I have a thick enough skin to deal with that on a regular basis? Does anyone?

And then I had another spontaneous last-minute meeting tonight – yet another old friend, a professional artisan with whom I hadn’t spoken in at least a decade. He earns his living creating and was more than happy to wax rhapsodic or whatever the opposite and more realistic version of that is over coffee (another coffee — this is why I’m up so damn late). He delivered a pretty blunt view of the life of an artist. His biggest points were definitive:

(1) “Do whatever you can to stay close and friendly to your corporate partner,” he said, “Art thrives through cultural tax credits.”

(2) “If you’re full time, get up every day, treat it like a job. Work for six hours, network and answer emails for two.”

(3) “Get the cheapest studio space you can, but get a space.”

(4) “Go to as many gallery openings and shows and launches as you can tolerate and meet and greet with everyone you see.”

I stopped him, a little panicky at that one. “Wait – what do I say at these things?” I asked.

“You say,’Hi, I’m Laura,'” he said.

(5) “This is a relationship business. If you want to approach a gallery, you bring them money: go in with pre-sold works. ”

(6) “And never disrespect other artists. Make friends with everyone. Hustle.”

He described how he’d chased a sale to an executive for over six weeks before finally getting past the EA.

“Your blog makes you sound so successful,” I said.

“I write it that way,” he admitted, and he told me his annual income for the past decade. It wasn’t much, but it was above the poverty line.

I ended up buying a copy of his book.

(7) “Never pass up the opportunity to make a sale”; he advised, as he autographed it and we parted with the promise of attending some gallery openings together.

(8) “The life of an artist means the reward is always the next creation, the next possibility,” he finished.

Maybe so. Can you live on hope?

Hmm. Well, it’s been a four-latte day. Jittery is to be expected. Discontented, disillusioned? I guess we’ll see what the next day brings.



Note: Series was originally posted at