How to build a career as an artist

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Here’s a post for all the people who are trying to be artists. It is not a friendly post. I do not think that people who want to create art need to get paid to do it. Do you get paid to have sex? No. Same thing. You love it, but you just do it after work. And sometimes, if you are driven mad by it, you leave work in the middle of the day for it.

Treat art the same way, and you will stay sane. Really. Here are five things I would nag you about if you were talking with me about your burgeoning career as an artist:

1. You cannot do art if you are starving.
The starving artist routine is total bullshit. I know because I did it. Once you know that you are not going to make rent, you can’t really make art. Because your sense of self-preservation insists that your brain focus on the possibility that you will be out on the street. Your brain cannot stop solving that problem long enough to solve the problem of what is truth and beauty.

Here are some things I did while I was becoming a writer: I ate only bagels because I didn’t have enough money for anything else and then I got anemic and had to go to the doctor but I didn’t have health insurance so I had to lie and say I did in order to get the iron pills I needed so that I didn’t pass out from exhaustion the moment I woke up in the morning. Believe me, I was not making great art during this period.

2. Art emanating from a black hole is a choice.
There’s a reason that Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings look like horror films: Because his life was a crack-house horror film. And there’s a reason that Picasso is tearing apart voluptuous women in gorgeous surroundings: That’s what he did in real life.

So don’t kid yourself: Your art reflects your surroundings, and you can live like a pauper, but that limits the range of your art.

During my art days, I did not go out with friends. Ever. Because I didn’t even have enough money to go to a coffee shop. And I was always cold because I lived in Boston and didn’t have a winter coat. At many points I did not have a home, so I just sort of carried my laptop around and wrote and hoped that something would come up by the end of the day. And I almost never had clean clothes because I didn’t have money to buy detergent.

So I wrote stories, every day, about not seeing anyone, and my mentor would say things like, “How about adding a character so that the narrator can have a conversation?” And that would strike me as a revolutionary idea.

3. Real artists will make art no matter what.
You do not need a studio, or a desk, or peace and quiet. Really. Because making art comes from a place that you cannot stop. People who need to make art make art no matter what.

Do you know how many blog posts I throw out? Maybe two a week. Because sometimes something happens and I absolutely have to write about it, and I see, from the beginning, that there’s no way I’ll be able to relate it to careers, so it’s going to end up in the blogging trash can. But I write it anyway.

Do you know Christo and Jeanne-Claude? Wait. Here, look at some photos. The guy is nuts. He thinks so big that it makes him crazy. He’s been making plans to put up cloth all over Central Park for 26 years. He can’t stop himself. Finally, he did it. But who knew if it would ever happen? This is what I mean. If you need to do art, you just go there. Nothing stops you.

So if you think you’re an artist and you are not making art now, but you think that in the right circumstance you’d make art, you are lying to yourself. I’m sorry. But it’s true. Unless you are starving. If you are starving, see point number one: You need to get a job.

4. You do not need to quit your day job.
Are you making money and you’re wondering if you should quit your job to do art full time? Take this test: Did you marry rich? Do you have a trust fund? Do you have reliable buyers for almost everything you produce? If you did not answer yes to any of these, then keep your day job.

Don’t tell me it’s crushing your soul. This whole blog is about how your soul does not depend on your job or your boss or your paycheck. Click on some links and read them.

Also, most corporate jobs can be creative outlets because businesses solve problems. So if you are an inherently creative thinker, you probably bring that to whatever job you have. You can’t stop yourself.

5. You are not a better artist if you can do it full time.
I don’t want to see snooty comments on this post about how great you are for being able to support yourself with your art. Because I can do that too. And you know what? I was not a worse writer when I could not support myself. The only difference between artists making money and artists not making money is that the first group is better at business. And there is no evidence that artists who are better at business make better art.

Do you want to know if you’re going to be good at earning money from art? Take this test about networking from UpMo and Pepperdine University. The test will tell you how good you are at networking. And if you are not good at this test, you are not going to be good at selling your art, because the days of discovering someone with a sawed-off ear in an insane asylum are over. You need to market yourself. Do you want to know why there are so many crappy films in the world? Because there are so many great networkers who want to direct.

So everyone can stop being a snob about asking people how much money they make from their art. And everyone can stop thinking that the be-all-end-all is to quit the day job and do art full time.

Do you want to know how to be an artist? Make art. Do it because you need to do it. Because you think you will die if you don’t do it. Stop making it a career problem. It’s not. And, I leave you with one of my favorite posts, that I never get to link to, about me making myself crazy being an artist.

142 replies
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  1. Alan Wilensky
    Alan Wilensky says:

    I was, for most of my 20’s, a talented and serious bass player. I gigged, I was recognized by peers, etc. Yet I was aware that I was not in the class of best of best: Pastorius, etc. Many of the sidemen I played with were shocked when I steered towards the tech career I had building. I saw the younger competition graduating from Berkley, Julliard, Eastman, even the self-taught. These young guys and gals, very competent bassists, were already taking up 5 string instruments and new techniques.

    Many of the younger musicians were willing to live hand to mouth as I had. I also at that point had had my fill of starving session to session, gig to gig. I never got negative feedback on my talent; I just knew that I was just outside the echelon of the super talented, lucky, or whatever, to convert the career as a bass player with well over 10 years on the road and in the studio and nightclubs.

    I had started at 13, seriously taking lessons, attending music camp, was accepted to Berkley ( took a road gig at that crucial moment).

    I was making a living as a bass player and paying my modest, single man’s bills. 25 years later, I ask some of my old compatriots who are still in the business – all making the same for a gig as they did in 1979-88, I ask, “how do you do it, the sacrifice, the starving the lack of income predictability?”

    Mind the answer, they are all talented and now older journeyman musicians and still work often, “We don’t know how to do anything else.”

    This is their trade. They have been faithful, I took a professional path in tech (which now looks about as unsettled).

    • amanda
      amanda says:

      ilove to draw paint an create anything i can think of an make it in to to this big master piece an i too seal my art an make money an i think its a great way to make money

  2. Jane
    Jane says:

    Great points; they all seem right. Except the art = sex thing. Sex is only appreciated/consumed/experienced by the 2 people having it, whereas most artists have quite grander expectations for the size of the audience for their art, right?

    (Unless you just mean that you have sex for yourself, and should be doing your art for yourself too, in which case I’d agree. There’s nothing worse than an artist trying to make the world a more beautiful for us slobs.)

  3. Sharlyn Lauby
    Sharlyn Lauby says:

    I used to make a living being an artist. You can, in fact, make a decent income being an artist. But you have to remember one thing…you need to make art that people will want to buy.

  4. John
    John says:

    Penelope – It’s great that you are posting more often. The quality of your posts have gone up a lot in the last couple weeks. I really enjoy your point of view and I have recommended your blog to quite a few people.

  5. NYC
    NYC says:

    This puts things back to reality for me sort of, thank you.
    I want to be an artist because I get restless, but I often think I am just not brave enough to quit my day job and go for it.
    I think sometimes that suffering you described is sort of necessary, and good.
    So I think I’m still going to quit my day job someday and go pursue whatever I want to pursue.
    I can’t make art at work… at least not until I quit the work will I know.

  6. kate
    kate says:

    But you forget that art is an industry. It isn’t about indulging your inner desire for self expression, but about engaging with critical ideas that inform the culture, and participating in the development of those ideas. I agree with the fact that you can’t make good art while you are starving – you can’t do anything while you are starving. The fact that people bring up the subject of starvation in relation to artists so often is just a cliche. Art plays a crucial role and is frequently misunderstood as something ‘extra’, something ‘personal’. It is neither. Art is thinking with materials.

    • Debbie @ Work Your Art
      Debbie @ Work Your Art says:

      I agree with you, Kate. The starving artist is a cliche that we will have to make an end to once and for all. Creating art is a passion, something that people HAVE to do to express themselves, but art is also a serious industry one can get into with the right attitude and mindset.

  7. jrandom42
    jrandom42 says:

    From Harry Chapin “Mr. Tanner”

    “Mister Tanner was a cleaner from a town in the Midwest.
    And of all the cleaning shops around he’d made his the best.
    But he also was a baritone who sang while hanging clothes.
    He practiced scales while pressing tails and sang at local shows.
    His friends and neighbors praised the voice that poured out from his throat.
    They said that he should use his gift instead of cleaning coats.

    But music was his life, it was not his livelihood,
    and it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good.
    And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul.
    He did not know how well he sang; It just made him whole.

    His friends kept working on him to try music out full time.
    A big debut and rave reviews, a great career to climb.
    Finally they got to him, he would take the fling.
    A concert agent in New York agreed to have him sing.
    And there were plane tickets, phone calls, money spent to rent the hall.
    It took most of his savings but he gladly used them all.

    But music was his life, it was not his livelihood,
    and it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good.
    And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul.
    He did not know how well he sang; It just made him whole.

    The evening came, he took the stage, his face set in a smile.
    And in the half filled hall the critics sat watching on the aisle.
    But the concert was a blur to him, spatters of applause.
    He did not know how well he sang, he only heard the flaws.
    But the critics were concise, it only took four lines.
    But no one could accuse them of being over kind.

    (spoken) Mr. Martin Tanner, Baritone, of Dayton, Ohio made his
    Town Hall debut last night. He came well prepared, but unfortunately
    his presentation was not up to contemporary professional standards.
    His voice lacks the range of tonal color necessary to make it
    consistently interesting.
    (sung) Full time consideration of another endeavor might be in order.

    He came home to Dayton and was questioned by his friends.
    Then he smiled and just said nothing and he never sang again,
    excepting very late at night when the shop was dark and closed.
    He sang softly to himself as he sorted through the clothes.
    Music was his life, it was not his livelihood,
    and it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good.
    And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul.
    (And) he did not know how well he sang; It just made him whole.”

  8. jenx67
    jenx67 says:

    Many great points to ponder. Most artists I’ve known can’t hold a job because they are so preoccupied with their art. But, one exception to this was my father, who was a brilliant poet. (I know what you’re thinking – all of you -that every poet is brilliant. But, you don’t understand. My father is that brilliant poet that one day you’re children will study in comp i and ii. He was Roethke-brilliant; Poe-brilliant. He worked by the sweat of his brow most of his life – in the Navy on ships. He was an atomic veteran. He worked in the god-forsaken metals industry. He strapped trailors in brutal winters and for awhile assessed property and assigned taxes. His life was hard, but he never, ever gave up on his art and he never quit making it and he was driven by something bigger than himself – something that was not intimidated or the least bit derailed by all his crappy jobs, which he took, by the way, so all his kids could eat. Forgive the indulgence, but, thank you Dad, for making the poetry *and* still having the sense and sanity to go to work everyday.

  9. Grace
    Grace says:

    “Real artists will make art no matter what.”
    If you are not doing what you really love, then you don’t really love it. Are non-producing artists really as passionate as they think they are? The people I know who truly love their art are always looking for inspiration and then acting on it. They don’t need more time/research/funding/connections/understanding in order to create. They just do it because they can’t help but do it.
    And, they still keep their day jobs.

    • Alex
      Alex says:

      Non-producing artists can be every bit as passionate as they think/say they are. Some day jobs (and day-into-evening-and-onward-through-the-night families that many people come home to after the day job) suck up so much of one’s time that it’s impossible to find the space to create. But that doesn’t necessarily equal less passion. I think our pervasive belief that “true artists” are hellbent on creating is a fallacy. I consider myself a true artist. Hell, I’ll even give it capitals: I’m a True Artist. I’m a successful, self-supporting writer who until this past year juggled a full-time job, a family, grocery shopping and cats who barf on the carpet daily. About 1.5% of my free time was spent on writing. I loved the thought of it, but I was too fried to even think about doing it. Sometimes artists do need more time to produce the stuff they love.

      Thanks for getting my wheels turning on this, Grace. (And you have a beautiful name.)

  10. fuentism
    fuentism says:

    Interesting post! As a colleague of mine in the illustration field has pointed out, art schools need to teach their students that they’re not going out into the world to be artists, but entrepreneurs. Working artists don’t need to suffer for their art, but they do need to know how to market their work, make connections and relate to their clients with professionalism and maturity.

  11. Tiffany Monhollon
    Tiffany Monhollon says:

    I LOVE the part about bringing your art and creativity to your job. You’re right. If you are truly creative, you are already doing this.

    We need to be less afraid to use our own ideas to innovate in our jobs. If your job description hasn’t changed to include your own ideas and you are mad about it, do something about it. Complaining doesn’t help. Get better at selling your art –> To your boss.

    This is something my generation seems to reject rather than embrace. We want to seperate our lives so much, it is stupid, really. Who I am, I am in my job and outside of it. And I use the knowledge I’ve earned for myself in my job. That’s what experience is, after all. All of it relates if I choose to let it. Whether from my college degree or things I do online for my own “personal brand” or jobs I’ve had in the past. All this helps me be more creative and better at my job – IF I choose to apply it that way. It’s my choice.

  12. Smashbase
    Smashbase says:

    You make some good points in this post. I can’t fully agree with you though because I used to be a starving desk jockey in a gray, boring cubicle. Now I’m a semi-starving, yet much happier person pursuing my passion for photography & design.

    The key to being successful as an artist is to have an entrepreneurial mindset. For example, lets say you love taking abstract photographs, you do it well, and you’re passionate about it. You might not make a living off taking the exact type of photos you’re most passionate about, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take your skills in photography and apply it to other types of photography that will bring in some income (stock photography, private sales, commercial shoots, etc, etc).
    Take what you love to do, and find a way to spin that into something that has a real potential to make money. That’s how you make art for a living. With the internet, there’s no reason you can’t live off your art…unless, of course, you’re a shitty artist or just plain lazy.

  13. Ashley
    Ashley says:

    Lots of great points but I can’t agree with the art=sex comparison. Art takes a lot more time than sex if you’re really an artist and feel the need to create all the time. If you only need a few hours than sure or on weekends then a regular job works. If not, make art into your career in any way you can even if you have to go from a regular job or a part time job and cut down til you can afford to make a living off your art.

  14. Robert Wilson IV
    Robert Wilson IV says:

    I am a graphic designer who has wanted to draw comics since I was about ten years old. In addition to not being able to make art if you are starving, I find that I make very little art when I don’t FEEL secure. My job is not my ideal job. However, my job gives me health insurance and enough money that I don’t worry about money. I have really only had a decent job for about a year. I am not more determined to make comics now than I was before I got my decent job but I feel secure. I think it is largely because of this that I have produced about three times as many comic book pages last year than I did in the year prior.

    Thanks for the perspective.

  15. Juliette
    Juliette says:

    One of my favorite writers once said the key to writing a best selling novel is to have a job that doesn’t require much mental energy but pays the bills. That way you had the psychic energy to go home and write. (Think you’re too busy to do both?)

    This post reminded me of the character in Amadeus — Sebailleus (spell?) — the one who believes he’s brilliant … until he comes to know Mozart.

    • Barry
      Barry says:

      I think you’re trying to spell ‘Sibelius’ but he was a much later, Finnish composer.

      The character you’re referring to in ‘Amadeus’ is Anton Salieri.

  16. Mitch Wagner
    Mitch Wagner says:

    This is a great post. I do think there are some people who should disregard this advice, and become full-time artists and writers — but they’d do it anyway. They can’t be persuaded otherwise.

    The only people who should create art for a living are people who are compelled to do so, people who have no choice. Anyone who can be persuaded against it should be. Anyone who has other options for work should take it. Creating art for a living *sucks* as a job. You’re better off at Wal-Mart.

    The comedian Red Foxx was asked, near the end of his career and life, if he would have lived his life any differently if he could start over. He responded, “Yeah, I woulda gotten a job. I’d have been the funniest guy in the office and ate regular.”

    He was very successful — near the end of his career. He struggled at the beginning.

    I knew a woman who was 22 years old, lives alone, and writes full-time. I suspect she has outside income, a trust fund or something like that. Her writing is extremely derivative and uninteresting. I think it’s because nothing’s *happened* to her. She has nothing to write about. If she got a job, she’d be out in the world, things would happen to her, and in 20 years or so she’d be a great writer. Because she would have a lot to write about.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That first part of your comment is totally true — some people absolutely cannot be convinced by this post. But we each learn so much about ourselves by noticing where we totally won’t budge.


  17. Aswan Morgan
    Aswan Morgan says:

    Penelope, thanks for the mention. I’m the Community Manager over at UpMo. Great commentary on networking as an artist. I think of my father who’s a fairly well-known painter and the Chair of the Art Department at the University of Minnesota. Great networker and likable gentleman, and his sales reflect that even in the current economic downturn. I’d attribute a lot of his success to his genuine commitment to serve and not just take from his network. That quality helps build meaningful relationships and advocates who will support you in your career. I definitely encourage your readers to take UpMo’s Network Readiness Evaluator and our Beta for a free spin.

    • Ebriel
      Ebriel says:

      Hi, Aswan (3 years late!). I had your dad for several classes at the U of MN when I was there. He was a fantastic professor and took us to his huge studio (that he shared with your mom?) He always had a realistic perspective on how hard it is to make ends meet as an artist. After 12 years now of making work while making a living at many day jobs, I have to agree.

  18. rah2869
    rah2869 says:

    I agree with this post. My “art” is playing the guitar and singing. I was never good enough to earn a living doing it, but I do enjoy playing, mostly for friends and at parties and at the occasional open mic night at a local bar or coffeehouse. But most of all, I just like doing it, and I don’t need any compensation because I consider it recreation, just a hobby.

    I will say this – It’s been my experience that having “art as a hobby” (especially playing a musical instrument) can help you advance socially and professionally, because it makes you a more interesting person and that improves your odds of professional success – so in that regard, there is a certain intangible benefit to it.

  19. James
    James says:

    I am truly horrified that you actually consider what you do art. I usually do not see much value in the blogs you have but, I read them in hopes of a little more understanding of things I do not understand. In my book being an Artist sets you apart form the average person. It bestows a title upon you that indicated that you have a talent that can touch people hearts, make them laugh cry, think, etc. You my dear are more like Shawn Hannity. You do not seem to have any great talent just a knack. Sometimes a little funny, inflammatory, bad girl, etc. You do not bring anything to the table that has worth. You are just slightly entertaining.

    • Mitch Wagner
      Mitch Wagner says:

      “I am truly horrified that you actually consider what you do art. I usually do not see much value in the blogs you have but, I read them in hopes of a little more understanding of things I do not understand.”

      That’s bullshit, James. You read this blog because you get off on being an online bully. If you sought therapy, you’d find other, healthier ways of sublimating the fact that you got beat up a lot when you were 8 years old.

      Honestly, many of us got beat up a lot when we were 8. Really. There’s no shame in it.

    • Don
      Don says:

      Unfortunately, it’s not that rare for a person to reveal just how ignorant they are, and you have just joined those ranks. Congrats!

  20. Susan
    Susan says:

    I’m so glad to see I’m not the only one who feels this way. I am a musician, but I also have a full time job. Sometimes I run into people who feel I’m not a “real” musician, because I don’t make all my money that way. But my day job allows me to make the music I want, so I don’t have to join some cheesy cover band just to pay the bills. Well said, Penelope!

  21. Joselle
    Joselle says:

    You are right about everything in this post. Except this isn’t entirely about people who want to be artists. Yes, when people want to be artists, they just make art, no matter what. I think what many people are asking when they ask this question is, “How can I be famous?”

  22. adriane
    adriane says:

    NO WAY! That dude is just jaded…I came from a school of artist who are BANKING out doing the exactly what they love. To give you an example, just from my graduating class, of people that I know personally, there are graphic designers, fine artists (yes fine artists), and illustrators working at (just to name a few more well know names)….

    American Greetings
    Cartoon Network
    NBA Entertainment
    Orlando Magic
    The CIA
    Toys ‘R’ Us
    Trader Joes

    And if you think your a bit tecky, I know computer animation students working at Disney, Pixar, Warner Brothers Digital…. the list goes on and on

    Then if you get into Interior Design well you pick any major architectural firm in the world and guess who is a pivotal part of their staff…..Or to start you own firm like Kurt did. Kurt lives upstairs from our office in a 5 million dollar flat and drives a 2009 Bentley…

    Every corporation and every small business needs branding (graphic design), most every major corporation, hospital, school and government institution has in house interior designers on staff, ever major cartoon in the past 10 has been animated digitally, every corporate web page has been designed. Every TV show and movie created has a creative director, set designer, costume designer ect –

    In a world that is communicating increasingly by images via TV and internet, the need for artist and designer has NEVER BEEN GREATER! I mean when else in history could you go to target and buy a designer toilet brush and guess what someone is getting paid to design it.

    My point is that if you want to be in a creative field there are a
    PLETHORA of opportunities out there, more now than ever before but it is just like any other field, you have to work hard and be good at what you do and you'll be fine!!!
    the only way to fulfill the starving artist is if your
    a.) lazy as hell
    b.) really don't care about money and therefore don’t work to seek out one of the billions of opportunities in this world for creative people.

  23. Kristin T. (@kt_writes)
    Kristin T. (@kt_writes) says:

    OK, I thought I was going to hate this post, then I ended up loving it. Especially the general idea that all our crazy efforts to BE artists can be the very things that defeat us, in the end. The “special studio,” the “full-time focus,” the angst and romanticizing the hardships — they can all bite you in the ass.

    (Funny aside: I became very anemic years ago when my ex-husband was trying to “make it” as an artist and I was trying to support us on a reporter’s salary at a crappy newspaper.)

  24. John
    John says:

    You had more than just a narrator. The way I recall it, Penelope, is you would write about what happened to you the week before, and the rest of us in the writing program would try to figure out which “character” each of us were. But they were good stories nonetheless, especially the dialog. I still miss getting new ones.

  25. alex
    alex says:

    great post. i’m in my second year of a well-known graduate writing program and have full funding from the university so have all my time to write and it honestly hasn’t made me more productive. having no structure makes me waste a lot of time. although my writing is doing well — being accepted to journals and winning a contest here and there — i am looking forward to getting part-time work that will allow me to clear my head and have an *outside focus*. i think i needed the writing workshop experience to konw that i don’t need this to write and that i work best when i can follow my own nose & combine different elements of life and thinking. i now hate the romantic myth of the suffering artist and it’s more importnat to me to have an active life and also have my private space to write in/out of. perfect circumstances are overrated and can end up being arid.

  26. le
    le says:

    so P how come you at bagels when you were dirt poor … here in Australia one bagel costs the same as a loaf of bread …. are we the centre of a great bagel rip off ??

    at my worse finacial postion – $40 a week – I ate breadfast cereal – dry – for dinner – lasted about six months …. am pretty much off bfast cereal now … 24 years later …

    and James you silly billy writting is art :) der !! le

  27. Olivier
    Olivier says:

    “Real artists will make art no matter what.” This reminds me of the answer Beckett gave a journalist who asked him why he became a playwright: “Bon qu’à ça” (“Good at nothing else”).

  28. JC
    JC says:

    @John: you’re right, P’s posts are exceedingly memorable and ‘on’ lately, and I think it has to do with the frequency. She’s in a groove.

    @rah: being in writing workshops after work gives me a reason to get through the day, so I know how you feel about your music. 80% of the time my job is fine, but my life would not be as full without writing around the edges.

    @James: please link to YOUR blog, on which you post at least twice a week. Writing well is an art.

    For all the writers out there: my writing instructor just gave me a book – after my most recent rejection slip – called Letters to a Fiction Writer. Wonderful for perspective when you’re tearing your hair out, and an homage to the effort of writing as a ‘hobby’.

    Penelope’s post was pitch-perfect.

  29. Matt Klein
    Matt Klein says:


    Here’s the thing. You are simply a failed writer. And don’t claim that your blog posts are art, please. They’re barely blog posts, just rambling neurotic BS.

    So, while an artist needs a day job, the ultimate goal would be to earn a living from your art, performance, writing, whatever. And YES, and artist absolutely derserves to be paid for what they do. Unfortunately in the United States artists are not respected as contributing anything of value to society, but they work their asses off and if you enjoy what they do, you cough up some of the money that you earn from your boring-ass day job that doesn’t fulfill you.

    So, this is advice that YOU might find comforting, but is certainly not to be shared with the world as a proper way to live.

    • Dan
      Dan says:

      What makes P an artist? She calls herself one knowing full well that some people will retort that she is no artist. And knowing that other people will then rise to her gallant defense. All the while, her traffic (AKA marketability AKA mother’s milk) continues to grow. She knows that a successful blog is not defined by depth or intelligence. The successful blog is the one that gets a reaction.

      If she is an artist, it’s at the clever use of provocative sophistry.

      • Barbara
        Barbara says:

        That’s exactly right. PT’s claims to art are sort of a joke, but maybe she means them to be. I like her writing, and think that fiction would be a better field for her than anything else (I get the feeling she’s been inventing stuff for a while).

        But Matt–in the US successful artists are disrespected all the time–Stephen King, Thomas Kinkade, Steven Spielberg. Just because an artist and his work aren’t popular with those who decide what’s “really” art and what isn’t, doesn’t lessen the art. Starving artists are usually starving because their work is not popular, which often means it’s not very good.

        And finally–PT’s notion that Picasso’s work reflected his daily actions is very unsophisticaled. Was he bombing Spain when he painted Guernica?

  30. What am I going to be When I Grow Up
    What am I going to be When I Grow Up says:

    This post is so general I could I could wallow in “What’s in the fridge” for weeks. You make no mention of learning to be a good coppyist, that starving promotes creativity and inventivness, that living in rural areas(nature) gets people to where they want to be without creating yet gives the inspiration to do so. What about mental health? What is the most common myth about art? That you have to be a bit off to be an artist. Yes I have said life is about creating yet dare I add that art is about creating life.
    How about mentioning that all of the technology,media and
    well written blogs that scare the livin daylights out of people -that they could ever create at all. That learning about raw materials and their use is elemental to good design. Are you saying art is worth trading for sex?
    Given the above rantings I predict this to be one of your most posted blogs… How do you do it? I’m a big critical fan.

  31. Stephen B.
    Stephen B. says:

    Greetings Penelope and fellow Brazen Careerists,

    This is my first time blogging, so forgive me if I appear to be rambling.

    The very act of living day-to-day is an art. People have to be creative to maintain that delicate balance of responsibilities, indulgences, and ambitions. That is what I can conclude from this particular post.

    Art is generally thought to be work that inspires a response in its audience. It is defined the way it is because of the broad range of experiences and resulting opinions that art generates. The blogosphere is an excellent example of art as it incorporates the written word.

    All that said, as a struggling writer, I feel that what appears to be lost in this discussion are the more unusual factors of life that are out of our individual control. For instance, the current economic crisis. It has made that balance I mentioned before even more delicate, for me at least. And I am looking for as many possible solutions as I can. That is why I read this blog. After all, this is what “The Brazen Careerist” is all about, isn’t it?

  32. David
    David says:

    “So if you think you’re an artist and you are not making art now, but you think that in the right circumstance you’d make art, you are lying to yourself. I’m sorry. But it’s true. Unless you are starving. If you are starving, see point number one: You need to get a job.”

    What about if you’ve made art in the past, you’ll make it in the future, and you’re not making it right now? There’s not a single paradigm that fits the makeup of all ‘artists’.

    “Don’t tell me it’s crushing your soul. This whole blog is about how your soul does not depend on your job or your boss or your paycheck. Click on some links and read them.”

    Your soul may not depend on your job (as in, it can be supplied from other sources); and you may be able to change jobs. But it does not follow that your job cannot be crushing your soul.

    “Also, most corporate jobs can be creative outlets because businesses solve problems.”

    Are you implying that artists solve problems?

    “You are not a better artist if you can do it full time.”

    While I agree that the fact that you are ‘making art’ full-time does not mean that you are a better artist, it remains true that practice improves your work, and if you’re making art full-time, you’re getting a lot more practice time in.

    “I don’t want to see snooty comments on this post about how great you are for being able to support yourself with your art. Because I can do that too.”

    This whole post strikes me as a product of some kind of unmentioned personal insult.

    “The days of discovering someone with a sawed-off ear in an insane asylum are over.”

    In what way are they over?

    “Make art […] Because you think you will die if you don’t do it.”

    Is this the only way art can be formed? Why not make art for other reasons? Or are you perhaps exercising a bit of hyperbole here?

  33. Sam "The Saint"
    Sam "The Saint" says:


    Here is the best approach to creating art. I learned this long ago when I was in a band. You are in show business, you take care of business, so the show can go on. I worked with a lot of artists and bands mates who hated me saying that and never understood that they were in business, not in the arts.

    The never took care of business and they ended up pissing away what they earned, always thinking there would be more and/or they would hit that next level, e.g. Soundgarden, Pearl Jam or Nirvana in sales. The unwillingness to accept they were in business also kept many of them blind that they peaked and were always going to play clubs and not arenas.

    Picasso was a great example of a business man masquerading as an artist.

  34. Toxic Brit
    Toxic Brit says:

    So true, I was always told to do something sensible not be artistic especially as I couldnt draw this was good advice. Unfortunately I ended up as an economist…

  35. Natalie
    Natalie says:

    Thanks. I needed that post and all the links to past posts. I’ve been writing again lately and I keep thinking that if I can use it to make extra money then I will finally be happy. But I realize that I’m writing because I need to write and if I’m going to make money off of it someday, I will need to learn more about business and develop my networking skills. I’m going to go take the UpMo quiz now.

  36. not an artist, but have been around many
    not an artist, but have been around many says:

    Oh my god. A blog entitled “Brazen Careerist” attempting to make some sort of statement about art, and how to be an artist?????? Artists are not careerists. They are the exact opposite of careerists.

    And you’re so wrong. Yes, people need food and shelter–that’s quite obvious, but many of our greatest writers and painters were living on the very margins of society and the farthest thing from affluent.

    And the way in which you talk about “art” — that vagueness — points to the fact that you really don’t know anything about “art” at all.

  37. Ali J
    Ali J says:

    Yes I agree with some of your points, and disagree with others.

    If you want to be an artist, you just need to create. Stop stuffing about, stop making excuses, just create.

    The thing is though…… if you want a career out of making art, you do need to do it fulltime. I don’t think as an artist I could give myself to my art if I wasn’t. My whole mind, spirit, everything about myself is in every single mark I make, every single brush I pickup, every single character that I paint. It’s not just about the networking or marketing, and I certainly don’t think I’m any better then anyone else out there. I also don’t think I create ‘better’ work then anyone either. I just have more time to devote to my art, and I can put more of my true self into it.

    In this day and age the only way you can truly ‘make it’ as an artist is to treat it as a business. There are those who are lucky who can skid by on scholarships and grants. But there are others like me who instead has to approach their art from a practical business point of view. I make art, I get money from making my art.

    At the end of the day if I don’t get money, I can’t eat, I have nowhere to live & then I’ll die. Yes if I eat crap I’ll get sick. But the reality is that most of the time I spend so much time worrying about how much longer I can keep my house for that those ill thoughts creep into my work and take over like a plague. Why should I have to go and get a part time job to supplement my income? Just so you don’t think I’m up myself because I do this full time?

    I might treat my art like a business, but I still scrape by every week in order to continue to do so. I think to have a career as an artist there is only one thing you need.

    6) Be passionate about what you create Without passion, you might as well just be throwing paint on the sidewalk. There are those artists who are one night stands, but the others – the ones with the careers are those type of artists that will be doing what they do forever. If you really passionately, devotedly, insanely love what you do then you should aim to be the long time lover, and not the one night stand.

  38. dave malone
    dave malone says:

    I love it.
    Thanks for reminding us about how sweet this place is—I’m happy because I just landed here not long ago.


  39. Deadhedge
    Deadhedge says:

    This is the 2nd post week about a path that someone should not do, first grad school, now art, and previously it was about writing a book. What I dislike about the posts is that you disguise them as absolutely never do this whatsoever so they look brazen but really their just a set of circumstances where you shouldn’t do things. Don’t go to grad school as an alternative to thinking about your career path. Get a game plan for being an artist and understanding what lends itself to a career in art.

    Grad school and art are all viable career paths in the right circumstance but those don’t make good material so instead let’s make a dogmatic post about everything that is wrong.

    My main problem with that, is that is not career advice which you state as your area of expertise. Anyone can tell someone not to do something. Yes, embedded in your posts is the advice on how to that someone can figure out by flipping around the how not to. But the angry delivery is intended to shock not advise.

  40. Rhona
    Rhona says:

    Its so true that you have to be more than just good at your art. I have seen so many people mystified at their lack of success as they have amazing talent, but can’t talk to a stranger to increase interest and ultimately sales.

    I have to point out I also know an artist who does manage to avoid paying for anything. He has the cheapest rent in town and the biggest tax bill hanging over him.

  41. LisaNewton
    LisaNewton says:

    Art is my form of relaxation. If I don’t do it, I’m not going to get anything else done. That’s just life, and I’m lovin’ it.

    Thanks for the boost…………….:)

  42. ioana
    ioana says:

    Oh okay.

    To be good at something such as playing music, dance, etc, you have to do it for 10,000 hours. About 4 years full time. Including weekends. But that’s impossible, because according this article, you gotta have a mcjob during this time, right? so you’re not called a parasite. So, let’s make it 8 years at 3.5 hrs per day after the mcjob. That’s the accelerated program. Wonderful. Only, who can do this for years and years? Oh, btw, do you know how much dance classes cost? The investment that artists put into their art is huge.

    And then, the only way you will be making money, is if you don’t injure yourself along the way, and land some commercial, steady gig, or teach (yey), because the come-and-go dance jobs that you will get will pay maybe for the actual time that you dance, if you’re lucky for the rehearsals, but never will you get paid a commesurate amount for the insane amount of preparation that went into preparing your body for this point in your life where you can actually perform.

    Are we ready to have a world without art?

    Only crazy people make art into a career, because it is torture.

  43. Grace
    Grace says:

    So, let’s say you’re only spending only 1.5% of your time on your art. Are you really an artist? Yes, if you have EVER produced art, and even if you get really busy and never produce another thing, I believe you are still an artist.
    However, I question a person’s commitment to his art if he is complaining about not having enough time for it but is still watching every episode of CSI in all its forms? I believe that passionate artists produce some kind of art on a regular basis, not just once in a while when the “mood” hits? I am concerned by those who say that they need more than what they have to produce anything.

    Creative people work their art into their lives somehow.
    Even if it just in responding to posts on a blog.

  44. Lane
    Lane says:

    You can get distracted from their art, but ultimately, you will come back to it if you are an artist. I totally agree, Penelope.

    In fact, the thing I notice the most with artists is that fact – the need to make art never goes away. It infiltrates her life, her thoughts, her day job. She will constantly think about giving it up because it sucks up the rest of her money, her time, and she’s so tired. But she never can give it up, even if no one ever notices anything she does, or it is noticed negatively. For a while, she might work on some aspect of it – appearing to not be working ON it – but she is just honing some part of it. She may get mired in the details of the art – the selling, the promoting, the crafting, the costuming, the networking, the business of it – but the art will come back, pure and strong, washing away the details in the need to create the art. It’s a disease, in some ways. Others might say it is like being a parent, with finished pieces as children from gestation to sending out into the world as an adult.

    An Artist will BE an Artist, and will find a way to Be and Do the art, no matter if they have a job or not. Again, we are thinking on the same wavelength.

  45. Alex
    Alex says:

    To comment on point #3: I think your assumption that real artists will make art no matter what is flawed. I think most art requires at least some sort of inspiration. Have you ever tried writing right after a broken heart (I read you were divorced)? I’m sure the words didn’t have any problem spilling out.

    I would be guilty if I said I hadn’t toyed with the idea of moving to a studio somewhere in New York and trying to pursuing the dream. Living off of cigarettes and wine, throwing paint around until something eventually looks good enough to pass as “Modern” to earn enough money until next month.

    Maybe, this romantic idea of becoming a starving artist is a result of a lot of great artists before them dying poor, but having their work considered genius after death. Or something like that.

    I’m not entirely sure if anyone has said this yet because I didn’t feel like reading the other posts. Also, I think I my argument got somewhat lost in there.

    ps. How old are you? Didn’t say on your page and I was just curious.

  46. MJ
    MJ says:

    I don’t know…your job may not “be” your soul, but it can still crush it. Kinda hard to focus and innovate when you are slowly being pressed into fruit leather by an organization or profession’s culture. That would make it difficult to create.

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