Artist’s Life, Heaven or Hell?

Have you ever heard an artist describe creating art as hell?

Well, that certainly isn’t how I think of it!  My satisfaction with my life has increased exponentially since giving myself permission to “be an artist”.   In general I am happiest and most fulfilled when I am creating art.

So what did author Steven Pressfield mean when he said, “The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell.”?

I’m not sure I agree with him about that, but I do see that not everything about being an artist is romantic, joyous, free, vibrant, carefree, and exciting. Especially if one really fully commits oneself to being an artist as a vocation.

Then, one finds that:

Sometimes, being an artist can be tedious, like when you set up a booth an art show and sit ALL DAY waiting for people to come by, and hopefully buy something.

Sometimes being an artist is melancholic, such as when a gallery owner says he likes your work, but doesn’t have room for it, or worse yet, when he says it doesn’t fit the style of his gallery (another way of saying he hates it.)

Sometimes being an artist is restricting, such as when a gallery owner tells you he will only accept landscapes, or animal paintings, or still lifes… or whatever.

Sometimes being an artist is dull, not so much while creating, but while taking care of all of the other tasks of marketing, showing, contacting galleries, keeping inventory of prints and supplies, etc.

Sometimes being an artist is worrisome, like when you look over your receipts for supplies and realize you spent 70 times more on equipment and supplies than what you made in sales over the past year.

But being an artist is not hell… its just that its not always heaven either.

Being an artist today, in this world, in this economy, is hard. Not that its ever been easy, but there have been times when it was easier than today.

You see, today not as many people in America own their own homes, instead they rent. When a person is in a rental, and they know they may have to move, they aren’t as likely to invest in art. After all, that painting might look great over the mantel in this house, but the next house might not have the wall space for it.

People in America today have less disposable income than they had ten years ago before the housing market tumbled, and no matter how much a person likes art, when they are choosing between putting food on the table, and buying a painting, they buy food!

So, for an artist to have a chance at supporting themselves today, they often must look into other options aside from simply making great art for people’s walls.

One thing that many of us artists do, is to look into having our art put on usable or useful items. Items like T-shirts, cups, or pillows.

I haven’t taken full advantage of this alternate market so far, but I am beginning to. For example, much of my work can be ordered on throw pillows.





In addition, I’ve had some of art put on T-shirts, and Greeting Cards, and Notecards. I’ve also printed images of my paintings and put them in 1 inch bottle cap necklaces, and soon I will begin doing hand painting on wine glasses and candle holders. I may also have tote bags other items made available for order.

However, even if none of this took off, even if nobody ever bought a thing, I’d still be an artist, and being an artist would still be worth it. Because being an artist isn’t about being in hell, and it isn’t about being in heaven, it isn’t about money or galleries or pillows or totebags or paintings on canvas.

Being an artist, is about seeing the world, in all its pain, sorrow, comfort, joy, loneliness and community, and reflecting those things in a way that is beautiful. Being an artist is about taking those feelings and emotions that are bottled inside and letting them pour forth into the created work. To be an artist is to let one’s passion and, in fact one’s very soul, be open and bare before the world for all to see.

As Van Gogh, the man I see as the world’s greatest artist of all time, said, “I would rather die of passion than of boredom.”

To be an artist, is to be passionate.

And in the end, even if I didn’t want to be an artist, I couldn’t stop being one, if I put down my paints my artistic self will scream for expression until it finds another outlet.

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6 Responses to Artist’s Life, Heaven or Hell?

  1. Very interesting read. You are a beautiful artist and I love your works. I never really thought about all those emotions involved, I mostly just see an escape from the norm or a hobby when I think of art (in painting anyway) and you’ve opened my eyes to many new things. I am a travel blogger and coincidentally, both articles I had to review today were about art and my blog post was about visiting the Dali-Picasso exhibit in St. Pete, Florida. 😉 Great minds think alike. Best of luck in your future and I wish you much success.

  2. “I would rather die of passion than of boredom.” Indeed. Economic priorities have always been an issue for artists, historically. What’s needed is a modern day patronage system. Wealthy people will always collect art, so long as they still have souls. Art may, in fact, be more accessible – especially when it comes on, as you say, “useful items” and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg – to the less wealthy. It is also true that more wealth is now concentrated in fewer hands, making it harder to attract a wealthy patron. But when you love what you do, you make it work – even if you have to have a second job just to support your first. 🙂 I think that a better education in the arts, humanities, and history would help widen the appeal of art for the sake of art.

    • Yes I agree that better education in arts and history would help a lot, and yes, I do work another job, in addition to my art and homeschooling my kids.

  3. Vicki, you said many of the things that are in my heart! I don’t yet have an esty store and I don’t really know how to sell my stuff yet. But I understand the passion and the need to do art. It is not all heaven and it is not all hell.
    I am also a freelance journalist and a gardener and I approach gardening in the same way that I approach art: creating something beautiful where there had been chaos or even nothing.
    I love your paintings and your pillows and all of your creations!
    Great use of color.
    So beautiful.