I do have a personal dislike for the word artist. It feels too sanctimonious and elite. Yet, until I have a better word, it will have to do. The following list was inspired by the late Chet Cunningham who was a prolific writer of fiction — averaging a novel each month. Yes, you heard me correctly. The man could write.
He composed this list specially for writers, yet I feel it can be expanded to include musicians and visual artists (those who like to sketch and sculpt).
1 The Wannabe Artist
This one goes to museums, clubs or coffee shops because they want to be part of the scene. They love to be around fellow artists and to talk about art and how to work on their craft. Yet, these sorts hardly ever produce anything of their own. A true WANNABE.
2 The Enthusiastic Artist
This person might join up with a good writer’s group or collaborate with other artists or musicians. Except they never get around to sharing any of their own creations. They get excited at being around other people who are passionate about their artform. They may even be a good critic or offer some excellent advice, but when it comes to sharing their own work, they are “too busy right now” to get anything done.
3 The Creating Artist
Meet the artist who actually gets things done — stories go down on paper, drawings build up day after day, songs are composed and practiced. It might be a journal or a fling at nonsense poetry. Perhaps personal sketches shared on Instagram. Maybe they fiddle around with melodies. This sort of artist concentrates on “personal expression” or “personal growth” and their art has little to do with creating professionally.
4 The Serious Artist
This person works at their craft. They must be in a writing or art critique group or working regularly with other musicians, playing gigs. They develop their craft, structure and techniques while learning about the market and what may sell and what doesn’t have a chicken chance in a fox den. They will develop and someday will sell.
5 The Selling Artist
This one now sells. Writers sell articles, short stories, or novels. Illustrators get commissions for art pieces, sell comic/manga pages, or sell art through conventions. Musicians play regular gigs for actual money. This person might be getting paid, but is a long way from making a living. Their art might still be thought of as a hobby, with no desire to go at it full time.
6 The Full-Time Selling Artist
This is the nub of it. A person who can write to sell and make a living at it as a freelance. An illustrator who can pay their rent with comic panels or graphic novels. A musician who can afford to give up their day job to commit to playing full time. You’re not working for someone else, but out on your own and making it. These artists know what sells and how to make their art work for them.
I fully admit, trying to move from step 5 to step 6 is a doozy. Some of it has to do with luck and your diligence at building a following. But the fact remains, if you want to “live” as an artist in your chosen field, you need to be serious about the craft.
It all starts with reaching out to your fellow creators. Join a critique group (or start your own). Find other like minded people who will give you honest advice on how to better yourself. Align yourself with professionals who have had success in the market.
At the end of the day, you get to decide if this art thing is just a hobby or something more.