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7 Steps to Finally Becoming an Artist
Climb on top of the tallest mountain, gather everyone you know below, and shout down: “I am an art...
Art Stuff 17 Feb 2019

Maybe your Plan A fell apart (we can’t all be smart enough for med school) and you’ve decided to turn your doodling skills into a career. Maybe you don’t know what to do with your trust fund and you’ve always thought art school looked like fun. Or maybe you knew you were an artist since the day you sketched a perfect replica of van Gogh’s peasant hands on the back of your bib as a three-year-old. We all have different paths.
peasant hands
Two Hands, Vincent van Gogh (1884-1885).

But now you’re here, and you’ve decided to give this whole art thing a go. To steal the opening line of Jerry Saltz’s recent Vulture article, “How to Be an Artist,” “Art is for anyone. It’s just not for everyone.” To translate, essentially every single person could potentially be an artist—there’s no pre-birth selection committee doling out artist genes to the chosen babies—but not everyone will try.
And if they do, most won’t have what it takes. The artist life might seem like it’s all fun and games—i.e., drinking beer, having sex, being really thin and sort of malnourished looking but in a chic way, not because you have a problem but because you can’t afford to buy that much food, but it’s fine because your art sustains you—but the reality looks a little different. The reality is, as Rihanna so eloquently put it, work, work, work, work, work.
Your new mantra.
Where to start? Never fear. Read on to discover our own, Saltz-inspired, playbook to becoming a superstar artist, a step-by-step list of classic wisdom remixed for the digital age. (No offense, Jerry, but wise and experienced and tech-savvy as you are, ‘Gramming your Tweets is a bit tacky.)

1) Kiss your yacht dreams goodbye.

tiny violin
What’s this? It’s the world’s tiniest violin, playing for your poor arty ass. You’re about to embark on a lifetime of waking up to the best job in the world, so excuse the limits to my sympathy when you can’t pay your electricity bill every once in a while.
Best come out and say it straight away: artists don’t have any money. Or, to be more precise, 99.99% of living artists don’t have any money. The other .01% are all Jeff Koons (yes, that math is right). You are not Jeff Koons, therefore, you will not have any money.
koons ball
If you could peer into Koons’ crystal ball and see the future… why bother? I can tell you right now: you’ll never be as rich as him.
In fact, most people in the art world don’t have any money, and the ones that do are usually the ones buying or selling art, not making it or studying it—so are they really working in art, or in business? Seems a little twisted if you look at it a certain way, but that’s not really what we’re here to talk about today.
The point is that if you choose to be an artist, you won’t have any money, and if that’s not something you can deal with, maybe you should choose a different profession. How about financial banking?

2) Declare yourself.

Listen up, world!
Climb on top of the tallest mountain in the world, gather everyone you know below, and shout down to them: “I am an artist!”
There, now that’s done.

3) Know thyself.

Engaging in self-reflection is key for artists. Coming up with something original to say about the world—and eventually developing a distinct style—starts with getting to know the deepest corners of your dark, twisted soul. Better learn how to meditate or get a good therapist, because this step is important.

4) Join the herd.

emperor penguins
You and your new clique.
It’s a well-known fact in the art world that, like Emperor penguins in Antarctica, artists who stray too far away from their own kind soon perish—or become sales directors at car insurance companies.
In fact, artists must do everything with other artists—eat, sleep, drink, discuss, philosophize, argue, fight, live, die. Everything except create—that you do alone, and we’re getting to that.
The Ferus Gang (artists from the Ferus Gallery of L.A.), 1962. Left to right: John Altoon, Craig Kauffman, Allen Lynch, Ed Kienholz, Ed Moses, Robert Irwin, Billy Al Bengston. Photo by Patricia Faure.
So go locate your nearest artist watering hole and take a good look around; those are your new friends. Ok, fine, it’s not so cut-and-dry today—if you can get laid on Tinder in less than an hour, you can definitely find some friends on the Internet. If hanging out at the local bar until 3am every night isn’t your style, hop on IG to scope out some like-minded artists, preferably who live near you, but not necessarily. Most likely, you’ll immediately discover lots of new friend crushes—so even if you didn’t have to be friends with other artists, you’d definitely want to.

5) Make the art.

This is the obvious one and should need no explaining, and yet it’s also the one that’s the easiest to forget. Between all the late nights with your artist posse, your day job (you’re going to need a day job) and the full-time job of telling everyone who will listen that you’re an artist, it’s easy to get caught up in the so-called artist lifestyle and forget about the essential element of the job: making the art.
But even if you forget about this step, the world will soon remind you. Once the word gets out that you’re now going around calling yourself as an artist, people are going to want to see some proof. Plus, all the other pesky little details that you have to take care of to have a successful art career—finding a gallery, getting into shows, and selling work—require some real, preferably tangible, work. Don’t try to pull an Effy in Season 2, Episode 7 of Skins UK and make up some bullshit about conceptual art when you miss your deadline. It’s not going to work, and we definitely don’t need to be giving people any more reason hate conceptual artists.
effy gif conceptual art

6) Work on your IG game.

It’s sad but true: these days, racking up a following on social media is an essential part of a successful art career. More and more people (and buyers) are turning to IG to discover new artists, so the more you get your work out there, the more smoothly things will go for you.
If you’re completely clueless, do yourself a favor and learn some social media basics, like when to post, which hashtags to use (and more importantly, which hashtags to never use), who to follow, etc. And even if you’re not, unless you’re a social media strategist, an influencer or under 18, you could probably use a little refresher.
If hiring someone to get people to follow you on an app seems a little extravagant (or morally gross), start by crowd-sourcing some tips from your Insta-famous friends. Just make a little list ranking everyone you know by number of followers, than go down the list asking them to grab coffee—but make sure no one ever finds the list, or you’ll look like a shallow sociopath.

7) Trick people into buying your art.

This is actually much easier than you’d expect, especially if you’ve done your legwork. If you’ve nailed steps 1-6, by now, everyone in your life (and in your city, and preferably in your tri-state area) will know that you’re an artist, a fact that they will occasionally drop in casual conversations, building up your reputation bit by bit via some good old word-of-mouth marketing.
You’ll also have a loyal gang of arty friends who will talk you up to collectors, gallerists, museum workers and journalists, because that’s what (art world) friends are for. (For tips on tricking rich people into buying your work, read this.)
Your IG game will be so fire that each post of new work will have your thousands of followers literally drooling—and checking their banking apps, praying they haven’t spent all of this month’s disposable income on cheese fries, $18 movie tickets and martinis.
And most importantly of all, when buyers do bite, you’ll have a nice stack of artwork lining your studio (or your boyfriend’s basement), patiently waiting to be given a new home—in exchange for a nice wad of cash, of course, which will pay your rent for the month and maybe even pay for a bed frame. Then again, if you aren’t sleeping on a mattress on the floor, are you really an artist?

Text by Katya Lopatko 
Images via Pinterest, PullBuzz, Great Big Canvas, Hurriyet Daily News, Video Blocks, Cool Antarctica, X-Tra Contemporary Art Quarterly Online, Gifer, @michelgaubert

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