Is Creating Art Hard Work?

I’ve long been fascinated by the mind of the artist. I wonder what makes artists tick and what drives them to create.

As a gallery owner, I get to interact with artists on a regular basis. I have the opportunity to talk with them about their work and I get to visit their studios. I’ve also read numerous biographies about artists that have allowed me to see how artists develop over the course of a lifetime.

As a non-artist, I stand in awe of the talent and creativity I see manifest in the artworks I encounter. I admire the effort that has gone into cultivating raw talent into artistic skill and the work that goes into creating.

I also know that there are a lot of misperceptions about what it means to be an artist. The popular imagination is filled with romantic notions of the lone artist striving to achieve some kind of higher existence as he or she struggles to create in the studio. Many casual art fans believe that artists live an idyllic life, doing what they love all day long every day. Some who don’t understand art believe that artists are somehow shirking a “real job.”

Recently, I’ve begun to wonder how artists see themselves and how they think about the creative process. I’m particularly interested in better understanding how artists think about the work that it takes to create, and how different artists approach this work.  I would like to explore these questions and I’m going to ask for your input through several posts. I look forward to gaining and sharing insights on the work of creating, and I hope that these insights might help you look at the work you do in new ways, and, perhaps, find ways to do make your work more satisfying.

So, let’s begin with a question.

Is Creating Art Hard Work?

We all know that it takes real work to create a piece of art, but does an artist look at this work in the same way other people look at their work? Is creating a job in the traditional way that we think of jobs?

It’s certainly different than working in a factory – doing the same thing over and over, following someone else’s design. However, I would imagine that the longer an artist has been creating, the more routine the creative process becomes.

As I began to do research for these articles, I reached out to some RedDot readers and asked them about their view of the work they are doing as artists. Their responses were enlightening. I can’t share all of the responses I received, but here are a few that are typical of the diversity of answers to the question “Is creating art hard work?”

Sometimes it is hard. However, there have been times when the ‘muse’ sat on my shoulder, whispered in my ear, and guided my hand…those few paintings or sculptures seem effortless (and they made me much happier). I still have to think about the ‘rules’ of a good work of art, the composition, color, line, shapes, etc. It is difficult to not overwork, to retain the spontaneity. It requires effort and focused concentration. It can be hard to reach that level of concentration and maintain it or even harder, reach it again when you resume working on your art.

Carroll Stone, North Port, FL

 

The short answer is yes. Now the physical act of making art is not considered in the same class as physical labour but in many cases it is. I manufacture my own canvases and panels when not working on assembled paper as a mixed media artist, and these works are generally larger than 2 x 3 feet. For example, moving a 6 x 6 foot panel on one’s own can be quite physical, as can painting with an outstretch arm, often at shoulder height or higher, or at awkward angles – as is needed with these larger works. Muscle and eye strain are common. Then there’s the abstract nature of being an artist where like any business you need to put out capital, as in raw materials, then storage in inventory, through to the sale (if it sells) including administration and finances, as well as marketing and networking to ensure your brand remains viable in both the short and long term of your copyright’s life (not necessarily your own). Twice the work for the potential of a return that is never guaranteed – this fits the description of hard work in my books.

Ben Benedict, London, ON

 

This is an interesting question, at times creating art can be difficult, especially when the artistic flow is on a down swing, some factors in being difficult can be due to a lack of incentive, maybe the project is more challenging than first thought, could be working with an unfamiliar medium for the first time. Most artists I know like to challenge themselves, otherwise they can become complacent in their work.

Josef Marion, Santa Fe, NM

 

I don’t see creating art as hard work at all although it is a process that has a number of peaks and troughs within it. The hardest part is getting around to creating art. Once I have got to my easel I can get lost in what I am creating. I guess the hard work is more around thinking about what to do with the art once it is created, e.g. keeping an inventory of work etc, deciding where and how to market my art, prepping for a show etc.

Chrissie Hawkes

 

I feel that some aspects of creating art come easier than others. Some pieces simply flow better and feel easier to complete. Others are more difficult and there isn’t an appreciable difference in the result. I do think it would be a mistake to think that it should always be easy or to give up just because it is difficult. This answer does not include the marketing and selling of art-that is pretty much always difficult (but worth it).

Angie Spears

We pretty quickly see that it’s as much a question of defining hard work as it is deciding whether creating art is hard work. I suppose that this is true of just about any profession – attitude makes a big difference. It’s important to note, however, that thinking of creative work as hard isn’t necessarily a negative thing. Many artists reported feeling a deep sense of satisfaction that comes with the labor of creating art.

What do you Think – Is Creating Hard Work?

Please take a moment to complete this quick poll. I know that the first question may be a bit difficult to answer because creating art might be both, depending on the day. If you tend to think of your artistic practice more as hard work than pleasure, pick the first option, and if you find it to be pure pleasure more often, pick the second. After you take answer the survey questions, please leave your thoughts about the nature of the work you do in the comments below.

Keep an eye out for additional posts about the nature of the work you do in the coming days, as well as a post on the results of this poll.

 

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23 Comments

  1. The inspiration and idea phase is always fun. Then the actual creation part can become monotonous or tedious. However, the end product then gives you satisfaction. It can be a roller coaster.

    1. My studio is up a steep set of stairs, and hauling supplies up and down those stairs is a good work out! (Remind me to to tell the Medicare broker I’m meeting with later about the exercise…) Also, opening boxes of frames, canvases, and prepping and shipping paintings is something I’m happy to do as it’s a physical and not mental challenge, as painting can sometimes be. Oh and just wrestling with a French easel is work… I believe I though one across a field of wildflowers once, in frustration – topic for another blog I think

  2. The question is, is creating hard work? When I am excited about a particular work it is not hard, it’s fun! As well as, when experimenting with a particular idea, it’s fun. If the question is, is running your own business hard work, then the answer is yes. As an artist, I am running my own business and all that entails, as anybody running their own business knows.

  3. Most of the time, coming up with the next project is easy and enjoyable, as is bringing those ideas and images into being, even when using materials that require a great deal of physical work. Certainly, I love figuring out how to turn mild steel into a 3 dimensional object, as well as manipulating a lump of clay into three dimensional forms which are expressive, and have form and meaning. What is difficult for me is figuring out how to price, and market, my work, in order to find the right clientelle.

  4. Creating can be hard work. It depends upon what kind of creative problems you have to solve. If you’re a studio painter on a timed deadline getting ready for a show, or working with a new subject matter or concept you haven’t explored before, that heightens the difficulty. If you’re a plein air painter struggling with the elements, that presents a different set of challenges. Doing the same thing within ones comfort zone, over and over, is the probably the least hard … but it can also become boring.

  5. Creating art as a hobby is fun. All the artists I know making a living from their art are extremely hard working people, and that includes me! But it doesn’t mean we have no fun doing it!

  6. I’m a sculptor, and have always used a process to create my sculptures. Recently I reworked my original hand carving process to be largely a digital process with hand carved finishing features. Reworking my original process was eye opening. The totally hand carved work took a lot of discipline, I won’t say that it was hard work, because the challenge for me was to always be present with the project. Now that has all changed. The original digital images take minutes rather than days to create, and part of my new challenge is to not attempt to control everything, instead letting the computer and scanner do there thing. My new challenge is to rapidly evaluate the emerging digital image as it is developing during the few minutes it takes with this new digital process. It’s a different type of discipline, it happens very rapidly. The finish carving of details is the same as it ever was, be present. There is less amount of finish carving required however, and I have to let go more consciously, or I over work the finishing details. When I learned to carve forty years ago, there was no digital sculpture. Everything changes.

  7. Creating art is different than working other types of jobs. Yes all fields need creative solutions yet coming up with an original idea starting from a blank canvas is different. My ideas may come easily, then actually getting them down on paper to make sense is at times difficult. The painting can be both a challenge and a joy depending on each piece. Sometimes the muse takes over and I don’t remember actually coming up with what I just did… Living as a painter is not easy. I have had to take other jobs to bring in money to support my art when sales are slow. I am not what one calls a mainstream artist so my market is a lot smaller than other artists. I have to be true to my voice so I create first and then work on finding those people that enjoy my work. I know it is worth it to me as I have clients from all over the world. The business end of art is the hardest part for me as I am not as interested in that but I know it is a necessity. I love creating and it is something I doubt I could ever stop doing. I heard a saying which I think is true. “You don’t choose art, it chooses you.”

  8. For me, fun lies in the challenge I’ve presented myself–and the exercise of arriving at various solutions and ultimately choosing one path for the particular work or body of work. Experimentation with its unknown outcomes may be hard intellectual and emotional work, but if you enjoy it, is it hard? Yes, some aspects of what I do involve physical labor, but it’s a welcome break and provides texture and variety to my day.

  9. In certain kinds of art-making, YES, there’s plenty of hard work that needs to be done. The mosaic relief wall panels that I create in wood and bamboo are made by taking planks of wood and poles of bamboo, cutting these down into small pieces or strips; these will become the tesserae. Sounds easy, but takes time and muscle-work to cut bamboo into flexible strips, or create faceted blocks of wood that require shaping, hand-tooling, sanding and finishing. Each component matters and is a sculptural part of a composition.
    All these things: Great patience, experimentation, engineering, order, originality, intuition, trust–and simply loving what I’m doing–go into my work. I call that a mixture of Art and Spirituality ~

  10. The first part is always fun for me. Creating seems to roll off my fingertips and on to the surface In front of me. The hard part is turning that creation into a finished painting.
    I can come up with tons of concepts but it take me over a 100 hours to complete a single large painting. At times it can be hard work. So I am limited to only 4-5 painting a year. As I am working I keep adding to what I started with so that the finished product is different somewhat from the original concept. Such is art. As long as it is in my hands it is never done.

  11. Creating art is not hard work for me. It can be tedious, or even boring at times, which can make it hard to get excited about, or feel like doing. But, is creating art hard work? I don’t like hard work, that’s why I became an artist. Then I learned the marketing and social media and doing shows – that’s the hard work part! lol OH well, it’s still much more more satisfying than working hard for someone else.

  12. For many people working their job is simply a necessary means to an end and given the chance to quit they would. I’ve always said that if I instantly and magically became independently wealthy, I would continue to work. For me creating isn’t about work or working hard. Although parts of it can be difficult and I do work diligently and intently. All of the things that any small business is required to do, the marketing the preparation, the accounting, licensing et al. That’s the hard stuff. Gaining “notoriety” and brand building while trying to focus your mind and efforts on the actual creative process, is difficult. But the passive (and active) process itself I’d liken to a birds flight. Getting off the ground is the work, flying is easy and satisfying. Having a purpose and goal or vision for your work is important (for me) to put in the “work” of the process. I always have my eye on the vision as I work through my projects. Some of the tasks associated with larger builds or sculptures are physically challenging and can be demanding. But at the end of an install or the completion of a project (painting/sculpture, etc) the only thing that matters is what is left to show for the effort. Much of my work involves tedious processes and involved engineering that is rarely evident in the finished works. Like the graceful movement of a duck on water or a clock’s ticking hands, there is so much more happening than meets the eye. The satisfaction I get from the finished works far outweighs any of the effort that I put into it.

  13. For me, as I mostly convey feelings of beauty and happiness into my paintings the process is never hard work, but rather uplifting and re-energizing and leaves me with a feeling of calm each time after I completed the piece.
    On the other hand, I could imagine, that artist who use art for their expressions of deep and perhaps painful feelings, might find painting quite hard and exhausting during that process, however, hopefully very freeing by the completion of their piece.
    So, my art is geared to potential customers who feel the same intent that I felt, when painting it, so then, hopefully they will be interested in buying that piece.

  14. Interesting question. According to Mirriam Webster, the term “hard”, for this purpose, means,
    “difficult to bear or endure.”

    And the term “work” means,
    a : to perform work or fulfill duties regularly for wages or salary
    b : to perform or carry through a task requiring sustained effort or continuous repeated operations
    c : to exert oneself physically or mentally especially in sustained effort for a purpose or under compulsion or necessity

    When taken literally by their dictionary definitions, I don’t see CREATING art as either “hard” or “work.” As others have noted, I see the BUSINESS part of art — organizing and tracking inventory and supplies, marketing, sales, and staying on a consistent schedule — definitely as hard, and definitely as work. Running a business is always difficult, if you do it correctly, and for the artist mindset, it can be particularly challenging. It requires discipline, concerted effort, and continued learning — left brain stuff. But that’s the same for any business owner running any type of business.

    The actual act of creating art, is a different story, at least for me. While it can be challenging, and frustrating at times, I think of it more as stepping behind a curtain, into a protected private space. It’s very personal for me. It’s my calm in the storm, my meditation, my escape. I don’t paint to make a living. I don’t paint to create an image. I don’t paint to get work into galleries (although all of those things are very nice and I want to do them!) — but mainly I paint because I can’t NOT paint, and that’s the main draw for me. I get anxious if I go too long without painting or creating; I can feel my easel calling to me.

    So is it hard? No. Work? No. It’s a relief. It floods me with endorphins. I can feel my muscles relax when I’m painting. I can feel all of my senses more sharply — if I’m painting well, I’m extra extra happy and feel like singing. If I’m not painting well, I’m extra extra frustrated and I can feel my heart beating. I find it difficult to break away, especially if I’m navigating a challenging aspect, and often paint to exhaustion. I wouldn’t stop to go to bed if my dog didn’t insist by barking at me when it gets into the wee hours.

  15. I apologize for not being able to credit the author with this quote but it is among my favorites in my collection:

    “Creating art is work. It only LOOKS like play.”

  16. I do complex, historically correct representational art. I look at each work as a set of challenges, to be met sequentially, i.e planning , rough drawing, tightened drawing and paint and shipping…. Because there is so much detail to tend to, it is hard to say when the work is truly “done”. (Yes, customers want this. I am working on a low-end painting that is to be used as a book cover illustration-22 corrections requests- just on the drawing!) Often it is hard to hold interest in a work…It takes 2-3 days before I get truly engaged to the job and really get to work. Once I get past the most difficult executions and I get excited about completing the work and put in the long hours. Dealing with customers is harder than it was when I started out 34 years ago, as they are more demanding and specific on what they want. The upside is they love the completed work, generally .All said and done, it is work, my profession, I love what I do and am modestly rewarded for it. I want to say “lucky me”, but it took 3 decades and 600+ paintings to get here.

  17. This is an interesting question. Sometimes it can be hard work, when the inspiration isn’t there, but most of the time, It is fun, even with the moments of frustration. When I am inspired, I will keep working on a painting until it “feels right.” That could be anywhere from 3 hours to three days, or more. Art is definitely not like any regular job I’ve ever had. No matter how hard it may seem at times, I look forward to doing it. There is a lot to be said for the saying, “Do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life.” That is definitely how it feels to me.

  18. It’s a fun question, though I’m not sure it’s really answerable, at least not with a definitive yes or no. The frustration is hard, certainly, as is often forcing myself into the space I need to be in to get good work done. But, after I’ve pulled an all-nighter and I sit back exhausted, barely keeping my eyes open as I wash my brushes, if someone were to ask if the long session was hard I really wouldn’t know how to answer. My exhaustion would seem to indicate that I’ve just done something which required great effort, but was it hard to do? Or did I just do it? It certainly isn’t easy…again, though, BUT…

    Maybe the better question is whether or not it’s “work.” Would we describe someone in the grip of a manic episode as working hard? It’s like the effort feeds itself. A creative pursuit is a similar kind of activity, I think. You just kind of do it. Last week I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea for a new series of paintings. I grabbed my sketchbook and rounded out half a dozen compositions, all with notes in the margins. The easy way to explain why I was tired the next day would be to say that I was working most of the night, but that’s not quite accurate. Can something so absorbing be called work? Then again, what else do you call something that takes such persistence, endurance, and focus – that takes such an emotional toll?

  19. Hey Jason,
    I had to give your question an evening to simmer: Is art making hard work? Art making has many stages from the inception of an idea to the final product. There is such joy when inspired and an idea forms but it takes discipline to thoughtfully work through the process to make the idea a reality. I am a painter and a metal smith, where smithing requires more physical action the most difficult part of both media is the thinking through the process and having the confidence and flexibility to persevere. Then the reward comes in the finished work. Of course learning new skills and techniques adds a lot of spice to the experience.

  20. I have always said that making art is hard work. I’ve working harder at it than anything else because it’s the only area of my life that I’ve made no compromises. However, and this is a big however, it has gotten much easier over the years because I now know the phases or stages of creating a work that I go through for every piece. With this awareness, for example, when I arrive at the unsure place (that I always arrive at sometime during the creation process) I know that I’ll get beyond and find the next more comfortable stage. I might stay at any stage for any particular piece longer or shorter than another work, but I always go though all stages for each work. The stages can kinda be described as: initial spark of idea, a shift when I begin with the materials, back and forth between more intuitive marks or choices and conscious awareness of composition, ugly stage, pleasure that it’s done so fast, realization that something is bothering me, the last inch of completion that can take the longest time: looking at the work and making small changes.

  21. Hard work… depends on the definition of “hard”. Work yes.. hard decisions, but truly a blessing to produce magical images out of thin air. Determination and patience and routine and self-honesty and improving one’s craft and one’s scope of knowledge and influences … these are not hard, they are necessary. Talking or writing about one’s work, selling and explaining one’s work is what I feel is hard although these experiences will get better. I will persist at it. ( by the way, trying to learn calculus or to speak Japanese is what I call “hard work”!)

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