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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27 Comments

  1. As a photographer, others think, what could be easier than pressing the shutter? Well the saying goes, if a photo pro gets one good image out of 100, then they are lucky! I spend sometimes months editing a photo or compositing a fine art photo. The price reflects all the failures, experiments, time waiting for the right moment to happen, that makes up my life. Hard work? Sometimes and especially the marketing, social media, contacts, socializing that many artists hate, keeping track of inventory, website updates, buying supplies, getting camera cleaned and maintained, portfolio reviews, workshops, etc. The paperwork part of my business takes up about 40% of my time and always has. Is it worth it? Check out my website and see. Let me know.

  2. Yes, creating art is as easy as it may seem…consider some media are not health friendly to the artist just like other risk jobs out their….

  3. As a child, my father let me know that “anyone can do that” and I should be educated for a “real job “. I returned to college in my 30s and finally took an art history course during which the class went to the Chicago Art Museum! ( I was 35) I was stunned. Art is a voice. It is a reflection of the artist’s life and culture. I could cry.
    I worked hard at my art classes and graduated at 47.
    I am so great full for all my art classes, and artist friends.
    I have a voice. It can be a decoration and/or a declaration.

  4. When I create my best works I’m usually on a roll like turning out a few pieces in a block of time I put aside. In my mind I have a good idea of what I want for the outcome but add experimentation as I go.
    The hardest part that feels more like work than the actual creating is getting back into it once I take a break to do other work in my faux finishing business.
    This is a mixed blessing because most of my large originals have sold to my clients of my Faux business while working on their homes and offices.

  5. While creating art seems pure joy, the physical side of art comes surprisingly hard. As earlier comments mentioned, sore muscles from brushwork and lifting canvases….the longer I paint, the bigger the canvases I use and lift and shift. There’s a deep pleasure in working on a piece and then deciding when to finish it.

    And while I create, learning continues as a life-long goal, without grades or an editor (a 34-year veteran journalist). In these years of creating, I enjoy the process of art.

  6. Creating art is hard work to me. This doesn’t mean that it is not pleasurable or rewarding. Perhaps I’m wrong but I measure had work by a sense of fatigue. I am just as tired following a day of painting as I ever was at my job (nurse, and later educator). The fatigue is both physical and mental; some days more physical than others depending on the size of the painting or whether I am painting plein air or not. The mental is probably more consistent. Sometimes I am sure that to an observer sometimes I appear to be “not working” where in reality my mind is humming with plans for the next step, problem solving what doesn’t seem “right” and making sure I remember lessons learned so I don’t repeat mistakes.
    One of the most difficult comments for me to field so that I stay polite to observers is
    “That (painting) must be so relaxing. I wish I could get away and learn to do that.” or something similar. I do try to correct the misconception while hiding how irritating I find the comment. I tell them that painting is too important to me for me to be relaxed about it and try to redirect them to the concept that it is rewarding.
    Do I succeed in changing their minds? Probably not in most cases. I think my painting trips are considered vacations by most. I do have fun on plein air trips but I also work hard to create and also to improve my art.
    My painting does not get the same respect as my job did either. If i told someone i couldn’t do something because I had to go to work (at my job) it was generally accepted but if I can’t do something because i have to paint sometimes i get a funny look.

  7. As with most jobs, some aspects are more fun than others. Generally, actually creating the art is where the most fun is for me. Commissions can have frustrations as can identifying what isn’t working in a particular piece and deciding how to improve it. I cut my own mats and do my own framing which are less fun and then the marketing and paperwork are just plain work. Every part of the process pushes me to learn something new and I like that.

  8. I’ve been painting professionally for many years. I do make my entire living at it. Being an artist is like riding a roller coaster. So many wonderful, very fulfilling days where everything hums along smoothly, then a long period of time where things are hard and wearisome. Make no mistake, to me it is a difficult way to earn a living. But it’s something I feel called to do – I’m driven to be creative. Many people think artists are just “gifted” people who rolled out of bed one day and began to make beautiful creations. They have no idea of the hard work and hours involved in study and practice to achieve a professional level of working.

    1. I think Marsha has hit the nail on the head with her reply.. definitely creating art is a roller coaster ride, both physically and emotionally and might I add ‘spiritually’. We often have to ‘dig deep’ as artists to work from a very intuitive, mindful place, not just in the creative process itself but also in our choices about marketing our work and interacting with clients. This takes a level of courage and risk that many ‘real’ jobs do not require. Like anything risky however, the rewards of being an artist can be truly worth the effort required.

  9. Yes, art is hard work but that doesn’t mean it is unpleasant work. Something you love may be hard work but it’s enjoyable and certainly has great, fulfilling rewards. Sometimes a painting I’m working on will come easy, particularly if I don’t let my brain get in the way–but the hours of sitting and standing without a break can be exhausting. When I’m in the zone, I don’t even realize I need a break and then have to pay my dues with an aching back and strained eyes. However, it’s always worth it! For my answer I did not include the marketing and sales efforts…only considered the actual process of creating the art.

  10. Jason, I have been a ‘workaholic’ for decades, not allowing myself to put anything on my to-do list unless it fell into the category of work.

    Over the past five years, I have used a series of self-designed artist residencies to ‘cure’ the workaholic. I lived in Tuscany for two two-month periods, painting and ‘absorbing’ the Tuscan lifestyle with the intent of making this shift. A third trip to the Amalfi Coast with an Italian friend helped me seep it all in.

    This caused many changes in my paintings, as well as myself. Just now painting has become pure pleasure! It feels like singing and I have found my voice.

  11. That is an interesting question. I don’t think creating for an artist is hard work in the usual sense but yes I think creating is hard work. It takes focus, dedication and a willingness to put in long hours into creating. Working with materials can be hard work in the usual sense but I would say the intellectual and emotional work is the main part of creating.

  12. I thought I would try a little different approach…I like to think of origins…. I would like to see how the Universes were created for few minutes, and then how do we create? The Hebrew Bible says that three Universes were created, the Universe of thought (the firmament) (Hindu Casual world)
    next, it says the waters were created, the Universe of Visual images (Hindu, Astral world) Last of all, the physical Universe (Earth, planets, stars, galaxies and Universes) We create in the same manner. We have a thought, from our minds, a desire to create. Then we feel pulled towards a specifc idea, a concept, a feeling or emotion. Then we find an object to copy, or interpret, or symbolize…..something physical, either in our minds, or a real, physical object. And then we create it. A wonderful example of this is, is Blue Kachina doll made by an Indian Elder, Hopi I believe. He made the doll body (this represents the Thought universe. Then he painted it blue, this represents the Visual world, or astral world, then he clothed it (the physical universe) and then on the body of the doll, he painted our planet, our sun, and a comet that will have two revolutions around our planet, one that has already happened. This is a real doll, and you can view online, on You Tube.

    I desire to create something, that is the thought world, I want to paint. Then I FEEL in my heart what I need to express. I then look for photos online, or in my photo collection in books, or found objects like irredescent shells, leaves, etc. I find the photos that I like that have a few physical items I want to paint in the painting…the third phase of creating…the Physical. If all goes well, and it usually does, I paint a painting. If I get STUCK and hit a brick wall where the ideas stop, I do some POSITIVE affirmations, and I am always able to get those good ideas coming in again. No need to work hard, just get into, and STAY in FLOW, like the athletes do. I learned how to do this in a class given by a peak performance expert and writer. I NEVER get stuck or blocked for very long, as that is the only thing that I used to consider hard. working hard implies some type of resistance. If I encounter some type of resistance, I do positive affirmations, immediately, or take a short walk, swim, surf for beautiful images in the computer, and then return, refreshed and ready to go! Everything else is so much fun….

  13. I thought I would try a little different approach…I like to think of origins…. I would like to see how the Universes were created for few minutes, and then do we create the same way? The Hebrew Bible says that three Universes were created: first, the Universe of thought (the firmament) (Hindu Casual world)
    next, it says the waters were created, the Universe of Visual images (Hindu, Astral world) Last of all, the physical Universe (Earth, planets, stars, galaxies and physical Universes) Do we e create in the same manner? We have a thought, from our minds, a desire to create. (A mini firmament in our minds?) Then we feel pulled towards a specific idea, a concept, a feeling or emotion. (A mini waters, or visual images?) Then we find an object to copy, or interpret, or symbolize…..something physical, either in our minds, or a real, physical object. And then we paint, sculpt, mold or carve it, we create it. A wonderful example of this is, is a famous Blue Kachina doll made by a Native American Elder, Hopi I believe. He made the doll body (this represents the Thought universe. Then he painted it blue, this represents the Visual world, or astral world, then he clothed it (the physical universe) and then on the body of the doll, he painted our planet, our sun, and a comet that will have two revolutions around our planet, one that has already happened. This is a real doll, created by a real Native American, and you can view online, on You Tube.

    If I desire to create something, this is in MY thought world, my inner (FIRMAMENT world), “I want to paint something… Then I FEEL IT in my heart, what I need to express., my inner (EMOTIONAL, or VISUAL world) I then look for photos online, or in my photo collection in books, or found objects like iridescent shells, leaves, etc. I find the photos that I like that have a few physical items I want to paint in the painting…the third phase of creating…the PHYSICAL world) If all goes well, I paint a painting. If I get STUCK and hit a brick wall where the ideas stop, I do some POSITIVE affirmations, and I am always able to get those good ideas coming in again. No need to work hard, just get into, and STAY in FLOW, like athletes do. I learned how to do this in a class given by a peak performance expert and writer. I NEVER get stuck or blocked for very long, as that is the only thing that I used to consider hard…having some type of problem with the artwork, and not knowing how to solve it. ) working hard to me, implies some type of resistance: mental, emotional or physical) If I encounter some type of resistance, and I do, I start saying positive affirmations with strong UPBEAT music. Or I immediately, take a short walk, or swim. Or I surf for beautiful images on the computer, and then return, refreshed and ready to go! I Have found a RAPID way to bypass obstacles that come up, from my peak performance classes.

  14. Art is absolutely hard work for me. I work in many mediums. Carving wood is physically hard, ceramics can be hard, clay is heavy and you have to wedge it. I am often strained because I prefer standing while I create. The other part of it is that I work much longer hours than most people I know. I work weekends and holidays. I always work because relaxing is also work, I relax by carving wood or doing some or another thing creative. I am often drained after a day in the studio. Mentally as well, I concentrate so hard that I need to force breaks sometimes. I do research, I have studied many computer programs and apps enabling me to do digital art and manipulate graphics for laser cuts etc. I have not even properly started on the business side of things. I go to markets, did my research there, those are long days and I am learning as I go, I often work or demo at markets too. I try to do social media but lack of wifi access at my previous studio didn’t allow me to work as I wanted so I let that side of things slip a bit. However I now have my own studio and will be doing all of that, my website, social media, advertising, searching and research galleries, finances, stock take etc. I intend to start art classes so that will need a syllabus and I will have to do a course if I want to teach children here. All of it is massively challenging and because I produce the product myself, alter and vary it, learn and grow, see what sells, evaluate my audience in order to make some money to survive, I sometimes think it is much harder work than someone who sets up a business and sells stock. It also leaves you with half the time to produce which is frustrating and again you have to attend to double the work load. That is my opinion.
    .

    1. Saying that, I don’t want to do anything else, I work this hard because I am passionate about what I do, I want to grow, I want to succeed but unfortunately people need money, I find that part very inconvenient.

  15. I work as a bartender on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, as well as an artist at home. To keep this short but to put the question in perspective: Mardi Gras aside, I am much more exhausted at the end of a day of painting than even the busiest days tending bar, (which believe me, are grueling and physically punishing, lol).

  16. The mental side of creating art is no problem at all, but I find the purely physical side of things a challenge. I work in ceramic sculpture, and various physical injuries to my back and right shoulder have made the lugging of clay, wedging, pounding, moving large pieces, etc, increasingly taxing.

    Not to mention setting up an entire stand at a show, with pedestals, plinths, the fragile and heavy pieces themselves… each one requiring a separate trip to my car. I see my painter friends arriving at these same shows with their feather light canvases and zero “extras” and always joke I should have discovered a talent for drawing and painting, not for modeling clay 🙂 Please, painters and photographers in this group, don’t take offense, I don’t mean to belittle the physical challenges of your work, but just for a moment, put yourselves in my shoes.

    The long hours standing at my worktable also take a toll. When I’m in the zone I will sometimes work non-stop for four hours, and for someone with three herniated discs this is no joke. I frequently wonder how long I will be able to keep this up, or be forced to start working smaller and smaller when my instinct and inner urge is to go bigger and bigger.

  17. Most of the doing of the art is something that flows. But I sometimes have to approach it sideways, sidling up to it and pretending not to care. Then I pounce! I do mixed media, so I find the gathering of bits is very exciting.

  18. I have found that the issue of “work”, is a general sticking point with many of my friends and even some artists.
    This is what I can say. The amount of work and its difficulty is fairly invisible in the final product a lot of the time. I can say for myself that I feel this to be what it should be.
    What do I, as an artist, b ring to the work at hand. I bring the idea, my general and specific knowledge about art and what U’m doing, and myself with all my skills and emotional dimension. My friends who are not engaged in the world of ideas have only the physical aspects of making the material expression that is my art work to gauge “my worth.”
    I find my digital pieces cause issues of honest work with a few of my artist friends. We’ve not yet been able to find a space where a conversation can be had.

  19. Hard work or pure pleasure? Both. Sometimes the blocking in and getting accurate shapes is hard work, but the final laying-in of paint is just delightful play. Occasionally it’s the other way around. I’ve done some of my best paintings in the most intuitive and spontaneous manner…but it wouldn’t have been possible without all of the study and practice and hard work beforehand. Sometimes the whole process of making a painting is hard work…but it is pure pleasure to see it turn out well. I want my paintings to express to my viewers the joy of creating art, not the plodding hard work of it all. But I know that things work best for me when I take a workmanlike attitude, painting on a schedule and setting objectives for completed work.

  20. It’s both the most difficult thing I know how to do and the most pleasurable but that is just the process of creation. This is the R&D in other businesses.
    The art business is a whole other kettle of fish. Finding and creating your market, marketing, sales, inventory control, bookkeeping all those things that most any other business encounters. It’s a gigantic undertaking alone, better to have a team.

  21. Creating art is hard, but it is exhilarating and rewarding at the same time. Creating art takes focus, concentration, discipline, as well as a leap of faith. It is who I am, so I can’t stop, I just keep doing it. I am always working on something, I make it a point to always have multiple projects underway.

  22. For me creating is both hard and easy. It’s easy when the creative juices are flowing and I’m secluded in my studio and it’s just me and my canvas. It’s hard when I can’t keep the “momentum” going because I have other obligations, my full time job and family. It’s also hard managing my website and the social media accounts to keep my work in front of everyone and knowing I need to keep posting fresh, new things to keep followers interacting with me. It’s hard managing my inventory, where it’s at and scheduling times to rotate it or replace what’s sold. So when I read over this, it’s the business side of creating that is the hardest to keep up with. The actual creation is where I am my happiest. Sometimes that urge to create isn’t there but when I get it, I just want to get lost in what I’m creating and forget the rest of the world exists.

  23. Though I answered in your survey that art for me is hard work, this is because I work a lot with processes and exploring paint elements and I need full concentration to respond to what is happening and opening up in the image. I don’t work with a plan in mind though I may work from the memory of a place or elements from past paintings which I want to explore further. I also have to work hard to get my materials ready – I make my own canvases and boards to create surfaces I like. I think that once I’m actually in the act of working then it is pleasure combined with the harder element of constant evaluation. When the painting surprises me and offers clues to new directions in a series I’m working on, then that is the joy part! That is what makes it all worthwhile.

  24. Yes, I consider creating art hard work (and that’s not even considering the hard physical work that can be involved or the administrative support work, if it is how one makes a living). It’s hard because the challenge of successfully making manifest the emotion, the idea, the energy of what one is holding in one’s mind is hard work. There’s a tremendous amount of thought that goes into an artwork, whether preliminary or when working intuitively.

    Everything done in the process needs to make sense in the end, be it the choice of surface, size, ratios, of materials, the support required, medium, color, texture, etc. Then, one needs to be able to recognize when to pivot as the piece develops, to listen to it and not block its inherent flow because of a preconceived idea. As one gains experience, some of those decisions become intuitive, and less difficult, but, in the end, it all still has to work.

    Hard and at times frustrating as it can be, though, I consider that challenge to be the most fulfilling; it is the thing that keeps me going into the studio every day. At the end of the day, I am always energized by the effort of thinking through what it takes to make my ideas/concepts become visible and, hopefully, successful. Each piece, successful or less so, is always a step in that ongoing quest.

  25. It’s at times both. It can be hard work and pure pleasure.

    I’ve sculpted and cast in bronze for close to 30 years. It requires climbing ladders wearing protective gear. I have to ask for help with building complex armatures and with the heavy lifting of moving finished bronzes. Recently, the challenges of working with distant foundries, the cost of casting and other factors have forced me to seriously consider sculpting in in other media. I mistakenly thought it would be fairly easy to move, but the learning curve of inventing a new way of doing things is more challenging than I thought. I work through problems in my sleep and day dreams. It’s not an on/off switch. And, it’s important to fulfill show and gallery needs while continuing my experimentation. I’m beginning to think it will take a couple years before I feel like I can present my new sculptures with confidence.

    At other times, the sun is shining, the anatomy is working, the armature isn’t failing, and the creative juices are flowing.

    Still, creating isn’t an option for me. I must create. I simply choose to face the challenges every day whether I feel like it or not. If I get stuck, I keep on working until I get through it to the other side.

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