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.
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).
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.
In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.