Did your Family and Friends Discourage You From Becoming an Artist?

I recently read an article about Richard Branson, serial entrepreneur and founder of Virgin Records and Virgin Airlines, where he talked about the reluctance many people feel when trying to decide whether to leave steady employment to begin a new business venture. Comments on the article included many references to the added challenge of having friends and family members who discouraged taking the risk of starting a new business.

When my wife Carrie and I decided to start Xanadu Gallery in 2001, we were very fortunate to have moral and financial support from family members. Their encouragement had a huge impact on our ability to get the gallery off the ground. Even more important, their ongoing support through the difficult early years and the recession that began in 2007 were crucial in helping us keep the business going.

Branson’s article got me thinking about the challenge it is for an artist to take the plunge and pursue art full time, and it made me wonder how big a factor family members and friends were in the decision making process. I’ve certainly heard stories of young artists being discouraged from pursuing art as a profession.

Were You Discouraged From Pursuing a Career in Art?

Did the people closest to you, your family and friends, encourage or discourage your pursuit of art as a profession? Share your experiences or thoughts on the influence friends or family have had on your pursuit of your art – please share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

29 Comments

  1. Most definitely. Although friends in high school assumed I would head towards an art related career in college, my parents would not allow that. Since they were offering to pay for all school related expenses, I went along. Spent almost 3 years trying to make myself like Pharmacy School, but it was not the place for a creative soul. I hid the fact that I then transferred out of the school of pharmacy and applied for acceptance into U of Michigan’s School of Art. I only told my parents because I ended up needing an extra year to get all the credits in art courses necessary to graduate with the BFA degree! As soon as I stepped foot into those studios, I knew I was in the right place.

  2. My father’s education was interrupted by WWII. He experienced starvation and a bleak future in Europe. He worked incredibly hard to become an engineer, facing continued financial hardship in the early years. He was completely against me becoming an artist due to his fear of me facing the same financial hardships. Being European he would say only dead artists’ work makes money. It’s taken me to be in my 60s to finally open a gallery and make art full time. My husband and sons are thrilled with me for doing it. Making art is so difficult to generate a liveable wage that there’s always a compromise. I chose non-art related jobs to financially support my art making, because I didn’t enjoy other art related work (which I tried) such as teaching, non-profit art orgs etc. I continued to be a gallery artist and learnt to juggle my time to still make art. It wasn’t easy, but nothing in life is. I have so much energy now, to make art full time because it’s a ‘new’ experience. My sons have taught me how to use social media to my advantage. My recent shows have both sold well. Life is good.

  3. My mother encouraged my artistic talent all my life (1940’s on) but it was only to be a hobby. I couldn’t take art classes in high school or college. I was only allowed to take “academic” classes except for typing which could help me in any career. The idea was that artists couldn’t make money in a career and I should look at careers that could support me. Also the “bohemian” lifestyle of artists wasn’t something my parents approved of. I did go on to get a PhD in biology and became a college professor, but always “dabbled” in various artistic media. Following retirement I took a series of quilting classes and discovered the medium that I love – working with fabric to produce art (not quilts).

  4. When I first started out as an artist, I literally lost all my friends. Friends who shared good times – and christmas gifts I’d shower them with when I was a salaried person.
    One friend even left a remark that left a bad after-taste: that if a $10 portrait drawing machine could draw better than I did then, what made me think I could succeed as an artist?
    I’m a Singaporean, a citizen of a country known to be a “cultural desert”. A nation that benchmark success with the house you live in, the car you drive. And ironically for some, the art collection you own.
    I remember my own father telling me to “get out of my house!” when i asked to switch to art school.
    By the time i was competent to eke out my own path, economic downturn due to 9-11, and subsequently SARs virus episode, made work cut out for me in pursuit of my career.
    It made things worse when galleries weren’t even keen to give me a time of day; without a portfolio and money for expenses I lugged a few paintings and walked 30km to and fro the city, hoping to find someone willing to give me a chance, until I chanced upon this new gallery with a purpose of really connecting people with art, and not just trying to profit with big-ticket art.
    And so the gallery owner Ms Glennery Besson became my first true friend of the arts, a person who truly believed in my work.
    She regained my faith in having good people still in this arts fraternity, and later my belief in connecting young artists, giving them a chance to succeed in their paths.

  5. Yes. Art was — and all too often still is — a way to keep the kids occupied but not a so-called real way to spend time. It was a phase I was going through, a nice hobby. It’s been 65 years now, and I, for one, have stopped thinking it will pass. The saddest thing is that almost everyone needed to be dead before I could be happy and fully at ease just being who I was always meant to be. I try not to dwell on that.

  6. I was lucky to be encouraged in my art by my mother, grandparents, and siblings. My family is full of performers and musicians; I vividly remember being told as a young person that I will spend a great percentage of my life working, so it was important to try to find work that I enjoyed! My husband of 53 years is 100% supportive in every way…I do know how fortunate I am. As things turned out, I was not able to support myself with my art, but it had nothing to do with lack of encouragement! Now I’m painting to my heart’s content!!

  7. Absolutely! I went to college and studied art… but didn’t specify and received a BA. I knew I was an artist since childhood and so did they – but was urged/encouraged to get a ‘real’ job. So I went with graphic design. Still artistic but in no way as much fun or fed my soul. They support me now as an artist and attend all my exhibitions – but I truly believe they would never believe I could ‘make it’ without extra income coming in as an independent contractor. Thank you for this blog post!

    1. oh and yes TYPING class! 7th grade – mom mandatory. AND I thank her daily. I can type like no other.

  8. I have a degree in social work that I have never used professionally. That says it all. But as long as I can remember, I have said “When I grow up, I want to be an artist.” Even after I married and my husband encouraged me, my own self-doubt (instilled by years of “You can’t make a living as an artist”?) continue to plague me. I am now focused on being an artist, even promoting art on a new website, etc. I read your helpful posts faithfully. Thanks! Is it possible, at 68, that I really have grown up?

  9. I always knew that someday I would be an artist, but family just tolerated the idea..it was to them a passing phase..but I kept on and to satisfy myself and family, went to college, studied art and got my degree in Art Education. Now, I could earn money, pay for my art supplies, and have the satisfaction of
    helping other aspiring artists chanel their desires. Oh, yes..I took typing and earned a business diploma from High School and worked for Civil Service..in my life before actually doing art.

  10. Growing up, I was producing drawings, paintings, and sculpture up through high school. My parents discouraged me from continuing with art and encouraged me to pursue a college major where I could get a “real job”. I selected architecture and have been in the profession now for 46 years My practice (established 22 years ago) is focussed on residential projects. I love designing and still prouduce the design drawings by hand.

    My first pilgrimage to Burning Man in 2009 struck a chord. At Burning Man, I realized that my primary mission is to be an artist. I reconnected with my passion by taking classes at the local art school and showing my work in neighborhood “art walks”. While I don’t plan on fully retiring, I am scaling back on architectural projects and allowing myself more time to make art.

  11. I’ve always received mixed messages from family—from “yes, you can be anything you want to be” to “be something useful”. But overall, I had to overcome the hesitancy in my own mind more than what I was hearing from family. I would say I’ve had more support than not, but my fears are my own worse enemy. Happily, as I age, that’s becoming less of a problem, and I paint a lot now.

  12. A child of the 50s, all I heard concerned getting married and having children. I drew and painted from childhood, but stuck with me as a hobby. Then I lost a 34-year journalism career in the 2008-2009 economic crash, and passion for painting came pouring out of me. I have continued to study and work these past 12 years, and am making a modest income from my art. The fear of failing lurks constantly, but the joy from creating overcomes that ancient and deep-rooted monster. Best of all, art has no editors and no retirement or expiration date.

  13. I paid for my college degree, parents didn’t say anything negative or positive. After that couple years working, saving money, got a partner, went into business as photographer. Best career for me, creative and made a well-paid career of it. Now retired, still photographing and painting, entering juried shows.

    I stay away from people who don’t support my choices. If people support you financially they think they get a say in how you spend their money. Your money or your life, your choice.

  14. No encouragement as a kid. Lots of family have criticized my pursuit as an adult. I have had to find my own way and I give myself permission everyday to pursue my passion. The older I get, the more I believe in what I am doing. I have learned to cut the negativity out of my life.

  15. Yup – there’s a reason I have undergrad and masters degrees in Engineering and worked in Aerospace until I had kids… I used ‘choosing to be a stay-at-home mom’ as an excuse to leave my ‘responsible’ career and launch a creative one!

  16. I been creating art as long as I can remember and I don’t remember being discouraged or encouraged by anyone.
    My parents bought me the “Famous Artist” program that was popular at the time and cost big bucks. It was staffed by Norman Rockwell and other top commercial artist of the time.
    I don’t think a good friend would ever discourage you from pursuing your dreams and none ever did.
    Anyway I ended up working, as most artist seem to do working in advertising as a conceptual artist till I retired and now spend my time creating large acrylic paintings on canvas. So I guess life is good and we should all pursue our dreams no matter what.
    Peace.

    1. I have been told over and over you can’t make a living at art. In fact I had a family tell me that within the last month. I have lost friends and family because of it. But I love art and my happy place is creating art. So a few years back and I quit nursing and tried to paint full time, it was a challenge, I had my whole family against this decision but I continue on taking some part time jobs to pay bills . In 2019 I had just started selling and Covid hit. I made the choice to back into nursing but still paint. Now I nurse 3 days a week and paint 4 at a studio space I love. I haven’t given up on the idea of painting full time but for now this works for me and my patients love when I draw diagrams for them and explain procedures or conditions. I love drawing funny cartoons for the staff with a happy note especially after a rough day or week.

  17. My twin sister and I were encouraged by our parents to pursue art. We both took art in high school and we’re encouraged to study art at university…BUT…since they were paying for it, we could only study art education so we could earn a living. We taught junior high school art for two miserable years but saved our money and left our teaching profession to study painting and printmaking in Italy and Philadelphia through Tyler School of Art MFA program. We both found college art teaching positions which allowed time for our art while earning a living. My sister stayed in teaching but also developed her career as a fine artist where she was recognized as a important artist especially in Eastern US. I taught at two colleges in Montana for several years and bit the bullet and became a full time artist specializing in sporting and western landscapes and became recognized in that genre. I feel the time in education and the initial art education degree delayed my career as a fine artist

  18. Yes, I was not encouraged. I am second generation on both sides of my family tree. My mother was very intelligent but she was born with a disabled left hand. She was born in 1931. In those days, she was shut out of almost all career opportunities. My father was born in 1927 and went to the Navy at 17 during World War II in the South Pacific. He wanted me to become a teacher so I could be home with my children in the summer (his mother worked in the garment district to help support her family, she was an inspiration). A college degree was very important that I must achieve. Although, I was educated in an Irish Catholic School system in Boston which was a very good education, my father at 39 died of a cerebral aneurysm at the end of my freshman year in the Catholic high school. From that time on I worked to pay for my education. Long story short, I graduated with honors from college that I earned the hard way. I became a painting teacher for just over 22 years. I sold several paintings and I was given awards and medals as well for my in oils and pastels. Also, with my wonderful students began the Pastel Society of North Carolina. Most of one branch of my family tree were musicians from Western Europe. So, the most amazing things about our country is the freedom to succeed in becoming your true self. Don’t ever give up through all of it there is your path and our Creator is with you.

  19. most definitely. I was told again and again ‘artists starve’, my parents #1 mantra. Number 2 was ‘artists and drunks and/or drug addicts. You will become one or both of those if you become an artist. Is that what you want to be. Yet I saw in my parents, other relatives and friends frustration, anger, etc working at mundane jobs paying the bare minimum…hating evey moment. It was obvious to me even at a young age that the anger and frustration likely had to do with well-meaning but totally out of touch parents et al telling them that their (possible creative dreams) dreams were unreachable because ‘people like us can’t have that’. The idea that someone cannot have a career in the arts is so shame based and this has to stop. There are blatant lies, gross misrepresentations etc surrounding the ‘artist/creative people.

  20. OMG! That is my total story. I told my dad when I was young I wanted to be an artist. One of the girls at the ranch where I rode horses and took lessons was going to college to design bedding. I had always been an artist! Even in my earliest photos in preschool, all the kids are sitting at the table for there picture to being taken and I am in the background at the easel. When I told my dad what I wanted to do, he told me that I could not be an artist because I would never be able to support myself. The only artist that ever make money were dead. He thought I was wasting my time and I was a dreamer. He thought I should work in the market or a bank. I once told him I’d rather be dead than working in a market or a bank. The inside confinement and day to day gruel would have killed me. I always had a studio and I always dabbled on my own time. In fact, I couldn’t have gotten out of high school if they didn’t let me major in art. So when my dad died in 2018, my art started to pour out of me. It was like the spell was broken and I was free to be me. When dad died, I was 61 years old and now nothing is going to hold me back! In fact, at the end of this month I will be showing my art at the LA Art Show at the convention center. I’m not mad at my dad, I know he was trying to protect me and there are a lot of artists. However, I would have loved to have had parents that encouraged me to use my natural gifts and talents. Who knows how my life would have been different? I also know that there are no accidents! 🙂

    1. Hi Charisse! This resonates with my life story too. Thank you for sharing – it’s comforting and encouraging to know others share the same life story! Jen Z.

  21. I grew up in the industrial east end of London, in a blue collar family. Art was for Toffs not the likes of us.
    I did take art in school and won a few awards, but then I joined the military… not exactly an art friendly environment, still I always had a sketch book, and drew.
    After six years I met and married my husband, and mustered out.
    Still I drew, and eventually once the offspring were in school started painting.
    I was quite secretive about my art until a friend convinced me to enter a painting in an art fair contest in 2004. I won.
    I started taking every class and workshop I could. I joined guilds, entered shows and contests.
    My family found all of this to be mystifying but kept most negativity to themselves.
    By 2011 I was working full time as an artist.
    The fam were still puzzled but cautiously encouraging.

    By the time my parents passed they were both proud though still uncertain. My work is non traditional which they didn’t understand but they could see I was having success with it.
    Encouraging, not for a long while, but not actively discouraging either.

  22. I was actively discouraged from a very early age. I was told over and over again that there is no money in art. I kept doing art through the years. When I was 18 my dad didn’t want me to go study art after and also wanted me to stay in school for another year because my math grade was 64%! I decided not to go study because I did not want to do anything else but rather came to the UK where I had various jobs which led me down a legal career. The strain from not enjoying what I do and office politics finally came down on me in my early thirties. I stopped working, studied graphic design, because of course that is more likely to be worthy of my time than art! After my degree I just flat out refused to take any office job so I started art full time and that was that. I have not looked back, I keep learning and working and I will get myself up to the standard where I should have been years ago.

  23. My father had no artistic skill himself but was an art lover and was encouraging. We took a lot of museum tours together. He always contended that the renaissance was the height of man’s artistic achievement. I thought it was just okay. He helped to fund a four month trip to Italy when I was in college, where I lived the life of an Italian stone sculptor. He gave me a place to live when I returned, and always wanted to see me working on something. His one piece of advice to me was to be like William Turner, who worked on commercially successful artwork for his entire career, and in his spare time he would explore these wonderful but unappreciated impressionistic works which during his lifetime were not sellable but are now the pieces he is most famous for. And I have sometimes followed that advice, but you know I always felt kind of sorry for Turner, having to make those boring old paintings when he really wanted to do Impressionism long before Impressionism was a thing.

  24. I’m in the process of transitioning into life as a full-time artist. The lack of understanding or support from family members has been a lifelong rift during career paths in the creative fields and during this transition to becoming a full-time artist/painter has resulted in large arguments, undue stress and unnecessary distractions over the last few months.
    It’s been extremely challenging, but have had to make a concerted effort to not let it sway my decision to proceed.
    Fortunately, it’s paid off in a happiness and a slow and consistent stream of sales has started to quiet some of the noise.
    Having the support of family would definitely make it an easier path and would be a lot more fun to be able to include them in the joys of the journey.

  25. You could say I was “born with a pencil in my hand,” as I have been drawing all my life, nearly 71 years now. It has always been my absolute favorite past-time, and sometimes I have been lucky enough to sell a work here and there, many times drawing for the sheer pleasure of it, other times giving away pieces to family or friends…to me, it never mattered much.
    Being a widow now, with eight grown children (and many grandchildren now) I am free to pursue my Art wherever it takes me…and still, it matters not whether I sell a piece or not. The real pleasure to me is the sheer creation of Art, not whether it fetches a penny.
    But, many years ago, when I was still in my late teens, I entered the “Draw Me” contest, put into magazines by the Famous Artists School, founded and run by Norman Rockwell. I didn’t really expect too much to come of my entry; I merely sent it in as a matter of curiosity, not even mentioning to my parents or siblings that I had even entered!
    But then, one fateful day, about 2or3 weeks later, there came a knock on our front door ~ a man who introduced himself as the director of the school for our state (Michigan) and who proceeded to tell me that he was there in person to invite me to join the school as a winner; I had received the 2nd highest score he had ever seen in all his years with the school!! Needless to say, I was dumbfounded and delighted at this unexpected news and rushed to tell my parents all about it….fully expecting them to back me up!
    But, unfortunately, their reactions were the complete opposite of what I had hoped for. “I thought you were going to be a teacher!” my mother exclaimed, with my father nodding agreement. “You just can’t count on making a real living selling your drawings, now, can you?!?” he added.
    Needless to say, this certainly put a real dash to my hopes of furthering my dreams of becoming a “real artist.” So, reluctantly, I returned to the living room to inform the gentleman that I had to decline his offer. …and the look on his face I will NEVER forget.
    I went on to attend Wayne State University, receiving my Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts and Education, taught for one year…and left the teaching profession behind, got married and had my children, which, of course, kept me busy for many years…until my husband passed away in 2014 and left me free to go back to what I had always longed to do: DRAW PICTURES with little to no interference from anyone else’s opinions, ideas (he, at least, ALWAYS backed me up, bless his heart) ~ and now I draw whenever I want to, giving free reign to my artistic muse.
    When I look back on that day, I wish with all my heart that I had taken that man up on his generous offer, as it was, after all, a correspondence school, so in all actuality, I could have done BOTH schools!!! But unfortunately, hindsight is the curse of maturity, isn’t it?! And it’s too late now…
    But at least I can do what I like now. And I had a loving husband who, for many many years, bragged about “his wife, the artist,” to anyone and everyone he met.
    And when I draw anything now, he is right here with me, looking over my shoulder, and whispering in my ear, “You can do it, Jenn! You’ve always been my favorite!”
    So in the end, I guess I won the Grand Prize, didn’t I?!? …in a roundabout way… hehe……. 😉✍💘 …

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