Being an Artist is not a Career!

I have heard it before.  The very statement makes me cringe and takes me back to when I was a teenager.  I have heard these words so many times, each time crushing my hopes and dreams but far more importantly my spirit.  “Tammy, you cannot make a living from being an artist.”

In fact, I had a conversation yesterday with a parent about this very opinion.  It is still prevalent in modern day society and particularly in certain cultures. Obviously, parents want the best for their children.  I get it, I have 4 of my own.  You want them to be happy, healthy and dare I say it successful. I guess the word successful itself is quite subjective?  In whose eyes is success measured and by what standard?  Is it measured by currency, job title, marital status or a moral compass?

Unfortunately, by example and our indirect and direct attitudes and guidance we sometimes place pressure on our children to perform, achieve and to make something of themselves.  It is our bragging right! But whether our children are content or not rarely comes into it. Yes, things have come a long way in that some parents now acknowledge that not all children are academically gifted. So, we can now accept that they are sports oriented or even a Beethoven on the piano, if we have something to be proud of.

So, what have I got a bee in my bonnet about today?  Firstly, I want to refute the idea that you cannot turn your art passion into a profitable career and secondly if you are pursuing what you love and are happy doing it, what does it matter anyway?

I am sure you have heard the saying, “Starving artist” or worse still “Artbum!” It conjures up someone living in share house, eating 2-minute noodles and splashing around some paint for hours a day.  We label people this who have some sort of obscure art practise like painting rocks and they barely sell any art and are not particularly motivated to do so! Let me say that you don’t have to be an artist to fit into this category.  There will always be people who fly by the seat of their pants and don’t want a job or commitments and don’t have a care in the world. This is not what I am referring to in this post.

Many factors of course come into play when choosing a career and being passionate about something is rarely enough to make it in your chosen field. I am not here to tell you that if you love drawing pictures of cars in your sketch book, that those pictures will be enough to support yourself, let alone the family you may have one day. FAR FROM IT, what I do want to encourage is the compass that we indeed use to support our children through their education and career path needs to be reset.

YES, making money in the Arts industry can be tough, but so are many other pursuits.  Every career has its challenges, but the question is “How much do you want it?” If your child is drawing, creating and painting for hours a day, encourage them! There is a truckload of evidence (See Ken Robinson Ted talk – Do Schools Kill Creativity?) to support the positive effects that being engaged in the arts has on children (and adults too for that matter). So, the worst-case scenario of encouraging your children in their pursuit of creativity would be things like increased problem-solving and higher results in other core subjects like science and maths!

Beyond that if your child’s interest in this area persists (especially beyond teenage years) then you have a creative in your midst!  At this point I want you to beware! Many creatives can be successful in various fields yet may not necessarily be content in non-arts-based careers.  I am one of those examples.

My first love is drawing, and at college I decided to also pursue black and white photography (all manual back then) as my major.  I loved being behind the camera, and my favourite subject was creative portraiture.  When I graduated the reality of making a living in this area hit.  Back in the 90’s cake smashes and newborn photography wasn’t even a thing yet! The only way to make a living taking photos was wedding photography, and I was not the least bit interested in doing that!

So, I got a job as a screen print artist for a company creating t-shirts for the aussie tourism market.  I created a lot of koalas, dolphins and other cute aussie designs, but it lacked the expressionism and autonomy I craved.  Quite disheartened, I resigned and took up a real job. The words of my mother echoed loudly in my ears that I could never support myself as an artist!

Those real jobs I got took me to be a national coordinator in a corporate space, a special needs educator with Education Queensland, 2IC in another job, a state sales rep, a royalty assistant and then finally an assistant accountant with a book publisher. Was I happy? No. I worked hard and was rewarded for it, but I was highly stressed and frustrated. Not a good combination. But as life has a way of working things out for you, a mental health issue affecting one of my children stopped me in my tracks. I was forced to evaluate my life and where it was headed.

I came to the realisation that I had taken a 20-year detour on what I truly loved, because I thought I could not make a living out of art.  Yes sure, during that I time I was always creating but deep down it was not enough.  I wanted to live and breathe art. My passions have and always will be my family, art, music, food and wine! So now what?  Of course, I quit my job the very next day and attended to the needs of my family.  Once I could see the trees through the forest again, I started to ponder my next career move.

I knew that work/life balance was one of the keys to moving forward but at the heart of the matter was to pursue the work I was passionate about. I love drawing, painting, photography and the occasional sculpture etc but I was under no illusion that I could sell artwork to pay the bills. However, I was no longer willing to work in a field that I was not going to absolutely love! I had loved being involved with educating and special needs and obviously art, so I did the obvious, I started my own business!

I can still recall the look on my husband’s face, priceless!  But to his credit he has been my biggest supporter.  So, in August of 2014 we invested $2000 in my start-up business Tammy’s Art Studio. My goal was to get 20 students (children at that stage) and work part-time so I could get back into my own artwork and maintain balance with my family’s needs.

Now 4 years later it feels like a dream.  I have 130 students and 5 teachers.  I have taught hundreds of kids all over Brisbane and the Gold Coast and I am living my dream.  I have had a couple of exhibitions and have developed some art work series that I feel deeply connected to.  I feel fulfilled!

Has my artwork made me rich and famous? No, but that wasn’t my goal either.  I love bringing a canvas to life, evoking a response from the viewer.  Exhibiting and selling my art work makes me feel so proud and accomplished, but the reason I create is because of the way it makes me feel when I am doing it, now that is the subject of another one of my Blog’s! Creating makes me happy, whether I am doing it, or I am teaching others to create, I just love it.  And to me this is the most important part of a career, doing what you love every day (well most days)!

We all know that there are only a select few artists that realise their potential during their lifetime, which may include global recognition, fame and fortune to the tune of Bansky, Kusama or Piccinini.  But for the rest of we need to work hard, keep getting up when we get knocked down or being rejected from galleries, persevere, and hold a deep-down conviction that this is what we want to do.

So, what is my take home point.  You may want to sell your anime series to a Japanese film studio, but until one accepts you, consider working as an animator in the meantime to enable you to follow you dreams. While working in a creative field as you develop your art career is advisable and our best option, sometimes you just need to whatever brings the money in.  In the first year of running my business I cleaned houses to make ends meet. I had a conviction about where I was headed, AND I was determined, so cleaning houses it was!

There have been tough times, I have cried too many times to count, I contemplated giving up several times, I have fallen into bed exhausted at night countless times, but I LOVE what I do.  I am having the time of my life and kicking big goals, but at the end of the day I can pick my kids up from school every day, take all the school holidays off if I wish.  I can teach as much or as little as I want, paint as many canvases as I feel inspired to.  I have proven this saying to be true, choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.  I took some massive risks, but at the end of the day I believed I could do it with the support of my friends and family!

And finally, do not let anyone steal away your dream.  Not a throw away comment from a parent, nor the doubters in your friend circle, certainly not a bad grade from your art teacher.  This life is yours to create, your life IS a canvas, now take up the brush and paint it just the way you want to!

Yours, Tammy

Me at exhibition

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