Flavorpill’s Guide to the Realities of Being an Artist


We were amused to read an article on Gawker earlier this week – published à propos of the spring art auctions – which noted that art prices are rising, and suggested becoming an artist as a get-rich-quick scheme. We do of course understand that Gawker has made a living out of planting its tongue firmly in its cheek, and the article makes for entertaining reading – but even so, it does also seem symptomatic of the idea that art is some sort of gravy train that people of questionable talent like Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons and Richard Prince can ride into the world of untold riches. It all sounds great in theory, but sadly, it doesn’t reflect the reality of being an artist in 2011. So in the spirit of equality, here’s Flavorpill’s guide to the pitfalls of a “career” in art. Maybe read this before you run off to buy screenprinting gear.

So. You’re going to be an artist. Where to start?

The living situation

First problem: somewhere to work. And, most likely, live. Here’s how it’ll go: you’ll take to Craigslist, and view several properties that sound great on the screen but turn out to double as S&M dungeons/hippie communes/meth labs. Eventually, you’ll end up sharing a converted loft in McKibbin St, where the well-entrenched leaseholder is some Upper East Side type who’s been elegantly slumming it in Bushwick ever since his father “helped him out” with the security deposit several years ago. He will be, like, really into art, but not so really into it that he hasn’t engineered the living situation so that he’s in a room twice the size of yours but is charging you and the other poor saps in the place so much that he’s not paying any rent himself. You will get very little sleep because of the incessant bitchin’ parties on your rooftop, and will occasionally be shanghaied into participating in performance art pieces of questionable merit – for which, of course, you will not be paid.

The job

Second problem: money. Unlike your roommate, you will actually need to work to meet the extortionate rent that he’s charging you. Since you’ve made the decision to try to devote as much time as possible to your work (otherwise, what’s the point of being an artist?), your options here are limited: bar, café, retail, and other services like walking dogs. In all of them, you will be paid dismal or non-existent wages to provide services to people whose jobs the free market has determined to have more social utility than yours. Like bankers. Or real estate agents.

The buyers

But, wait, you’re going to sell heaps of art, and you won’t need spend any more time worrying about whether Fifi the poodle’s going to deign to take a shit before it starts snowing again. Right? The problem with this idea is that the people who are most likely to have the good taste to appreciate your work are going to be like-minded souls – ie. other artists. And they’re not going to have any money. The people with the cash to splash are as often as not more interested in purchases as an investment than as art qua art. This, clearly, does not include your work while the only place it’s on display is the local café. Unless you somehow acquire the patronage of a philanthropist/sugar daddy type – sexual favors help here – you’re going to need to deal with…

The galleries

You know the stony-faced gallery employees who are always too busy staring at their computer screens to acknowledge you when you go to see an exhibition? They’re no more fun to deal with as an artist than they are as a patron. (And for the record, yes, they’re usually staring stonily at their Facebook pages.) It’s depressing. As is…

The quiet contempt of the rest of society

“Oh, you’re an artist? My son tried that for a while. Thankfully, he’s got a real job now. Wait, did you just spill my coffee? There goes your tip, then.”

If this all sounds overly pessimistic, we do apologize – but in all seriousness, the cliché of the struggling artist is a cliché for a reason. It’s a difficult and financially hair-raising way to try to make a living, and as such, it’s something you do because you love it, not because it’s fashionable or you think it might one day make you money. Which, really, is advice that should apply to every walk of life.