Saturday, August 13, 2011

Should You Follow Your Dreams?

What kind of question is that? Of course you should...I mean, of course you shouldn't. I guess it depends on who you ask. I'm often asked questions like this by my students. They often want to know if it's possible to follow their dreams of becoming a professional artist/illustrator and can they make enough money to support themselves.

This is an impossible question to answer in a few short sentences. It's also probably impossible to answer yes or no. What I can do is offer my insights but, I would also council students to get opinions from other sources.

First, I believe that most successful artists have an internal drive to create. A need. A burning from within to draw, paint, sculpt, write, play, or whatever. I also see that this desire is stronger in some than others - think of it like "the force". And then there's that need to make money for survival. These two needs are often at odds with one another. Parents send their kids to school to prepare them for careers and everybody knows you can't make a living as an artist...or that the odds of making a living as an artist are pretty slim.

If you only look at the figures it's totally impractical to choose art as a career - score one for parents - but statistics can be misleading. Lets go off on a tangent...

In the United states there are approximately 8,000 poisonous snake bites each year. So if you live here you have a one in 43k chance of being bitten by a poisonous snake. However what if you're a home body - couch potato - a slug who lives in the city and never goes out? Are your chances the same? Also, would your chances go down if you never pick up snakes? Included in the 8,000 statistic are all of the 16-24 year old boys/men who "feel the need" to pick up snakes. In fact more than half of the 8,000 people bitten each year are morons who picked up poisonous snakes. So are your personal chances of being bitten really 1 out of 43k? I know I have a much lower chance taken these additional facts into consideration - I don't pick up snakes.

So how does this apply to your chances of "making it" as a professional artist? I think you need to take a hard look at yourself because in the end only you can answer the questions that can get you past the statistics.

Are you always creating? Drawing, painting, etc? Is it the most important thing in your life? Are you happy with the visualization of yourself doing something other than an art career? Do you give up other activities to pursue art? Do you identify yourself as an artist? Do you treat socializing on weekends as a sacred ritual or can you give it up to perfect your art projects? Do you have artist role models? Are you motivated to pursue entrepreneurial projects? Do you believe you can "make money" if you have a good product and are willing to work hard? Do you feel free to do what you want in life without the blessing of your parents, friends, or siblings? Do you like to improvise and experiment or feel the need to follow instructions on projects to a fault? Do you over-estimate your artistic abilities? - you should if you want to go for it.

These are just a few questions I think you need to be able to answer in order to know if your odds are better or worse for being able to "make it" as a professional artist. I believe that some have a much better chance simply because of their life style, habits, and choices, while others have a horrible shot at it because it's just not that important to them.

In the end one thing's for sure: There are lots of people who regret not following their dreams and lots of people who have regrets about following their dreams. Each probably feel they should have taken the other path.


  1. Thank you,Will !! Your post got me thinking,and I will take my time to evaluate all the questions that you ask us to think over with.

  2. I agree, the down time we might have should be the most productive art wise and not the opposite.

  3. Great insights and well said, Will!

  4. Many many thanks for this posting! It's one of those weeks where a steady paycheck for the rest of my working life is sounding better...but not. Your last line hits the nail on the head today.

  5. wonderful insights and questions! I have been making and selling for many years and these last few have been the most successful. I think you have to wear many hats, besides the artist one and each one has to have lots of constant momentum behind it to make it all work. So you are right, it has to be important to you to live the life to make it work.
    In our current times where the sacred paycheck is not always so reliable, I am also comforted by the fact that I can pick up that slack in my life with my abilities and my art.

  6. Wow... I don't think of success the same way as others, I think. I get to draw as much as I want, teach part-time, and have time for my family. I find myself extremely successful, but not monetarily, lol.

    Yes, follow your dreams, but be flexible with your dreams!

  7. Nicole - I'm so glad you brought up this point! I failed to include the various types of success we can achieve in life. Money is but one measure of success and often it can be misleading due to luck. I think the key is being able to identify your dreams whatever they are, and then working towards achieving them.

    Thank you all for your comments - as far as the steady paycheck - I have a dozen friends or so who have gone for the steady paycheck in art careers. All of them have been laid off multiple times. So is there a steady thing? Life is a risk - you can't avoid it.

  8. On thing for sure when you work for yourself- at least you control whether or not you get fired. Oh and the set your own schedule thing works pretty well most of the time too. You have the luxury of deciding which 60-80 hours a week you want to work. I jest- I rarely work 80 hours a week any more. One constant with all successful artists I know it the work ethic though. Nobody makes it as an artist without hard work- and smart work. Without much appreciable talent? Yes. But not without hard work. You have to be willing to outwork the other thousands of artists trying to do the same thing you want to do and get the same jobs they are trying to get (including guys like me and Will who have been doing this for 20 years!). But hey, I wouldn't trade it for a non art job- ever.

  9. Thanks for sharing these insights, Will--it helps to put things in perspective.
    BTW, I mentioned you on my own blog today--check it out!
    Have a great day! Brooks

  10. Great post with a fantastic perspective Will... thanks !

  11. My 2 cents - If you (the artist) have a spouse paying most/all of the bills then you are a hobby artist. You can't live off your art. Sure you are creative and such, but it is a hobby. The "follow your dreams" story line is not for you. Your continued hobby art creation is just your way of hoping the dream is not dead...yet.
    - The best art created by an artist is when they must pay all the bills; i.e. live off their art. It is do or die, so to speak. This tension or stress can make one create the best art.
    Or the artist soon realizes they aren't good enough for the market and hangs up the paint brushes and pursues a different career field.
    - One must do some serious, honest calculations and see if their art making is really worthwhile. How much time do you spend on creating art? How much time promoting it via Twitter, Facebook, your website, etc, etc,. How much money did you make from your art in that time? Calculate it out - what did you really make per hour?
    Are you selling more art than 3 month, 6 months,a year ago? If not, then is that dream really just an illusion???

  12. This is a very thought-provoking post, Will. I put my artistic dreams on hold in order to raise my children. No regrets. But now, those dreams are just beginning to be realized. I am constantly aware of the clock winding down, but in many ways, it's also a huge motivator. As I approach my 60th year, having dreams and aspirations are even more important. Art fuels my life and infuses it with purpose. I would be doing this regardless of the monetary compensation but it is nice to make money with your passion. Thanks again for sharing.

    BTW, I too pick up snakes....


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