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What's it like to be an artist?

What's it like to be an artist?

Recently, we asked our artist community what it's like to be an artist. The highs, the lows and everything in-between. Their responses are at times funny, moving, profound in many ways and have challenged our own perception of what an artist feels and why they are drawn to express themselves through their art. We hope you enjoy the nuggets of wisdom we received below as much as we have.

Kate Mac

"To me, being an artist means being continually curious. Everyone is born with an innate sense of curiosity about the world around them, and I think that artists are the ones who manage to hold onto it. I believe that artists are not looking to ‘solve’ anything but are simply exploring their curiosity. A curiosity that is not ‘quenched’ by making art - but is, if anything, deepened by it."

We loved Kate’s perspective on artists having a drive to seek answers and feed their innate curiosity through making art. Asking questions and seeking what is behind the veil takes us to new horizons, new beginnings, exposes us to what is not us, to enable us to expand our minds, vision and knowledge.

Pascal Giroud

"Being an artist is to remember the forgotten language of our soul but in fact it is the only job where you will be asked if you have a job!"

Pascal’s quote really made us laugh for its sheer relatability. Any artist will likely have a similar experience of, having shared what they do, being asked if they have “a back up plan” or “a side job”. It is true no other profession (aside from other artistic professions) invites a similar response, but we hope to change this one artwork sale at a time and show art is a full time job if you so wish it to be, have a talent for it and are ready to put the necessary efforts in.

Martin Cook

"Never knowing how good you are, but always knowing how good you want to be."

Sometimes a few words are enough to express a lot, and Martin’s comment is a stark example of this. We know many of our artists resonated with this, having themselves oscillated between constant self doubt and a drive to want to be a better artist. We wonder if maybe this is innate to the artist journey, a sort of necessary step to be able to evolve as an artist.

John O'Grady

"A person picks up a burnt stick smouldering in a campfire, they make marks on a bare cave wall. In time they become the chronicler of the group, making sense of the world they inhabit. They become the dreamcatchers and myth makers, the conduit for what it meant to be alive thousands of years ago. We are the recipients of that long lineage, standing before a bare page or canvas we bring something to life as we stare into the void. By making a mark on a bare surface, we say YES day after day, a primordial affirmation of what it is to be human."

John’s parallel between the artists now, and cavemen drawing to try and understand a world they did not yet fully comprehend, was so beautifully put and really moved us. Artists are very much translators of the world, not just the physical one but the emotional one also.

More quotes we loved:

For some of our artists, it seems being an artist is a compulsion that they cannot (and do not want to) let go of:

"It's not your day job or your hobby. It's not what you do, it's who you are. There's no 'off' button. Ever." Theresa Shaw

"For me it is a compulsion. I have a need to create in some way. It alters my view of the world, in that I notice beauty in the everyday. The view, a sunset, the way the light forms shadows and shapes. I am at my most relaxed while lost in drawing/painting and feel that there is something missing when life gets in the way and I don’t have time to draw." Karen Elaine Evans

"Personally, making art is like scratching an itch in my brain. While you are being creative and when you are done with a piece the itch has been scratched until the next itch comes along. It soothes my soul and gives me a peace within, that nothing else can match. If I never sold a piece of art, I would still keep making them because it just feels too good!" Cathy Maiorano

For others, it is about mastering a set of practical skills and a drive to succeed and persevere regardless of the obstacles we may stumble across:

"To be an artist, you need to have a high level of self-discipline: you need to be ready to work hard and independently, constantly learn and develop. Be prepared for criticism and low sales. But still, such a positive side as the pleasure of the process, the ability to create and express yourself doing what you love, covers any disadvantages of this profession. I love being an artist." Angela Dierks

"Practice makes perfect.... my kind of perfect, not anyone else's, a eureka moment, seeing extraordinary in the ordinary, letting my inner child out to play, making myself laugh, the satisfaction of realising a vision or idea and seeing it through and feeling content with what I've done... but first showing up and not letting myself down, I'm the toughest boss I've ever worked for." Gina Ulgen

"It's to be your own manager, employer, accountant, PR-manager, photographer, designer, social media manager - and we are not even close yet to the artistic work per se. It's like having a few subpersonalities, that you change in the morning depending on what you have to do. What suit am I going to put on today? Do I have to be a manager in the morning and accountant in the afternoon? But when I put my artistic suit on, nothing really matters anymore. Because I do this the same way as I breathe, I just can not stop doing it." Sasha Romm

Art can also be an escape for a lot of artists, a secret and personal hideout, an alternative reality, a different perspective, where we can be safe and free, even just for a moment:

"For me, being an artist is to live in a space in which I can create an alternate world, safe, organised and full of colour, allowing an escape from the ever increasing harsh realities of the real world." Stephen Conroy

"To be an artist for me is to return to being a child, playing with colours, enjoying the moment, and deriving the purest joy of creation without a thought for what it will give me in return." Asha Shenoy

But it seems even when describing what being an artist is like, our artists cannot but be creative about it:

"I think that being an artist is like using languages. Some people might find my first language interesting, maybe even pleasant to listen to; for others it lands 'on deaf ears'. That's fine- they will find a different voice to listen to, just like I find some languages sublime and melodious, and some particularly jarring to the ear. Even if you don't end up speaking a language anywhere near fluently, you can have a lot of fun learning it and develop connections with other people. You may even find you can express yourself more succinctly, or confidently, in a language that is not your 'mother tongue'. Sometimes your mangled grammar and weird word choices will make others smile, and sometimes cringe, but at least you tried.. and left an impression." Julia Preston

"How to cook good art ? You need to take a pan and add some basic ingredients there : education and professionalism . It should be fried without forgetting to add spices there : individuality and creativity . Do not forget about spices, without them the art will be raw . Reduce the heat and fry on a low heat until your masterpiece is ready . At the end, don't forget to add a pinch of luck . Voila, your masterpiece is ready." Yaroslav Yasenev

There seems to be as many beautiful ways to be an artist as there are artists, but one thing all artists have in common is the need to express themselves through their work, either by choice or because they feel compelled to.

Cover image via Louise Forster-Smith

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