Four Common Myths About Artists and Why They’re not True

January 12, 2016

With a new year starting and resolutions being made, we at SVA Close Up would like to offer some inspiration to those striving to improve their work and reach their goals. Here are four of the most common myths about artists, taken from the insightful new book Starting Your Career as an Artist: A Guide to Launching a Creative Life (Allworth Press/SVA) written by Angie Wojak, director of SVA Career Development, and Stacy Miller, Ed. D., faculty at Parsons School of Design, along with advice on how to overcome them.

StartingYourCareerArtist200Myth #1: Artists need to suffer to make good art.
This is one of the most common and enduring of all myths about artists: that of the romantic, idealistic, isolated, starving artist on a mission to make great art. The idea is that the artist is pure, concerned only with the creation of his or her art. But adhering to this myth can isolate you. Nothing is ever good enough for you to engage in because it may tarnish your artistic integrity. It can make you feel like any activity other than your work amounts to selling out to the system.

Artists need to make money from their work in order to support the creation of more art. The minute you sell a piece of artwork, you are in business for yourself. It is counterproductive to assume that your art will lack authenticity just because you earn income from your work.

Myth #2: Artists are loners.
The legendary personas of famous artists promote this myth: Pollock, the rebel artist, secluded himself to paint (and drink); Paul Gauguin lived on an isolated Tahitian island to get back in touch with nature in order to paint. But if you scratch the surface of these artists (and many more), it’s a much more complicated picture. Yes, they struggled, but they always remained connected to a community for the sake of their art itself: Pollock never stopped promoting his work, and Gauguin was a brand unto himself. The “back to nature artist,” writing letters to his dealer to sell his paintings, is part and parcel of this myth. Innovation rarely comes through isolation, and ideas need community and dialogue in order to be developed and refined.

Myth #3: Artists shouldn’t ask for what they want.
Fear of failure and its associated insecurities can make many artists feel that they will never be ready to show their work. But by not being open to commentary, your work may develop at a slower pace and your confidence can erode with this kind of isolation. Without failure, there is no success. Failure gives you valuable information about what you need to do differently next time in order to succeed.

Myth #4: Artists are discovered.
This myth presumes that talent inevitably leads to discovery, which inevitably results in fame and fortune. Unfortunately, talent does not guarantee fame and recognition. And just because you are known or have some aspects of market success doesn’t mean you’ll make lots of money. The untold story is that even artists who seem relatively successful are often not just making money from their art. It takes time to mature and build a coherent body of work, to create a unique vision and then get the recognition it deserves.

The preceding text was excerpted and edited from Starting Your Career as an Artist: A Guide to Launching a Creative Life. For the full version, which contains more myths, pick up a copy of the book here.

To read a Q&A with Wojak about the book, click here.

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