Why It’s So Hard To Be An Artist

The title is a bit scary, isn’t it? I’ve been dealing with a lot of art/creative work recently, and am overwhelmed with how many people think what I do is easy. “Oh, it must be nice to do what you want all day,” they say. Or they ask why something is priced the way it is, and then continue to explain to me why I should lower my prices.

This is a common problem that any artist who creates as more than a hobby will face at some point in their career. Most likely, it is a problem they will encounter countless times. I already have, and I have only just recently begun to see my art as more than a hobby. And by art, I do mean painters and sketch artists, but I also mean anyone who creates things from their own imagination. Writers, sculptors, painters, photographers, fashions designers, and the like.

What we as artists have to deal with almost daily is enough to break many people, especially those who are following a more “normal” path in life. Those people out there who are content to work for a company doing nine to five work and then go home to watch television, go to dinner parties, etc, they will not have to deal with what we do. And if they did, it would likely be devastating.

No, artists are a strong bunch. We receive praise for our work, from friends, family, coworkers, and even on social media, but when those same people are faced with the idea of buying original work from us, or hiring us for a job, suddenly we charge too much money, or they expect more than we can give. I have dealt with it too many times to count, and will continue to for years to come, I’m sure. Those who wish for a Tiffany’s ring without the cost, and so they buy a ring from a cheap online retailer that looks similar, and then go on to rant and rave about how the retailer ripped them off in some way.

Too many people out there write off the amount of work that goes into something like a painting or a book, or anything else that is created from the mind of an artist. Why pay $200 for a small painting that took the artist half an hour to create? Well, you pay that much because of the years of practice it took to be able to create something of quality in such a short amount of time. You pay for the artist’s unique vision and work. You pay for their time, their supplies, their knowledge. You’re paying to own a small piece of that person’s soul which they have so diligently worked to put into a physical form.

And don’t be fooled – a piece of soul is exactly what is involved. That’s the cost of creating original work. A tiny but very real piece of your soul. Without it, the work is an empty shell, a copy of something else. Lifeless.

Now why, you ask, would an artist risk showing perfect strangers such an intimate piece of themselves? Because if we didn’t let it out, we would probably explode. Okay, maybe not literally, but an artist who stops creating is a very unhappy artist. I have done this myself, simply because I had no time to create, and the result was that I had to quit my “real job” and work less so that I could accommodate more time for my personal work. The reality of it is that we cannot create something worth reading, looking at, wearing, what have you unless you do give away a piece of ourselves. And we love what we do. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t do it. You can’t help but include a little soul when you are working on a new project that you are invested in personally. It happens whether we like it or not. There’s no stopping it.

So to have a piece of your soul insulted by saying that it’s too expensive or not good enough is a very (possibly unintentionally) cruel insult that is taken personally whether you like it or not. To say that the work is not good enough is to say that the artist is not good enough. No matter how  many times an artist may be rejected or given a bad review in some way, it will always hurt. (I’m not saying you have to freak out if you get a bad review on your new novel or whatever – keep your cool and freak out in private if you really have to.)

What I’ve found is that there is a whole world of double standards for people who create for a living. On one hand, people say they love your work, but on the other, they complain that you are too demanding with your payment. People want Annie Leibovtiz quality photos for the price of the Wal-Mart photo booth, Leonardo da Vinci for the price of a cheap art print, but then feel so entitled that they will openly complain about how they “knew it was too good to be true” but went ahead with it anyway. They expect the impossible, but then pin it on the artist when it’s not what they expected. They refuse to take the fault, and so everything falls on the artist. And with that, they damage the artist’s reputation for potential clients who may have been considering hiring said artist for a job.

Honest reviews are not the problem here. If something is bad, say it. But when it is quite obviously a flaw in your own judgement and not the fault of the artist, please do not insult the artist by blaming them for something they could not deliver in the first place.

The message here, to anyone who many be reading this who is not themselves a creator or artist of some sort, is this:

Do your research!

If you have something in mind that is so specific that you cannot waver from it, don’t rest until you find the right person to do the job. Ask to see portfolios, ask for quotes, ask for a deadline – ask about whatever is really important to you BEFORE  you hire an artist. Do yourself and the artist a favour and know beforehand if you will be satisfied with the end result. Stop blaming the artist for your lack of research and knowledge of what is involved. That portrait you want painted may take months to complete no matter how fast you need it. Maybe that photographer only advertises family portraits because they aren’t practiced or comfortable enough to do event photography.

This situation is actually made worse by family and friends who ask for special favours based on what the artist creates. “Just this once”, or “I have this thing I want to do, and I know it’s not what you normally do…” is actually a really hard place for an artist to be in. We feel pressured into doing those things for people, and then when it doesn’t work out as ell as hoped, we’ve let everyone and ourselves down.

And to top all of this off, art is just hard! It takes years of practice to perfect techniques, and even then, artists are almost never satisfied with their skill level. The last thing we need is someone confirming our own beliefs that we aren’t good enough.

So please, before you say negative things about an artist who didn’t deliver quite what you hoped, take a few minutes to think about whether maybe you asked too much. Think long and hard about whether it is in reality the artist’s fault, or if you are at fault. In no way am I saying that the artist is always right, but when dealing with any artist, keep in mind that the customer is also not always right. Sometimes no one is at fault, sometimes the artist is just being lazy or promising way too much, and sometimes the client is asking for a miracle that the artist just cannot perform.

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2 thoughts on “Why It’s So Hard To Be An Artist

  1. bdaiken says:

    I have earned my living as a freelance creative for fifty years and never solved the conundrum of the time/cost relationship. When people actually watch you work it looks easy, but only because you’ve devoted most of your life and energy to acquiring skills that make it look easy. I never tell anyone how long it takes to create a piece of work if I can avoid it.

    • Kimberley Crawford says:

      Oh I agree, I try to avoid ever sharing how long something takes unless it’s something that cannot be avoided. I’ve created pieces that I absolutely love, and they should have taken forever but were simple and quick, but I have other pieces that look so simple and took forever. I’ve always worked in private so no one can see the amount of time and work that goes into any single piece. People are too quick to judge.

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