The unexpected benefits of being an artist

Being an artist is often likened to being on a journey, one filled with various ups and downs and twists and turns. At times it feels rather thankless, and at other times the gateway into incredible experiences and people.

I often think about the track my life would have taken had I not become an artist. The other careers I considered– chemistry and geology– didn’t pan out due to my atrocious math skills. Later on in life, I tried on several new hats, from social media consultant to yoga studio manager. None quite fit the way being an artist did. So when I get frustrated at the state of things, whether it is because I am struggling with the work or the business side of this career, I try to remember the unexpected benefits I have experienced along the way.

1) You learn to embrace failure.

There is nothing like being an artist to teach you the value of failure, which can come in the form of a show failing to sell a single work to materials you cannot seem to master to bad critiques to… well, let’s just say that just about anything can, and will go wrong, and you will, quite regularly, have to accept your failures and move forward. This is also known as “fail better” in the startup community, where trying new things and failing is accepted as a fact of being in business. It is the same as an artist.

2) You meet and connect with people from all walks of life.

Being an artist has allowed me to connect with people I never would have met otherwise. Participating in exhibitions and open studios, giving artist talks, getting invited to special events, and selling work have all led me to interesting people from a vast array of backgrounds. Wealth and poverty, race, religion, gender and more all somehow connect with art, and the most fun is when lots of types of people come to a show. I love that being an artist keeps me out of my bubble in many ways, and allows me access to other points of view and lived experiences on a regular basis.

3) You become an expert in creative thinking.

My brother, a data scientist, often talks about how artificial intelligence will replace most careers soon, so he recommends that one think about ways to not let that happen. I have pondered this concept, and am not sure a robot or AI could do what I do in the studio. But he also talks about the advantage that trained creatives have in our way of thinking. We have been taught to problem solve and ask questions in a unique way. It isn’t just in how we approach our work, but how we approach business too. It is in our ability to multitask across genres of media and subject matter, or to become hyper focused on one idea and see it through to the end. It is in our ability to allow for the evolution of our work to happen.

4) You understand the value of process.

I have a saying, which I have written about on this blog: life is short, and art is long. I say this to myself when I am stuck– whether it is because the work is frustrating me, or business-wise I am struggling– because it reminds me that there is no deadline. Art lasts centuries, even thousands of years. Our lives are a snapshot, and we are the works in progress. We have to see the bigger picture, and not get caught up in the bad times. Each piece of art we make is a process, and we have to work through it. We have to shape it and work with it until it becomes what it needs to become. This is a metaphor that extends so easily into many aspects of our lives.

I often question this life journey of mine. It seems easy, some days, to throw up my hands and be done with the whole thing. The truth is, however, that I won’t quit. It isn’t just that I am stubborn and persistent (though I am both); it is that I am fundamentally a creative being, and to be anything else would stink of inauthenticity. So from time to time, in my moments of questioning and doubt, it helps to look at the good things about being an artist, and have gratitude that I get to make weird abstract paintings and share them with the world.

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