The Hidden Truth of an Artist's Life

The Hidden Truth of an Artist's Life

If there’s one thing I love talking about, it’s about art and what it means to me. From an early age, I was trained in an arts background and was surrounded by artists in my circles. I went to an arts high school and am currently about to graduate with a BFA degree in illustration from an art/fashion college in New York City. While I have been eating, sleeping, and breathing creativity ever since the day I could pick up a crayon, there were challenges along the way that I wish I knew before. 

For one, it is absolutely possible to love and hate what you do at the same time. If you ask my peers, all of them will unanimously tell you that they feel the same way. You may wonder, “How can you hate what you love and vice versa?” The answer isn’t always straightforward, as everyone’s experiences are different, but a commonality that we artists share is burnout. 

The hours of practice, and the process itself, contribute to this burnout. We all admire people who make their craft seem effortless when in reality, they worked so hard to get to where they are now. A lot of the time, this entails less time to socialize, less time for yourself, and less time for just about anything you’d rather be doing if not practicing. Like with other careers, doing art professionally requires just as much dedication and grit. And when you’re perfecting the same thing over and over on a near daily basis, it can get tedious. 

Other times, we run into artist’s block, which is one of the scariest things that can happen to us. At the moment it feels like all our creative juices have dried up, and we wonder if we’ll ever be able to create again. No matter how excellent you are at your craft, there will be times where we don’t feel inspired at all, and that is ok. The ways in which one can combat artist’s block (from a visual artist’s perspective) include: 

1. Giving yourself a break for the time being so you can focus on self care.
    2. Listening to music, looking up images on the internet and/or observing your surroundings for inspiration. For me, I get inspired by the performances I see onstage, the people around me, nature, cityscapes, the work I see in museums, the cultural diversity in NYC, my dreams, and my emotions.
      3. Assembling a mood board of all the things that inspire  you- this could be in the form of concert or movie ticket stubs, memorable pictures, cut outs from magazines, quotes, objects, etc.

      4. Get your ideas down without thinking too much, and let your imagination run. Don’t meticulously plan your piece out, just put anything that comes to mind out there without judgment or filtering. You may be surprised at what you come up with and finally know where you want to go with your piece. In other words, don’t sit there waiting for inspiration to strike. Go out there and make it happen. 

        Rejection is a constant in the life of any type of artist, visual or performing. I can speak from experience when I say that my artworks have not been chosen by the judges for the competitions I entered many times. This would crush my self esteem. It can be easy to assume that you aren’t good at all or you’re not as good as you thought you were when this happens. Regardless, please don’t give up. Art is very subjective, so what one may deem as “unworthy” may be a masterpiece to others! There is no right or wrong in this field. It may feel like what you produce has no value, but trust me, your worth is not measured by numerical success and the opinions of others. 

        For a while, I hated the idea of submitting my art to competitions because I didn’t think I could stand being rejected again and again. However, if there’s one thing that these experiences have taught me, it’s that you fail when you don’t try at all. I’d rather give it my best, even if it isn’t immediately recognized by the people judging it. It is totally valid to feel disappointed when you’ve gotten your fair share of rejections, but don’t let them stop you from continuing to create. If it’s too much to handle at the moment, you can certainly take a break from sending your work for a while and get back into it when you’re ready. One day, you will get your yes. 

        As an artist, you are subjected to criticism. No matter how talented or skilled you are, you will always get feedback, whether or not you asked for it. Art school is no exception.  Sometimes your professors will praise you, other times they will give you helpful critiques. While most of my professors have been very helpful with constructively critiquing my work, there will be professionals in the industry who will tear your portfolio apart with their feedback. It may feel like a personal attack at first, but I promise you, it has less to do with you personally than you think. In the long run, constructive criticism (and even some nonconstructive criticism) helps you grow artistically, as you evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. The road to professionalism won’t always be smooth, but working hard makes something worth achieving. When I look back at my portfolio from years ago, and compare it to my collection of work now, I see how far I came and am grateful for every suggestion and every piece of critical advice that got me to where I am. 

        We all know comparison is the thief of joy, yet we artists can’t help but compare ourselves to others all the time. This is totally normal and valid, and sometimes it helps us improve! Other times, it can be detrimental to our well being. I know I have compared myself to my peers more than I’d like to admit. It also doesn’t help that during critiques and on social media, some artists receive more praise than others. The Instagram algorithm isn’t exactly helpful when it comes to promoting creators. Favoritism runs rampant in these communities. However, this doesn’t make you any less talented than someone else. Everyone has a preference for a certain style, aesthetic, or concept. Keep in mind that the only person you should be comparing to is yourself. Your work is unique to you, and no one else can emulate it. If all art was the same, there would be no diversity in expression of ideas. 

        Society can make us feel as if our work isn’t economically feasible. Cultural expectations play a role in families in which pursuing the arts is out of the question. Individuals are pushed to become doctors, lawyers, or something else instead. Worse, many people still think that art is merely a hobby. This results in charging artists less than what they’re worth for commissions, etc. and the assumption that art school is a walk in the park. It is incredibly frustrating when others don’t realize how much sweat and tears go into perfecting our craft, the cost of supplies and equipment, and the amount of work we do.

        I am here to tell you that what you do is valuable, despite what society thinks. If you take a look, art is literally everywhere- from posters of ads to package designs to fashion and architecture to technological innovations! Art heals, art connects us to one another. and helps us develop higher empathy. Art brings change, and art educates.  If something gives you strong passion and commitment that you can’t imagine your life without it, go for it. What you do matters.

        Written by: Stephanie Wan


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