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A Day in the Life of a Artist

“If you’re lucky, you’ll spend most of your time alone and working,” wrote one 20-year veteran painter. The artist seeks to express a specific and unique vision through painting, sculpture, drawing, or mixed media. While many spend time in workshops, attending other artists’ shows and seminars, and doing research, the heart of the profession—the reason why people choose to join the very selective fine arts—is that they love what they do. Numerous artists use their specific set of marketable tools as freelance commercial artists, producing work on consignment to another’s specifications. Some note that this selling of their skills at times affects their ability to produce their own work. “It’s hard to paint my own pictures when I’m sketching a box of oats all day,” said one.

Paying Your Dues

History is filled with examples of self-schooled artists with no formal educational training. They are both brilliant and innovative; unfortunately, history is also filled with examples of starving artists who died in obscurity. Formal educational training in this field is becoming the norm, with most earning BFAs in graphic design, painting, or art history. Some find it helpful to continue their education and earn graduate degrees (primarily MFAs), particularly if they desire to teach painting at the secondary level or above. Many academic programs provide at least an introduction to computer-assisted art. Artists tend to congregate around major urban centers, such as New York and San Francisco, in which the multiplicity of galleries and artists makes it easier to form connections; this also offers the unproven artist the opportunity to have his or her work shown.

Present and Future

Art has been practiced for ages, as evidenced, for instance, by the animal drawings discovered in caves in Lascaux, France, which date back to 30,000 B.C. Portraiture has a long European history as an honored profession, and one of the greatest supporters of the arts through the ages has been the Catholic Church (also, at times, one of the most strident critics). Commercial art, as a separate industry, arose with the advent of the modern advertising industry and produces more than 75 percent of all art available for view in the United States every year. The methods and media of art may change, but the intention has remained the same: to reinvent and to communicate fundamental aspects of the human experience in a new and fascinating way. In the future, the role that art plays will not change drastically, but painting, photography, sketching, sculpting, metalworking, and many other historically used media will be joined by computer art, mixed-media art, and other emerging forms that will reflect the ages from which they emerge. The real danger to the prospective artist lies in the future of funding for the arts, both individually and societally. The National Endowment for the Arts may face drastic slashing of funds; tax proposals may eliminate the tax advantages of private contributions; universities may reduce art staffs. Patrons, dealers, and collectors may exert an even greater influence over the life of the artist. Some degree of support for the arts will always continue. That level, however, is uncertain.

Quality of Life


Most artists spend their first few years learning their craft and making connections. Many seek other employment, as these early years are marked by little or no income from their own art. Hours are long, but many say that in these early years, the long hour is spent more on examining other people’s art, making introductions to dealers and critics, and networking through the art community rather than producing their own work. Many take classes, join workshops, and use this time to explore their craft.


Many five-year survivors have had their art shown and reviewed and made significant connections in the art world. A number of those who have received some good reviews are now sponsored by dealers, galleries or agents. They continue to work at their craft and concentrate on producing art. Most artists at this point have found consistent ways to pay the rent.


For those who have lasted ten years and received little praise, remember that there is no fixed timeline for progression as an artist. The sense of frustration, however, is significant for those who haven’t received much positive encouragement. Those who remain may experience “second life blues,” where initial success has been tempered by the difficulty of following up and reinventing. Those with good connections and excellent reputations may find themselves gaining academic, teaching, or colony credentials. A number of artists at this age apply for and receive grants from the NEA and other funding sources. While ten years is a significant milestone in a number of professions, as an artist, timing is nothing; continuing and evolving is everything.