...to be an artist


I came from a very creative family that nonetheless strongly communicated to its children that art was a fun hobby for all but the extremely rare few and you better have a day job.

And even with that, I still have an uncle who teaches art and an aunt that teaches band, both at the high school level. So grandpa’s baloney wasn’t entirely convincing, it seems.

Fine art seems to require a bit of patronage, something nowhere to be found anywhere near our midwestern family. The notion went something like “go make your fortune in computers or plastic or something and then you can afford to be an artist”.

And as much as my youthful self may have virulently rebelled against these notions, I have to admit that it ended up being the course I took in life…


I try not to think of myself as an artist, I guess? From my point of view, a framing of craftsmanship, or engineering, works better for me - I think by allowing me to displace some of the existential anxiety of “making art” (that so many in this thread have discussed), and instead focusing on technique and materials.

I definitely can lose sight of the “big picture” because of this, sometimes; but on the other hand, looking back at more self-conscious “art” pieces I did when I was younger, I feel like the material quality suffered as a result - so for me it’s always been a trade-off.

However, that’s just speaking from my own experience of my own practice and limitations; a lot of the folks I admire the most can operate on both levels - maintain conceptual clarity, technical discipline, and an engagement with the material all at once.

But for my own practice - figuring out avenues to keep making things without having to conceptualize the work, or my role in relation to it, seems like the way forward for now.


Yeah I ended up (from pretty similar background, discourse-wise) doing exactly the opposite (rebellion as you call it :slight_smile: I think it was much more about feeling in tune with mysefl, however tough it was, the other option was just worse for me) and experienced many years of financial struggle, and that’s actually still not over, but I don’t regret it, and I certainly don’t ask of anyone to choose that path unless they’re very sure that’s what they want. But I’d love for us to try and pinpoint the reasons why we HAVE to go that route to, you know, be able to both make art and eat.


I think the only real necessity here is one of biology. We humans are still trying to figure out how to provide for our basic needs without consuming every waking moment in the process. When we succeed, we’re far more likely to make art than when we are genuinely starving.

The rest is strategy and tactics.

And priorities. It goes without saying that art doesn’t happen unless it’s a priority.


I like to remember the fine example of Charles Ives, son of a rather mad sounding father who would have two marching bands come from different directions playing different music and cross each other in front of the audience listening position…

Charles wrote some of the most amazing visionary music but supported himself financially as a successful insurance executive. That always seemed prudent and reasonable to me…

I have been a devoted musician my entire life and I know exactly one person who has never held any kind of non-musical job in her life.


I sympathize with anyone who wants to support themselves entirely from their “art” but would be at a loss to advise them how to actually accomplish that…

Of course, there’s always academia… :slightly_smiling_face:


related to this topic, i watched a documentary about harry partch today which i found here as well :slight_smile:

to some degree being an artist in the public sense actually contradicts being a true artist, as a contemporary artist actually has to accept being commoditised at some level. i mean all aspects of human culture is more or less commoditised, even experimental music. i think that is why i “long” after a more healthy live culture.


the interview where he says this is this kind of bizarre subtextual lament about streaming, but I always liked Philip Glass’s “I expected to have a day job for my whole life”


In a capitalist society based on consumming every possible ressources to maximize profit for the richest, this is kind of an outdated statement or I’m getting something wrong? I mean, a lot of “paying jobs” don’t support anything that could be in any way consider a “basic need”, and are certainly less useful for the overall well being of society that what we call “art”. Yet those job are more easily accessible and accepted by the capitalist society than “art making” or “being an artist”.

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no, the point is this: being on Lines, even, is a sign that we have a little time to do more than work to support ourselves, and world-historically this is a rare position to be in.


I don’t know how to articulate this exactly so please hear it in the spirit of holiday good will in which it is offered.

Over the years of teaching music business and practicing music law, I have heard more often than I would like someone stating that they had a “right” to make a living as as artist. Usually based on the idea that it takes a lot of work, investment of time and money, native talent, etc…

And no doubt that is the case…

But I’ve wondered if there’s not a subtle or not so subtle elitism or entitlement in such a belief… What does that say about folks who do other kinds of work not esteemed to be artful?

I realize that there is an open-ended conversation to be had touching on politics, culture, self-determination and -realization, life, the universe and everything…

I further realize that this conversation, internally and collectively, lies at the very heart of what it means to be an artist, and even more so a human being…

I’m finding myself less concerned with producing finished product or performing, and more drawn to simply being present in my relationships with my collaborators and my instruments. Be Here Now.

I saw part of one of Anthony Bordain’s final episodes in which he traveled to Japan with an incredible chef who grew up there and now runs an amazing restaurant in NYC. They referred several times to a saying which I do not remember exactly. Something like “Only this moment. Never again.”

If this can be realized, there is no “art” or “not art”…


“Only this moment. Never again.” If this can be realized, there is no “art” or “not art”…

the most physically-sound answer here—and what else could ever really be true?

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See, I know at least double-figures, but understanding how they have done it is crucial.

  • I have young friends who are at the point whereby they make over a thousand a month from streaming and online sales. Allied with touring constantly (sleeping on floors and sofas) they’re getting by fine… but they have no house to maintain or family to support.

  • I have friends who make a living from DJ gigs and product endorsements - but it means they play 4-5 nights a week all over the world in order to pay the bills. I like home. I had the option of going down that route to a degree but I ran a mile. Playing gigs like this is not making music

  • I have friends who are session musicians and who play as part of backup bands. They’re amazing on their chosen instruments, but they don’t get a say in what they play at all. Their bills are covered by music, though…

  • I have friends who setup studios and record bands for a living. Great, but where is the time to do their own music?

  • I have friends who teach music - both as a school subject and in outreach centres. The former can be soul-destroying thanks to the nature of the teaching profession; the latter is heavily dependent on funding streams.

  • I have other friends who used their profile to set up other things - online stores, for example. This is arguably the second closest to what I’d be comfortable with.

  • Finally, I have friends who work with licensing companies to provide music for films, TV and (especially) video games. Now we’re talking!


I believe that some of the paths you describe are perhaps less difficult for the relatively young…

Once you factor in mortgage, child care, taxes, insurance, savings for old age… The equation starts to get more “complex”!

It’s not impossible to make a living mostly or even exclusively from art, but it is pretty darn challenging…

I’m still waiting for the robot revolution to free us from toil in the classless utopia we were promised… Before the overlords slipped up and revealed their reptilian origins, that is…


I totally agree - and I think this is the crux of the issue. It’s not a simple question of being able to make a living from music, because, once you start adding caveats (but I want to have a family, I want to own a house etc), it becomes more a case of having your cake and eating it too.

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The Cage quote “Art is sort of an experimental station in which one tries out living” makes the most sense of it for me.

So experimentation being at the centre is key. And trying to discover something (however indirectly) is also key. It also helped me to rationalise why design work (that is to a brief) does not function as art, despite requiring creativity to produce.

I think all or most of individual / collective Lines output fits that definition.

Perhaps figuring out what you care about as an artist is more the question?


The ancient Greeks spent a considerable amount of time exploring Ars vs Techne, among many other things of course…

It’s pretty clear to me that the accumulation of technique and technology is of little value without also cultivating growth in wisdom and insight… Our materialist culture is structured to message that accumulation of things and thing-like experiences is the path, but it doesn’t feel like that is correct, particularly as I get older and the “end” gets closer…

I suspect that the true path, if such a thing can be imagined, is far simpler than we might think…


Not so sure I agree with this statement. Even in the feudal ages serfs had between 1/3 and 2/3 of their total waking hours time to do as they pleased. Serfs! And in a “best-case” modern 9-5 situation you have that, but a large number, maybe a majority, of people in western nations work close to double that to pay bills today. My sense on this is that for the lower classes especially, but even for the middle and upper-middle classes, we’re not better off now in terms of truly free time than we’ve ever been but in many cases quite the opposite.


I recently took a visual arts course where one of the goals was to teach you how to “be” an artist. One of the early assignments was to make a particular piece of art, “and when you’re finished I want you to sign your name in the corner, and beneath your name I want you to write in capital letters ‘ARTIST’.”

It was amazing how many people were freaked out by this assignment. They didn’t feel good enough to call themselves an artist. I found it empowering to write that word on my piece, and that’s when I began calling myself an artist. This instructor spent part of the time on technical skills (it was a Photoshop-oriented course) and part of the time on motivational and self-confidence topics. It was an effective mix.

One more thing I remember strongly from the early lessons in that course. The instructor said “So you want to be an artist? Then you need to live like an artist. What do you think an artist does every day?” (dramatic pause) “They make art.”

Lesson learned: If you make art (nearly) every day and call yourself an artist, then you are an artist.


@morgulbee has reminded me of a book I read through a few years back. It’s called “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. The book deals with some of the internal questions/struggle about being an artist and creating a practice.

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Excellent book! Less universally applicable, but still interesting to me personally, is Alex Grey’s The Mission of Art. That one may get a bit spiritually woo-woo for some folks’ taste, but it worked for me.

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