...to be an artist


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?


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.


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…


4a nails it down for me pretty neatly : “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects”

If I’m in pursuit of some form for expression involving feeling, skill, contacts, materials, logistics, risk and other more subtle stuff, I’m probably being an artist. After making something from these kinds of attitudes / activities / materials, even when not in hot pursuit, I’m still probably an artist. Maybe retired (temporarily)?

The confusion for me in the past had to do with outside perceptions. I remember being called a “recording artist” by businesses / people and feeling kind of dirty and also proud for a second. That was my hang up alone though. In patent work the terms “a person who has ordinary skill in the art” and “present teachings” are used pretty often. They tend to fit pretty well too.

Looking for a form for expression is a lot like teaching to me. A person can make art that is a repetition of a form, like a potter might make 5000 cups that look the same and this is craft too, but also could be seen as an avid pursuit and eventually leading to making pieces of art that haven’t yet been dreamt up by the craftsperson / artist. Teaching oneself to make a desired effect at will. Practice.

When an “ordinary artist(?)” becomes skilled at reproducing a desired result and then chooses to venture off a known path, sometimes a non-obvious, possibly original piece of work can result with some measure of luck. This can happen and still never result in a pay check for the work.


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.


If a person wants to, they can make money, but no matter how hard they might think, they can never make their time back (in pursuit of money).

I’m a fool (right now), serf, advisor. I make a little money, but I have agreed to having most of my time to myself. I still don’t understand “wealth” … but I don’t think money will really fit into the idea of freedom or wealth for me. This lack of position has taken 25 years to make happen and it is just a personal risk / experiment. It may also still fail at any moment.


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.


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.


I keep thinking this thought in relation to this thread


Consider being a verb rather than a noun.


this is an interesting topic but reading through all of the comments so far, i am not sure whether we are getting any closer to a satisfying conclusion for

perhaps it’s not important to get to the bottom of this anyway as there are possibly a myriard of different ways of looking at it and that would require us to settle for a commonly accepted definition of what an “artist” or "art” is. but starting with

i feel that anything considered art by its very creator makes it a piece of art (and, therefore, the creator an artist). that’s great. straightforward and all. i can easily sign up for that……punkrock………

but why would it be so important to be an artist (or whatever else one wants to be for that matter) in the first place? personally, i would want to argue that we are first and foremost “human”. all our struggles and attempts for reaching for the stars included. if it so happens that one randomly creates a piece of art along the way, that’s great and admirable and inspiring and like a little glimpse of glistening stardust. but somehow i have difficulties seeing how creating art for arts sake has anything to do with being an artist……….


I think there’s a difference between “making art” and “being an artist” in terms of the dedication and identity that involves. Anyone can make art, and lots of people do either frequently or occasionally. In my mind the difference is that when I decide that I am going to be an artist it’s a declaration of my goals, priorities, and intentionality for my pursuits, perspectives, and time.

Lots of people make music, or do woodworking. That’s different than people who say “I am a musician” or “I am a carpenter”, it shifts the emphasis, level of internalized dedication, and focus.

That’s how I’ve always felt about it anyway… there’s power in declaration.


I agree that calling oneself an artist is a potentially clarifying act of intention. Doesn’t mean it has to be a vocation though.

So hey, I am:

  • a designer
  • a programmer
  • a musician
  • an artist
  • a writer
  • a carpenter
  • a farmer
  • a plumber
  • an electrician
  • a mechanic
  • an inventor


I get paid for some of those things. Some of those things are not highly valued by society. Some of those things are a bit of a struggle for me to accomplish at all. But the intention is there (if not the vocation).


i see your point, no question. it makes sense. until, i, for myself, start to try to define what’s the perceived difference between a musician, a carpenter or, eventually, an artist. @jasonw22 was nicely bringing up the reference to vocations and how a declaration of intent does not necessarily need to be met with the pursuit of a vocation.

in my mind, however, “art" is different to all of this. one could potentially declare the intent to wanting to produce art and, hence, being an artist. that’s right. but whether something is being art after all lays solely in the eye of the beholder and there is no criteria of what could be a piece of art or what couldn’t.
whereas, a woodworker for example produces works of wood by definition. same is true for a stone carver, a farmer, musician or whathaveyou………

but perhaps i’m just being tedious here.


“Art” is a difficult word. Very very elastic.