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Don’t mention garrets: on encouraging young artists

October 21, 2011

There are a few questions that I am regularly asked about being an illustrator or artist, so I’ve decided to tackle them on this blog.

I thought I’d start with the perhaps the most common question, which is usually asked by the worried parent of a creative child…

FAQ #1: Would you encourage a young person to become an artist?

A: It is hard to make a living as an artist or illustrator. To make it a decent living the artist will usually need at least some creativity and talent as well as determination, persistence, self-belief, self-motivation and business nous. Good organizational, communication and self-promotional skills all help, as does the ability to work happily in isolation. For the same amount of effort a “safe” career might be far more lucrative and stable. But I suspect that all too often potential artists are scared away by well-meaning relatives or teachers who convince them it isn’t “wise” to pursue their dreams. They spend their careers beavering away in “safe” jobs haunted by thoughts of what might have been. Such a shame.

What doesn’t get mentioned enough by worried parents, relatives, teachers, friends, colleagues and career-advisers is that many artists make a comfortable living, and some do exceptionally well. If someone is really determined to be an artist, and if they have talent, drive, self-belief and intelligence then they may well be successful. Of course success isn’t guaranteed, but then failure is a possibility in any field. And no doubt a moderately successful artist makes less than many other professions, but if art brings an individual fulfillment this may not be a major issue.

In my opinion, potentially the biggest hurdle facing a would-be artist is the mental hurdle of overcoming years of brain-washing that most artists are doomed to live in poverty. An artist benefits from talent, but absolutely needs self-belief. So if you know someone with enought talent, guts and grit to make it as an artist don’t mention the risks and the hardships they might face. No doubt they’ve heard it all before, repeatedly chipping away at their confidence. And don’t make jokes about starving in a garret – believe me, these get old very fast. Try to help build their self-belief. Encourage the would-be-artist to learn about, and perhaps emulate, the lives and careers of their artistic heroes, particularly ones who found success within their lifetimes or who are still creating and thriving now. Encourage them to take courses, read about and research their chosen creative field. Even better, encourage them to talk with people working successfully in that field, and maybe even find a mentor. Then offer as much encouragement and support as you can muster.

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