The incomparable Ze Frank just put up a video talking about living the creative life. Go, watch it. Wisdom is contained within. A lot of the “secret” behind living a creative life is in actually, well, living a creative life. Like Ze says, if you want to be a writer, then write. If you want to be an artist, go make art. (For another great book on this topic, go read Art and Fear, a book by David Bayles and Ted Orland.)
I wanted to expand a little on one other point he makes. Ze talked about how there is a craft to doing what feels right and true, and a totally separate craft to doing what is marketable. But there is also a third craft that is a combination of the two. It is the craft of taking what you create and bringing it to the world, learning how to market it, sell it, and hopefully make a living from it. Many artists have no interest in this path, and that’s fine. But if this is what you want, to be a professional, profitable artist, just realize that this craft is not an easy one to learn. It is not simple. Oh man, this is in no way a piece of cake! In fact, it takes as much, or even more, time and energy to learn this craft as it does to learn your original artform.
Being an artist is one of the most difficult kinds of businesses to run. For a group of people who typically don’t like to think about business, we all picked the one career that is pure sales and marketing. Think about it — you are trying to convince people to spend a decent amount of money for a colored square of canvas, or a rock you chipped away at, or a bunch of words on a paper! Crazy! I mean, selling ice cream is easy. But art?? Business schools should force their students to manage an artist’s career for a year to really learn what it means to market and sell.
But if you are at all serious about making a livelihood from your art, this is a craft you need to learn. Be ready to spend years learning, and relearning, the craft of selling your art. Be ready to take time away from making art to figure out how to show it and explain it and market it. Be ready for some to dismiss your goals, saying “commercial” or “sell-out” through gritted, self-righteous teeth. But if you can pull it off, it will be worth it.
Build it and they will come? No, sorry. But build it. Build it the best you can. Then make signs in the road pointing to it. And then stand on the roof and shout about it. And then maybe, just maybe, they will come. (And hopefully bring their credit cards.)