How To: Be A Struggling Artist

(Artists take a path that many are afraid to, but those that are afraid have good reason.)


I turned down a full-time job this week.

It was frankly stupid to not take it. Many would kill for the opportunity to have the safety and security of a consistent paycheck in this economy. So why did I do it? Because of the nature of the job, I knew that it would ultimately compromise my writing and this website. This site that I put so much time and effort in to, and to this day have never received a single cent of revenue from. So why do I do it? Because I’m taking the gamble and making an investment in myself, a risk many others aren’t willing to make. In the mean time, I’ll keep looking for something that will fit my personality and ultimate goals.

Why would you want to be an artist? There is no true career path to being an artist. And by definition, there’s a ton of strife and stress when traversing “the unknown”. Once you add in a healthy dose of self-doubt, poverty, fear, and the constant judgment from those that took the traditional route then you’ve got yourself a nice little complex. At least with a doctor or an architect there is a defined series of steps you can take to get to your goal. A leads to B, which leads to C, which leads to D. Sure you can go to art school, but even artists will tell you that the biggest benefit to that is networking. If you read enough books and Internet you can teach yourself plenty of hard skills. So why would you want to be an artist? Not everyone that steps off the plane at LAX becomes a famous actor. Not everyone that writes sells their screenplay. Not everyone in a band becomes a rock star. For every success story there are thousands of failures. So what makes you think you’re so special?

You have to be a little bit crazy
In order to believe you’re going to succeed against impossible odds where many others have failed, you have to be a little bit crazy, almost stupid. You have to make the leap to move out to a big city full of opportunity. You have to put up with your shitty apartment in Koreatown. You have to be willing to eat top ramen more nights than you want. You have to be OK with being so poor that you steal napkins from McDonald’s. You have to be OK with being rightfully judged by future mates for not being a stable provider. You have to be OK with the fact that for a very long time you won’t succeed. But in order to succeed in that kind of path, you need to embrace a little bit of Busey and Lohan in your life; you need to be a little bit crazy. The reason you’ll ultimately succeed is because you were crazy enough to take the risk.

You have to be consistent
You have to constantly strive to be better at whatever discipline you choose. If you want to be a rock star, you have to set aside time every day to practice. If you want to act, you’re going to have to constantly get rejected at auditions. If you want to write, you have to set aside time every day to write. And unless you’ve secured a low commitment high reward job like a bartender, there’s a good chance you’re going to work a 9-5 job that you despise. But you have to find time every day to commit to your craft. And it’s going to take a lot of sacrifice that’s not going to be popular with your friends, family, or those that are too complacent and afraid.

A tiger doesn’t lose sleep over the opinion of sheep.

The reality is, if what you’re doing is truly your passion, you’re going to make time to do it. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers: The Story of Success”, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a “master” at any skill. Be honest with yourself, how many hours have you put in?

You have to have faith
This is probably one of the hardest things to do on this list. To have faith day in day out that you’re on the right path and know that you’re going to succeed. Especially as the sands in the hourglass continue to fall, and you start to compare yourself to the progress all of your friends that took the more traditional path. Despair will knock on your door every single day, and very often it will find it’s way in and tell you to give up. You just have to believe that all of this hard work you’re doing will eventually pay off and that you’ll succeed.

So how do you become a successful artist? Simple, just be prepared to do all of those things consistently, for a really long time, knowing that at some point in the future it may never pay off. And if you’re ok with all of that, eventually you’ll go from a struggling artist to a successful artist.

I hope.

[Photo: The Livraria Lello in Porto, Portugal. The supposed muse and workspace for J.K. Rowling and her bestselling series “Harry Potter”]


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