October 14, 2015

Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring"

Credit: Fanch Sans colorant et Sans conservateur / Flickr / Creative Commons

So you want to be an artist. There’s good news and bad news.

The good news: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average artist makes about $43,000 a year. Not bad, right?

The bad news: None of the artists you know make nearly that much money — which means you're going to need a plan.

Austin Kleon is a self-described “writer who draws”. He says, for better or worse, every artist needs to engage with the online world.

“I get impatient with artists today who still want to pretend like they’re living in the 19th century,” Kleon says. “This isn’t the 19th century and you’re not some French painter. A big part of being an artist is understanding what context you were born into, what the surrounding culture is like, and how you can add to it.”

Our culture, of course, is increasingly driven by the Internet, so go online and share your process; create a reason for people to care about your work.

“We’re living in this age now that I think the more open artists are about how they work and what they do… I think it brings the audience into the process and I think it makes their work even more valuable,” Kleon says.

You’ll become part of an online community (of fellow artists toiling away in obscurity). Kleon says we used to compete with and learn from other artists who lived nearby. Now artists do the same thing on a global scale.

“I think that the Internet and this digital age we’re in is just kind of what’s always happened, but kind of on steroids,” Kleon says. “Take advantage of these digital tools, take advantage of being online, but do it in a smart way that it doesn’t gobble up your life.”

He recognizes that not everyone is going to want to put their artwork online.

“I’m sympathetic actually to artists who don’t want to be online,” Kleon says. He had an artist friend who was worried that it would influence him to create art for the web rather than for himself.

Obviously, you’re not just going to need the Internet to be successful,you’ll need inspiration, too. But Kleon says that’s in greater supply than you might think. “We’re constantly being inspired all day and we have ideas. It’s just we don’t spend enough time in quiet and solitude to listen to the things that are rattling around in your head.”

Kleon created a journal to help you do that. Because those ideas rattling around in our heads are what’s truly important.

“You know the thing that hasn’t changed, which never will change is, ‘Do you have a good idea? Do you have something interesting to say?’”

Culture, Austin Kleon, art

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