Module 29 — Are You a Serious Artist?

When we start out with a creative medium, it’s often all about fun and relaxation. After you’ve been doing it awhile, you can start to feel some pressure—internal or external—to “get serious” about your art. 

Most artists, when they resolve to take their artistic development seriously, or take themselves seriously as artists, mean “I want to make (more) time for my art, and work hard on improving my skills and developing my own unique style and voice.” Not, no-more-smiling, take-all-the-fun-out-of-it serious. 

But, as soon as you decide to “get serious” (or reach a point where other people notice your developing skill and devotion), advice arrives on your doorstep. From friends and family, other artists, and lots of platforms and service providers that promote themselves as helping artists make a living or get recognized. Everyone has opinions about the things you should do as a serious artist. But their “serious” might not be the same as your “serious”.

Time spent doing things like maintaining a social media presence, or teaching, or selling art is time not spent making art. It makes sense to be strategic about which “serious” things you pursue, so you don’t get wind up with take-all-the-fun-out-of-it serious. 

Module 29 Thinking Prompt—
Don’t Get Serious, Get Strategic

Do you want to get serious about your art? What does that mean to you? 

What do you need in order to make your best art? (Time, space, emotional or financial support, confidence, inspiration, interaction with other artists, etc.)

What Do Serious Artists Do?

What are some of the things you’ve heard serious artists should do? Or things that an artist must do to be considered a serious artist? 

Some examples:

  • make art every day 
  • have an Instagram or Facebook page where you post your work regularly
  • have a website or Etsy store
  • have gallery representation
  • win awards or at least get selected for juried shows
  • make money selling your art
  • teach others to make art
  • make art of a particular type (e.g., oil paintings, highly realistic work)
  • not make certain kinds of art (e.g., nothing whimsical or silly, using only archival materials)

What else?

Are Any of These Your Kind of “Serious”?

Here are some questions to ask about an activity that “serious” artists do:

  • What does it bring me that I need to make my best work? 
  • What does it require of me in terms of time, creative energy, attention, money, forgoing alternate activities?
  • How does it compare to the other things I might do to get the things it brings me?
  • If it’s new to me, are there ways to test it out and see how it feels without making a big commitment? Or does it call to me enough that I really want to go all-in?
  • How does it feel to me when I do my best to shut out the influences and opinions of others?

Instead of letting others tell you what it means to be a serious artist, it makes sense to deliberately choose where to invest your time and energy to pursue the creative goals that are most important to you. 

Module 29 Activity Prompt—Art with Focus, or Abandon

Option 1—One Step Forward

If you have resolved to take your art more seriously, find one small step you can take in that direction, and take it. Today. 

Some examples:

  • if you want to start entering juried shows, maybe today is the day you identify the next upcoming submission deadline and download the prospectus
  • if you want to do a better job of planning, maybe today is the day you really force yourself to do those composition sketches before you start painting
  • if you want to suggest people in your cityscapes with a few economical brushmarks, perhaps today is the day you fill a sketchbook page with practice poses of people in all sorts of everyday activities

Option 2—Lighten Up!

On the other hand, if you find you’ve been letting outside influences make you too “serious”, do something to lighten up and give yourself permission to follow whatever path calls to you. Today, do something that “serious” artists don’t do (whatever that might be for you). Some possibilities:

  • make cartoons or snarky art that pokes fun at some behavior that bugs you (this is one arena where “bad drawing” can be a plus!)
  • make art that is too-much: too colorful, too whimsical, too messy, too opinionated, too childish, too mysterious, too . . . whatever . . .
  • start an artwork with absolutely no planning and just keep following your instincts
  • make art with kids in your life, not as “the teacher”, just as a fellow participant in playing with color, shapes, and images
  • make art for kids (or adults) in your life who still enjoy goofy, fantasy-fueled images
  • make art that celebrates a guilty pleasure or something completely frivolous or silly
  • make a collaborative painting or drawing—one or more artists working at the same time, or taking (brief) turns, with little or no advance planning

Module 29 Journal Together Video

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