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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Carlos

How Not To Become An Artist

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

Discover the unconventional path to becoming an artist. Learn how to navigate obstacles, embrace adulthood, and reignite your creative spark.

#ArtvsArtist2023 prompt in Instagram encourages you to look back on your year of art

The Antidote

Are you at a crossroad now in search for the definitive answer on whether to continue this artistic path or not? Your gut feeling tells you to just carry on but there are just too many obstacles along the way even right at the very beginning. You doubt.

I don't mean to discourage but the artist's journey is not for the faint-hearted. I know. I learned the hard way. So I’m not going to tell you obvious things like don’t make art. I will also not suggest that you become an architect. Instead I will try to help you make your life decisions much easier. Are you ready for the wretched truth?

  1. After art school, work in a different industry. Most of you will be doing this anyway because art students graduate without having any clue on what to do next or where and how to find a job. You’re on the right track then.

  2. Don’t make art for a decade at least and forget everything you have learned in art school—if you have learned at all. Can you control it? When life happens, you really can’t have time to make art because making art needs 100% dedication and a ridiculous amount of time.

  3. Become an adult. Pay the bills, rent an apartment, socialize with adults, talk about adult stuff, grow up, get fired, and then retire. Once you’re an artist, it is going to be for life. Unless you belong to the 0.0000000001% of the famously rich and well represented artists in the world, which are mostly old white men, you will not have plump retirement plans—no security at all.

  4. Get a real job because making art is not a conventional profession. Cave people made art to past time or to simply make marks. We are living in the 21st century.

  5. Want money and I mean obsess about it. Deliberately desire to get instantly rich or at least get comfortable with having a regular salary. There are bills to pay and things to buy.

  6. Have a family because your priorities will change completely.

  7. Wake up from your dreams. A proper adult should live in the real world not in dreamland.

  8. Collect criticisms and believe in them, too. You might not be good enough. This is a sure show-stopper.

  9. Date an artist. Those types that look and act like the poster child of tragic artists—who debate about Klimt, El Greco and Renoir as if they were reincarnations of themselves or whine about how life has treated them unfairly. Let their gravity drag you down to make climbing out of their miserable influence nearly impossible.

  10. Meet your heroes and work with them, too, together with all the artists they summoned to join their legion of blind followers only to realize that they are people, too, sometimes the most arrogant, narcissistic and spoilt ones you will ever meet. You will also forget why you came under their wing in the first place and just accept a life of servitude.

  11. Travel. You will be distracted, exhausted and bankrupt.

  12. Conform to your family’s wishes or to society’s standards. Go with the flow—and by flowing I mean through the river of life like most of us do. Climb a mountain? Nah. Forget it—that’s too difficult. 

Four printed books (and one e-book) in two years and counting...

"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." - John F. Kennedy

In the words of JFK

We do not make art because it is easy. We do this because making art feeds our souls when everyone else has starved theirs. We do this because we embody our ancestors’ primordial role: tell stories.

It took me decades to realize that what I was really aspiring for was to tell stories. I’m a storyteller through pictures and hopefully soon through words. That is why I am a children’s books illustrator now and not right after college back in 2002. I had to go through life first and build up on experiences, memories and relationships so I could pick on each of them and splash them all together or snippets of them on a page.

Oprah got fired at 23. Vera Wang made her first dress at 40. I was fired in a movie set at 23 and was 41 when my first picture book was published. What these insanely successful women did is not comparable to my own meager achievements. But their goal is not the same as mine nor yours. The key point here is to keep on going as you acquire the skills you need through navigating life to make your job later as an artist much easier because you have learned how to overcome trials and triumphs. Your experiences will make you more authentic making your own voice stand out. My art has been evolving and yet my style is becoming more consistent. People recognize this.

If after going through the guidelines, you still have that spark in you even in the smallest degree, go for it. Become an artist once again. It’s there in you. You probably just tamed it or hid inside the labyrinth of life. 

Find yourself again, fail, and then stand up again to become the person you ought to be.

SNL's Leslie Jones could not have made it any clearer that we can find success at any age.

“You know what happened to Oprah at 23? She got fired. Imagine firing Oprah. It wasn't a mistake. Because she wasn't Oprah. She was just some 23-year-old punk who needed to get fired so she could become Oprah.” — Leslie Jones, Weekend Update


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