I Can Art and So Can You. 14 Tips for Developing an Arts Education or Career for Those Who Feel They Don't Deserve It.


Hello. My name is Elizabeth Novak and, as the photo above states, I am a freaking artist.

I never really would have thought to call myself that, explicitly. I would have dodged and darted around the noun, hiding behind "jewelry maker", "designer", "craftsman". Not only has "artist" felt off-limits, but it also seems like a bit of a jerk-ish thing to ascribe to yourself without gallery representation... commissions... retrospectives... a benefactor that may or may not be the Catholic Church. Those sort of outside acknowledgements. I'm talking the large stuff.

However, now that I have my trusty Artist Card and have been acknowledged by an institution (be it with no background check...trust-based economy), I am ready to dole out the info of how I have dragged my way to "artist" status and how you, YES YOU, can do the same!

1. Learn to Enjoy It. 
Life is harsh. Life is pain. Statistically, you will die. Might as well find the places of okay-ness and take refuge in them. Learn to pull the good from all people, places, and things you may encounter. It needn't be hokey or of the #blessed variety. Find the things that make being alive feel, at best, worthwhile, and at worst, slightly better than being dead.

2. You Don't Have to Go to Art School. 
Not everyone has the ways or means to indulge in a prestigious art school education. That's fine. There are so many ways to learn and grow outside of a singular institution. Liberal arts schools, community colleges, and vocational training programs are all fine beginnings to what may be an auspicious life or career. Keep your desire to learn and grow within your field or your interests. Be flexible as you acquire knowledge. If you can financially swing it, consider apprenticeships and internships. Be bold and ask someone to teach you how they do what they do. By not going to art school you may miss out on some privileges, such as greater chances for networking or the enchanting sense of being immersed in artistic pursuits. However, in my own experience, easy access can be really overwhelming. I didn't appreciate the resources at my finger tips because I had never been asked to function without them. Experience had yet to teach me about value. Now, I can confidently tell you, going to art school does not make you an artist. It just makes you someone who pays to attend art school.

3. Observe Everything. 
This is your job. Mop up all of the sensory information that you can. Don't ask why and what for, just suck it up from as many angles as possible. Hold onto it. Save it for later. "Build a little birdhouse in your soul."

4. Free Culture. The public library was responsible for many of my interests as a young person and those youthful interests have never stopped informing my adult pursuits. Libraries, museums, halls, collections. If it is free, it is for you. The folks who work there are bad-ass merchants of knowledge who want you to have as much as you can. Let them force feed you. Swallow whole. Swell with the past and fart out the future. Linger.

5. Spend Time Alone. 
It will really let you know where you are. Jam on you. Feel you. Acknowledge you. Learn to listen to and trust the you-est sense of you there is. Ditch the phone. Bring a pencil and note pad, maybe.

6. The Absence of Bad is Not the Presence of Good.
This is more of a general life lesson. The kind that you may have to learn the hard way. On a more relevant tip, when you are working, do no stop at "good enough". Even if you have to put it down for a while, don't end until what you have done makes you grin from ear-to-ear.

7. When Told "No", Ask Why. 
This is a bit of advice I have picked up from reading many blogs about sales and marketing. Every No is a valuable pill of information. Learn to swallow it dry. Well-considered rejection contains great, precious knowledge as to how you can improve. Let them have their say. You decide on your implementation.

8. Keep Good Relationships. 
Valuable for business and valuable for sanity. Cultivate a smart, sensitive network of supporters who can tell you where the good jobs are, who will let you stay in their spare room, or who will encourage you to submit that article to their editor. Find people who will listen to your ideas and give you honest feed back. Do not waste your resources on taxing friendships. Some people are enjoyable but come with a Cinderella-like time limit. Some are not enjoyable at all. Let them free to find their people. Place your energy in loving yours.

9. Align With Like-Minded People. 
As all-important as it is comfortably stand alone, and while one finger might poke out an eye, it takes five or so fingers to make a good fist. Find some other weirdos that you vibe with and exchange contacts/resources/ideas/drugs. Collaborate and support each other- and not just out of the goodness of your heart or the goodness of their drugs! Remember, a rising tide does lift all ships. Dock in an appropriate marina.

10. The People Who Love You May Not Be the People Who Support You.
This is damn difficult. Maybe your mom doesn't want to see you struggle. Maybe your brother thinks that art is useless; become a mechanic. Hammer, don't hurt 'em! But do realize that, despite their affections, some people will not be able to give you the response you want or need. Develop a brain/heart/back trust.

11. Don't Give It Away. Unless You Want To. 
You may wish to say YES to every opportunity that comes along. That's fine, but do try to get fair compensation. It may come as money. It may come as a back rub. It may be paying it forward. You decide the worth of your actions. It is okay if that worth is malleable. Sometimes, you will be compensated with a hefty life lesson. That's a type of payment, too.

12. Live Modestly. 
Not a lot in = not a lot out. Find your priorities, check your budget, adjust your sliders accordingly. Don't forget suggestion number one. (On a similar tip, (12.5) to quote George Clinton, "You can't manage your business affairs AND smoke crack at the same time". Don't let excess drag you too deep.)

13. Play A Long Game. 
Not making bank by 25? No prob. Feel weird waiting tables at 35? Remember, you are in it for life. There isn't an end. Just keep going; just keep finding what works for you. What if you were to succeed right away? Then what? Become an astronaut? Unless you pull some crazy royalties, sic transit gloria mundi, kid.

14. Ask. 
Learn to ask for what you want. Throw your desire into the world. Push on the universe. Invite it to push back.

Leave a comment


Please note, comments must be approved before they are published