In my research on how to make my own art blog better, I’ve been researching other art blogs. I found the ones that are the easiest to find seem to be groups and collaboratives of artists as opposed to independent individual artists, which is fine.
I did find that many of these groups are involved with social justice activism such as feminism, environmentalism, inclusivity and other social justice values, just as much, if not more so, than their art.
That got me thinking to something I heard from Elizabeth A. Sackler when I lived in Italy. She said “All art is political. Even if it’s not political. It’s still political.”
At the time, this bothered me. Whenever I hear “Political Art,” I hear “Propaganda” somebody using something as wonderful, meaningful, and powerful as art only to be nothing more than to to try to tell people what to think. Not only that, but whenever I heard the word “Political” my mind easily jumps to evil, corrupt, greedy politicians who think they have the right to tell the rest of us what to do. Any art of this nature would be glorifying these scumbags like gods, which they are far from, as much as they like to think they are.
It wasn’t until later that year, when I decided to focus more on what I love about art instead of what frustrated me about how it’s taught in university, that I realized why it bothered me so much. Politics is a lens. It’s only one lens, and a very narrow one usually utilized by bored, rich, power hungry people, I found in my experience.
Art isn’t just looked at through a political lens… there’s philosophical viewpoints, psychoanalytic, scientific, historical (my favorite), and… religious.
Then it hit me.
When you look back at history at any culture, what was the thing that got commissioned, kept, and preserved the most? That’s right. Religious art. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramids of Gaza with their anthropomorphic animal gods, the Parthenon of Greece, the giant Reclining Golden Buddha of Thailand, all of these had significant religious significance.
Yes, we have statues of the great political leaders of the time too, but I don’t believe they inspire as much awe as the religious monuments. Historians spend countless decades and lifetimes analyzing every aspect of meaning, the myths, the legends, the significance these monuments had to the community, whereas we see a statue or painting of a king and say, “Yup, he lived in that time. Definitely had a big ego too.”
Although, you could make a religious argument for the statues of great rulers. Some cultures believed that the king was either a god or representative of God on Earth.
The Nature of Art Itself
Don’t hate me, but art is an inherently useless thing. It doesn’t serve any of our physical needs.
Art alone doesn’t give you warmth, nourishment, or any other physical thing you need to live. Even with cake, as an example, you can make a very artistic looking cake, but the “art” part of it really has no use beyond just looking pretty.
Some cakes are so well decorated, you actually don’t WANT to eat them.
A beautiful, well decorated house with stunning architecture gives you shelter and warmth, but the art part of it doesn’t serve that function, not really. You could live just fine in a plain, mass-produced house.
The sun gives us life, a beautiful sunset doesn’t. Yet we take the former for granted, and the latter we enjoy and appreciate much more. It inspires something in us.
Something that reminds us of how alive we are.
Something that, even just for a moment, fills us with a sense of completeness.
Something akin to a “religious experience.”
Religious art in the Gothic and Renaissance Western world was made with the purpose of evoking a religious experience such as this in the viewer. I very much felt this in every church I stepped into in Italy.
I was literally surrounded with so much beauty- the color, the shapes, the music- it made me appreciate what human beings were capable of- and if we- flawed, greedy, and self-obsessed as we are- were able to create something like THAT… then what were the angels capable of?
Of course, if you got your degree in Art History, like I did, you were constantly told that these were only made for rich people to show off their power.
Who in the nine depths of the Underworld gives a scarlet damn?
“Politics” is Just Code for “Religion”
The reason why you’re not supposed to talk politics and religion is because, to many people, they’re one and the same. They’re both vehicles of meaning and are an important part of peoples’ identity.
When you become a religious devotee, it can be very difficult to not look at the world through a religious perspective. Had a bad day at work, and towards the end, one of your coworkers hands everyone including you chocolate? God must have sent that coworker to give you the chocolate to cheer up and reward you for enduring such a trial-heavy day. It gives your life meaning. A sense of purpose. You may have taken advantage of opportunities that you wouldn’t have otherwise because you believe everything happens for a reason, and God loves you deeply and personally.
So, now I understand why important gallery owners like Elizabeth Sackler, university professors, and other art authorities say something as ridiculous as “All art is political.” They live in a very political world, are most involved with activism and pursuing a better world through their eyes.
Many have gone into great detail of the similarities between social justice and religion. Every time I go to a Call for Artists on a publicly funded arts and culture council, most of what they want art specifically having to do with social justice values such as promoting environmentalism and feminism.
I used to be disgusted by this because everything about it just screamed “Propaganda for the Democrat Party,” but, maybe this is just the current dominant religion which promotes, values, and keeps this type of art.
I believe human beings are religious by nature. We NEED a religion of some kind to give us purpose and meaning, otherwise we’re just lost.
I’ve come to believe that art whether they’re sculptures, paintings, music, or even a momentary act of performance art, is an instrument (sometimes literally, looking at you, you fantastic musicians!) to evoke a sense of meaning in someone, whether it’s a gut reaction, or something that’s meant to leave you in a stupefying state of awe for hours while you’re trying to figure out what it all means. Of course, as long as it’s art I agree with, that is 100% beautiful.
In short: Sure, I think art can be political, but, more deeply, all art is religious by nature.
Thank you everyone for taking the time to read this incredibly long post. If you would like to know what you can do to start becoming an artist today, here’s my post on baby steps through cartooning, and to my fancier friends out there who yearn to be oil painters!
I’m writing this more for myself. It seems like the more I pursue my art career, the more opportunities open up, and the more daunting it becomes. As I’ve said in the past, I’m personally struggling with a very odd Fear of Success (versus the fear of failure. Only instead of not trying because you’re afraid of failing, you don’t want to try because you’re afraid you’ll succeed and can’t handle it). but if you guys think this list is helpful to you too, then that makes me happy! Let’s all go through this journey together!
1. The Internet
Today is probably the best time ever in the history of art to become an artist and make money and recognition in your lifetime! Back in the olden days, you had to be lucky and make friends with a rich person who really really REALLY believed in your work enough to pay you a full salary to sponsor your work. Otherwise, in the less recent time, you had to push to get your art exhibited in galleries (I highly recommend you still go this route for reasons I will explain in a future blog post, but for now, let’s be excited about the internet) where you have to pay a fee for them to show your work and if you are lucky enough to sell any, most of that money will just go back to the gallery. Putting your art in galleries may actually LOSE you more money than you gain.
Now, you can post your art for free, and if you keep at fostering your social media presence, you will eventually gain a following which will put you in contact with people who want to buy your art. Yes, you do have to compete with other artists, but you may forget that this is not a zero-sum gain. Just because one artist gets a commission doesn’t mean you don’t get that commission. You can also make passive income by selling digital prints, eBooks, Patreon, and numerous other places. With the internet, it’s difficult to put all your eggs in one basket, and that’s a good thing!
2. Whatever You Love Doing: There’s a Niche for It
Art is one of the most frustrating things to go into as a profession because what’s “In” in the art world changes so drastically. When I brought my sketchbook to a Portland gallery, the gallery owner noted I did a lot of figure drawings, and those just weren’t “in” right now.
Read my previous point. If you build a following on the internet, it doesn’t matter. Someone will like what you’re doing.
Not only that, but there are infinite numbers of communities for what you’re doing. Even if what you’re doing is purely original, which is unlikely because humans are bad at being original, you will find a niche.
If you like painting waterscapes and fish, fishermen will probably want your art, if your faith is important to you, you automatically have an audience of people in your faith who are probably DYING for the kind of things you create, if you love painting cats and dogs, you have a lot of people out there who love their pets and would be delighted to have you paint a portrait of their beloved Sir Colonel Fluffikins III.
And yes, I know I sound like a broken record when I say “Do What You Love” but I mean it. If you’re working on something because you think that’s what’s “in” right now, you’re not going to care that much about it. When you try to sell it, you’re not going to have that same enthusiasm and conviction that makes people want to buy it (if you don’t care, why should I?), and you’re just going to be frustrated.
So, do what you love. It’s not as hard to find people interested as you might think.
3. You Don’t Even Need to Be Good- At Least, Not Right Away
I believed that before I had any business pursuing a career as an artist, I thought I had to be good. I don’t even know why I thought this, because there are many teenagers out there on the internet who are already making a living making videos of their art and pride themselves on how they’re learning, and simply want to be an amazing artist when they grow up- as they should!
The truth is, a good artist should always be learning. As a general rule of thumb, I found that no artist believes they’re really “good.”
Not only that, but look back at history. The most remembered artists of the 20th century didn’t create the most beautiful, realistic artwork, their expertise lay with creating a strong message behind the artwork, shaking hands with the right people, and marketing.
So, it doesn’t matter if you’re good, as long as you keep at it, love what you’re doing, and do the necessary research along the way, you’ll be fine. You may not get rich, but that’s not the goal, the goal is to be an artist and make enough to get by.
4. There’s Parts of it That Might Suck… Just Like the Job You’re Currently Working Now!
You’re smart enough to know that once someone becomes an artist, there’s a whole lot of challenges to face along the way and after the fact: keeping a business going, deadlines, customer relations, taxes, and there even might be viscous and jealous competing artists. This may be what’s keeping you from pursuing your dream as an artist, that these may be things you don’t want to deal with.
As opposed to be the job you might be working at now, you’re working for someone else, they may be malevolent and send you home every day with this feeling like you’re not worth anything, the work you’re doing is soul-killing and not doing any good for the world, maybe even making it worse, and it may be affecting your attitude, your family may find you unpleasant every time you come home from work, and things will only continue to get worse.
As opposed to working for yourself- you may not make as much money- but you’ll at least have the chance to do something you know is meaningful. You will come to the end of your life not having regretted doing what you really love.
5. Even If You Don’t Make it As an Artist, You Will STILL Pick Up Skills that Job Seekers Like
I do not advocate dropping everything and starving yourself to be an artist. It’s good to have a fallback plan. Take comfort in knowing that not only do you have one, but by following your dream, you will be even more equipped, proficient… and desired, in said fall back plan.
I actually want to write more on this topic, but one of the things that keeps me going, even though I’m still new, is all the skills I’m learning along the way to reaching my dream of being a stay-at-home artist.
I thought of the skills I was learning that jobs seekers wanted: utilizing social media through a business perspective, waking at 5 am to work on my art career before going to my 9-5 job, customer relations, setting and keeping deadlines, sales, photo editing, marketing, website development, etc. Many of these were not skills that I learned how to do in school or at other jobs, but they were skills that I learned while pursuing my own art career.
It’s easy to think that it may not be worth it in the end to become an artist professionally, that you’ll be spending so much time and money on art, no one will want to buy it, and it will all amount to nothing.
Even if you make art that nobody buys, you will learn many other skills and develop habits that will be attractive for future job seekers.
6. You Will Fail… A Lot
The reason why I personally don’t have a fear of failure anymore is because I I know I will fail… many many times.
You will fail to make the masterpiece you want, you will fail to make online sales, you will fail to get the number of followers/subscribers you want, you will enter that Call for Artists, and you will fail to get in. You will fail many many MANY times. And that’s okay. I know, it’s still discouraging when something doesn’t work out, but that’s part of the journey of becoming an artist.
With every failure, you will learn something, the next time you try something, you will approach it a wiser person.
It’s also satisfying to know that you are not a quitter. That the world is out to get you, and knocked you down so many times. Just to spite it, you got back up and kept going. Nothing will keep you down!
You are a warrior! You’re a lion! You’re a Viking!
You’re not afraid.
That tingling feeling in your nerves… that’s excitement. You’re going to go back out there and fight! Everyone will see how impassioned you are, and they will either cheer loudly with you and follow you to victory… or out of fear, they will get out of your way.
7. It Takes Time, but It’s So Worth It. And Fulfilling
Becoming an artist is not something that happens overnight. It takes a lot of time. You’ll find shortcuts along the way, but for now, what you have is a cute little baby snowball.
You keep packing a little snow here and there, and it’ll get bigger. You roll it down a hill, and it will start to spiral and get so big you don’t know what to do with it (which is why I’m writing this blog post right now).
I know that ever since I decided to dedicate a minimum of 30 minutes every day to my art, I go to my day job feeling happier and more fulfilled. I have a sense of purpose and understanding of who I am because of my ambitions and goals that I dedicate a little time every day too. I am more resilient, less anxious, and stronger because of the habits that I spent the last several months accumulating. Because I actively look for things in other peoples’ art that I like- and used my art to build a philosophy of focusing more on creating the world you love instead of tearing down the one you hate- I am much less introverted and enjoy being around people more.
I like the person I am. Especially since I decided that I was no longer going to be afraid to be the artist I want to be.
I don’t know what to write, so here is the most recent progress of my Springtime Copy:
So far, I’ve spent several months working on it a little bit every day. I learned a lot about painting in general by doing this. I feel like it looks like a child’s drawing when side by side with the original, but that’s okay. I’m still very happy with how it’s turning. It’s not done. I’m taking a break from it to work on some original artwork (finally), but I just wanted to show you my progress.
Also, How to Fight Writer’s Block: Just type “I don’t know what to write…” and see what comes after.