Wednesday, June 23, 2010

7 Myths About Becoming an Artist

There are many misconceptions that hold some of us back from becoming the artists we want to be. Over the past few years, I have been able to gain experience through trial and error and I have also gleaned helpful advice from artists I admire. I decided to condense some of that advice and experience into a list of myths.

Myth #1: You have to have an MFA to show in the "good" galleries.
Art school is one of the many tools that artists use. Depending on how you use this tool, it can open doors. However, art school is not a requirement to become successful as an artist. Do you think mainstream museums and galleries turn down Jean Michel-Basquiat's work because he didn't earn an MFA? Of course not.

Art school can be a great opportunity to learn, grow and find ourselves as artists. However, for various reasons, not every artist is able to work towards an MFA (Master's Degree in Fine Arts). In these cases, if an artist wants to get art education in a classroom setting, there are alternatives. Consider workshops and courses at your local museum or other art institution. Some art institutions (museums, non-profit galleries, etc) have great independent study programs that may be more flexible and affordable.

There are several living contemporary artists who are doing very well despite not going the traditional BFA/MFA route. If you have talent, vision and a good strategy, you will find your way into the door.

Myth #2: You have to draw and paint well to be an artist.
There is so much more to art than being able to push a paint brush or pencil well. You can take classes to learn specific techniques, but art is about creation and expression. Art is about executing new ideas. If you feel drawn to create, start making things, no matter how silly it may seem. Some of the best creations come from this kind of experimentation.

On the other hand, if you are already comfortable with a few ways of expression (drawing, painting, sculpting), don't be afraid to venture out into new territory. Experimentation is vital to growth as an artist.

Myth #3: You have to quit your day job to become a "real" artist.
This is one of the biggest misconceptions about living as an artist. Some think that as soon as you decide to become an artist (especially later in life) you need to quit your day job and be able to live off of your art right away. This expectation puts a lot of unnecessary strain on a person.

It is almost every artist's goal to someday be able to make a living from their artwork. However, it often takes years of patience and perseverance to build an art practice that has strong earning power.

It would be wonderful to be able to focus our full day on our artwork without the stress of a 9 to 5. Full-time jobs tend to suck out creative energy. When you get home from a long day on the job, you're often too tired to make art. You want to crash and relax after a long day's work.

However, those of us who do not have access to a trust fund or family support need a day job to pay the bills until our art earns enough. I suggest finding a job that you can tolerate. Find a job that is not too stressful and has decent hours.

In order to make fine art your full-time job, you must be well disciplined and organized. I cannot stress this enough. Art is an occupation in itself, so you will have to think of it as your other job. You will need to be willing to commit your nights and weekends to research, creating work, networking, and applying to programs. Maintaining a full-time or part-time job allows emerging artists the freedom to grow and create what comes out naturally without the pressure of scrambling to make work that will sell in order to pay last month's rent.

Myth #4: Expensive materials are necessary to make art.
Art is all around us. You don't need expensive art materials to create a strong work of art. One of my colleagues has created art for a museum using basic office supplies. You just need an idea and a creative way to express that idea using the resources that you have.

Myth #5: You have to brainstorm to come up with good ideas.
Some of the best ideas are ones that flow in naturally. If you rely on brainstorming to try and find that next great idea, you are likely to work yourself into frustration. I suggest keeping a small notepad nearby so that you can write down ideas as the come to you throughout the day. Then make an effort to pursue those ideas.

Myth #6: You have to live in a major city to become a successful artist.
Another misconception is that artists need to live in a major city like New York, Los Angeles, Paris, etc in order to make it as an artist. Living in a major city does have its advantages, however it is not a requirement. If you are not able to move or don't desire to live in a big city, you will need to make an effort to take advantage of the resources major cities offer.

If you don't live in or near a large city, I suggest making trips throughout the year to attend art events if you can afford to. If you are going to visit a major city to attend art events, make sure to go at a time when things are popping in that city. For example, if you are planning to visit New York, Fashion Week would be a good time to go because lots of major art exhibits open around that time. You will have to research and figure out the best time to visit any particular city for business purposes.

Also, when you decide to visit a major city to attend art events (shows, lectures, symposiums, etc) make a list of people you would like to meet. Ideally, you are going to want to meet artists, curators and eventually dealers and gallery owners. When you get home, follow up with the art professionals you have met, just as you would for any other occupation.

Myth #7: You don't have the credentials yet to apply for a program at a major institution.
So many opportunities have been missed because an artist felt he or she did not have the credentials to even try. If you know of an art institution that is taking submissions or proposals go for it! Like they say, half of the job is showing up. I know several artists who have had the opportunity to show in major galleries early in their careers.

Regardless of whether you went to art school or not, or have little experience, you should at least make the effort to submit your work. You never know where you might end up showing your art!

To learn more about me and my artwork, visit my website


  1. ...And all your have said is correct and valuable. Thank you for sharing.

  2. NICE, i whole heartdely believe in these. Especially the school one. I went back to art school, but the majority of the techniques and lessons i learned came from rigorous work or artists i collaborated with.

  3. I gained a lot from reading this...thank you so much for posting! ;)

  4. great article Dawn. Wish i had read it long ago. When i gave up painting bc i wasn't "good." It worked out ok. I do a lot of mixed media now.

  5. this article has SAVED MY LIFE!!! I gained a lot of insight from reading this article thanx dawn okoro!!!!


  6. THANK YOU, wow just when i was questing myself on where i wanted my art career to go this falls in my lap, this is so amazing how i found you from a blog i read every day "FLY" and you are at three peas art, i was visiting chicago last summer when three peas first open up in late may my aunt lives right down the street from there and we walked by and i was asking about shows, WOW!!! A total 360, my name is angela and my blog is called STUN UR SELF (it new )

  7. I always come back to this article when I'm feeling "down" about my artwork and where I'm going with it...

  8. just finding this article.... I can't express the boost it gave me to keep on keepin' on. Thank you.

  9. Wow, I really appreciated this article. I was sincerely hoping to find ways to pursue my artistic dream without attending college because of my different goals. As an aspiring young artist in my senior year, I am pushed to consider art schools, but knowing that there are successful examples out there that didn't apply, I feel even more confident! Thanks a bunch, man.