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What Do Artists Do


What do artists actually do in real life? Television usually portrays artists sitting around in coffee shops having deep-and-meaningful conversations, swanning about in interesting clothes at art galleries, or having dramatic nervous breakdowns, usually connected to drugs and alcohol. Occasionally you'll find artists doing these things, but most of the time they'll be where they really need to be - in their studio, making art.

1. Artists Make Art

making art
(cc) Sarah Joos
Making art is the most important thing that artists do. Making installations, sculptures, animations, paintings, drawings, events, earthworks, performances, sketches, graffiti, presentations of found objects, photographs, videos, recordings. Art can take many forms, but with the exception of some conceptual art, art is the expression of an idea in some sort of physical form. Artist need to work consistently and produce a body of quality work, otherwise they are just wannabes and hangers-on.

2. Artists Think About The World

(cc) Kristian Stokholm
Artist are not human photocopiers. They make art for a reason, and try to share ideas or visions. They often spend time observing the world around them, thinking about things, people, politics, nature, mathematics, science and religion. Some artists do think in visual terms: they might want to do a painting that shows the beauty of the landscape or the interesting face of a person. Some art explores formal qualities of the medium – showing the hardness of stone, or the vibrancy of a colour. Art can express emotion, from joy or love to anger and despair. Some art is about abstract ideas, such as a mathematical sequence or pattern. So next time you see an artist sitting in a comfy chair and gazing into space, that's not loafing. It's work!

3. Artists Read, Watch and Listen

Being able to think about and share insights about the world means learning as much as you can, so artists spend a lot of time researching and immersing themselves in culture. Reading books, magazines and blogs, watching cinema, listening to music – these are important to most artists. As well as reading about art itself, artists are open to ideas from many sources – science journals or TV shows about nature, books of poetry, classic novels and foreign cinema, pop culture and philosophy, as well as knowledge about technique and creative skills that they need to make their work. Though I should tell you that a Big Bang Theory marathon doesn't really constitute research.

4. Artists Share Their Art

(cc)Marcel Reimer
Part of being an artist is having an audience. Traditionally this means finding an agent or dealer who helps to organize exhibitions of your artwork in galleries. For an emerging artist, this avenue often involves setting up shows in unconventional spaces like cafes, and framing their own work. Basic woodworking skills can be very useful! Contemporary media has opened many avenues to artists, with art community websites, personal web pages and social media. However, it's important not to just live online – your local art scene still offers many opportunities. Exhibiting and selling also involves some self-promotion, with blogging, newspaper and radio interviews to help promote your work.

5. Artists Are Part Of The Community

When I started art school, one of my lecturers commented that 'you can't make art in a vacuum'. This observation has stayed with me – it's very true. Human beings thrive on interaction, and having a peer group that shares your creative ideals can really help you to maintain your creativity. As well as attending gallery openings and art events, artists support each other through helping to promote exhibitions, having social events like coffee mornings and dinners, doing charity fundraising, sharing studio spaces and co-operative galleries, teaching, and hosting workshops and critique sessions.

6. Artists Do Administration

(cc) Vangelis Thomaidis
In any task that we do, we generate paperwork. To be a successful artist, you need to master the basics of finance and organisation, and do basic bookkeeping on income and expenditure. Artists need to know about the tax and business laws in their country. They need to organize insurance, apply for grants, pay bills and track invoices, and keep a record of galleries and competitions they have sent work to. This is the less glamorous side of being an artist! Because creative people can find it difficult to be organized, they need to pay extra attention to developing good management habits.
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