How to be an artist

How to become an artist and How to be(come) a successful artist were also titles I considered for this blogpost. But I do not want to imply in any way that I am there yet. However, I do have a rather clear view on the issue after long deliberation and researching other artists with better track records. In this post I concentrate on the individual artist, but of course he / she is part of a humanity, I do not think an artist should be completely removed from society and most are indeed not. So while I think this hereafter goes, let us not forget we live in a society and should contribute and react to, lend from and modify that society as artists.
So. In my very personal view: how to be an artist:

Look the part

For the longest time I have looked like a nerd. Consequently people try to have me fix their computer and ask me how to get e-mail on their iPhone. Which I don’t necessarily know. While I have longer hair, a wild beard, and an outrageous pair of pants on, I feel quite different and thus people approach me differently. Except maybe the ones that have known me for ages and only suspect a mild midlife crisis. Step one of becoming an artist is to feel like one. Very important.

Make work

In order to make brilliant work you first have to make work. It will probably be mediocre at best and you may have to hide or destroy it. What it does do is get you in a creating mood or even flow, you will notice things while making the artworks that you can, and will, improve on in the next iteration or the one after that. Until you have made something that has the potential of not sucking so much in a few more iterations. You can do this during any loose hours that you might have. Just don’t expect artworks to be finished quickly. Most iterations require several hours of investment. Turn off the tv.

Have something to say

This is my personal war, to be honest. What is my unique perspective? What should be so bloody interesting about it that it warrants consuming my and other peoples resources? Sure, there are quite a few artists, even successful ones, that have nothing in particular to say, but it all feels so empty to me. For me it works better if there is a story, a consistent world. Maybe not consistent, but a system that makes sense. So that I, as experiencer, can discover things about myself and the society I am in through the artwork.

Make work

Henry Ford already said it: “You can’t build a reputation on things you’re going to do”. And right he was. Do or die. By doing you learn faster: you make more mistakes than when you stay in your head, and you will reach new ground to discover quicker. Get your creative juices flowing, they will help you deliver. Stay hydrated! Make work!

Learn some skill

Though some artists can not paint / write / sculpt / &c. if their life depended on it, I would like to be a wizard at my craft and know everything about it. I find it easier to “defend” an artwork if I know that it is entirely as I would want it, which is only possible if I know exactly what I’m doing. This connects with other realms:

  1. I think it is best to create your own playing field or even game, there you can become the absolute master because you invented it. Don’t just photograph, photograph in a very unique way that nobody ever thought of before and perfect the hell out of that way. (Notice the difference with: pick a subject and never deviate so when people see, for example, a pink turd, they know it was you; the artworld as I see it has moved way beyond Pavlov.)
  2. Now it is even more important for the artist to know what he / she is saying, because by being so articulate the artist is shifting the focus from appearance to content.

I like to follow some courses in stuff that interests me, read about it, find information and make sense of it. For others it might work better to find a friendly tutor or mentor that encourages them to

Make work

Yes, you will have to. Go on, you can do it.

Make some more work

(Edit: replaced the original photographs with the final versions from 2018.)

(U) IX
(U) IX – photo Joeri van Veen 2018
(U) IV
(U) IV – photo Joeri van Veen 2018

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