But before we get to that, I recently caught up with Margaret, who took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few of my questions:
How would you define ‘success’ for an artist?
Margaret: The novelist Ray Bradbury said in an interview for the NEA, “Love is the center of your life. Things that you do should be things that you love, and things that you love should be things that you do.”
So, keeping this in mind, success for an artist is to be able to make a life doing what you choose to do and love, to be able to make a sustainable living from this thing that you love, living in a place that you choose. Or, if you have decided, legitimately, to make your money-making gig separate from your art-making, that what you have chosen to do for money honestly sustains you on multiple levels as well. And then, within that framework, to be able to embrace all of the rest of things of life: to have a family if you choose, and to contribute to your community.
So many young artists set aside their art making as they get older, to get a “real” job with benefits, without realizing that they can have full lives as artists. A full life, a life that you choose, is within your grasp. It requires some soul searching, followed by decision making and detailed planning.
There’s a lot of buzz at the moment about how artists can easily promote themselves online. Do you think it’s important to combine this with a certain amount of offline promotion too?
Margaret: It is extremely important to make oneself “discoverable” online. When someone goes to the internet to find out about you, they should be able to find your name, images and accomplishments in many places. So, posting about your work, classes you teach, and exhibitions you take part in is crucial.
Because this is so crucial, it is easy to think that time spent on self promotion online, which is amusing to do, and time consuming, is all that one must do to promote oneself as an artist. However, none of this is as important as meeting with people face to face, making eye-to-eye contact with them.
Looking at real art, meeting people at art fairs, exhibitions, parties, conferences of like-minded individuals: These meetings can’t be beat.
If you are anxious meeting with people, stop thinking about what people can offer you, and think about what you can do for them. This internal shift can alter the whole DNA of a social encounter. Also, don’t forget that the reason people deal art or make it is because they love that. So, ask them questions about this love – make a friendship. These conversations are the beginnings of relationships, which start associations that can last a lifetime.
How important is it for aspiring artists to get really clear on the direction they want their art to go?
Margaret: Making art is hard: You have to absorb everything, and then chuck it out the window and make the things that are meaningful to you. You can’t ride the tide of what has been done before, but really have to forge forth with your vision – something true to you – otherwise, why bother, really? No one wants to live an imitative life. We want to be the heroes of our own stories.
In my book The Successful Artist’s Career Guide, Marshall Arisman, the famous illustrator and raconteur, told me that his friend, the novelist Paul Theroux said, “Never try to make a universal point, or write a letter to the world. Try instead to find a personal truth and hope that it becomes universal.”
Find your inner compass, and check in with it frequently. Try to separate your work from promotion of your work. You will be good at this – as an artist, you are used to looking at turning ideas around and looking at them from all sides.
You say The Successful Artist’s Career Guide started out as a conversation about what you wish you had been told in college. If you could go back and talk to your younger self, what one piece of advice would you give her?
Margaret: I would give two pieces of advice to the younger me:
- Follow your bliss – it is the lens that you look through that makes you unique.
- You don’t have to dance every time you are asked—you can actually sit out some offers that don’t seem right.
(Both of these bits of advice are about having an inner compass that centers and guides you).
Tell us briefly about your art background and how you came to be a published author.
Margaret: I have always been fascinated by books and book structures, narratives, stories. My studio work is full of them, and I have always written stories as well.
But the things that have gotten published to date are the books that I have written in answer to people telling me that they have always wanted to be an artist but can’t even draw a straight line, or that they used to be an artist, but had to quit to get a real job.
As I think everyone should be engaged in the act of making things, I wrote Make Your Mark, Inkblot: Drip, Splat and Squish Your Way to Creativity, The Successful Artist’s Career Guide, Alternative Art Journals (coming in September 2012), and two accompanying videos. They are all about making things, removing obstacles to making things, and making a life as an artist in whatever capacity you choose.
My Review of The Successful Artist’s Career Guide
The first thing that struck me about The Successful Artist’s Career Guide was how beautifully designed it is. Full colour glossy pages and a kind of grungy notebook/scrapbook style make the book a pleasure to look at, so if aesthetics is your thing, you’ll be pleased from the moment you open the book.
So what about the content? Over 7 chapters and 224 pages, Margaret guides you through the process of launching a successful art career, from planning how your ideal life would look, and choosing your area of expertise, through practical and legal considerations, to promoting yourself both online and offline, and ensuring that you keep up a regular studio practice.
Interspersed amongst Margaret’s own advice are several interviews with successful artists of many different areas of expertise, who share some of their own personal stories and advice.
In every chapter, there are worksheets and checklists for you to complete, which will help you make important decisions about your art and your career, and may give you ideas you hadn’t previously thought of.
There is even an 8-page checklist of potential art-related jobs for you to consider, followed by as many pages again explaining what some of the jobs entail. If you’re not yet sure what artistic career path you want to take, this can really help you brainstorm ideas.
Overall, there’s very little that I don’t like about the book. One thing worth noting though, is that all the legal stuff and advice on taxes and health insurance etc. is based on US law, so if you live outside of the US, those parts may not apply to you.
One piece of advice from the book that really resonated with me came from Marshall Arisman (mentioned by Margaret earlier), who offered the following advice to an artist just starting out:
“Paint what you know and care about… and through this, you will start to get at what is important to you. Its resonance with you will make it important to others.”
Win a Copy of The Successful Artist’s Career Guide
To be in with a chance of winning the book, simply leave a comment below, stating how you think you would benefit from reading it. For bonus points you can also share this post on Facebook, Twitter etc. (it won’t increase your chances of winning, but you will get good karma!)
Note: This competition is now closed, but you can still buy the book from Margaret’s website. Congratulations to Karen Landrum, who was our lucky winner.