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Art and Struggle: At what point should an artist 'give up'?

by Brian Sherwin on 3/5/2013 11:54:30 AM

This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY, artnet, WorldNetDaily (WND) and Art Fag City. Sherwin graduated from Illinois College (Jacksonville, Illinois) in 2003 -- he studied art and psychology extensively. If you want your blog posts listed in the FineArtViews newsletter with the possibility of being republished to our 22,000+ subscribers, consider blogging with FASO Artist Websites.  Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

I was recently asked the following question: "At what point should an artist 'give up'?". The artist who asked the question stressed that he was tired of 'struggling for nothing'. I asked him to explain what 'struggling for nothing' meant -- he responded by offering a rant that began with his lack of art awards, and ended with his frustration over his poor sales history. I reminded him that art and struggle walk hand-in-hand... and that the factors he mentioned were not good reasons for 'giving up' as an artist.


The artist avoided my response. He continued to explain how he was 'giving up' due to lack of recognition. I assume that he expected a 'pity party' from me in his honor. He was not aware that I'm a horrible 'pity party' host. I handed out all of my tissues years ago... and my smallest violin has gathered dust in a state of disrepair. Point-blank, I refused to validate his perceived failures as reasons to 'give up' on his artwork.


In truth, he did not want my honest answer to his question... he wanted me to offer him an 'out'. He wanted me to agree that it was time for him to 'give up' on his artwork -- and all the years he had put into exploring art in general. I don't agree with 'giving up'. I told him that he was missing the point of creating art in the first place. I told him that he needed to rediscover his passion... the passion he had known long before the art competitions and unsold artwork.


Art and struggle walk hand-in-hand. The technical side of creating art can be frustrating at times (many FineArtViews regulars have shared the technical difficulties they have faced as artists). Furthermore, there are emotional factors to consider depending on the artist and the visual message that he or she explores (some artists open emotional wounds, if you will, as part of their creative process). These struggles -- including the struggles involved with marketing art -- are not reasons to 'give up'... they are reasons to press on. Passion holds it all together.


Art and struggle walk hand-in-hand. As implied above, the process of creating art -- and developing as an artist -- may not always be pleasant. Furthermore, it does not always result in praise. Even when praise is achieved... it is often fleeting. The need for recognition is a sad reason for entering the world of art marketing IF passion is lost in the process. It is OK to desire recognition (seek fame and fortune if you wish)... BUT upholding ones passion for creating and sharing a visual message is far more desirable. I feel that my artist friend should prioritize his needs.


This is what I want to stress: Lack of recognition -- be it in the form of failing to win an art prize OR failing to sell a piece -- is not a reason to 'give up' as an artist. It is not a valid reason for tossing your passion aside. Lack of recognition is a common struggle faced by artists and other creative individuals. Point-blank, my artist friend is not the first artist to face these struggles... nor will he be the last. He needs to stop whining. He needs to toughen up... and get back to work. He won't receive pity from me... only pressure.


In closing, artists will often find themselves in the position of facing struggles head-on. Art and struggle walk hand-in-hand. Veterans of the art world can no doubt tell you about some of the 'brick walls' they have smacked over the decades. That said, most of you WILL keep pushing forward... just as they did. Stating that you are 'giving up' because of lack of recognition is nothing more than a petty excuse for having lost your passion. Rediscover your passion. After all, recognition is a trivial need compared to the passion that should be fueling your artwork in the first place.


Take care, Stay true,


Brian Sherwin


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Related Posts:

Identity Found / Identity Lost: Do art world labels define you?

Deconstructing the Romanticized Image of 'The Artist' - Part 2

Art and Success: Success does not have a ZIP code

Artist as Storyteller: Be tactful when sharing your story Part 2

Art and Business: Why do art galleries refuse to share their client list with represented artists? Part 2

Ten Reasons for the Professional Artist to Join a Local Art Group

Why Artists Need to Develop a Thick Skin: Part 3 - Some final thoughts

Artists Creating Their Own Opportunities

Keeping the Chickens Flying

Topics: advice for artists | art and psychology | Art Business | art marketing | Brian Sherwin | FineArtViews | inspiration | Think Tank 

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loretta feeney
Great article Brian. An artist never gives up on the work. Never gives up on the process of growth and realizing an inspiration into their new creation.

Sure this economy has not been kind to supporting the fine art of living artists. Our market is still shaking out and evolving like so many industries. So what!
I get excited about doing the work, starting a new series of oils, planning a painting trip.
And... I have done a lot of interesting and not so interesting things in order to buy my paints. Giving up has NEVER been an option.

Brian Sherwin
Loretta -- You said, "Sure this economy has not been kind to supporting the fine art of living artists. Our market is still shaking out and evolving like so many industries. So what!"

Has the economy ever been good enough to support all living artists? The more I think about it... the more I feel that the economy is not so much the issue. After all, I can recall some artists complaining about the economy in the past -- during times that are now thought of as the 'good ole' days'. Ha. :)

Making a living from art is not easy no matter the condition of the economy. It is best we remember that. That said, artists should strive to hold on to their passion -- that passion will keep them going no matter what is faced.

Even if an artist does not do well market-wise... the pursuit of art is not a waste. It is an accomplishment. It sure beats spending a chunk of your life behind the TV screen (unfortunately, a lot of people today do just that).

So.... the market talk aside -- creating art is a way of living, truly living. We need to see more passion today in general.

Lori Woodward
Brian, although the economy has taken a big bite out of the middle range of the art market (especially works between $10,000 and $50,000 - there are many markets that are increasing in sales . Many of my professional friends had their best sales ever last year - even if they had slow or now sales after 2009.

An artist needs to have thick skin. There will be more rejection during his or her career than awards. Even when the art is stunning, the odds of winning any prize is statistically now. When I juried Bold Brush, I selected 180 works that I thought had merit of winning an award, but I needed to filter those down to 11 choices. So just because you don't win an awared or get "recognition", doesn't mean you should toss in the towel.

That said, as more and more artists receive excellent education and improve, the playing field becomes more competative.

So, I sold 7 paintings in 3 weeks last month - all on my own without galleries. I taught some workshops in AZ, and got ample praise for my work and instruction. Have I ever won a national award? Nope...

In fact, I applied to a national show event for next year- I know the gallery owner - and my work was rejected. He admittted that I had some nice pieces, but they weren't what he was looking for. That's a "pat" answer he probably give out as a rejection notice. I've gotten artists into that show - but I was rejected. Did it hurt? Of course it did... did I get a bit depressed? Yes, but not for long.

I've had my work published, and I've sold a lot of work over the years (mostly without the help of galleries), so there's no reason why I should feel like a failure just because my work doesn't compete with the nation's very best.

I could strive to get my work into top galleries and get noticed by top collectors, but that's such a competative field; I'm not sure I want to put in that kind of effort - it's expensive too. I don't want to spend money on ads (which I've done in the past) and ship paintings, pay a lot of dues to organizations...

I'd rather spend very little money, market my own work, and sell without any middle-business. Getting into a top gallery these days often means having your work just sit there, or worse yet, in storage. It doesn't guarantee sales, and if your work is shown there for more than a year, I believe it actually hurts your visibility with collectors.

My studio mate is not known nationally, but she sold close to 70 paintings last year online and locally by her own efforts.

When artists are planning their career path, they would do well to seek the bottom line - sales - and leave their egos out of the equation. As soon as ego gets involved, emotions and reactions get stronger and the chances for disappointment grow.

When I enter a show, I never expect to win an award - it's sort of a gamble. I don't enter shows that are prohibitively expensive. As a business owner who wants and needs to make a profit, I must understand the true risks and outcome.

There are many, many artists out there who are selling a lot of artwork right now, but they may not be well known nationally. They don't care about that! There are also many nationally known artists who work with galleries who are doing extra work, commissions and selling online to make ends meet.

Sum up: Don't let your ego get involved, or you'll give up too soon. It takes a long time to get to the professional level - if it were easy, everyone would do it, and artwork wouldn't be worth much at all.

Some artists will give up, throw in the towel, but it's usually because they had high expectations too early that weren't met with a positive outcome. It's taken me 20 years of hard work to get my art to a professional level, get published, etc. If I had been a masterful painter (like some of my friends are), I could have gotten there much quicker, but I'm just not that "talented".

Does that mean I can't make a living as an artist? Not at all. I'm spending my time selling my work to people who love it, at a reasonable, but profitable price - I'm more than happy with that.

Jan Stommes
Brian.... great article. You remind me of myself when I was teaching science. I would tell my students at the beginning of the year, that they may not be the best in science, but I wanted them to try there very hardest try. Anything worth doing requires a tremendous amount of effort. An artist friend told over twenty years ago that making money was the main goal for creating art. I disagreed. I thought that evolving to be the very best that I could be was my goal. I know that it will take a lifetime of very hard work, but my passion is to create the best that I can. Thank you for the affirmation.

Brian Sherwin
Lori -- You are correct. Artists do need a thick skin... not just in the criticism sense of the word. They need it in business as well IF art marketing is a goal.

You said, "Some artists will give up, throw in the towel, but it's usually because they had high expectations too early that weren't met with a positive outcome. It's taken me 20 years of hard work to get my art to a professional level, get published, etc.".

Bingo. I think that is what happened with my artist friend. He jumped in expecting a steady wave of accolades -- and when it didn't happen... he started to doubt himself AND his artwork.

You are correct in what you said about prizes and juried shows as well. Heck, I know artists who have never won a prize... but they ship artwork to happy buyers regularly. On the other hand, I've known artists who have consistently won prizes... but rarely see their artwork sold.

I think it is important for artists new to the world of art marketing to not get too wrapped up with prizes, juried exhibits, and so on. By all means, compete! BUT don't let the rejection (which WILL happen) break you.

Brian Sherwin
Jan -- Exactly. Create the best you can... regardless of where you are at market-wise. Art marketing is a wonderful thing -- but not when it kills the spirit of the artist. 'Giving up' because of lack of awards, exhibits, whatever... is a weak excuse for allowing your passion to die.

Carolyn Hancock
I think at times we can take a break, short or long, away from painting. But if the desire to paint or create is strong, the easel will call you back. You know in your heart and mind that you are an artist and that if you keep "stirring the pot," people will find you. Beginning the first of this year, I've kept a list: every time that I do something to get exposure or further my knowledge, I write it on the list. Surprisingly, the list is growing rapidly. Within 6 months, I hope to have a good idea what succeeds. So, give up? NO.

Lori Woodward
Thanks Brian for reading through my entire comment ;-) it was pretty long.

Carolyn, yay! That's a great approach. You'll do well!

Phil Kendall
Another good article Brian.
I must admit after five years of trying to sell my art I have decided that I will simply paint as often as I can...

It's getting to be a struggle to hold the brush for any length of time and to see just where the brush is going.

My life and my art continue and the website was updated to reflect these changes.

I enjoyed all of those marketing efforts and I treasure every contact I have made over the last five years. From time to time I will contribute to a discussion like this.

There can be no bitterness about trying but not's called life and it has to be lived to the full embracing every challenge every day!

Brian Sherwin
Lori -- You said, "I'm spending my time selling my work to people who love it, at a reasonable, but profitable price - I'm more than happy with that.".

And there is nothing wrong with that. Often times it seems that we often think of BIG prices when art marketing is discussed. I know that some readers would suggest that is the only way to make a living with art. BUT I know artists who offer extremely affordable works of art (even in smaller communities) and have improved their financial situation because of it.

Lets say that an artist in my area sells between 20 and 30 paintings a year at $100 a pop locally (and I have seen situations like this happen). That is an extra $2,000 to $3,000 a year before taxes. That may not seem like much... but for this area of Illinois it is a lot of money.

I remember reading about one of those 'painting a day' painters a few years ago. He was pulling in $50,000 annually from those sales. He had no intention of exhibiting... and he was not exactly focused on becoming a 'known' artist. That did not stop him from earning a nice chunk of coin. :)

Brian Sherwin
Carolyn -- Creative breaks will happen. Time is needed to 'digest' where one is going with his or her work. There is nothing wrong with that. That said, closing the studio door because of failed marketing -- squashing your creative spirit because a specific dollar figure was not obtained -- is just sad. I just don't understand the mentality of that decision.

Lori Woodward
Brian, great point! It's become much harder to make six figures a year as a full time painter, and I have friends who made over $100K for many, many years (and weren't known nationally)... but now that has changed. Many make half that amount now.

Well, that's just the way it is, but art prices have come down for even the most well known artists, which seems to have sparked new buying, and art sales are picking up at a fast rate.

Selling art was never part of a qet rich quick stream.. I think you'd agree Brian. Some artists approach it with dollar signs in their mind, looking at the most affluent artists. What they might not know about artists like Richard Schmid, whose greatest new works sell for over $100,000 - is that he started out in his 20's doing outdoor art shows on the streets of New York. He shared this with me one day, and I realized that an art career is a long, but joyful road.

I made a lot more money when I worked for a computer company, but I'm a lot happier selling my work and making a decent profit (but not a fortune) than I was sitting in a cubicle.

Thanks Brian for this conversation!

Hi Sir! i think I really really need an advice from you. well since i was a kid i really really love art until now and my dream was to be an animator. When I already graduated from high school I want to pursue an art degree but I didn't(which i regret now) because most people told me that you don't have future if I'm going to pursue that degree and some of them laughed my drawings. So I was stupid and I followed them. I just feel that time that maybe they're right. That I'm not worth to be an animator. Now my problem is I'm a medical student now but still I enjoy creating art ( I usually do portraits) and i want to enhance it but I'm having a hard time dealing with time management because I can't divide my time from studying lot of terms then go in drawing.I mean how can I improve my drawings if i don't spend lot of time practicing it. I don't know if I should just stop making drawings. I just feel sad because I didn't follow what I really love to do and now I'm here struggling if i should just give it up. I mean its hard for me to do that giving up stuff because art is already part of my life ( Its like that I spend my whole day creating portraits because i really enjoy it.) please sir any piece of advice..thank you!=))

Lin Berry

Excellent article as your posts tend to be. Thank you for taking on the many "touchy" issues that artists have to deal with. I appreciate your objective unwillingness to help us see the world as it really is and for not stroking your friend's ego. Good journalism.

Lin Berry
Correction: not "objective unwillingness" but willingness. I meant that to be a positive statement. Sorry.

Robert P. Britton Jr.
For those of us out there just now trying to get off the ground with sales, I can understand and relate to some extant to being frustrated in general.

It is a difficult thing to establish yourself, and no one is doing to do it for you.

I think for me, I cannot relate to not having won awards or being discovered.

An artist feels compelled to create, develop their skills, and does it for many different reasons.

I have one a couple ribbons in small local shows. Big deal. They mean nothing.

I've sold a couple pieces, completed my first commission.

Big deal. Not even enough to pay 1/10th of my yearly bills for cost of living.

But the big deal is I continue to practice, focus on development, and continue to lay a string of seeds that are only just starting to germinate.

You have to have the commitment from within, the strength and fortitude. Because it has been my experience that you're lucky to get even a pat on the back out there, let alone significant support from others for making sales.

It's all up to you, and you have to be stubborn and ceaseless.

If you want it bad enough.

I heard it say that your dreams have to be fueled enough so that your inner spirit overcomes the point of doing nothing, to doing everything you can to make them real.

Dream. Fuel the passion. Believe. Work hard. And keep on keeping on. There's no quick and magical way and no one is doing to do it for you.

It's all up to you.

Tim Shape

Just to take a different point of view...Maybe it is time for your friend to become an ex-artist and move on to something else. Maybe he could program computers or drive a truck.

If the need to be successful outweighs the need to create, he needs to find something else to do.

I'm with you as far as the pity party goes, but maybe it would be better if you agreed with his thought to quit doing art and let him live with not doing art for a while. If his creative desire doesn't force him back to it with a renewed energy, then he's right...time to quit.

Linda Blondheim
You are so right about this issue. To me, the joy of painting is about the process, not fame or recognition. I gave up competitive art several years ago, to focus more on the process of painting. It was the best thing I ever did. I make a comfortable living from my art,with collectors who share my love for nature. I work hard at improving my work and I believe in myself as a person. My work and my sales have improved significantly since I gave up the need for recognition. Now museums and galleries come to me for exhibitions, I don't have to chase after fame. I am much happier as a painter.

betty pieper
As usual I have a different take on it. Not knowing the particular person I respond more
broadly. There is something to be said for 'stopping' an activity. I recently resigned a gubernatorial appointment some people crave. For me it required energy and passion without the hope of making a difference for people. There are sensible reasons to 'quit' what isn't working. True artists use these respites...even long improve their vision. Some try new directions. Early on I could draw very well...lots of accolades...but as a young adult onward I wanted to PAINT. And to paint in ways that are not constrained by rules. So, yeah, that doesn't get 'recognition' from the run of the mill but you learn to value reinforcement from people you admire/respect and learn from their critiques.

Michael Cardosa

This is an easy one. If you no longer have a passion for your work. Stop. Take a break and see if the passion comes back. If not, move on, life is too short.

If you're in it only for the money or accolades, assess where you're showing and be honest about your work versus the competition and remember, art and how art is judged is subjective. If you're too depressed to go on, see the paragraph above.

Lastly, if you're doing your best, really want it and are getting nowhere maybe you need a second opinion to put you on the right track. That goes for your work and your marketing. There is enough talent, experience, knowledge right here on FASO to fill countless books. Read old blogs, read books, ask someone whose work you admire to look at yours and even offer to pay them for their time. There are definitely solutions. Pick the one and start.

Thanks again,


Fran Schiavo
Recognition, awards, and accolades elude almost everyone, regardless of career path - artist, actor, attorney, accountant.

Good luck to the artist in question, who may continue to struggle even after leaving the art world, if external validation and praise is the goal.

Susan G Holland
Good stuff, Brian!

We frustrated artists should do what some (famous) writers have done, i.e., post each rejection incident to a large bulletin board in our studio. As the "tries-and-misses" pile up, the art gets better. Believe it. Honing a craft was never really easy. Raw talent doesn't build skill. Awards can be "luck", not really a "sign of merit."

jack white

I have a different take. Not every artist is meant to make art. Some become artist because others told them they can draw so they should become one.

I've known several artists give up these past four or five years. I didn't encourage them to keep going. I wonder if they got in the wrong field when they began. One very skilled painter wanted to give up, but I encouraged him to work harder and smarter. He is still making art. He was meant to paint.

We just had another one of Mikki's galleries fold. They had been in business 35 years. Times are tougher than I can remember. I survived the Jimmy Carter years, which were not as bad as things are now. People are scared to spend.

Lori is right. The high end stuff is doing well, but the under $10,000 is hurting. It's probably under $20,000 that hurting. None investment work.

We have been forced to become very inventive to maintain a nice income. Traditional hanging art on the walls no longer works for us.

If I had not been immediately successful I often wonder how long I'd hung on. My first year as an artist I earned $43,000. This was 1970 money. What if I had earned $430 would I have continued? No. I had little kids to feed. Money was the key factor in my staying on as an artist. Kids seems to like to eat everyday. I gave selling art three days. If I had not sold something in three days I would have taken a job as a construction foreman.

On the third day I made one $257 sale and that launched my career. If I had not made that small sale my art career would have ended before I got started. I know that's not what folks want to hear, but it's the truth.

My passion to be the best I could be drove me, but without an income I could not of continued. I would never have done art as a hobby. I can't do anything without giving it my all.

I agree on the pity party. Instead of feeling sorry, give the supplies to someone that can use them and get a 9 to 5 if he can. Jobs are scarce. Mikki's younger brother got laid off and can't find a job. He is working part time because no one wants to pay health insurance.

I no longer pressure artists to stay in the field if their heart is not in it. Get out and find something that makes you happy. If you can do something else you love then go for it. Art is a jealous requires our total devotion. Once I got hooked I couldn't leave. Art became my life.

Now I feel the same way about writing. I have the desire to be the best I can be. I refuse to allow my lack of skills to keep me down. I continue to hack away day in and day out on another book. With 12 finished one more ready to be edited I'm working on #14.

Great topic as you always come up with.


Sharon Weaver
Here is a true story about David Ferrer, the tennis player. As a young player his coach was upset with him for not working hard enough and locked him in a shed (child abuse here but apparently OK in Spain). When David was let out, he chose to quite playing tennis and went to work in construction. After two weeks he went back to his coach and asked, please to be taken back. Since that incident Ferrer has become one of the most dedicated and hard working tennis players out there. Let your friend quite. If he has the passion he will be back, better than ever. If not, than he doesn't have the passion and it is best that he do something else.

Robert Sloan
Lack of recognition is not a reason to give up. It means that your style may not be popular with the judges in the contests you've entered or the awards you've gone out for OR that you're not entering enough contests, promoting yourself well enough, working in the right mediums for those contests -- and get this -- very very often contest judges face HARD CHOICES!

They have three prizes to give out and maybe 25 or 30 in the final rounds that they personally love and have to start nit picking on. This is where things like "Favorite subject" or "Hey someone didn't fill out the entry form exactly right, drop it" starts coming in. Always be very careful to follow every rule in a contest exactly. And then you're still taking pot luck.

Not winning an award doesn't mean anything except that you tried for it. Honorable Mentions are winning something - that's big in itself. It's also useful for marketing. That's what that is, aside from the prizes.

Second point, lack of sales.

Excuse me, did you notice the gigantic economic crisis going on? Or consider that a whole lot of the people who have been more recognized or earned more money are also seeing lower sales? You can't control that, it has nothing to do with the quality of your art.

HOWEVER... in factors you CAN control, your ability to market your art is a business skill. It has nothing to do with the quality of your art either beyond a base level of competence. Some people are better at marketing too.

Giving up doing it is not the same thing as giving up on doing it professionally.

I did give up on sales that were too low even though I was getting recognition in the type of art I did and was getting gallery invitations. The galleries weren't managing to move anything I gave them and I didn't earn enough to live on. I got to a point where all of my art time had to be on salable work, I could not afford to hold back a favorite even if it was a cheap sketch. That demoralized me. There was a reason for it.

That had nothing to do with the quality of my art. Or even my marketing, I was better at it than I could keep up with.

I had physical disabilities and wasn't so spectacularly famous that working only 1 or 2 days in a month producing fairly small pieces would give me enough to live on.

Yeah. That was an obstacle I still haven't overcome. I switched back to my main goal of being a full time writer because I can do writing on bad days that I'm not physically capable of painting well. There's a lot of scut work in writing that can be done on days I feel dull and uncreative. Heck, there was that in art too - there were all the days spent mat cutting and shrink wrapping and doing paperwork and preparing for shows. Just took more physical energy for all that than it does to edit a manuscript on my computer.

What I decided was that I'd still paint and now write about art as opposed to selling originals. That'll be my best chance to stop living on disability and become self supporting again.

I tried to quit doing it altogether but that didn't last. There came a point I missed it. Mysteriously, my art even improved during the hiatus.

If you are too tired, too hungry or too sick, it won't come easy and you may produce substandard work. Mistakes you wouldn't make if you'd gotten enough sleep, remembered to eat or gotten out from under the stress will start to come up. Those pieces won't sell and that's even more demoralizing.

So give yourself a break, paint for yourself for a while. Ask the serious question of why you paint, because in the end it has to come from loving the process of doing it. Improvement and growth is lifelong. Of course there's always something beyond the horizon that you can't quite get and every time one of those milestones passes - new ones open up.

To the point that painters who make me stand there in sheer awe watching them and gasp at their paintings will stare at something I love and go "I just can't make this one work."

When I can't even see what's wrong with it - or they're being overcritical and overworking it. That's a big danger for the skilled.

Try something different. Try something simpler or more challenging. Go back to basics or switch mediums. Do what you can to pick up your morale. Always give yourself time to paint what you love whether it will sell or not.

When looking at what will sell, try to analyze why it sold and to whom. Markets vary.

Painting local landscapes tends to go well in most places. Anywhere is scenic once a good artist gets out to paint it plein air. Have you done plein air lately? Those small, fresh, powerful paintings are one way to get around buyers' limited spending money (and sometimes their limited wall space if they've collected for a long time.)

Look at works of similar quality and subject and style to yours. Are you underpricing? That can be the kiss of death, buyers won't see that as a bargain, more think that you're not as good. Art pricing is subjective. It's counterintuitive but raising your prices may improve sales.

And then produce some smaller simpler works that can go up at the old prices to catch those whose wallet really only has $50 or $100 for spending money but they want something of yours. Prints sales are very cost effective. Collectors who can't afford your originals will buy good archival prints and frame them and be much happier than if you don't offer them.

That's all marketing tips. If I didn't have the multiple disabilities I'm living with, I'd be applying them. Instead I'm back to sketching and painting in a wide variety of subjects and a wide variety of mediums.

The advantage of not trying to sell is total freedom to paint what you want, something I cherish. There's my other reason not to go pro. I don't want to have to stick with the same type of thing in the same medium all the time even if it's one of my favorite things, because the rest will get neglected and so will anything new that I want to explore. Far better to poke into anything that appeals to me today and write articles on technique (and some good science fiction and fantasy novels too.)

So no, don't give up just because you're demoralized. Give up on "being professional" if the Business Side of being an artist is too much of a drag and you'd rather support your art with a different Profession. You can even still sell a bit on the side to support your materials and have extra cash in a pinch. I switched from making it my main income to something on the side and something to write about.

That was a "job" decision lifestyle choice.

Being an artist, being a painter is completely different, a part of who I am that makes me a much better novelist and article writer.

Robert Sloan
Shane, if you're a medical student you probably don't have time to do much of anything else. THe best way to keep on with art while doing that would be to get some small sketchbooks - 4 x 6" or even ATC size ones and use ball points or other simple pen sketching or pencil sketching (mechanical pencil with a white eraser very good for this) to constantly doodle and sketch.

Do life sketches wherever you are. Spend some of your free time painting and drawing in color, but use fast mediums and produce a lot of small loose works. Your observation, intuition, hand skills and general artistic growth will keep moving. If you want to sell any of them for pocket money, ATCs are good for that and you can get precut ATC cards in a great variety of papers and surfaces, even for pastels, watercolor or colored pencils.

The key here is that since your time is limited, you can use this life passage as a time to learn quick sketching and fast drawing and painting processes. Your skills will improve at a ludicrous gallop from doing it. Sketching is your friend. It's possible to draw every day if your minimum drawing is a 2 1/2" x 3 1/2" card with whatever drawing tool is at hand.

Pitt Artist Pens are another good medium for those quick sketches if you want color or a more expressive tip, the small brush tips are very good for fast sketching. They are permanent and archival. I had a set of 48 and now I'm back to using my 24 colors - four sets of six themed on basic, Terra (earths), grays and landscape. Those six packs are very portable.

Watercolor pencils are another good quick-sketch medium, wash with a water brush (nylon brush with water reservoir handle). Or get one of those brushes and a pocket pans set of 12 colors. Clean, tidy, pocket-small and has color. Very easily combined with pen sketching with waterproof pens.

The thing is, you'll learn - and can go back to doing larger and more serious works during actual vacations and summer break and the like. It's possible to do both, just adapt the style and techniques you're using to your real situation and don't beat yourself for needing sleep more than progress on a slow complex project.

Brian Sherwin
Lin -- Thank you. I benefited from having an extremely tough mentor in the past. Randy Norris did not accept excuses. I don't either. :)

Robert -- You are correct. In the end it is all up to the artist...

Tim -- Interesting point. BUT he can tackle other things while still working toward tapping the passion he once had. I've known my fair share of artists who stopped creating... and they almost always regret it later down the road.

Brian Sherwin
Linda -- I'm glad you shared your story. See... I think part of the problem is that many selling artists are conditioned to feel that they must have instant financial success in order for their work to be credible. BUT instant financial success is rare... and success -- in general -- tends to be momentary. I suppose the key point is not to be intimidated by the success that other artists have.

Fran you said, "Good luck to the artist in question, who may continue to struggle even after leaving the art world, if external validation and praise is the goal.". Excellent point!

Jack -- What would you have done in your spare time had that been the case? I mean, the way I see it... creating art is a far better way to spend time than sitting in front of a TV screen for 4 hours a night (the average for adults). Ha.

If the artist had the drive to create art for years... and only lost it after going the commercial route, if you will, I just don't think that is a valid reason for giving up on the art itself.

True, some artists enter from the get-go with marketing in mind. There is nothing wrong with that. BUT the artist I speak of had been creating art for years -- out of pure enjoyment... he allowed the marketing side to dampen his creative spirit.

Brian Sherwin
Sharon -- Would it be so wrong for him to stray from thinking about marketing so much... put the marketing aside -- and focus on the art? I don't 'get' why he -- or any other artist in that situation -- must walk away from both.

For example, if art competition loses have an artist down... is it not best for he or she to simply stop entering them for awhile? Focus on the art. You can halt marketing and competing... and STILL create art for mere pleasure / passion.

As I mentioned earlier, I think it is important for artists to not get too wrapped up with prizes, juried exhibits, and so on -- and I will add exhibiting to that list. By all means, compete!By all means, seek out exhibits / galleries! BUT don't let the rejection (which WILL happen) break your spirit.

Brian Sherwin
Robert -- You said, "So no, don't give up just because you're demoralized. Give up on "being professional" if the Business Side of being an artist is too much of a drag and you'd rather support your art with a different Profession. You can even still sell a bit on the side to support your materials and have extra cash in a pinch. I switched from making it my main income to something on the side and something to write about."

Bingo. That said, let us not be coy... most artists will have a profession beyond selling art in the first place. Making a full-time living from selling art has never been easy. If it were... we would see more artists doing it.

Also, I'm not sure that we should attach 'professional' to artists only if they are actively selling their work. 'Professional' is defined in several ways... technically it can involve attitude, conduct, knowledge -- not just money exchanging hands.

I realize that is a 'touchy' subject in itself... what makes an artist a professional...

jack white

Would not I have done art in my spare time? I've never done anything part time. I started in art to earn money and no other reason. I saw it as a fast way to make money to feed my kids. It turned out I was right, but only because I came up with the idea to make the gold leaf art. Which we think your grandfather purchased.

I've never had any spare time. Whatever I did was full speed ahead. The only time I took off was to coach my kids and be at their games and events.

When you grow up on your own and depend on yourself for support, time off is the worst thing you can have. I treated myself to the Cowboys football games after 1960. Went to a lot of games and got to know Coach Landry and many players. Invited to sit on the sidelines at lots games, college and pro.

Took my kids to big movies first showing.

I did watch the TV series Dallas, mostly because I knew some of the cast and one of my pieces hung in JR office on the set.

Remember I had no interest in art until Christmas 1969. I visited an art gallery and got the idea I could do what I was seeing. Sold one piece Feb 14 1970 for $10. Then went on the road and on the third day made the $257 sale. Had that not happened I'd never tackled art. I made my last call at 6PM that day. If the furniture store had not purchased I'd not be writing books on marketing art. I came that close to being forced to get a "real" job.

It was not long until art became a passion. I tried to learn all I could. Giving up the gold leaf after 8 years to try oils was the ultimate step of passion. Shows I had brain damage from being tossed from too many horses.

It's like eating ice cream. One bite and I was hooked. I loved to fill my car and hit the road, come home empty with a pocket full of money.

Art provided for me and my family for over four decades. I didn't give up art. My eyes went bad. I'd still be painting is I could see.

I love writing but it can't replace the feel of a brush full of oils dragging on the surface of a clean white canvas. That first stroke is divine.

Thanks for asking, jack

Gail Kirtz
I can understand the question but I think making art is about more than awards and even sales, although I have both. If I never won another award or made another sale, I could never quit painting. The excitement I feel when I go into my studio to work on a painting is so much a part of who I am, I can't even imagine giving up painting as long as I am able to do it. I paint because I love to paint. I love working in color and design. I love the challenge of producing a piece of art I am happy with, many times frustrating, but always rewarding. The awards and sales are icing on the cake. Being an artist is about loving what you do. If you are ONLY doing it hoping for accolades and monetary reward you are in the wrong business.

Brian Sherwin
Jack -- I was not implying that you gave up on art. Just to be clear.

As I said, some artists enter from the get-go with marketing in mind. There is nothing wrong with that. BUT the artist I speak of had been creating art for years -- out of pure enjoyment... he allowed the marketing side to dampen his creative spirit.

Market intimidation 'killed' his passion. I would rather see him take himself out of the 'marketing game' instead of closing the studio door for the last time. Remember... this artist was not motivated purely by marketing -- at least not at first. He needs to rediscover that passion... and not let the other stuff block him from that enjoyment. That is the way I see it.

So if the gold leaf pieces had not worked financially... you don't think you would have created more for the pure pleasure of creating? My point is that many adults waste hours doing trivial things... watching TV for hours on end, and so on. Making those gold leaf pieces would have been a good use of time even if they had failed to market well. :)

Something tells me that if your health conditions changed... you would keep painting for pure enjoyment regardless if the paintings sold or not. You clearly love the process. The artist in this article loved the process... it was the marketing and competing that jaded his spirit in that sense.

Donald Fox
This is a good thread with lots of opinions about what other people should or shouldn't do. As some have suggested, only the individual can find the passion to do and to keep doing something. Motivation and drive are personal choices. What motivates one may not motivate another. Artists have to be honest with themselves about why they do what they do and what keeps them going or not. It's personal judgment and assessment that creates commitment, not what other people say or think.

Brian Sherwin
Donald -- True... but the artist DID ask for my opinion. Ha. That in itself shows that he has already made up his mind OR is truly confused about what to do. If he decides to stop creating... he needs to make that decision for himself -- and not try to lure me... someone he apparently respects... into giving him an 'out'.

He wanted me to say that he is right. I don't think he is right though. I think he needs to rethink why he creates art in the first place... if the marketing / competing is 'killing' his creative spirit -- maybe it is time for him to boot art marketing / art competitions out of his life?

jack white
Brian, I would not have tried art. If the gold leaf had failed I would have done what I knew. I lost a million dollars in the construction business building commercial building and apartments.I'd found a job working for someone. I was 37.

Losing my sight stopped me making art. I'd still be cranking out stuff. In fact I walked away from a nice commission.


Robert Sloan
Brian, great point about definition of "professional." Thanks for bringing that up. There are so many different ways to look at it.

I hadn't thought of "professional" in a non-economic way, but that's interesting that you do.

I think of that more as mastering it.

But "masterpiece" used to mean the start of a career. The particular painting or sculpture that was the final exam, proved you could consistently do master quality work.

So maybe your idea of "Professional" is close to what I think of as master artist.

A point where if you cover the signature and know that artist's work, you can tell it's theirs. Where it's not about learning basic technique any more but expression using those techniques in that person's own unique way.

It's not a zero sum game.

It's always worth doing or coming back to.

Marian Fortunati
It must be something "in the wind"... I wrote my blog post yesterday on almost the same subject. Hopefully none of us will give up if we enjoy what we do... why else do it??

..there is nothing to add... just pushing forward and continue working bring results!the worst that can happen to an artist is to pity her-/himself and expecting it from others! thank you for a great post!


I'm find it a little "small world" that your last article with multi comments on Fine Art Views, was about defining art (and maybe even artists!) - and now here we are talking about passion as related to art!

Should we consider that craving money and attention has screwed up a lot of people, not to mention artists?

I think Tim and Sharon both pointed out a reality with their comments. Possibly your friend has more passion for fameandfortune, than creating art. In which case, the art world probably CAN live without him. And besides, he's probably just messing up that definition about what art is, or isn't :)


Brian Sherwin
Karen -- Ha, ha. The comment flow on that one is fun... I'm not sure who brought up the 'pile of dirt' as art example off hand -- but it really heated things up. :)

Note: I don't care if someone calls a pile of dirt art... do it. Make that statement if you want.

Brian Sherwin
If the intention is there... it is art in my opinion. That does not mean I have to like it. ;p

Will answer the rest of you soon -- I think this storm may knock out my power. Blah.

Fiona Stanbury
Another great article! I agree that passion and excitement should be the driving force for making art, or it all just becomes an exercise in showcasing oneself. I have had my share of rejections and struggling, and as my work gradually evolved towards abstraction, I have also found it harder to place the work with galleries (in the UK). But the sheer excitement of seeing that white canvas on my easel has never left me - it is always like the first time I held a brush, at three years old, and I can't wait to see a world emerge on the inert surface! Some of my biggest disappointments led to better paintings, and then after one especially big disappointment, I got awarded a very prestigious international painting residency. It made me see that the artist's life is truly a case of 'swings and roundabouts,' and you just have to keep going. There's no absolute, or standard measure of 'art,' and rejections have to be seen in context and with the realisation that selection committees have their own preferences and subjective reactions. As long as you can keep making paintings that excite you, eventually they will excite someone else too!

It is important to direct your efforts towards the right 'market.' I have wasted much time applying to galleries or exhibitions which were not suitable, and have found galleries and places where my work is more acceptable. But my priority is always to make the best paintings I can, and as artwork is always evolving, the excitement never ends.

Brian Sherwin
Karen -- I'd wager that the majority of artists face struggle triggered by the desire of reaching some level of fame and fortune... at least at some point. It all boils down to recognition -- and the way artists have been conditioned to feel that recognition (be it in the form of a competition win or exhibit) is the standard for validation.

I suppose the big question here is: Do some artists jump into art marketing / competing before they are ready? (Ready skill-wise, ready emotionally, and so on).

Brian Sherwin
Marian -- I wrote this article early this year. With that in mind,I think this issue is always in the air -- there will always be artists facing variants of this struggle. I'll def' check out your post. :)

Fiona -- It is my understanding that the UK is tough on artists. Period. I know several London based artists... ranging from Sarah Maple to Charles Thomson -- and all of them have noted the difficulties they have experienced with UK galleries. Based on size alone... there are more gallery opportunities in the US. One thing is clear though -- size and scope of opportunities does not always make things easier for artists.

Phyllis Lowe
I'm so glad to have the opportunity to hear the hearts of others who are artists. It gives me a perspective I was needing just now. Too often I have put my art down because so many others were more accomplished, or because what I thought was pretty good just sat on the wall of our family home so I decided they must not be good. But I remember how excited I was inside as I painted. I can't imagine not being able to express myself, even if I stack them away for the grandchildren to be able to be proud of "'cause Grandma did it." (Actually, now we have great grandchildren.)

I never had the chance to study art, except the booklets from the hobby store, but I love, love the feeling I get when I finally sit down and get with it. When I get discouraged, I walk away and it draws me back in a few days because I love the magic of creating, whether by pen or brush. The discouragement comes when I try to evaluate by the sales I make. They are few and far between.
That was discouraging because we really, really needed the money with my husband disabled and older, I had hoped I could help. I became dejected, but quit? No, even if its just for myself; I love to create. But you know what? Today someone told me earnestly that they love my paintings, repeated it twice! They have two or is it three hanging on their walls now; somebody likes my magic, now thats not too shabby of an encouragement.

Its just inside of us, that love to make something out of ourselves. We may have to hang them in the hall, buy frames from estate sales, frame it later, wait to paint the oil in the fall, on the porch, do watercolor in the dining room where its cool; but its in me, good, fair, liked or unliked, I love the satisfaction of make that scene appear because it had to be born.
Its not who I am, its because I am. Please don't stop painting or writing, God gave us a gift, share it!

It's incredibly easy to "lock out" the idea of giving up. That it's simply "weak" to do so. The attitude towards suicide is similar (and, unsurprisingly, failed artistic pursuits and suicide aren't so distantly related either). If nobody is ever going to tell somebody "look, maybe you should stop...?", their pitiful existence is only going to worsen. And yes, I'm speaking from experience.

Dave Nielsen
You weren't doing him any favors. There is a time when an artist should give up. Maybe he just sucks. In that case, it's probably better for him and the world that he stop trying to make it.

Yeah no
I disagree, sadly. There comes a time when it kills the soul to keep creating and being rejected, when one is spending more money on supplies than earning in sales. It breaks your heart to keep going in the face of repeated rejection. Maybe it is a sign that the path is not the right one for you. Art does not serve me anymore.

And do you still adhere to this stance when even someone like me who hasn't had his artwork noticed for over 35 years? When do I finnaly get recognition? when I'm a senior citizen who could croak at any time, what's the point by that time? Every big shot comic artist became a superstar around his mid 20s. Let's just say I have become much older than that I'm still not even a blip on the radar. People speak and vote with their wallets and I've come to the conclusion that my art sucks. I've tried to hang in there for over 30+ years and there's no way anyone can fault me for feeling doubt and wanting to quit. You try failing at something for decades on end and tell me how you'd feel. I don't want your pity. I just wanted to get this off my chest.

As much as I'd like to agree with your balls to the wall approach, and agree that artists need to be tough and self-driven and passionate to succeed and to remain in their passion, I don't see why there should be no analysis of other options. If someone feels that their time and talents are being wasted, maybe it's not the path for them, maybe it's not the path right now.. maybe something else would be more fitting, less stressful, better for health and well-being of some personalities. Sure it's going to be a struggle for many many artists, an ongoing one... sometimes it might be nice to have some stability and ease! I've found myself completely burnt out attempting this, and the rewards? Eh... i mean we tend to be abstract thinkers, so it's hard to say in a concrete way.
Sometimes staying stubbornly on the same path can be less productive than being flexible, changing approach, changing career, etc.. Art can always be done on the side or for joy regardless..


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