If you intend to follow your life’s calling to be an artist, your top priority is to work consistently in the studio.
It’s not trying to get more followers on social media.
It’s not writing blog posts.
It’s not even teaching.
Your primary job is to make art. Consistently.
It’s Work … Hard Work
You’re not “playing” in the studio, although there will be periods of experimentation. There will be hours that seem like play and are unquestionably more fun than others. But play only gets you so far.
When you’re in the studio, you are working.
You’re working toward a goal, whether it’s to build a series to promote or just to be a better artist.
You’re working toward a solo exhibition.
You’re working to, perhaps, earn a living.
You’re working to build a legacy.
You’re not working whenever you feel like it. You’re not working whenever you have time. You work in the studio because that’s just what you do, even when it’s difficult. Even if there is something you’d rather be doing. Even when there’s something someone else would rather you be doing.
You’re an artist and artists make art. When you’re finished, you return to the studio and do it all over again.
A Space of One’s Own
The studio is the place where you make art, wherever that might be.
You need a dedicated space that allows you to leave everything as is and pick it up the next day. “A room of one’s own,” as Virginia Woolf put it. It must be safe. It must be yours. It must be conducive to inspiration.
Without a dedicated space, you are tempted to make excuses for not doing the work. Excuses like some of these I’ve heard before.
It takes too long to set up.
I can’t work because we need the table for family dinner.
My kids get in the way.
My cat naughtily reorganizes my compositions.
While it might be ideal to have 500 square feet of white walls with 16-foot ceiling and assistants at your whim, this is not the reality for most artists. Don’t allow pining for perfect to interfere with your life mission.
Lack of a “real” studio space has never stopped artists from making art. Take over the dining room table. Reclaim the guest room that has sat empty for the last two years. Modify the storage space that you’ve been meaning to clean out anyway.
Make any of these spaces your studio. Be grateful for every square inch.
When you have a space allocated for creative work, there’s no need to worry about being in the way of others or cleaning up a mess. Relax. You can stop at any point knowing that it will be there for you when you’re ready to resume, and sometimes the span between creative sessions is longer than you’d like. You’re on the hunt for inspiration.
Refilling the Well of Inspiration
Yes, you need to have the devoted studio practice. At the same time, there are days, perhaps weeks, when you are gathering the ideas and raw material that will feed into your next body of work.
Maybe you just opened a solo show of major work. You’re drained. You’re at a loss for where to take the work next.
You need to get out of the studio. You need fresh perspective and to recharge.
You visit museums and galleries. You go on architecture tours and artist dates. You make studio visits and dive into research. You enroll in a workshop. You take long walks and longer baths to move your chi.
[ Be inspired by this interview with Flora Youkhnovich and this lovely documentary about Ellsworth Kelly: trailer. ]
This isn’t wasted time.
While it might be tempting to consider time away from the studio as downtime, you need it in order to be creative. It contributes to your productivity in the studio and is every bit as necessary to your work as the hands-on making part. With your well of inspiration full, you can return to the studio and get back to work. Because that’s what you do.
Without the Art, You Are Not an Artist
Without the art, you are not the artist. It’s as simple of that. By definition, an artist is someone who makes art.
Too many artists put marketing before making. If you aren’t making art, you have no business prospects and certainly no need to worry about attracting more Instagram followers or growing an email list.
Some artists seem to prioritize almost everything before making. I know who you are. You fit work in when it’s convenient rather than prioritizing it in your life.
You’re just a wannabe if you aren’t making the work. You cannot introduce yourself as an artist if you aren’t making art.
If you don’t make art, you have nothing to share. Your gifts remain hidden. Your dreams unfulfilled.
There is no such thing as a successful artist without the art. If you don’t put hours in the studio, all you have is just a bunch of good ideas. Or, more likely, you have zero ideas because you’re not focused on the work.
Your job is, again, to work in the studio consistently.
This post was first published on February 26, 2014. It has been expanded and updated with original comments intact.