I was recently asked by a young photographer how he should invest his time in pursuing his career. Here is my advice:
There are many paths to greatness… yours will develop in your own way and in your own time. The best insight that I can offer is that a life in the arts does not exist absent a life immersed in commerce. The two are intertwined.
That means that rarely is it enough to be an amazing artist. Talent in and of itself gets you to the starting line but won’t win you the race. It’s the combination of artistry and business acumen that ultimately enable you to create the art that you love.
I’ve encountered so many “starving artists” over the years. For whatever reason, they never master the business skills necessary to succeed – which ultimately means that they can’t create the art they love either. Art needs the means by which to create it.
If you love your art, you will do what you need to bring it to fruition. My suggestion is to focus on the money part because that comes harder. Learn to create a sustainable life first and foremost.
A few years ago, I attended the opening of a one-man show at the Museum of Photographic Arts. The photographer was the former CEO of the NASDAQ stock exchange. He made his millions, retired early and then took off to India for a few months to shoot a series of images that was the subject of the show. Because he had money and had access to more money, it was easy for him to run in the circles of people who could buy his art and open the doors to the art world.
Meanwhile, most artists who just focus on the art go their whole lives without the big museum show and without the opportunity to travel and experience the world as this man did.
Art is the easy part. Money is the hard part. Focus on the difficult and the easy will come.
Since I first wrote this, it’s been pointed out to me that creating art is in fact difficult. I don’t disagree. In fact, I’ll say that creating unique, meaningful work that can stand out from the plethora of darn good work being created every day is a serious challenge. It’s not easy especially for someone starting out.
But the fact that so much work is being created is only evidence of the fact that the act of creating art isn’t really all that difficult. Millions of people post their photographic art to Instagram, Twitter, Flickr etc every day. Of those millions however, only a handful actually make enough money from their art to provide a sustainable income.
So yes, creating noteworthy art is difficult, but, what the artist has going for him or her is their passion, that entrenched desire to express themselves through their medium, be it photography or otherwise. An artist will figure out how to create their work no matter what.
Unfortunately, no such passion exists however for the business of photography. I’ve never yet met a photographer who yearned to make a cold call to a potential client or burned with desire to knock on a gallery door. As difficult as creating great art is, selling it is tougher still.