Slow Down a Little and Find Your Artistic Voice

I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard someone say these two things in the same breath:

“I’m trying to find my artistic voice.”

“I’m trying to make a business of my art.”

OK, I understand where they’re coming from: they want to know if it’s even possible to make some kind of a living doing what they think they love. They love making art, and since so many people seem to be having great success making money with *their* art, well: why not see if it’s a possibility? The problem here, though, is that they’re just starting out–they don’t know yet what it is that they want to do. They don’t know what their “voice” is, and they don’t really know exactly what medium is calling to them, but they know it would be great to make money at it, maybe even quit the day job and get a little fame in the process.

I have talked to a whole bunch of artists, and I can pretty much guarantee one thing: those who are the most successful–whose names you recognize and whose work is shown and collected and published–did not begin by sitting down one day at their desk at the bank and saying, “Hmmmmm. I’d like to be able to work in my pajamas all day. What can I make that will bring in some money?” No. It was not the cart (the business) before the horse (the art). It was the other way around, of course: they were making something, usually at night or on the weekends, and they made this thing, whatever it was, over and over again. It got better and better, and they began to see that there were possibilities. They showed it to people, and people loved it, and someone encouraged them to push it–put some in an Etsy shop, enter some shows–and by the time they did that, they had a style and a voice and were doing work that people could recognize as being theirs. It wasn’t an Etsy shop filled with the first efforts of someone finding their way, but an Etsy shop filled with their best efforts.

Think this sounds harsh, this argument that you should do what you do until you have a good grasp of what it *is* that you do, that you should make a lot of work before you start trying to turn it into a business? Then think about this: if you’ve just started playing the piano, you don’t leave your first lesson and hurry home to book a concert. If you’ve just bought a sewing machine and are learning how to sew, you don’t open a shop and take orders for two dozen costumes. No. You learn, you practice, you feel your way to where you want to go. *Then* you share. Just because your friends all tell you your work is fabulous doesn’t mean it’s ready for prime time. It really may *be* fabulous, but think about it: do you really want your first efforts out there, branding you? If you put your early efforts out there, that’s how people will come to know you. Later, when you’ve vastly improved your techniques and found your artistic voice, many of them will still remember you as the woman who glued glitter on t-shirts.

I know it’s tough to take it slowly when you keep reading and hearing about people who became successful overnight and are telling you how to do it, too–blogging and writing books and doing interviews about how totally serendipitous it all was for them. But the overnight success is a fluke, and it’s impossible to duplicate, no matter how earnest they are in telling you how to do it. Look around a little more at the professionals and see how they’ve gone about building a lasting career doing what they love–and what they’re really good at. If you’re just starting out, slow down. Take your time. Get good at what you do and find out where you want to go with it. Then you can think about opening that shop.


Picture 4For more ideas about mixing art and business, check out The Successful Artist’s Career Guide: Finding Your Way in the Business of Art by Margaret Peot.



Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.


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