Yes, You Really Can Make A Living As An Artist

making a living as an artist

I remember sitting in my Directed Study class for Fine Arts - it was the first day. The professor walked in, glanced around the room with a stern look and said, "I assume you all already know this, but you won't make a lot of money as an artist. You should also know that only five percent of your graduating class will continue to create art after college. The rest of you will get other jobs and never pick up a paintbrush again."

I thought he was cynical because of his own failures perhaps, but it turns out he was right. Among everyone that I befriended in art school, only four of them continue to create art to this day, aspiring to live up to their dreams, including myself. 

I've taken art classes all throughout my life, starting at a young age and continuing up into high school, doing it as merely a hobby. It was not until my freshmen year of college that I decided to pick up Intro to Art Studio as an elective course that I realized being an artist was who I wanted to be.

Once the decision was made in my mind, I began to manifest it. I changed my major to Fine Arts with a concentration in Drawing and Painting. From then on, I made it a point to put everything I could into reaching my goals. A lot of people think that being an artist is an unrealistic career and an impossible practice to succeed in.

Well, they're wrong.

Like almost every other career or dream, it can be achieved if you work really hard and apply yourself. So I did just that. I began networking within the Atlanta art scene like crazy. I make it a point to attend as many exhibition openings and art events as possible -- this is key to networking.

If you want to become affiliated with a certain social scene then you have to make yourself recognizable. The art scene is all about making a name for yourself and building significance. The more people see your face in a certain scene, the more they will begin to recognize you and automatically associate you with that scene.

I also learned to use my resources to the best of my ability. It is always so surprising to see how far you can get by just asking for a little help. Start by asking family and friends if they have any connections or tips for working in your field. Every connection leads to a new one and every new connection leads to an opportunity and every opportunity leads to exposure and so forth. Like almost every other occupation, it really does come down to who you know. 

One of the most important things I learned in my quest to reach my goals is to never be afraid of putting yourself out there. Yes, you may get rejected and of course there will be some failures, but for every down there is an up. So always take risks and leave your comfort zone. I have found that it is when I feel the most scared that I put out the best work. The key is to always fight through those difficult moments (and trust me, there will be plenty of them).

There have been so many instances where I've doubted my art career and wanted nothing more than to walk away and choose a different path, but I've learned that every time I push through, I come out knowing more than before. There have been a multitude of sleepless nights, tears of frustration, and moments of complete helplessness.

But when reaching for a goal, it is understood that when these challenges inevitably arise, you must always push through it if it's a goal that you truly want. I've learned so much about myself and my work ethic during these times of challenge and better yet, learned to utilize them as strengths for future plans. 

Although I have accomplished a great deal in the art scene for my age, the truth is that like every other twenty-something year-old, I have no idea what I'm doing or what the future holds for me. The only thing I know is what I want and that I have to work as hard as I can to get it. So if there is something that you feel like you were meant to do, and as long as you have a clear vision or dream of it, it’s on you to get there- you hold the key to your own success.

Niki Zarrabi