There Are No Rules in the Art World

There Are No Rules in the Art World

There are only preferences and opinions.

I used to be the type of person that listened to everyone’s opinions. I didn’t know what I wanted from my life or my art, so I would ask for advice from those around me expecting them to have the answers. I made the mistake too many times of seeking counsel from people who were nothing like me. It was a terrible idea and a great way to make myself even more confused about what I should do.

Eventually, I learned to trust my gut. By getting annoyed and frustrated with the advice I was receiving that just felt wrong, I figured out that I actually knew deep down what my direction was. I had to learn to ignore and even break that rules that others put before me.

How many times have you heard things like this?

  • “You’re not supposed to do it like that”
  • “That’s not real art.”
  • “Professional artists don’t do that.”
  • “You have to frame your work.”
  • “You have to go to art school.”
  • “Art isn’t supposed to just be pretty.”
  • “Your art should have meaning.”
  • “Those colors don’t go together”
  • “You need to price your work differently.”

And the list goes on and on. Some people mean well when giving advice, and some people are just opinionated and are living by a set of arbitrary rules that keep them limited and boxed up.

Well, I am here to say: F*$& the rules. They only exist if you want them to.

What do you want to make?

Do you want to make pretty oil paintings of flowers with ornate gold leaf frames? Do it!

Do you want to explore the temporary quality of art by using dissolvable paper and placing finished pieces in a tray of water at the start of a gallery show so all of your work is gone by the time people finish their expensive glasses of wine? Heck yes! Do it! (I was only joking when I thought of this idea, but now I kind of want to do it.)

Do you want to paint portraits of famous people? Do you want to express yourself with color through abstract work? Do you want to explore geometry and create precise mathematical masterpieces? Do you want to make resin casts of bird bones? Do you want to create conceptual commentary on the state of the world? Do you just want to have fun and splatter paint on cardboard?

Do it all. Do whatever you want.

Go to art school. Don’t go to art school. Use cheap supplies. Use professional quality supplies. Paint on canvas. Paint on rocks. Paint with whatever substance you can find.

There are no rules.

Follow your gut, your intuition, your muse or whatever. Make the art you want to make.

Everyone is a critic

You’ll encounter a lot of people that want to tell you what to do. Some people wholeheartedly believe in the rules. I tend to want to break those rules.

Recently, I stopped by a frame shop to check out the art displayed in their front gallery and I struck up a conversation with the owner. I made the mistake of sharing that, for my own art, I like to paint the sides of my canvases instead or framing them, because I like a nice clean edge.

He did not like that. His response, “I’ve NEVER seen a piece of art that looked better without a frame. Frames make art look better. Artists are lazy and cutting corners when they don’t frame their canvases.”

In his defense, he owns a frame shop. It’s good for his business if he insists upon all canvases being framed, but all I could think was “Dude. That’s your opinion.”

Do your thing. Do it with intention. Do it proudly.

You don’t have to listen to what other people say.

To Follow or To Break the rules

Culture will always follow fads. There will always be trendsetters that make us question what art really is. Those people are the rule breakers. There will always be elitist people who stick their noses up at what was once considered ‘fine art’, because it doesn’t fit the current theme of the art world. Those people are the new rule followers.

Be a rule breaker or a follower. I don’t care.

Art is whatever you want it to be. That’s the beauty of it.

You Don’t have to follow anyone’s rules when making art But Don’t be an a**hole

Now that I told you there are no rules, I’m going to give you my list of rules for being an artist in a community. You don’t have to follow them, but they treat me pretty well.

  • Don’t declare your artistic preferences as superior over others. They are your preferences. They are not universal facts.
  • Don’t tell another creator how to make their art if they are operating contrary to your preferences. Do you want all artists to make things like you? That’s dumb. You should encourage diversity.
  • Don’t try to invalidate the work of another artist just because you don’t see the value in it.
  • Don’t let your ego dictate how you see another artist’s work.
  • Be a nice human.
  • Make art whenever and however you can.

Now go get messy and break all the rules if you want to.

-Kelly

P.S. If you enjoy my blogs and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep doing what I do. Plus, you get extra little perks like phone wallpapers and the ability to pick my brain whenever you want through the artist Q&A perk.

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Further Reading:

Are You a “Real” Artist?

8 Things You’ll Hear as an Artist

Are You Forcing Yourself into an Art Business Before You’re Ready?

Are you forcing yourself into an art business before you’re ready?

Why you need to perfect your craft, deal with your sh*t, and find your artistic vision first.

I’m going to share part of my personal story. Maybe this isn’t you at all, but I know a lot of us struggle with similar situations, so maybe you will find value in the lessons I have learned.

Sometimes you can’t rush the process.

When I first started selling my art almost a decade ago, I did it all wrong. I didn’t have a clue how to be a professional artist. I was a college student, and kind of a miserable human. I thought an art business could save me from the real world. (Quick back story:  I was severely depressed from past trauma and wasn’t ready to be an adult. It’s cool, though. I’m over it now.)

While chasing that dream, I tried multiple times to succeed with art and I kept failing.

Why?

SO many reasons.

I had no idea who I was as an artist. I had no clear branding. My work was disconnected. My message was muddled and incoherent. I had no vision. I couldn’t depend on being in a good enough mood to get sh*t done.

The only things working in my favor were: 1. I loved art and 2. I decent had technical skills.

Skill and love were not enough to make art a business. It’s fair to say I simply wasn’t ready to be a professional artist, but I badly needed art therapy–and real therapy…I just needed ALL the therapy.

Art Samples from 2010

I was still discovering and rebuilding who I was, and you could tell through how much I jumped around between subjects and styles. If you saw the images above after seeing what I create now, would you have any idea they were created by the same artist?

When Creating Art is about the process and Not a destination.

I’ve talked to multiple artist over the last 9 months who are impatient to get started making money with their creations. It’s the dream, right? Do the thing you love and be able to make a living.

You can get there, but is now the right time? Is this what you are supposed to do with your art at this very moment? If you feel conflicted and antsy and are hoping success with art will save you from something, I urge you to dive deeper into your intentions. What is it that you really need right now?

Why do you create?

Your intention for creating matters. We use art for a variety of reasons, but they can all be condensed into three main categories.

  1. Art as a hobby/for funsies
  2. Art as therapy/self discovery/escape
  3. Art as a profession/source of income

Any reason to create is a great reason and a lot of times these reasons overlap, but it’s important to understand your intentions and your needs before jumping into art as a profession.

When you create art as a hobby, you are doing it purely for yourself. It’s something that is enjoyable and something that occupies your free time.

When you create art as therapy, you are using it as a sort of meditation. Your life may be stressful and art helps you release that stress. It helps you discover more about yourself and find a sense of peace. Art as therapy charges up your internal energy and helps you heal.

When you create art professionally, it becomes your life. It’s your source of stress. It’s your misery. It’s your happiness. It’s your burden and your gift. You push yourself to create even when you lack inspiration, you take care of all of the mundane tasks that you can avoid when using art as a hobby or therapy, and most importantly you understand what you are trying to say to your audience.

Energy In vs. Energy Out

Anytime you shift from therapy or hobby to art as a profession, you are changing the artistic process. Specifically, the energy input and output in the process changes.

When you create art as a hobby or as therapy, the positive energy that you get out of the process is usually higher than the energy you put in. This is why it’s so satisfying. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m saying the process charges you up rather than draining you.

When you create art as a profession, you have to put WAY more energy into the process. You still get positive energy back, but it’s going to feel like work at times. You may even feel completely drained on bad days.

When I was using art as therapy and tried to shift to starting a business, I didn’t have the energy to keep up with professional demands. The energy I was getting out of my art was used to heal me. When I diverted that energy to spreadsheets, taxes, customer interactions, and marketing, I had created an internal imbalance. I did this over and over again, creating constant frustration.

Get your Sh*t together before Adding the Stress of an Art Business

Art can save us from ourselves, but if we try to force too much out of it too quickly, it can back fire. I ignored that I needed to heal my internal wounds and hoped finding success would make me feel better. I’m sure you’ve heard the stereotype that artists are tortured and depressed. Some believe that this is the source of their creativity, but I’m calling bullsh*t on that.

When I was at my worst in the darkness, I was empty. It’s when I find the light that I feel most creative. More importantly, when I found my light, I was able to sustain productivity and maintain the energy needed to consistently put energy into my business. This is why I say you need to figure your sh*t out. Be a healthy artist.

But, if you want to be a tortured artist, go for it. It you want to find internal piece and contentment–embrace art as therapy. Get lost in the process. Find yourself and put your pieces together. Put your money making goals aside for a little while. Art doesn’t have to make you money to make you whole.

If You Already Have your Sh*T Together, Then find your vision

Okay, so let’s say you are doing art as a hobby and you aren’t a dysfunctional human like I was. High five! That’s awesome! Before you consider making it a full time thing, think about your brand.

I talk about branding a lot, because you and your art are products to advertise and sell. Get used to that idea. As an artist, YOU are a product. Your story is a product. Your personality is a product. Your Instagram is a product.

How are you going to package all of these products and deliver a clear and cohesive message to your audience?

Perfect your Craft

Alright, so you are a functional human. You have a clear idea of your branding and your artistic vision. Now you get to practice and refine your message and skill set.

I say that technical skill ultimately doesn’t matter when you are pursing art as a career, BUT what does matter is consistency and style. Look at the weird a** faces Picasso painted. They are not technically accurate at all. A lot of people may scoff at the work and say things like “anyone could do this.” What makes work like this significant is that it’s intentional. It’s consistent. It’s building on a specific style.

Whatever you do, do it with intention. Do it consistently. Do it over and over again.

If you are like me back in 2010 and have a crap ton of disconnected pieces and styles, then keep pushing until you hone in on what it is you’re trying to say. (If your goal is to be an artist that creates the visions of others, then ignore that advice and keep working on your various skills and styles.)

In summary, before you jump into an art business think about these three things:
  1. Mental Health: Do you have your sh*t together? Are you hoping art will save you from something? You may just need focus on the healing power of art. Maybe talk to a counselor. Find a cat to pet. If you aren’t happy now, finding success with art likely won’t fix that.
  2. Your Artistic Vision: Do you have a vision for your art? Is your branding cohesive and clear? Do you know what you are trying to say? Do you know who you are?
  3. Your Craft: Are you intentional and consistent in your craft? Do your skills need work?

You can dive into an art business head first before having anything of this figured out. I did it. I don’t regret it. It’s all part of my artistic journey. But, had I known back in 2010 that I was going to fail so many times because my head wasn’t in the right place I might have tried to enjoy the process more.

Or not. Hindsight, right?

Though, I can confidently say that once I had worked on my internal issues and no longer needed art to heal me, I felt ready and energized to pursue it fully as a career.

Do you think you’re ready?

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Anyway, thanks for reading! I can’t tell you what is right for you, but if you ever want to discuss your artistic future with someone who understands, I’m always happy to lend an ear and offer my coaching and mentoring services. And as always, if you have comments or questions, please leave them below or message me directly. I love hearing what you think!

-Kelly

P.S. If you enjoy my blogs and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep doing what I do. Plus, you get extra little perks like phone wallpapers and the ability to pick my brain whenever you want through the artist Q&A perk.

Further Reading:

Reasons Not to be an Artist

How to Get Started as an Artist

 

8 Thoughts You’ll Have as an Artist

8 Thoughts You’ll Have as an Artist

Rest assured. You’re not alone.

Do you make art? Then I bet my new bottle of Golden Fluid Acrylics that you’ve encountered at least one of the thoughts on this list. I’ve experienced all 8 in the last couple of weeks.

I’ve learned it really doesn’t matter where you are in your career or what kind of artist you may be. We can’t help but second guess ourselves as creators and apply too much judgement to the process.

Let’s step into the brain of a creator:

1. “My art sucks.”

Congrats! Your inner critic is an a**hole. Welcome to the club. Every artist has at some point looked at their work and thought “This is crap.”

Sometimes it doesn’t match up to our vision. Sometimes our skills are really amateur. Sometimes we didn’t eat enough for breakfast and there’s a full moon. Who knows. (Artists, am I right?!)

There isn’t a universal definition for good or bad art. It is completely subjective. I can promise you that no matter what you create, there will always be someone who likes it and someone who hates it. Always remember, when you think “My art sucks”, that’s just your opinion. It’s not fact. Don’t let it keep you from creating.

Walk away. Eat an entire pineapple. Then get back to work and pay no mind to the judgmental critiques coming from the corner of your mind.

2. “I’m not a real artist.”

It’s easy to feel like an impostor in the art world. Many people try to rigidly declare exactly what makes a person a “real” artist. When I talk to those people, even I think “wow–I don’t think I’m a real artist…”

It’s fairly simple in my opinion. If you make art, you’re an artist.

Though, in our heads it doesn’t feel that simple, because there are different kinds of artists and we very clearly can fit into specific categories. So, if all you are seeing around you are abstract expressionists and you work with hyperrealism–then yeah, you might find yourself thinking you don’t fit in with them so you must not be a real artist.

Or maybe you just picked up a paint brush a month ago so you don’t feel the right to claim the title without ‘paying your dues’. Maybe you have to sell ‘x’ amount of pieces, have an art degree, enter into galleries, have a large following on Instagram, or have some art official stand over you with a sword and officially mumble something in a British accent “I declare thee, ARTIST!”

The only difference between an artist and someone who doesn’t believe they are an artist is a thought.

3. “That artist is so much better than me.”

Yup. And there are thousands, if not more artists who stand above you on the completely arbitrary hierarchy of creators. There are also thousands of artists who may look at your art and think the same about their own work.

One morning you’re scrolling through Instagram and find an awesome new artist who does a similar style to you, but way better. Crap, right? What’s the point of going on?

I’m here to tell you, ultimately it doesn’t matter how you compare to other artists. Yes, we can learn from other creators, and allow them to help push our boundaries and skills, but each artist needs to find their own voice. That artist with a similar style has their own story to tell through their art. They use tools and techniques that speak to you, and you can learn from them, don’t let another artist’s work discourage you.

Take what you like from the artists around you, and use it to refine YOUR story. I promise someone will always do something better than you. They are your teachers.

4. “What if I screw up and waste supplies?”

You’re going to. That’s half the fun/torture. Supplies can be really fricken expensive. I used to be terrified of ‘wasting’ the beautiful nectar of the paint gods when I was super poor and wasn’t making sales.

Fear is annoying. When you are afraid of ruining canvases or wasting the good stuff, it changes your approach to the creative process. It’s like me on a dance floor before alcohol kicks in. Rigid, nervous sweating, wide eyed. It takes a lot of effort to get past that fear.

But I have tips! If money is the concern, start with budget materials. You don’t HAVE to buy the expensive stuff to be an artist. Get cheap canvases and student grade acrylics. Practice with the crappy stuff until your craft becomes second nature. Then upgrade to the good stuff. I guarantee you will have a better appreciation for the quality after learning with budget materials.

Cheap supplies don’t make you any less of a creator. They make you fiscally responsible and help take away the fear of screwing up. You have to be ready and willing to fail.

5. “I want to give up.”

It’s normal to want to give up on something that is difficult. Art is hard. To an outsider, the life of an artist might look like it’s stress free fun times forever. In reality, making art feels like work. Truthfully, I’m miserable at least 25% of my time creating as a full time artist.

“This sucks. This sucks. This sucks. What is WRONG with you?! Why would you pick that color?! It’s ruined. Bah, okay keep going. You got this. Nope. This sucks. How did I make it worse?! Oh hey, wait, no that looks okay. Now we are getting somewhere.”

You can try to quit art—but you’ll be back for more. I’ve found that art is an addiction. I’ve tried to leave it in my past before and it just crept back into my life. It starts slow. “Oh, this pen is nice. Maybe I’ll just doodle a bit…” And then BAM! I’m back on Dick Blick with a $100 cart of colored pencils.

When you want to give up, you’ve reached the limit of your comfort zone. This is the place where you grow. Keep pushing. But if you need to take a break, art will wait for you until you are ready again.

6. “Sweet Jesus, this is amazing!”

This is why we create. That moment when you are in the zone. Time flies by and every move you make is utter perfection. Your materials are cooperating, the birds are chirping outside, you hardly have to think about what you’re doing.

If only that feeling could be bottled. If only this is what making art always felt like.

7. “It’s finished! …Now what?!”

Like reading a good book, reaching the end of a piece can feel like losing a friend. What are you supposed to do now?!

Just start another one? What if you don’t have any new ideas? What if you suddenly can’t make attractive art? Will this next piece be better or worse?WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?!

Okay, not everyone has a full on existential crisis when they finish a piece, but if you do, you’re not alone. There is a sort of emptiness left behind when the creative process is over. You’ve spent hours giving life to a new creation and suddenly it’s no longer a part of you. Understandably, you might not know what to do next.

My advice: Eat a taco. Clean your studio space. Stare longingly at your beautiful paint covered baby. Then grab your paint brush and get back to work.

8. “I hate it. I want it gone.”

Pieces once loved become unbearable to look at. You can’t help but explore all of the possibilities to get them out of your sight. Give them away, throw them in the dumpster, light them on fire, paint over them, host a massive art sale, and more. Doesn’t matter how it happens, but you you want them gone.

The art purge. I know the feeling well.

What you are experiencing isn’t an objective assessment of the art work. Often, this feeling comes from moving into a new head space. What you once enjoyed now looks hideous, and it’s all based on your perspective.

When I suddenly start to hate old pieces of mine, it’s because I’ve moved on from whatever emotions I was feeling at that time. In those situations, don’t do anything drastic like destroy the work in a fit of rage.

Consider having a clearance section in your online store and at art events. Make the pieces available to the public, but hide them from your sight while you work on new things. I’ve sold a lot of my ‘dud’ pieces that I had planned on painting over.

You may hate it, but someone else will love it.

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So was I right? Have you thought at least one of these things while creating?

Thanks so much for reading and I hope this post makes you feel a little less alone in the art world. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below while commenting is open. Or reach out to me directly! I’m always happy to hear from you.

Now go get messy!

-Kelly

P.S. If you enjoy my blogs and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep doing what I do. Plus, you get extra little perks like phone wallpapers and the ability to pick my brain whenever you want through the artist Q&A perk.

Further Reading:

8 Things You’ll Hear as an Artist

How to be a Confident Artist