Someone's romanticized comment the other day about life as an artist made me realize that there are a lot of misconceptions out there about what it means to actually be a working artist. It made me think, huh. If people really understood the reality of making art and promoting yourself, a lot fewer of them would list it as their "if I could do whatever I wanted to" kind of job.
Being an artist who is trying to promote yourself means endless hours of searching for and contacting new locations (whether those are galleries, stores, online competitions, art fairs, blog/article write-ups, juried shows, etc., etc.). It means 98% of the time hearing nothing back after contacting these places, 1.5% of the time being graced with a "no," and .5% of the time maybe hearing a "yes." It means believing in your work when there is no external feedback. It means believing in your work when there is negative feedback. It means working in isolation every day. It means having to fuel everything you do with your own drive. (No boss or coworkers to prod you along when you are unmotivated. No regular paycheck to incentivize you. No health benefits. No bonuses.) It means overcoming creative blocks. It means navigating your own path with few guidelines as to "how to do it." It means learning how to nurture the creative fuel you were born with (which usually ends up being a self-learned skill, as 9 to 5 jobs cannot prepare you for that). It means having to self-learn most things. It means telling people repeatedly that you really are "working," even though they think this means you are sitting around drinking coffee. It means believing that what you do has value and that the world is better off for it (despite most of the world not understanding this).
Of course, it also means experiencing tremendous fulfillment from using the gifts you were born with and satisfaction from building something from nothing. Yes, there are many enjoyable things about creating, too. But too often, the onlooking world observes artists from afar with a bit of a sigh and a "I wish I could just sit around and paint all day" mentality. Ha. Only other artists (add writers, musicians, actors, name-your-creative profession) can fully understand the all too often non-dreamy reality.