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'You, too, can become a starving artist.'

Kathy Gulrich -- Here are some tips, for all you art and design students, from an artist and art coach on how NOT to earn a living once you've earned that art degree.

Are we (artists) a crazy bunch, or what?

We take some art classes (maybe even earn an art degree or two). We do a bunch of paintings (or weavings, or photographs, or sculptures, or...). Then one morning, we wake up and figure it's time to support ourselves with our art.

Yep, now we'd like to earn, say, $40-50,000 a year selling our work.

-- No, we haven't actually sold any paintings yet. Well, maybe we've sold several (or even several thousand dollars worth)
-- We don't have any financial resources to back us up
-- We haven't figured out how -- or where -- to market our work
-- No gallery contracts
-- Business plan? What's that?!?

But we're ready to earn a living from our art.

Geeze louise!

What the heck are we thinking?!?

It seems to me that a lot of artists are absolutely determined to live out the role of "starving artist." So I figure I might as well give them some help.

If you're not quite there yet, no problem. Simply follow the following steps and you, too, can be a starving artist before you know it!

1. Keep your artwork to yourself

If you tell people you're selling your work, they might actually buy it. So whatever you do, keep your artwork away from the public.


Well, you can start by keeping all of your work in your studio. Or if you don't have a studio, store your finished work in a closet, in the basement, or maybe in an extra room.

Just be sure you don't hang -- or display -- your work anywhere in your home where visitors might actually see it.

And whatever you do, don't enter any local art shows! You'll have virtually no control over who might see your work there!

2. Don't tell people you're and artist

You know the drill.

You're at a party. Someone asks you what you do for a living, and instead of just telling them you're a teacher (or banker, or mother, or whatever...) -- your "real" job -- you tell them you're an artist.

For the rest of the night? Nothing but questions, questions, questions.

What kind of art do you do? How do you get your ideas? Why do you use ink instead of oil? Do you use models? Are they really naked? What do you want to do with your art?

Next thing you know, they want to see your art. And you know where that can lead....

3. Don't price your work

Now and then, no matter how hard you try, a few very persistent friends or colleagues will find out that you're an artist, and will see some of your work.

Don't despair. You can protect your starving artist status as long as you don't sell them your work.

The best defense? Don't price your work.

That way, when someone asks you if your work is for sale, you can put them off by telling them you haven't yet made up your price list.

That'll deter most everyone.

But how do you handle the really persistent buyer? One who insists that you give them a price for a particular piece they really like?

Simply tell them you'll give them a call when you figure out the price. (If you don't call them right away, chances are they'll never call back -- so you'll be safe!)

4. Expect instant success

Most other professions require a bit of business preparation.

Others might, for example, need to do an apprenticeship. They might have to actually "start at the bottom." They'll need to create -- and spend within -- a budget. Build cash reserves. Build relationships with other professionals. Write a marketing plan; a business plan. Heck, they might actually have to work at it!

Fortunately, none of that is required in order to be a starving artist.

Just figure out how many paintings you have already -- or can finish this year. Say, 50?

At $1,000 each, there's your $50,000 a year!

(If your paintings sell for just $500 apiece, no problem. Just do more paintings.)

Don't waste time thinking about how -- where -- when -- or to whom -- you're going to sell them. Come on! You're a talented artist! Your place is in the studio, not out there hawking your work.

And please note: Don't be tempted to make the move from full-time job to full-time artist gradually. That would be a big starving artist no-no.

If your employer offers you a leave of absence (or a consulting job, or part-time hours) so that you can pursue your artwork, be sure to turn them down. To be a starving artist "purist," you'll want to say no to all non-artwork income.

Then, along with your starving artist buddies, you can stay frustrated, annoyed with the "unfair" art world. And best of all, you'll stay penniless.

5. Go it alone

Whatever you do, don't ask for help.

Watch out for artists who are out there actually earning money from their art. (You'll know the ones -- they usually hang out together.) And certainly don't ask questions about how and where they sell their work.

Don't go to gallery openings, shows, exhibitions, or art fairs to see what other artists are up to. Instead, stay in your studio, and keep stacking up those paintings.

In fact, if I were you, I'd stay away from all kinds of help. No free classes. No free articles or newsletters. Who knows what you might learn....

If you truly want to become a starving artist, hang out with other starving artists as often as you can.

You'll never have to put yourself -- or your work -- on the line. You'll always have lots of other artists to listen to your gripes and complaints.

And best of all, you'll never have to earn a living from your art!

Kathy Gulrich helps artists make the transition from full-time job to full-time artist. Her book, 187 Tips for Artists: How to Create a Successful Art Career – and Have Fun in the Process! and her CD for beginning artists, Seven Mistakes Artists Make – and How You Can Avoid Them All, are available at her Web site, Kathy lives and works in New York City.

© 2008 Kathy Gulrich

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