I think a lot about what it means to be an artist. I think we tend to think of artists as those people who practice their art full time, and live off of art sales. Usually we picture big lofty studios, slightly crazy artists, swanky galleries, and all that. Money, booze, unintelligible performance pieces, huge paintings. I envy those artists, living in the city, making art. Most artists are not like that at all. Almost no artists can make a living off their artwork, and most can’t even make a reasonable portion of their income from art sales. Many artists have no venue at all to show or sell their work in a physical environment.
The advent of the internet changed the show and sell dynamic — anyone with access to the internet can set up a free blog or tumbler or instagram or whatever to show off their work. Sales can happen over email or be managed within low-cost storefront sites that don’t require technical skills to manage (but suck out some of your earnings). So there is a new image of the artist now — the PR machine, social-media whipping, constant content churning artist/illustrator/crafter who gets stuff out there. I suspect that the average person can relate more to this kind of artists than they can to the New York studio gallery artist. Often, the work available for sale online is reasonably priced, priced for normal people to buy. But even among these artists, most don’t sell much. And those who do sell a lot spend more time running their small business (because it is a business) than they do making art.
Regardless of which type of artist someone is, the idea is still focused on showing and selling. Emphasis on selling. The IRS doesn’t consider someone an artist unless they are making a fair amount of their income from art sales. So it is hard for the other 75% of artists (I am making that number up, because I am not sure if data exists that can provide a real number), who either don’t sell or all or sell a couple of cheap pieces a year mostly to people they know. We struggle with calling ourselves artists. We struggle with finding a purpose in what we do. We struggle with finding a way to value ourselves and our work. We struggle with the piles and piles of artwork that we amass and can’t do anything with. I’d like to think that if one of your problems in life is that you have too much artwork piled up, then you can go ahead and call yourself an artist.