A Labor of Love | Making a Living as an Artist

Is creating art, work? If you ask someone a passionate painter, the answer will be a definitive yes. Conversely, much of the world around us sees what we do as play. Recently I overheard a fellow artist sharing how frustrating it was when someone asked, “When are you going to get a real job?” This reminded me of the many times I have been in the same position. Frequently when being introduced to someone at a social event, the first question will be, “What do you do?” When I reply, “I am a representational painter, an artist.” Their response has been, “No, what do you do for a living?” Although their intensions may be innocent, they definitely reflect societal prejudices.


Hard at work on a painting. [photo courtesy of artist Linda Barnicott]

An Artist’s Labor: This quandary between creating art and earning a living often has artists defending themselves against the biases of others. Since most creative individuals are insecure (it seems to go along with the artistic temperament) and art is a vocation from which we never graduate (there is no bar exam to pass), it is easy to see why so many individuals who don’t paint see the practice merely as a pastime, a hobby. While there is nothing wrong with the pursuit of painting as a pastime (Winston Churchill did, and even penned a book on the subject), most artists understand that considerable dedication and hard work are required to master the craft of painting. This passionate pursuit to strive to better one’s aptitude as a painter and ultimately communicate intent successfully, keeps artists working hard throughout their lives.

On Labor Day: Annually, on the first Monday in September, the United States celebrates Labor Day, a holiday which pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of the American worker. Let us also celebrate the contributions of working artists. Some may make a living from artistic efforts; others hope to someday; and many are happy painting as a pastime; but the artistic works of all enrich our lives. Next time you find yourself in the position of being asked, “So, what do you do?” Proudly proclaim, “I am an Artist.” Don’t be ashamed, it is noble work. Your labors bring beauty and worth to everyday life. Remember, art is the cultural bedrock of a civilization and its worth is beyond measure. It would not exist without you, the Artist.

Click here to tweet “Art is the cultural bedrock of a civilization and its worth is beyond measure.” ~Richard McKinley



Look for Richard McKinley’s Pastel Pointers column on pastel palettes in the August 2013 issue of Pastel Journal.

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