In 1662, Rembrandt was a disgrace. Once the premier painter and king of the castle of Amsterdam, he had mounting debt and no one to plunder for money. Rembrandt’s oiled stylings had also fallen out of fashion. It may be hard to believe that the man who produced such paintings as Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer, A Portrait of an Eighty-Three year old Woman and The Sacrifice of Isaac was no longer relevant in the art world. When Rembrandt died in 1669, his home was filled with unfinished and unsold work. To numerous ball-busting critics of the time, Rembrandt died a failure. If this can happen to Rembrandt, you better believe it can happen to you.
Unlike other professions such as a brain surgeon, an astronaut or a teacher, one clear path doesn’t exist for those striving to make a career out of painting. However, we will highlight a couple of roads that painters generally take. Fasten your seatbelt. While there are plenty of successful painters who did not receive any formal art training, they are the exception. Successful painters without a formal training are rare, especially in today’s world. The accepted route for a painter is to earn an undergraduate degree in art and then a Master of Fine Arts degree. Why do people need to take out student loans to become a painter? It’s not like Jackson Pollock needed a degree to drip paint on a canvas…
As a matter of fact, Pollack studied at the Art Students League of New York. While he did not earn a degree, he had mentors, went to classes and learned from teachers. Painting is a craft. Think of it as similar to becoming a musician. You may be able to blow some notes on a trumpet, but if you don’t understand the discipline it takes to play, you can’t be successful. Paintings are akin to music. To a certain degree, they must make sense; otherwise they are just a bunch of visual noise.
Art school, art classes or a mentor can help you learn to paint BETTER. You’ll learn about life drawing, materials, methods, color and composition. They can also teach you how to develop your own unique style. If you believe art school is for suckers, think of it this way -- an art school or college will expose you to different techniques, ideas, points of view and criticism. If you love to paint, especially if you want to make money from your paintings, it makes sense that you would want to learn everything you can about painting and the world of art. Understanding the art world can be the difference between selling your work on the side of the road and showing it at a high-end gallery. It goes without saying that painters want their work in high-end galleries, because they can get more money for their paintings that way.
It’s pretty simple. If you can charge enough for your paintings, you can make a living painting.
How do painters figure out what to charge for their soul on canvas? Young painters keep records of the amount of time and materials it takes for them to create a painting. They set an hourly wage for themselves and use the total amount it takes to create the painting to set the price. Seriously. As if the buyer cares. Young painters are young for a reason.
Experienced painters can use records of what their older artwork sold for to set the sale price of new ones. Galleries where they show their work also help them set a fair price.
Although having your work shown in a high-end gallery brings you more money, be warned: you don’t get to hang in a gallery for free. They usually take a fifty percent commission. If you sell a painting for $700, the gallery takes $350. If it took you a month to make that painting, you only get paid $350 for that month.
This business is not for the financially faint-of-heart. A LOT of artists have to earn money to pay the bills by moonlighting (or daylighting) as sandwich artists.
But you don’t have to work at a Subway. There are numerous fields and businesses that hire creative people, giving them a stable salary while they try to make it as freelance artists. Because graphic design uses the creative part of the brain, many painters get jobs as graphic design artists, art directors or set designers. In fact, Thomas Kinkade worked as an artist in the film industry before he blessed society with his trademark use of light and biblically-inspired artwork. Painters who work day jobs have the difficult task of finding time to paint. Generally, these painters paint before or after work and on weekends. As a painter, you must get used to the isolated life inside a studio.
Who would subject themselves to a life of uncertainty, isolation and criticism? Only people who feel like they aren’t themselves unless they paint. Ask yourself this: Can you imagine life without a canvas and brush?