During my time at art school, and throughout the ensuing years, an unspoken question lurked continuously in the back of my mind. I was not alone. Not a single soul spoke about it – not students, not lecturers, not professional artists. There were no lessons or classes about it, or any other information available referencing this silent, arcane question that ought to have been addressed foremost in these early stages of our careers. That question was this: how am I going to make a living out of my career as an artist?

There seemed to be an expectation that we would be miraculously ‘discovered’ by a gallery, that somehow we would find ourselves with luck on our side and be ‘snapped up’; that with talent oozing from our pores, a top gallery would seek us out either in our last year at art school or in the first year or so after graduation; without preparation or planning the whole process was supposed to begin… But it was not and is still not so easy.

Through all those years at art school the process of approaching galleries and dealing with the gallery/artist relationship was never alluded to – we were on our own. There were no directives about how to market ourselves, apply for grants, sell our art, develop promotional materials, deal with publicity, or for that matter and perhaps most importantly, any reference whatsoever to business strategies.

For too long practical education about business and career has been sadly lacking. Artists and students have missed out on being informed about vital information necessary for ensuring survival for the long haul of being an artist – and we are all in it for the long haul. Most artists, when considering their career options, have no alternative strategy… except from the tried and true ‘fallback’ career of becoming a teacher. This is not to say that art school studies as such are or were wasted. Nor that a career as a teacher is wasted either. This would be far from the truth. Everything experienced at art school is designed to develop the depth of the creator. The teaching standard is usually excellent. The lecturers in the fields of painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture and art history are mostly garnered from the higher echelons of the visual arts community. What is generally missing though, is clear instruction and dialogue about the business end of being an artist. During the thirty odd years since I left art school, I have found my own ways of navigating and surviving as a professional artist. I have regularly undertaken activities completely unrelated to the arts industry and these have seen me get by, including contract house painting, landscape gardening and waiting tables. These activities enabled me to manage as a full time artist without becoming a teacher.

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