I was “that kid” growing up. You know the one: standing on the side of the street holding a sign announcing, “Lemonade! $.50!” A few years later, I went door-to-door in the neighborhood soliciting lawn-mowing jobs from the neighbors.
In high school, I’d become a new sort of outcast: gay, gangly, and flamboyant. That isn’t to say I didn’t try with every bone in my body to become someone else.
Privately, I cried, raged, lashed out at the cruelty of life. It isn’t a stretch to say I was a particularly disagreeable teenager.
As a fully formed and (mostly) well-adjusted adult, I now cherish that hardship. It was a gift. I wished for a different sort of life, and it hit me like a frying pan.
Very early on, it became clear I was indeed a bird of a different feather. I lived in a world of ‘yes’ when every sign said ‘no.’ I grew to hate the word ‘no.’ It was seemingly everywhere. No sitting. No smoking. No loitering. No shoes, no shirt, no service.
Outspoken, artistic, and sharp as a tack, I found my home in the arts. This dangerous world of yes seemed full of ideas, “weirdos,” and experimentation. In more ways than three, the arts saved my life.
I began drawing, painting, and writing, often about my alternative inner world. I called it Rivernia. In Rivernia, anything was possible. I created everything within my fief: the castles, the monsters and titans, billowing clouds and endless horizons. I filled it with poetry about love, loss, and growing up. To me, it was wonderfully, terribly alive, and I the lord of it all.
In time, Rivernia became just another fantasy locked in a sketchbook. The magic of my private world fell victim to the realities of adulthood. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I had two things going for me: creativity and a flair for business.
I’d always wanted a career in the arts, and the time had come to take the future into my own hands. How hard could it be?
A string of retail and office jobs, an incomplete business degree, and many lessons in business, life, and leadership later, adulthood was losing its luster. Once again I hoped, wished, longed for a different sort of life. If this is all there is, what’s the point?
Just as before, in the most unexpected way, my wish was granted. I’d been laid off of my job with just enough severance to start a new life. I needed something that was mine. Something like Rivernia that I could will into existence with my own two hands.
Almost immediately, a well-intentioned (but extremely vocal) chorus cautioned me against setting off on this new adventure. “You will never make money making art.” “You should keep making art as a hobby. Breaking into fine art is really hard.” “You should find a real job. I’m worried about you.” This criticism only fanned the flames. I set to work creating my world of yes.
The stigma surrounding the creative class is overwhelming. According to which opinion you didn’t ask for, we are, in no particular order: reckless, mentally ill, starving, or unreliable. We’ll never make any money. We’ll fail. We’re “eccentric.” Erratic. Compulsive yet simultaneously lazy and unmotivated.
Here’s the raw, unfiltered truth: that’s all bullsh*t. Never take advice from someone seeking safety in a world of no.
And so, before I go, here are some of the most important things I’ve learned as a successful creative. For the sake of brevity, I’m including just a few here, but I’ve written at length about all the wonderful lessons artmaking has gifted me. You can find them on my blog at christopherlafleurarts.com/blog.
The most valuable teacher is failure. Always fail up: learn from your mistakes, and take new risks informed by your previous failures.
Running a successful business is like having a baby. You are your own accountant, creator, salesperson, delivery driver, manager, and secretary. Making art is just 20 percent of the battle. Managing your workflow is critical if you wish to succeed.
Sleeping until noon can be tempting. After all, you’re the boss, right? While trips and time off certainly contribute to new and inspiring ideas, too much time away from your business will quickly spiral out of control. Prioritize your responsibilities; create a schedule, and plan ahead for much-needed self-care.
Many artists struggle when they discuss their own work. Never, ever be ashamed to speak highly of your work. Make your clients and collectors see what you see. Explain your inspirations and highlight important things like craftsmanship.
Remember that relationships are the lifeblood of your thriving business. Reach out to your clients. Keep them abreast of your events. Send a friendly email, or make time to have coffee with them. They are the key to your success.
It’s important to have a critical eye for your work. Editing your body of work is one of the most valuable skills an artist can have. That said, don’t let your criticism cripple your creativity.
Perfection is unattainable. Allow exploration and intuition to guide you in the artmaking process. Embracing the unexpected can lead to unexpected new things. Take on difficult projects which force you to grow. You will never stop surprising yourself.
And finally, never forget that you are everything you need. You will have detractors, but you will also have loving supporters and cheerleaders rooting for you the whole way.
Find my blog, full body of work, and keep up-to-date on events at: christopherlafleurarts.com.
All art provided by Christopher La Fleur