Monday, March 30, 2009

Guest Artist: Sarah Atlee

Our intrepid intern Ryan Pack (O) is querying artist members about business of art tips. Watch on Mondays for new artist interviews.

Guest Artist: Sarah Atlee (SA)
O: Do you have any suggestions for artists like myself who are just starting out? I feel so overwhelmed sometimes like I don't know where to start!

SA: I have a solid piece of generic advice: be yourself. If you stick to what interests you most in making art, and if you're honest with yourself about what your interest is, then your work will reflect your original voice. If you rest too heavily on trends or try and follow what you think the market wants, your work will remain mediocre. If you're in school, this could mean losing the approval of your instructors or peers. Remember, school is temporary.

I often don't know where to start. So I do one thing. I take one piece of crappy notebook paper, and a cheap pen, and make one mark. There, I did one thing! That was easy. I look at drawings I made when I was little and realize that at age four, I was a completely uninhibited artist. I am entirely inhibited now, and have to work hard to overcome that. If I could go back in time and give advice to my past self, it would be: ignore fear.

One fun activity for overcoming fear of failure is making bad art on purpose. Imagine the world's worst piece of art, or your worst possible product as an artist, then make that! Get it out of the way. It may lead you in directions you didn't expect. It's interesting that you asked me these questions at this time,because I have just decided to leave my day job and be an artist full time. And I'm very scared. (Remember that thing about ignoring fear?) So I've written down some advice for myself. My list includes "reach out" and "ask questions," both of which you're doing right now! Other artists are a resource for you; we can learn from each other. So ask questions. Usually people are more than happy to answer them.

O: have you had any experience with rejection? I know it happens to everyone but it is still a pretty rotten experience.

SA: Of course. But I can tell you that professional rejection is nothing compared to personal rejection. (My painting didn't get into that group show? Ah well, there's always next year. My date didn't show up? I'm going to my room to cry all night.) So, due to my inability to remain objective about rejection in my personal life, rejection in the art world is noticeably less bothersome than, say, a mosquito bite. That's called coping.

O: Any tips on coping with the self critical doubts rejections bring out?

SA: Aim high, strive to make work that you are genuinely proud of. At one point during art school, I realized that to try and make work as good as my fellow students was an inadequate goal; I was aiming too low. In order to succeed as an artist, my goal had to be making work as good as the established, successful artists that I admired.

Our reach should exceed our grasp, so when you strive to meet the best, your product will be better than you expected. My antidote to self-doubt is working to produce the best art that I can, especially when the payoff (in the form of recognition, sales, what have you) is uncertain.To sum up: be yourself, believe in yourself, and work hard. Thanks for asking these questions. (Learn more at

No comments: