How Many Hats?

how many hatsThe word “artist” is disarmingly deceptive as a singular noun. It gives the appearance of one thing, like “chair.” Or elephant. Or electrician.

And because we humans are hard wired to use language as our core form of communication, words have a pervasive psychological power on us consciously, subconsciously, and unconsciously.

Without being aware, we sleepwalk into language traps all the time.

Since the word “artist” is singular, we feel as if the artist must also be singular. A painter. A sculptor. A jeweler. Singular, in the same way an electrician sticks to working with electricity.

This sense that, as an artist, you are one thing morphs into another sense, that you should, by all rights, only be doing one thing (like an electrician).

Then, when the reality of “doing,” as an artist, flies in the face of this singular feeling (all I should be doing is making art), a sort of righteous indignation – or resentment – creeps in.

And so begins….

the wailing: “I paint; I don’t know how to balance a checkbook.” Translation: I paint, therefore I shouldn’t even have to balance a check book.

“I belong in the studio, not hawking my art!” Translation: I was born to do this, so how dare the world expect me to soil my hands with selling.

“I’m right brained, after all!” Translation: I’m an artist who is naturally handicapped, in a good way, so please someone else step up here and help me.

Now, I sympathize with the wailing. (I even do it myself now and again!). I would also expect this wailing to be recognized for what it is: a very temporary fall back, when life gets hard, to a younger self that has not yet developed into your sophisticated and mature adult-now self.

For, as artists, as professionals, we are anything but singular.

Artists: Where Do We Fit?

Artists seem more akin to sociological categories, like parents, where multiple skill sets are called into play, than as careerists. Or entrepreneurs, where big visions drive small details.

Parenthood is not a career. An entrepreneur isn’t even a career. In both cases, it’s a calling – almost more religious in scope than any other social role we humans have come up with.

Then again, in the commercial world (and, hey, we’re all on one side or the other of the commercial world), an artist, who is working at making a living from art, is actually a small business.

And here again we have the tyranny of language because the lay person’s understanding of business is at the opposite end of the spectrum from an understanding of artist: one is commerce, the other creativity.

However, even though these two worlds are often happily intertwined, there is the gut feeling (language trap!) that commerce and creativity are oil and water.

How on earth is an artist to get on with the business of art when “commerce” is the guy in the black hat and “creativity” is the woman floating around in white?

Then, There’s All Those Damn Hats!

Here’s where the feeling that an artist is one thing really gets in the way. If we are one thing, then why on earth are we….

  • working in the studio half a day
  • posting new artwork on Facebook and Linked In the other half of the day
  • ordering supplies in the morning
  • packing up an order before the week ends
  • praying April 15th doesn’t arrive before we do (as we scramble for receipts)
  • walking into a meeting with a gallery owner on Monday
  • walking out of the meeting with that gallery owner 15 minutes later
  • setting up a database to track the artwork (made when, sold when, to whom, etc.)
  • researching new venues
  • taking photographs of new work
  • updating the website
  • re-writing our artist statement
  • responding to a request for a commission (we don’t want to do)
  • Good grief…. I’m not even half-way through and my closet is already jammed with hats!

What if all the resentment around not being able to stay focused only on what you consider the upside of your artist life (making art), is simply a misunderstanding about what and who an artist really is?

What if you changed the definition of yourself… as an artist?

What if you found yourself enjoying the hat with the hot pink feather, or the stovepipe look of Dickensonian days?

What if all those hats were the upside of being an artist? What might change for your?


You know, of course, that generating revenue as an artist is also a many splendid thing, a goose laying basketfuls of golden eggs, the endless arms of Shiva, yes?

Jodi Walsh, an artist who has so many exhibits lined up this year that she couldn’t write a guest blog post (that kind of refusal is my cup of tea!), gave a stellar presentation at one of the smARTist conferences: “How to Become a Revenue Generating Artist.”

If you’d like all that hat wearing to lead to ka ching! Check out her presentation here!

One Response to “How Many Hats?”

  1. I love wearing hats, particularly purple ones! :~)

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