This third guest blog by exhibiting REALITY artist Phil Harris explores the challenges encountered over 28 years of painting.
What are the challenges of being a working artist?
A life in art is going to be challenging and every artist’s experiences unique, there is no blueprint for success, no career path to follow, no reliable advice to take. You have to learn through experience and whatever course you take and decisions you make, you alone will be responsible for your successes and failures.
I have now been painting full time for 28 years. In this time I have worked with and without gallery representation, through agents, on-line agencies, to commission, for Museum collections and exhibited in solo, group and show-piece exhibitions and competitions.
Whatever conditions your career may have emerged within circumstances will change. Galleries close down, your supporters move on, collectors die or go bankrupt, fashions change, new technologies emerge, the economy booms and busts, personal circumstances will change through family life or health issues. Whether as an artist you can adapt to these changing circumstances whilst remaining focused on your work is likely to determine whether or not you can survive long term.
I believe that it is always important to remember why you became an artist, who you are creatively, what your objectives are and to maintain focus on that. For me those objectives are to produce the highest quality of work that I am capable of over a lifetime. I want to be able to place my work amongst that of any great artists that have ever lived and for it to be comparable in quality and effect.
In practical terms my strategy, such as it is, has always been to produce the work without compromise and to trust that it will meet with enough approval to amount to a career.
Professional decisions will not always be clear or easy to make, after winning the B.P portrait award in 1993 I was offered and turned down numerous prestigious portraits commissions, on the surface it was career suicide but I was clear that at that time I wanted to work towards a Solo show and if I got side tracked I would never get back on route, it is all too easy to follow the agenda of your supporters but this can be fatal to your creativity.
Complacency and self-deception are great enemies in painting. It is important never get carried away with praise and to have the humility to accept when your work has failed, failure is the fuel for improvement , if you are happy with your work I think that you are probably either not trying or not looking hard enough.
I like to produce work which evolves slowly, concentrating on complexity and nuance rather than obvious dramatic leaps. As I look forward I have clear ideas about how I would like to develop my work and some specific projects that I would hope to pursue. Making those happen within the context of changing circumstances is both the challenge and the fun of being a professional artist.