5 Lessons All Artists Can Learn from Neighborhood Studios

Sea Tea Improv with Julia Pistell, instructor for the Mark Twain House apprenticeship program at Neighborhood Studios.

Neighborhood Studios, the six-week summer apprenticeship for emerging artists in the Greater Hartford area, kicked off this week with a panel of teachers sharing their wisdom on what it’s really like to be a contemporary artist. As one would expect from any conversation about the arts as a profession, the discussion frequently centered on the question of “making it” as an artist, and what to do in the face of struggle. Nevertheless, despite the seemingly negative undertones, the teachers emphasized the importance of practice and passion for achieving success. Here are five important takeaways from the discussion. Whether you’re a musician, writer, painter, or photographer, this post is for you. Let us know in the comments what lessons you’ve learned as an artist.

1. It might sound cliche, but be prepared to fail. Everyone fails at some point, whether it’s because they haven’t mastered the basic skills or because they don’t stand out. If you love what you do, be brave enough to put yourself out there, and never give up. Success comes through practice, passion, and resilience. Thick skin is also a plus. As Josh Brunneau of Artist Collective said, “If you’re gonna fail, do it big, so you won’t do it again.” Preach.

2. Don’t stop searching for inspiration. Erika Van Natta of Real Art Ways suggests keeping a rotation of about five artists whose aesthetic you appreciate. Your inspiration informs your art and helps you evolve your style. Nonetheless, don’t try to imitate someone else’s art; develop your own niche that helps set you apart from everyone else. Remember, you will only be as good as you, not someone else. Or as Oscar Wilde put it “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

3. Find a mentor. As artists, it’s easy to feel discouraged due to the unstable and critical nature of the profession. A mentor can help you develop your skills as an artist, while providing encouragement, support, and inspiration. If you are past the point where you don’t think you need a mentor – great. However, don’t stop learning. You can learn just as much from emerging artists as you can from someone who is more established.

4. Use negative experiences as fuel for art. One of the questions posed to the panelists was “What is the worst job you ever had?” Let’s face it, art isn’t known for being the most lucrative field and at some point you may need to work a less-than-interesting job on the side to pay the bills. But don’t let that pizza delivery job or customer service job blight your creativity. Some of the best works of art come from negatively-charged emotions, such as grief or depression (ahem, like Taylor Swift’s breakup songs). Try to utilize any non-creative experience into something inspirational.

5. Leverage creative problem solving in non-artistic professions. As artists we have the advantage of knowing how to think in unconventional ways, experimenting with new ideas, and, more often than not, opting for the off-beaten over the traditional path. Problem solving is one of the most sought after skills both in the arts and in other industries, so be sure to emphasize your right-brained way of thinking when applying to jobs.

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