When Life Throws You Llamas


When Life Throws You Llamas – Why It Is Difficult To Be An Artist By Profession
Guest Post by Abi Amstutz

The thrill of quitting of my office job lead the common follow up question of, “So what will you be doing now?”.

I had a couple canned answers on hand, such as, “My yoga schedule has doubled in the last two months, so I’ve been busy with that.” (Which was true) and “I’m going to focus on my Etsy shop more.” (Also true.) But the most true answer would have been the little voice of my inner child saying “I need more time to spend on making my art.”

People have trouble taking that answer seriously. Unless art is attached to a successful sale it’s often seen as having no place in the “adult world”. The world of bills, and grocery stores, taxes and car payments. Creating, “just” to create, is for preschoolers and their crayons, not for 24 year olds and their paints. To tell someone you are a professional artist is to be unfairly categorized as a unemployed who can also trace their hand. To insist this is something you must pursue is to appear to be “going through a free spirit phase”. To many, it sounds too easy, like opting for a lightweight work load filled with empty hours and colored pencils. But it is incredibly demanding, requiring self discovery and networking; perpetually balancing openness and intimacy.  It is also wonderfully rewarding, and occasionally filled with llama illustrations for the sake of the bank account. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Many artists would love to sell their work and have a career. To have a following of people who come behind them and say “I like what you’ve made so much that I will happily pay the money to cover your time and supplies and finesse.” But these kinds of supporters are far and few between. And I don’t blame them- anyone can create.

An artist has to make something so loveable and fun and yet phenomenal for someone to be willing to purchase it or allow it to cover the side of their building. And good art will be phenomenal, but in a world of youtube and pinterest tutorials, and an era of adult coloring books, we repeatedly see anyone can “be an artist”. Even soulless computers can make make or generate patterns and designs.

So what sets “an artist” apart from the average person coloring in mandalas before bed?

Often, it’s the weirdness.

Because incredible, original and phenomenal art comes from a place of oddity and openness. As so perfectly summarized by Ezra Croft, an Art show producer:

“People need art in their houses. They don’t need Bed Bath and Beyond dentist-office art. They need weird stuff.”

Creating weird stuff isn’t seen as much of a career though. The weird stuff often doesn’t sell or get the same attention as cutesy, unoriginal stuff. (Full disclaimer, I love the “unoriginal stuff”; mandalas, and splatter paint, and llamas and any other animal that’s in fashion right now.)

Yet, as a professional artist I don’t feel inspired to make the llamas that anyone else could make. Often times, that’s what going to fly off the virtual Etsy shelf though. So, here, now you can quit your office job too:

1) oval body, oval head, two long ears

When Life Throws You Llamas.jpg
When Life Throws You Llamas

2) little smile and eyes added plus a slit for the nose

When Life Throws You Llamas.jpg

3) add a blanket and curls in fur

When Life Throws You Llamas

4) add fun things, tassels, hair on ears

The point I’m wanting to make is: It is difficult to be an artist by profession, because to be a professional in a realm of the odd and the uncommon often means making things that expose your ideas, beliefs and inner style. Often the most successful artists are the ones that are the most open. I believe in being open with people as a rule, but it is another hurdle into professional artdom. Posting about mental health struggles, being honest about a lack of inspiration or desire to make something new; acknowledging when too many new projects have been started and not knowing which ones to finish first, are all conversations that artists end up having.

Probably because every aspect of an artist's life is free to view to the public. Their political thoughts, gender or sexual implications, childhood memories, religious convictions, mental health, aspirations, etc. are all presented in pieces they make. But this is where the dentist-office artwork falls short. This is where things get weird.

Unlike the person who colors for relaxation or doodles for comfort, the artist who creates does so because their inner dialogue must be expressed. Their souls insist that regardless of who or when this work is viewed, they have to make it. Their world is incomplete without it.

Artists are the fabric of our highly visual society, but that fabric is frequently taken for granted, told how to be inspired, knowing the weird stuff isn’t as popular as the llama stuff. Many artists feel they must accept commissions and make what they are told to instead of spending time making what they need to. But ultimately their profession isn’t to feed the visual appeals of the public as much as it it to remind each individual that underneath it all, we’re all a little weird.

Above all, it is a very real, very professional calling and career. Anyone can create, but not everyone can be an artist by profession. To be an artist is to be human, recalling and inspiring the weird inside us all. A duty to be taken seriously and encouraged regularly.