Early in your painting journey you need to decide what kind of artist you want to be.
The artist’s artist, or the critic’s artist.
The artist’s artist lives to impress and inspire other artists.
They do not care for the opinions of self-appointed critics and gallery owners.
They do not care about art trends or society’s fickle definition of what is “good” art.
They do try to master the craft and develop a reputation of being a great artist.
They can be met with remarkable success, or poverty depending on how good they get and society's thoughts at the time.
The critic’s artist lives to impress critics.
They are great at “playing the game” of the art world.
They know what sells, what people like and how to play into that.
They can tell captivating stories around their work.
They can find commercial success, regardless of skill.
If you want a demonstration of these two kinds of artists, take a look John Russell and Sidney Nolan. They are both prominent Australian artists who took starkly different paths.
John Russell was an artist’s artist, and Sidney Nolan was a critic’s artist (in my opinion). I wrote about John Russell the other week. He practiced amongst many great artists like Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh. He always sought to push the boundaries of what is possible with paint and brush. When it came to his art, he did not appear to have much regard for the opinions of critics.
Sidney Nolan on the other hand was great at “playing the game” of the art world. He knew how to sell a story, build reputation with important critics and hold popular exhibitions. But he was not that involved with other artists. I will be writing more about Sidney Nolan in an upcoming post, as I think his life is such an interesting contrast against John Russell's.
So, what kind of artist do you want to be?
I personally think you should aim to be an artist’s artist. It is a more fulfilling route if you ask me, with the upside of commercial success if you do well. And you can obviously be a little bit in-between. I just like to use the extremes to demonstrate the two different routes.
But there is a third option. You paint for yourself and only yourself.