artist surival tips

Perfecting the Art of Frugal Living in NYC

The full study of 213 aging visual artists is available through Columbia University’s Research Center for Arts and Culture.
June 18, 2008
New York City has always been a mecca for creative people, but with the average cost to buy an apartment $1 million, artists could well be an endangered species.

A recent study of 213 visual artists aged 62 and older found that the average income of these artists was $30,000 a year.

Most of the artists who participated in the study by the Research Center for Arts and Culture at Columbia University’s Teachers College had sold a work of art in the past year, and most of them said they were satisfied with their lives. However, many reported that they also have had to make daily economic compromises. They don’t eat out, buy clothes at flea markets and rarely travel.

Many of these artists manage to make it in New York through frugal living. All they seem to need is some food, a roof overhead and the time and opportunity to practice their art.

No More $35 Studios


Hank Virgona is 78 and works in a 300-square-foot studio at the edge of Union Square in Manhattan. His paintings and drawings are everywhere: on the walls, stacked in rows and filling the drawers.

Virgona has had more than 30 one-man shows and his satirical drawings of public figures have been published all over the world. But last year he made only $17,000 from his art. He says he typically makes between $25,000 and $30,000 a year.

In 1960, the first studio he rented — in the same building as his current studio — cost $35 a month. “Now,” he says, “it’s $1,635.70. And next year it’s going up 20 percent.”

When asked if he can afford to stay, he says he will get an even smaller studio if he has to, but does not anticipate any major lifestyle changes. After all, he says, “this is my life.”

Virgona now lives in Queens and takes the subway to his Manhattan studio. He shares a two-family house with his brother’s family. The home cost $16,000 when it was bought many years ago.

He cooks for himself and seldom spends money on entertainment. The last movie he saw was Fahrenheit 911, and before that it was Shakespeare in Love, which came out in 1998. He also rarely travels; the last vacation he took was in 1980. But he gives the impression that none of this seems to matter, that money is the last thing on his mind.

Virgona says when people come to see his art he never asks them if they’d like to buy anything.

“I talk about art. I talk about my love for art,” he says. “I talk about how a walk down a quiet street — especially toward dusk — is as good as going to Caracas or Venezuela or anywhere. It is nourishing. That is part of art’s purpose.”

A Model Life

Joan Jeffri, who directed the study for the Research Center for Arts and Culture, says for these creative people being an artist transcends every other identity — race, education, gender.

“They don’t ever think of giving up being artists,” Jeffri says. “If they have arthritis, they change their art form. They don’t retire.”

Jeffri believes these artists have wisdom to impart about living and aging. In a sense, she says, they are role models.

Pat Dillard, who creates wood block art and illustrations, is 81 and lives in a third-floor walk-up that costs about $700 a month. Her outlook is simple.

“You don’t stop,” she says. “There is no depression if you don’t stop.”

Dillard supplements her monthly Social Security check by charging $10 an hour to care for people’s pets. She says her total income is $29,000 a year.

She has all kinds of advice for living cheaply, but still living well: Buy things at the 99 cent store. Make chili for the week. If you order pizza, pick it up yourself so you don’t have to tip. And, she says, don’t associate with people who bring you down.

“The first thing I do when I go out of my building,” she says, “I look at the sky, white clouds and a blue sky, my heart goes pitter-pat.”

There is something miraculous, Virgona says, about seeing the way the light falls and then perhaps getting a part of that light into a piece of work. When that happens, he says, you feel that you are part of what it really means, “that you are part of the light.”

Jeffri says 44 percent of these artists live in rent-controlled housing. The rest mainly own their own homes or apartments, which allows them to live on such small incomes.

One might think that getting older, with relatively little money, in a city so focused on wealth and consumption would create bitterness and depression. However, Jeffri says, these artists show how a lifetime of engagement and passion is a model for health and well-being.

There is more to being an artist than making the art.There are as many ways to become successful as an artist as there are artists. And each and every one of those ways is OK. Never forget this.


Here’s more of what you have to learn in order to become successful as an artist: It helps to join Artists Alliance see the link

Let your idea have it’s own life. This sounds a little strange but what I mean by this is once you have the idea in your head don’t try to control it too much. Let it tell you what form it should take. It really helps at this point to go for a long walk and just LISTEN (it may be several long walks). Let the images evolve.

Really enjoy yourself and the process of creating, the best work will flow out of you. People will respond the most to things you did with passion, (as opposed to things you forced). Don’t worry about whether it would sell, or what’s hot in the moment your target market, or what a family member recommends. Be honest with yourself and the process.

Research and target the appropriate exhibition venues. This is extremely important. Would you work be an appropriate fit? Are they using people with work that is compatible with yours? I’m not saying to cater your work to them necessarily, but find an appropriate fit for you.

If you are rejected…keep moving forward. The right company is out there waiting for you to find them. It is o.k. to feel bummed periodically (have a good cry about it! Yes it feels like you don’t know what you’re doing sometimes). Just pick yourself up again, dust yourself off, and start moving again. Part of being successful is surviving the rejections. We all have them.

Its a journey and along the way you need to get your head around

► How to talk and write about your art in ways people understand, regardless of how little or how much they know about art.

► How to price your art and answer questions about your prices.

► How to make people appreciate your art and feel like it’s worthwhile

► How to respond when people criticize your art.

► How to know when you have enough art and enough of a selection to start exhibiting

► How to effectively find the context to appropriately exhibit your work

► How to document your art, record keeping and safe storage.

► How to make sure that anyone who’s interested in your art is able to buy something, regardless of how little or how much they have to spend.

► How to survive as an artist if your art is not the kind of art that galleries sell.

► How to find opportunities for your art outside of the gallery system.

► How to barter or trade your art for goods or services.

► How to present yourself and your art in ways that don’t sabotage your opportunities.


And while we are at it here are a few tips about how not to be an artist.

* In case anyone expresses interest in seeing your art or visiting your studio, make sure you have fewer than twenty pieces of finished work. The less you have, the better.

* Even though you have less than twenty finished works of art, continually contact dealers and galleries everywhere and ask for solo shows.

* Whenever you finish a work of art, wait for at least two weeks before you start a new one. This technique not only keeps your oeuvre low, but also assures that you’re continually out of practice.

* Even though you may be relatively early in your career, have had few or no gallery shows, or have not yet established a reputation where you live or make art, email random requests to dealers and galleries all over the world asking them to show, buy, broker, or represent your art.

* Even though you’re not yet well known where you live or make art, present your art to the best galleries in your area, or better yet, to the best galleries the world. Make sure these galleries exclusively represent nationally and internationally renowned artists.

* Pay to show your art at galleries that charge to exhibit your work. The more expensive they are, the better. Not only does nobody take these galleries seriously, but you’ll also sell nothing… and… you’ll go broke faster.

* When you contact a dealer or gallery either in person or by mail or email, simply say you’re an artist looking for representation. Make sure they have no idea why you’re contacting them (other than that they’re an art gallery and you’re an artist). Also make sure you have no idea why you’re contacting them (other than that they’re an art gallery and you’re an artist). Have no idea what kind of art they show, whether they sell the kind of art you make, whether your art is priced comparably to the art they sell, or whether your resume compares favorably with those of the artists they represent.

* Begin all mail or email correspondences to dealers or galleries with salutations like, “Dear Sir or Madam, ” “Dear Gallery Director,” or “To Whom it May Concern.” That way, the recipients can be sure you either have no idea who they are, you don’t care who they are, or you don’t think it’s necessary to know who they are.

* Send out random emails to galleries, dealers, etc. that contain only the URL of your website and nothing else.

* Send out random emails to galleries, dealers, etc. with nothing but 10 megabytes of images of your art and the text, “If interested, please email me,” however to really do this one right, leave out the word “please.”

* When you present your art, make sure you have no coherent or unifying explanation for what you do, why you do it, or what your guiding principles are. Also make sure you’re totally disorganized. Show everything you’ve ever made, no matter what it looks like, whether or not you think its any good, whether or not it relates to what you’re making now– and make sure it’s not in any order. Make no attempt to point out any connections, similarities, or continuities between any examples of your work.

* Even though you’re not that well known, spend thousands of dollars building a website. Ignore the fact that finding you, your art, or your website on the Internet will be almost impossible except for people who already know you. As soon as your website is finished and online, believe that sales will just roll in, and make no further attempts to show or sell your art anywhere in the physical world.

* Make sure you provide no contact information for yourself on your website, only one of those forms where you fill in fields and click a “submit” button. The less personal information you provide, the more reluctant people will be to contact you.

* Think that all you have to do to get known is stay in the studio, create art, show that art to no one, and make little or no effort to meet anyone in the local art community. Instead, believe that someday you’ll be discovered.

* Make sure you have no artist statement, no explanation for why your art looks like it does, what it represents, how it’s evolved over time, or why you make the kind of art you make.

* Make sure you have no idea how to price your art. If someone asks you how much a piece of your art costs, tell them you don’t know. Or you can ask them how much they think it’s worth. If they suggest a dollar amount, stand there and say nothing.

* If your art is priced and for sale and someone asks you why a certain piece costs as much as it does, either tell them that’s how much it’s worth, that’s how much you want for it, or that you don’t know.

* Never ask for feedback about your art. If anyone gives you feedback, ignore it. This way, you’ll have no idea what people think about your art, whether they understand it, whether they like it, whether it comes across as effectively as you think it does, or why anyone would want to show or own it.

* Complain about dealers, other artists, your lack of being recognized, ignorant collectors, and as many other aspects of the art world as possible.

* Whenever you have an appointment to show your art, make sure you’re late. Better yet, cancel the appointment once or twice first; then make sure you’re late.

* If you’ve got a deadline to have your art ready for a show, miss it. If you’ve got a deadline to have your statement, bio, or resume ready for a show, catalog, or website, miss it.

* Assume that everyone understands your art as well as you do. Assume also that understanding your art is the viewer’s responsibility, not yours.

* Answer “no” to as many questions about your art as possible.

* Correct people’s “misconceptions” about your art as often as possible.

* When someone asks a question about your art, instead of answering it, ask a question right back.

* If you get a show, contact other “better” galleries as soon as possible and tell them about your show, but then say you’d rather show with them.

* Make sure that dealers who currently represent or show your art have no idea you can hardly wait to blow them off and move on to someone better.

* Make sure not to cultivate or respect any business relationships or agreements, especially ones that work.

* Believe that if one gallery or dealer can sell your art, that all galleries or dealers can sell it.

* Believe that your art sells itself, not the gallery or dealer who’s selling it for you.

* Talk about attorneys, suing people, your legal rights as an artist, what happens if someone crosses you, that you don’t want anyone reproducing images of your art, that you don’t want anyone photographing your art, that you keep names on file of everyone who gets sent images of your art, and so on.

* Try to figure out as fast as possible whether the person you’re talking to is worth talking to. If you decide they’re not worth talking to, leave immediately.

* Ignore any suggestions anyone makes about any aspect of how you present yourself or your art.

*  Never do anything for anybody unless there’s something in it for you.
this information came from which is a mine of great information for artists so check out our link

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you are successful
Success for most artists already exists by the mere fact that they have acknowledged that they are artists and have the ability to create.