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The Crucial Question That Could Save Your Art Career [Part 3]

In parts one and two of this series, I emphasized that most artists will never find a financially sustainable career until they develop a complete, professionally viable skill set.

…but why invest the time and energy necessary to develop a financially sustainable art career if you don’t love the work?

…or at least like it?

We saw how Mary Blair struggled to pay the bills with her passion for fine art, then settled for a steady paycheck in animation.

…but got bored with the work just a few years later.

If she hadn’t given animation one last chance, by joining Walt Disney’s visual development research trip to Latin America, she might never have discovered the skill set from which she derived creative fulfillment, a steady paycheck and her legendary career.

Today, in part three, I’ll share how and why I wasted a lot of time pursuing a career I never loved and three steps you can take to avoid the same mistake…

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The Crucial Question That Could Save Your Art Career [Part 2]

In part one of this series, I posed a mostly rhetorical question:

Are professional artists (whether aspiring or experienced) foolish to believe that their work could be both financially sustainable and creatively fulfilling?

This page from 'They Drew As They Pleased, Vol 4' by Didier Ghez shows a collection Mary Blair's character designs for 'Sleeping Beauty'.

Then we observed a struggle between these two extremes in the early life and work of Mary Blair, a genius of color and design who became one of the most influential artists in the history of Disney animation.

…but before that, she quit.

…after just fourteen months at the studio.

…and then abruptly changed her mind.

Today we’ll learn that, after her return to Disney, Mary Blair discovered, in effect, one crucial question that led to an elevated role in which she soon found the work to be both financially sustainable and creatively fulfilling.

…a crucial question that led her transformation from versatile mimic into the marquee artist of Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan and the animatronic wonder It’s A Small World.

…a crucial question that every professional artist (aspiring or experienced) would be wise to apply.

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The Crucial Question That Could Save Your Art Career

To pursue a career as a professional artist is to expect a lot from your job.

…more, it seems, than most people expect from their own.

Professional artists and those who aspire to the same status expect the work to be both financially sustainable and creatively fulfilling.

A watercolor self-portrait by Mary Blair featured in Mindy Johnson’s book ‘Tinker Bell: An Evolution’.

Some people seem satisfied, simply, to find a day job they don’t hate and compensate for any lack of creativity with hobbies.

…and others view their vocation as a tolerable compromise that buys time for the art they place at the center of their lives.

Regardless of which takes priority, it often seems that we have to choose: Art or a steady paycheck.

But why would it have to be one or the other?

Why couldn’t our work be both financially sustainable and creatively fulfilling?

Why couldn’t our work be both financially sustainable and creatively fulfilling?

Are we asking too much?

Is it even realistic to imagine?

In this first lesson of a course titled You’re A Better Artist Than You Think, we’ll introduce a crucial question that could save your art career (even if you don’t have one yet) and rethink a common belief that often prevents artists from becoming professionals.

But, as with every lesson throughout the course, we’ll begin by looking to history for answers. (History always has answers.)

This photo featured in John Canemaker's book 'The Art And Flair Of Mary Blair' shows Mary Blair's illustration of two giraffes from 'It's A Small World.'

Today we’ll hear the “origin story” of Mary Blair, a mid-century Disney artist whose “renown in the company,” writes historian Nathalia Holt, “was second only to Walt’s.”

In her life and work (which is on display throughout this post) we’ll find a more vivid picture of what it means to make a living from one’s creative passion, what often blocks many of us from a similar experience and how this fundamental shift in the way we think about the art vs. money conundrum can affect the quality of our work, whether we find it fulfilling, our sense of self, of belonging, of motivation and inspiration.

Click through to continue part one…