I’ve often been asked about how to get the ball rolling towards making a living producing art. It’s a tough question. For every artist who somehow figures that question out there are probably a thousand or more who don’t. Imagine if people going to medical school only had a one in a thousand chance of becoming a doctor when they finished? If all of them were attempting to become brain surgeons that might in fact be the case, but thankfully for everyone needing medical attention not involving operations on the brain there are doctors for all sorts of conditions and situations.
I think that analogy, though not perfect, does illustrate the dilemma that artists all attempting to do the same basic thing (become successful in the commercial art system by making and selling consumable objects) are faced with. There are various aspects of concern with that problem, but one of them is the idea that artists need a gallery to represent and exhibit their work. That does largely appear to be true if what you are doing as an artist is following the status quo approach to art making, presentation, and distribution, but if you are not working in that way a representing gallery may not be necessary. When you let go of the idea of needing a gallery you are also released from trying to convince a gallery to show your work, which as many artist know, can be a trying experience. I think it also shapes to a large degree the type of work artists make in their attempt to conform to and please what they see as the required approval of the commercial gallery system. As a result most artists make (relatively) easily transportable objects like paintings and painting like things. (Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate painters, just like I appreciate brain surgeons, but we only need so many of both in this world.)
If you are not making consumable objects then anything else is possible from site based immovable sculptures to ephemeral event based works, and innumerable other options as well. You also don’t need to get consent from a gallery director or curator to make and present your work. You may instead need to get an ok from a library, school, non-profit, supermarket, park, etc. instead, but you will probably have higher odds of acceptance from those places than as one of the many artists trying to all show work in the same small set of commercial galleries.
So, to get back to initial question–the advise that I give people wanting to know how to “make it” as an artist, based on my own limited experience with that, is to create self-initiated public projects that aren’t intended for a commercial gallery context. If you make solid, interesting work and find a way for it to be presented publicly (or find an interesting public place and then make good work for that context which is probably the better sequence) then you will no longer have consumable style art objects piling up waiting for a hoped for, but unlikely, gallery exhibition, and instead will have made work (in some form or other) that has an audience and which can then lead to more opportunities because people are actually aware of its existence. If the work is compelling, engaging, relevant, and publicly accessible it is at least conceivable that eventually self-initiated projects will turn into funded projects that can help make a sustainable career as an artist possible.