Can one make a living as an artist? Sure. Artists no longer have to starve. But they do have to be creative in finding money streams.
Get out of the art studio from time to time and network with other artists, writers, art lovers, and of course, buyers. And with the Internet there is a global audience of art lovers and buyers. This is what Cabo Verdean artist Tchale Figueira has discovered. One of the most sought-after artists in the African nation, he also has an international fan base. It is difficult for artists in Cabo Verde and elsewhere; an artist has to not only be creative in his work but in his thinking of ways to earn money, especially when governments dont have programs to support artists, he says.
But if one is going to pursue a career as an artist, you have to be committed to working as an artist. Tchalê, for example, paints every day–and hes open to different avenues. He recently did a major mural for a local municipality.
Tchalê was born in 1953 on the Cabo Verde island of São Vicente during a time when Cabo Verde was still colonized by Portugal and under the restrictive Salazar regime. At age 17, his family sent him away so he would not have to fight in the colonial war. He fled to the Netherlands, where he worked sailing the world. He later emigrated to Switzerland and it was there that he he got into the arts through his older brother, a painter. By the late 70s, he had his first exhibition.
Brooklyn, NY-based Mario Moore committed to being an artist early on. I realized I wanted to be an artist at a very young age. My mother is an artist and when I was young, I was surrounded by her artwork. She was still in art college when I was a kid, so I would often poke my head in her friends art studios. I was always interested in painting because I loved the idea that someone made whatever they wanted on the blank canvas, the painter and sculptor says. Moore, a Detroit native, is currently Artist in Residence at Harlem School of the Arts.
Artists are also entrepreneurs. Tchale, for example, manages a home-based gallery with his wife, Paulina Teixeira Figueira. PauTcha Arts not only showcases Tchales work but that of other artists as well as hosts various multimedia events.
Your art has to stand out. For Moore, he often likes to depict the power of Black women–and people have responded. So much so, in 2015, Moores work was included in RESPOND, a much-discussed group exhibit at Smack Mellon Gallery in Brooklyn, comprised of 200 works by artists responding to issues of racism and social justice following the killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown by police. I like creating work that challenges the viewer’s perception of Blackness, I am not interested in perpetuating the use of stereotypes or satirical images to demean Black culture. Instead, I draw from life experiences – connecting viewers to my culture, family and generation. The pieces I create are visceral, metaphorical, confrontational and unapologetic. I want to create a powerful experience for the viewer, explains Moore.
For Tchale, art is used to tell stories. And the stories his work has told have ranged from the history of colonization in Africa to the passion of love to the vibrant culture of Cabo Verde. For me, art is a way for me to not just tell a story, but how I feel about a story, he says. And art is a way to talk about stories that arent told. This points to one of the reasons people desire to buy and collect art–each piece has a unique perspective.
Hone your craft and get experience under your belt. Moore received a BFA in Illustration from Detroits College for Creative Studies (2009) and an MFA in Painting from Yale Universitys School of Art (2013). He also recently served as Artist-in-Residence at Knox College in Illinois. He has served as well as co-curator and exhibitor for several shows, including Great American Artist at the Charles H. Wright Museum and Do the Yale Thing at the George NNamdi Center for Contemporary Art. He has also had several solo exhibits, most recently at Winston-Salem State University. It’s a steady process but I grew up heavily involved in art. I attended College for Creative Studies in Detroit and majored in Illustration because I thought that would be a way for me to make some money through art. After a while, I realized I didn’t like making artwork for others, so after graduating from College for Creative Studies I took some time off and then applied to Yale’s Graduate Painting program, says Moore.
He continues, Making art a career is all about the love you have for creating and surrounding yourself with people who share that passion. Not everyone needs grad school, I surely didn’t want to go before I applied but I connected with people there that are very serious about their work. These are people that I would curate in shows or share opportunities with and that is not because we went to the same school but because I believe in their work. I still have friends from undergrad that I share opportunities with if something is not fitting for my work.
Venture into creative ventures and possible streams of revenues. Tchale, for example, is also a published writer. Like painting, I try to write everyday. For me, its another way for me to express myself, for me to tell stories, and hopefully people will want to read these stories, he says.
Teaching is another income stream for artists. Teaching is definitely a way that supplements costs for a lot of artists while they are preparing for a show or nothing is selling out of their studio and I have done that as well. It has been many different ways for me, from giving lectures about my work, to creating murals, taking painting commissions and selling some pieces from the studio, explains Moore, who has also worked on films. At one point, I worked in the film industry as a set sculptor and I was making some really great money.
Still, being an artist is a major money challenge. The biggest challenge has been postgraduate school and moving to New York. The prices in New York are so high for art studios, rent and everything else that it is a constant hustle. Artists need affordable work spaces to create their work; not studios that cost $700 a month for 150 square feet. Overcoming it is just taking it one day at a time and constantly making new work, while also working different jobs, doing commission pieces and selling art, notes Moore.
For Tchale, it is the lack of support–financial and otherwise–from government entities that is a major challenge. Being an artist is extremely hard, but we play a major role in a society. Imagine a world without the arts? There would be no world. And I feel artists should receive support and recognition for their work, notes Tachale. Cabo Verde is known worldwide for its music, yet musicians are not compensated well here. And until just recently, there was very little in the way of music education. This, to me, is unacceptable. Governments should support the arts, for art is the window into a society. Cape Verde has some globally recognized painters, yet they have very few galleries to showcase their work. This is a major challenge and a shame.
So whats the best advice for other artists? The best advice I could give is first find your passion in art. Not everyone is meant to be someone who has artwork hanging in a white cube; maybe you want to be a designer or illustrator and you just have not been exposed to what that looks like, shares Moore. The other important thing is to find a group of individuals who are excited about art just as much as you are or even more. Those are the people that will expose you to new things, introduce you to new artists and open your eyes to new ideas.
Adds Tchale, Dont let others dissuade you from your dream. Remember there will be hardships, but to be successful you have to think of ways to promote yourself, to network, and to reach people who support the arts.