The truth about being an artist

Pauline Le Pichon
11 min readMay 7, 2021


During the last lockdown, I found myself reflecting on my artistic career,
the uncertainty since the beginning of the pandemic, and the good and bad things about being an artist.

If someone had told me 20 years ago that I’d become an artist,
I would have just laughed. Me? An artist? No way!
I got interested in photography very late.
It started when I was in high school and before that, my interest in art was very limited. My first memory of art was when my parents took me to an art museum. I was maybe 10 years old and I remember finding the works on display very boring. In fact, I just wanted to get out of the museum (and now I go to this museum at least 3 times a year).
I also remember that when I was in elementary school, I liked to put on shows in my bedroom. I remember putting posters on my bedroom door, saying that I was going to sing and dance. And probably too afraid that my family would show up, I cancelled my shows every time (haha).

And here I am now: 33 years old and I’m an artist.

Since I’ve been an artist,I’ve noticed that they’re mainly two types of views on artists: those who envy and are fascinated by them (and who may think it’s “easy” to be an artist), and those who think artists are lazy and useless for our society.
Well, guess what? Both views are unfounded.
Being an artist is often difficult, but being an artist/making art is useful to society (just think of how the lockdowns proved it) and therefore it takes a lot of work.

I wanted to share my experience with you. The pros and cons of being an artist.
If you’re an artist or want to become one, please feel free to share your opinion with me and the others readers, in the comments.
Before I start talking about my experience, I want to make it clear that this article isn’t a complaint. Nobody forced me to become an artist. I became one because I wanted to. Just consider my article as a mixture of my point of view and advice.
Also, keep in mind that it’s just my opinion and that other artists certainly have different experiences.

Well… The first thing you need to know is that… being an artist is really difficult (it’s a huge surprise, isn’t it?!)

There are many reasons why it’s difficult and the first one I think of
is the financial one.

  • Money is necessary

Unless you’re rich and/or your art sells (very well) from the start of your career, you have to be very careful how you manage your money and how you can earn it. Because being an artist means spending a lot of money and often earning very little.
As I’m a photographer, I spend a lot of money on equipment (computer, external hard drives, camera, lenses, tripod, etc.) and production (printings, framings). I‘m talking about my experience but I think the same is true for videographers, painters, illustrators, etc.
On top of that, I also made the mistake of spending money, for several years, on open calls. Many open calls require artists to pay a fee to submit their applications. Those fees are non-refundable and they don’t guarantee that you’ll be selected. You should therefore avoid them at all costs!
The art world can be a devious one where some people don’t hesitate to ask penniless artists to pay large sums of money just to send an application / just to exhibit in a small unknown show / just to be published in an unknown magazine and you can’t be sure that it will boost your career. So you have to be really careful.
You also have to take into account the extra costs: insurance, charges, non-reimbursed travel, shipping, etc. So yes, being an artist means spending a lot of money.
If you manage to sell your work regularly, that’s perfect.
But it’s not always the case.
So there are several possibilities for you. For example, you can do artist residencies and get paid. It’s a very good option, but don’t forget that you need to be selected first. You can also do day jobs which will allow you to finance your artistic career.
In my case, I’m also a freelance photographer. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see it as a day job. I love doing commissions for people and responding carefully to their requests, and I think that my work as an artist and my work as a freelance photographer feed off each other. It’s definitely not about the money. I really enjoy that and it’s one of my main jobs.
On top of that, I sometimes have day jobs. For example, I sometimes work as an extra in films and series. And all of my jobs help me a lot in my artistic career.
The financial aspect is absolutely not negligible when you’re an artist.
It’s a very important concern and, even the people around you talk about it.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked if I make a living from my work. I understand the concern of some people (like my parents) but I’m so tired of it: my money is only for me, I don’t share my bank account with other people.
And as I am not a big spender, I can anticipate and manage my expenses,
which I think is essential for an artist.

  • Running out of ideas

As a freelance photographer, when I shoot for clients, I respond to their requests. Even if I put my own style and creativity into the images, the priority is that the clients get the pictures they want.
If they want a portrait with their dog, I take a portrait of them with their dog. And I put my style into it. What I mean is that their wish defines and guides the result.
But as an artist, it’s totally different. Your creativity depends entirely on you. On what you have in mind and do.
There are days when ideas flow, but there are also times when there’s nothing. Nothing, rien, nada.
The ideas for my photographs come to me as visions at any time.
When I force myself to have new ideas, when I sit in front of my computer and my notebook, it doesn’t work. So I try things, work on other projects and keep reading books, watching films/series, and going to exhibitions. But I always do that with a certain distance, because I definitely don’t want to copy & paste. This kind of “running out of ideas period” can be short as it can seem long.
But it’s quite difficult because having the desire and even the vital need to create but not knowing what to create is frustrating.
And when you’re an artist, when it’s your main job (or one of your main jobs), you have to create. Even if you’re not represented by a gallery, even if you don’t have a deadline, you always have the pressure to create regularly. The work of an artist is what makes the artist.
To exhibit, you have to create. To get known, to sell your work, you have to create. And to create, you need ideas.

  • Sensitivity, false hope & loneliness

I’m a sensitive person. I’ve always been sensitive and I think that’s one of the reasons why I became an artist. I had things to say. Sometimes this sensitivity is a real flaw, especially in my work.
When I don’t get selected for something when I thought it would work,
it sometimes makes me feel so bad.
Even though I’ve been an artist for almost 7 years, there are still times when it’s hard. I’ve recently been accumulating negative responses and it’s been a blow to my morale. Especially in this time of pandemic and lockdowns.
When it’s like this, I try to think about all the good things that have happened to me since I became an artist.. All the great exhibitions I’ve been selected for, all the good things people have said about my work. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
As a “negative” person, I spend more time brooding over the rejections than celebrating the exhibitions, the screenings where my work has been selected. I’ve always had a lack of self-confidence, so when I get too many rejections, I start thinking about what’s wrong with my work. And yet I know that my work can’t please everyone. That’s normal. That’s what we have to understand: the competition is tough, there are so many artists so sometimes you are selected, and sometimes you’re not.
In addition, unless you live with other artists and/or are part of a collective, you work alone most of the time. And you may feel lonely physically, but also morally. Because even if your loved ones support you, if they don’t really understand your work (and especially the point of doing it), they won’t understand your situation. That’s why meeting and talking with other artists can really feel good.

I know that the facts I’ve just written can be seen as huge obstacles, but you have to know that they depend on your life and your personality.
Every artist is different.
And above all, you should also know that there are very big advantages to being an artist.

My images are ready for my next exhibition!

Being an artist is fascinating and rewarding. Yes, it really is.

  • Doing what you love

At the beginning of this article, I wrote that I started to be interested in art quite late. Before I went to art school, I studied English for two years at a university because I wanted to work in translation.
Actually, I never really knew what I wanted to do before I went to art school. I remember wanting to be a volcanologist, a baker, an actress, a teacher but these were just passing desires.
And when I started photography, I didn’t think that I would become an artist. My photographs were definitely uninteresting. They were experiments mixed with photographs made to be published on myspace (haha) so nothing that guided me towards a professional path. But as the years went by, my interest in photography became more and more important and that’s what motivated me to study in an art school.
My art school studies went well in the sense that I graduated with honours, and most importantly, my art studies made me grow, gave me a little bit more confidence, and made me realise that I really wanted to be an artist. That creating was what I really wanted to.
Since 2014, I have been lucky enough to do what I love. I’m lucky enough to get up every morning and do what I love. Well, I’m not talking about the administrative aspect (haha). But, in a general, I love my job.
However, it would be a lie to say that I don’t get through moments of doubt, moments where I think about stopping my artistic career to have a job with a more stable salary, and less stress. I think this happens to many artists.
But I know that if I changed jobs, I wouldn’t be happy. I wouldn’t be myself.
I can’t see myself doing anything else but art, even if it means many sacrifices. Because there’s nothing else that allows me to express myself, to say out loud what I think. Because there is nothing else that makes me so passionate and makes me feel so good. When I create, it makes me happy and it projects me into the future. I have to admit that it has gradually become a reason for me to exist. There’s a real dependency between my creativity and my well-being.
I recently got some ideas for a new series and it felt so good that it kept me up the first night. I can’t wait to start it!
On the whole, I also enjoy looking for open calls, making submissions, sending them out.
Even though I know I do this more than creating art, it’s a part of my job that I enjoy, and it’s important because it helps me give my work visibility. And you need to know that even though you’re not selected, your work has been seen and it still can “leave a mark”.
Last year, a festival contacted me to exhibit in their 2021 edition. I had applied for the 2020 edition and was not selected but the jury liked my work and kept it in consideration. Can you imagine the joy I felt when I read their email? I’m sure I’m not the only artist who has experienced this!
So if you can send submissions to open calls, don’t hesitate (but don’t send your work to EVERY open call! Focus on open calls related to your work).
So I’d say that the first advantage of being an artist is to be able to do what you love. I’m not saying that people who are not artists don’t like their jobs. But, as artists, we have a freedom that isn’t negligible since we have the chance to create our jobs. We have the opportunity to express ourselves through our work, to reveal ourselves through it, and to present it to the world. For me, that’s the privilege of being an artist.

  • Showing your work and talking about it with others

Showing my work to other people is also something I love. Of course, it’s always a bit stressful because it’s showing a part of ourselves. It’s giving ourselves away. It’s showing how we see the world. An open diary. The stress comes from that. It’s not about pleasing or not pleasing. I think more about how it can resonate with people.
Another stress comes when I have to speak in public (and this is also related to the idea of giving myself away, I suppose) but actually, that’s something I overcome quickly because I love talking with people who come to my exhibitions.
Usually, some people come and ask me for more details, my inspirations, or they come and tell me what they think of my work. And I always find this very enriching because I discover each time different and unsuspected points of view on my work. And this can easily give new ideas for the future.
And meeting other artists is just as rewarding. As I said, when you’re an artist, you work alone most of the time. And you might naively think that the grass is greener elsewhere but it’s rarely true: I’ve more often met artists who shared their difficulties with me, rather than artists who were rolling in money and living in villas with pools. Don’t look at this in a negative way. Instead, use it to motivate each other to move forward. Meeting other artists, especially when you exhibit together, means seeing what other artists create without you knowing it. Seeing works that deal with the same subjects but from very different angles, in very different ways. And that’s also how collectives can be born.

I know that the first part of this article may discourage you if you want to become an artist, or if you are already one and you‘re questioning yourself. But take some time to think about the things that made you decide to take this path. Think about the positive things that are related to your art (what you‘ve been told, who told you what, your exhibitions, etc.), and the things you feel when you dedicate yourself to your art.
Being an artist is rarely easy, but art is essential. So you are essential.



Pauline Le Pichon

I’m a French visuel artist, freelance photographer, instructor and writer.