How To Regrow an Artist / by Kory Russell

I’ll quickly rehash my life as an art student. 

I was entirely uninterested in school by the time I became an art student.  In fact, after one year of being in the art program I decided to quit college, work full time in a restaurant, and then blow all that money traveling Italy.

When I returned, for no reason I can remember, I decided to apply to the University of Georgia.  I was accepted and picked up my life as an art student that fall of 2002.  I remember that I had to be accepted to the program, but I don’t remember having anything very spectacular in my portfolio.

I found a job at Sherwin Williams mixing and hauling paint to various job sites in the dead, humid heat of an Athens, GA summer.  I worked 30 hours a week at Sherwin Williams, and went to school full time.  A full time art student’s life is quite different than others.  Grant it, we mostly all take up art because we want to stay as far removed from studying as possible, but what we lack in book hours we make up for in manual labor.  For instance, our one hour credit consists of three hours of class. 

I was always worthless at working during class hours since 1) others were always around to talk to, and 2) others could see my work as I was in the process.  If I were forced to build the pyramids I would have been beaten for talking so much, and probably struck up a conversation with the Egyptian beating the Hell out of me.  I’d also have questioned my placement and shape of every brick.  For this reason, I often squandered more of class time than I worked, and, for this same reason, you’d find me in the studio working Friday night, whenever I got off work Saturday, and from Sunday morning until 8 am classes on Monday.  I usually put in more than 30 hours outside of class, but, being the perfectionist I tend to be (and I was much worse back then,) I had very little work to show for all my hours.  I threw away nearly 90% of the art I made

In one ceramics class I had spent even more time than I had in any other, building and destroying nearly 400 pieces.  By the end, I had maybe ten pieces from the whole semester.  My professor felt sorry for me for a mistake he made on a project of mine and gave me a C for the class.  Had he not taken pity on me, I may have failed a class I literally put 300+ hours into.

I graduated in December of 2004.  My plans of returning to Italy and herding sheep turned to getting a job and putting myself into a stable and respectable financial position.  That issue is best handled in another blog far down the road.  Everything I had planned on throughout college changed in the last few months I was in school.

Marketing yourself as an artist was an absent concept at the Lamar Dodd School of Art.  As the art culture saw it, if you weren’t eating your way through food shelter peanut butter as a 50 year old artist, you were irrelevant.  So, I spent $3,000 on a Macbook, and instructional guides to learn all the graphic design programs I needed to get a job at the local newspaper making $8.50 an hour- the true value of an art degree (and less than I made in college.)

I worked that job for one year before I decided to go into sales, where I believed- falsely- that all the money was to be made.  I worked in ad sales for two and half years before I moved on to fighting fire with Cobb County (where parts of Atlanta, and most major surrounding suburbs of Atlanta sit.). 

After back surgery that never quite took, and more back and shoulder injuries that threatened to put me down for good, I quit firefighting.

For 12 years I drew exactly one picture, and that was only because my wife asked for it for Christmas.  I had had my fill of art, and the art school mentality of what an artist should be.  Art wasn’t on my radar for over a decade.  November of last year (2015) I decided to pick up my old paints again after a trip to Asheville, NC.  Fortunately, I was enjoying art again by the time I was injured the last time as a firefighter.

After about a week of selling life insurance, in a last ditch attempt to bring home some money, I realized I was not well suited to convincing people they were going to die (which they are) and that they need insurance (which they do.) 

While I was driving to pick my wife up from the Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta, I decided that chasing a career in art made as much sense as did anything else.  It would also give me the opportunity to heal up from years of self-inflicted abuse and subsequent pain I never paid attention to before.

Luckily, we had always lived on Amber’s salary, and mine had always been for saving, vacation, and home repair- ten times more the later than any of the former.  Money, we decided wasn’t really an issue for us then, but where do you begin as a new artist?  There are a multitude of questions I have for what being an artist means for me, and what it means in this age of Etsy, websites, blogging, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumbler, Pinterest, etc.

-         Where do I find people to buy my art work?

-         What is my goal as an artist? 

-         Do I grind it out daily, painting landscapes and chickens, or is there really a higher calling as an artist? 

-         Does your validity as an artist lie in your ability to impact the art world for future generations? 

-         Artists have always been the sounding board for inequality in society.  What does this mean today?

-         Is earning and contributing to my household the greatest concern for me, or can I allow myself to take a further backseat role concerning income? 

-         We have no kids now, but what happens when and if we do? 

-         Where do I sale, how do I sale, and what do I sale? 

hese and a million more questions will be hashed out on this blog as I try to navigate this new career.  My goal is to allow you to see what someone goes through when not only switching careers at 36 (now 37), but what questions an artist tries to answer regarding his role in society?

As this has become far too long an intro, I will leave it here and pick it up again later.