Anne Lamott on becoming an artist

I’m finishing up Anne Lamott‘s Plan B, her follow up to Traveling Mercies. Though Traveling Mercies was much more interesting, I stuck with the sequel long enough to get to the chapter where she talks about giving commencement talks at college graduations. She explains her common speech, which includes a brief overview of her path as an artist. She’s a writer, but I think us tactile artists can see basically identical similarities with our own circumstances. Here are some excerpts from the chapter in question:

    I went to Goucher College in Maryland for the best possible reason — to learn — but dropped out at nineteen for the best possible reason — to become a writer. Those of you who who have read my work know that instead, I accidentally became a Kelly Girl for a while. Then, in a dazzling career move, I got hired as a clerk-typist . . . I hate to complain, but it was not very stimulating work. However, it paid the bills, so I could write my stories every night when I got home . . .

    This is a real problem if you are crazy enough to want to be an artist — you have to give up your dreams of swimming pools and fish forks, and take any old job . . .

    I bet I’m beginning to make some parents nervous — here I am, bragging of being a dropout, and unemployable, and about to make a pitch for you to follow your creative dreams, when what parents want is for their children to do well in their field, to make them look good, and maybe also assemble a tasteful fortune.

    But that is not your problem. Your problem is how you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to live it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over people and circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it, and find out the truth about who you are.

She goes on to say that she eventually got published, and began to have the success and notoriety that an artist strives for. But not the money. She began to be respected by other writers. Lamott notes that culture suggests these kinds of things will save you as long as you keep your weight down, but the culture lies.

Finally, after dozens of rejection slips, false starts and postponed dreams she was a published novelist. Fifteen years after that, she started to make real money. This is probably both encouraging and discouraging to us aspiring artist types. We know it won’t be an easy road, but we hope that our passion and our craft will support us sooner rather than fifteen years later.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

2 Responses to Anne Lamott on becoming an artist

  1. Tim J. says:

    Here is another post along these lines that you might want to check out;

    It’s a tough call, especially when you have a family, to make the decision to really focus on your art. I’m racked with regret sometimes, when I think of the things we’ve done without. But art is really all I’ve ever been good at.

  2. Pingback: Thrive or survive as an artist? « The Aesthetic Elevator

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