Alice Herbst is a Swedish painter who describes her work as parts of stories that can be inspired by an everyday observation. Here she tells whynow readers how fruitful it can be to stick to your mission and ignore the naysayers.
The year is 2014 and I’m sitting in a dental chair, prepared for the yearly check-up. The dentist and I have just shared some very minimal small talk and I’m waiting for her to prepare the tools. This dentist has, for some reason, decided to spring the important questions on me just as I’m opening my mouth for the plaque scraping process. One could think that the only topic that is arguable in a room like this would be dental hygiene, complications and other things related to your mouth health but let me introduce you to a different kind of situation.
I tell her I’m a first year art student. This answer alarmed her.
Whilst I’m met with the uncomfortable feeling of the tooth scaler against my teeth, the dentist proceeds with the questioning: “So Alice, tell me! What are you doing for a living?” I tell her I’m a first year art student. This answer alarmed her, “How is it working out for you? Have you really thought it through much? You must be having a plan B?” Question after question, just as I’m having what feels like every dental utensil shoved down my throat.Array
Bait, 2020, 100 x 100 cm (39.37 x 39.37 inches), Oil painting
Our little chat ended up getting fairly serious until in the end I was told to think really hard on what she’d told me in order to ultimately consider a different career path. Her argument was, of course, perfectly realistic, the statistics of artists solely living on their income from purely making art are extremely daunting, but with that said I didn’t need to hear it from a stranger while my teeth were aching from a metal tool stick. Or did I?
My biggest drive to succeed has stemmed from people like this dentist. I believe that you have to turn these artist career path arguments into something useful, because you’ll find yourself caught off guard in the same conversation again and again, before beginning to wonder why the whole world is against your choice. We artists are a sensitive bunch and we think like that, never expect anything different.
It’s not unknown that artists are associated with being fragile and having emotions so strong that the urge to embrace them and throw them at the world is inevitable. It is a cliché to even write this very sentence about how much of a cliché it is, – but it is something that I have to remind myself of, what choice would there be? If I kept a ‘regular’ job I would not feel like me. The fact that many artists are questioning their own path must have a lot to do with the overall lack of expectation from others. It is so easy to be affected by the concerned relatives, the teachers at school, or as we now know – even your dentist.
To make art is very exploiting for some and to have outside opinions reminding you of how impossible it is to turn this ‘hobby’ into a real and sustainable income is draining, to say at least. For how long can you convince others that you’re right about your future? And do you even fully believe you’re able to make it yourself? If not, there’s the problem right there. I know that I didn’t think about my future for at least the first year and a half of art school. I felt lost when I thought about getting accepted to schools, galleries and even putting a price on my paintings. Did I need to start a company too? That scared the hell out of me.
And then I met my partner Chris Högman at the Gerlesborg School of fine Art in Stockholm. Chris had already built up a following on the platform Instagram and his paintings were seen by people all over the world. He convinced me that I could make this happen for myself too, I seriously just needed to stop posting weird selfies and blurry photos of ice cream that I had bought at the local café and instead view my account as something that it wasn’t – professional.
I started to view each hour of daytime as something precious. Instead of scrolling on my phone, and turning the night and day upside down every weekend, on top of balancing school and working part-time at an arts and crafts shop. I stopped spending my money on unnecessary things in order to reduce the number of days I worked at the shop and began to sell graphite drawings that I made in my free time. After a while I saw the possibility to quit working at the craft shop completely and enjoyed more time for the drawings, then paintings, while I was going to school in between.
After three years of art school there was a new beginning. I decided not to apply for university. I hadn’t heard many positive things about it and from what I’d gathered university was mainly about connecting with other people and having a studio space rather than a well-invested education. Somehow I had started to believe that I was able to make it work independently so I trusted my gut instinct.
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My confidence grew a lot as soon as I stopped feeling like a student. This must have shown because I got so many amazing opportunities right after art school, one of them being my first lecture with the topic ‘The future of art and being a contemporary artist’ at a very successful company overseas. I am sharing this with you because I believe that I fully did this, well, with help from my partner Chris of course. I think that I have said a million times that the most important tool in your studio might be an online platform – as long as you want to have the full power over your own future.
I am able to paint inspired by the most earnest topics that come to mind and I am not thinking a second about the response from my gallery – because I only decide to work with the galleries that truly like what I do, I never compromise since I thankfully do not feel the need to. Three and a half years after quitting art school, I’m more inspired than ever before. I paint for myself and the people that want to see it too. In the end it is possible because of the dedication and appetite that I have and also the concerned strangers that wanted something else for me (and the sometimes plain rude gallery owners that say that I never will make it without them, oh yes – of course they exist too).
I use situations like this to work up my confidence. As long as you have the leverage, you get to choose how people influence you. I chose to do the complete opposite of what many people told me. It has benefited my life immensely.