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How do you make a living, mid-career artist?


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The website of the magazine Pacific Standard has an interview with New York–based artist Hank Willis Thomas about money, MFAs, and whether it’s worth the trouble of living in NY. Check out a snippet of the interview below, or the full text here:

New York is an expensive city to live in, and there’s talk of the creative class getting pushed out. What are your thoughts on the benefits of living here versus the costs?

New York is a great place to make a lot of money. It’s an even better place to spend a lot of money. I think it works for those of us who like that kind of gamble. But in that environment, it’s very difficult to be creative. I think you can be an artist here, but it’s not like previous moments when you could afford to be creative. There was a time when an artist in New York could make work that in hindsight might have been terrible, but brilliant moments came through some of these terrible experiments. With the high cost of space and time in New York, who can afford to spend all day doing something that will likely bring no return? A lot of the brilliant moments in art come from that. That’s one of the luxuries of being able to go to an MFA program: You’re afforded time to think about whatever you want to think about and spend time exploring that.

What were some of your keys to success?

Luck.

It has to be more than luck.

My father once told me something when he was talking about his personal successes and personal failures. He said that he’d always had an irrational idea of what he was capable of. I think this irrational idea of what you’re capable of is possibly a key to quote unquote success. When you face certain failure, you cannot be dissuaded.

Image of Hank Willis Thomas via Pacific Standard