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The Seven Levels of Artists

A Spiritual and Satirical Guide.

I wrote this as a parody to my satire "The Seven Levels of Photographers." Let me know if I made any mistakes and lighten up! © 2004 KenRockwell.com

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Also as applied to photographers

Dead Artist: Top Level 7

This is the highest level. Dead artists always produce the best work and therefore their pieces command premium prices. The work of living artists never transcend reality as well as dead artists, thus the price and quality differential.

Most artists eventually reach this level, however very few accomplish it in their own lifetimes.

Those who do fake their own death when they wish to step out of the public eye. For instance, Jerry Garcia faked his death after fans started to misbehave regularly at Grateful Dead concerts. The band repeatedly asked fans to chill out and stop beating on each other and threatened to stop performing if the fans didn't shape up. At this time Jerry also was getting tired of the touring and wanted to spend more time painting. After carefully consulting his advisors his death was staged to allow him to paint and be taken much more seriously. This also allows his new pieces to sell for top dollar as he creates them today from his home in Mill Valley north of San Francisco. These newly created works are marketed as "lost art" to imply that they were created before his staged death.

Likewise, Elvis Presley faked his death in 1977 and today manages his licensing business from his home in Sullivan's Island, South Carolina.

Successful Artist: Level 6    back to top

These are artists who are both well known and are able to manage their businesses well enough to support themselves entirely through art.

This is the level to which most artists aspire.

Getting to this level depends almost entirely on business skills and little on art.

Of course another definition of success is someone who's happy no matter why, that's just what I'm describing here. You can be very, very happy even at the bottom level of Unknown Artist.

Famous Artist: Level 5    back to top

This is also a good place to be, but not unless you also have a day job.

People know you, however being famous doesn't mean you can turn a profit and support yourself through art. Famous is good, but successful is better.

Mozart was recognized in his and our day as an extraordinarily talented genius and still died a pauper at age 35. He made it to Dead Artist with little to no time as a Successful Artist. Don't let this happen to you unless you prefer life after death.

Student or Teacher Artist: Level 4    back to top

This is a great place to be. Lots of sex, fun and learning on all sides. By all means get your MFA from and then teach at Yale in Connecticut. Here's how to start. For photography go to Yale here or consider Brooks who focus more on the technical issues. Brooks has better weather in Santa Barbara, California than Yale has in New Haven.

Remember that these schools are privately owned businesses who exist to make money from you, not for you. Of course all the promotional materials attempt to imply some connection between your success and attending their school, but don't bank on it. Either of these will probably set you back far more cash than they will help you in becoming successful.

Your future success is dependant on your sales and business ability, not your artistic ability. Your artistic ability has little to nothing to do with school. Do art school because it's far more fun and the people are far more interesting than those at engineering school, not because you think you need it to do art.

For instance, Ansel Adams never had any formal training and often "outsiders" are more respected in the art world than people who have come up through formal courses of study.

If you want to earn a living in art try taking the art classes at your community college and spend your school money at business school. Take art as a minor at business school, not the other way around. Business knowledge is critical to success, not art. If business is second nature to you by all means go to art school, but for most people business school is the plan.

Starving Artist: Level 3    back to top

This is just a cliché. "Starving" and "Artist" have nothing to do with each other save for this cliché. "Starving" has everything to do with "Moron," which has nothing to do with "Artist."

If you give away your work for bottom dollar you are a moron, not an artist, if you need the money to survive. Guess what: there never is the "next job with budget!"

If this is you I strongly suggest the almost free classes offered by SCORE and books on sales and marketing at your local library. This way you can learn the business basics of how to differentiate yourself from the morons so you can get top dollar. We've all seen bad work selling for top dollar!

The price of art has nothing to do with its value or its creator. It has everything to do with who's selling it.

Untalented Artist : Level 2    back to top

These folks can be very successful if they have business skills as we've learned above.

Likewise, talent has nothing to do with fun. If you are a crummy artist but manage to hang one-man shows and get laid a lot then you are talented, just not at art.

There's nothing wrong with lacking talent.

TIP: If this is you be bold about it. Do the gaudiest things you can and expand on your worst aspects. As one designer said "Bad taste is better than no taste: it's more fun to watch." Don't be shy, I'm not!

Unknown Artist: Bottom Level 1   back to top

This is also a fun place to be. No, you don't make any money at it, but your friends may enjoy your work and girls will get naked when they're at your pad and see your talent. Sorry ladies, but few guys will jump you based on your art unlike the other way around. It just makes you feel good yourself.

Keep your day job and have a blast!

Forgotten Artist: Level 0  back to top

Since these are forgotten I forgot to give them a level, whoops. A forgotten artist isn't known to be a forgotten artist until he or she has been rediscovered, usually after their funeral. Some forgotten artists are lucky enough to be rediscovered in their old age living as a starving or unknown artist.

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