“My parents told me, ‘Oh, that’s lovely, you’ve got a talent for art,’ and they encouraged me until my sophomore or junior year in high school. Then they were like, ‘Okay, that’s a lovely hobby, now what are you going to do for a living?'”
Painter/photographer Amy Buchheit had been programmed with the notion that serious people don’t pursue art as a profession. She shared her story with me in her home studio in Vancouver, Washington, at the end of my cross-country road trip across America interviewing creatives on camera. You can see my video with Amy at the bottom of this post.
What you won’t hear in that video, unfortunately, is the long and winding path Amy took to get where she is now, a full-time professional photographer and painter. That path began after high school, when she decided to follow in the family tradition and enroll in the U.S. military.
“I heard over and over again, ‘You can’t make a living as an artist.’ That was a big thing. And I know that that’s not unusual. Many people who are artists have heard that. Some of them were able to move past it, and then there was me. I had no evidence that wasn’t real.”
After her service was complete, Amy worked in a series of jobs, none arts-related. She excelled, not surprising given she is smart, hard-working and full of enthusiasm. But it was unsatisfying for her. Finally, after years of internal struggle, she found the courage to enroll in art school.
Now she is a professional artist. Finances are tight, but her exposure is strong. Some of her work was being shown in a major exhibit when I visited with her last summer, and she is now being exhibited in two other shows.
She has no regrets. “I’m glad that I pursued the path that I did,” she told me. “I have a lot of back skills that I can use.”
Part of her mission now (and this is mentioned in the video) is a desire to give back, to encourage young versions of herself to pursue their dreams, with seriousness, ambition and passion. She also feels we all need to change how we perceive artists in today’s society.
“There’s this perception of artists as freeloaders, a perception of this hippie culture, of slackers, but for most of the people I know who are professional artists, it is just the opposite,” she said. “They work really hard. You have to. Most of them have at least a part-time job, and they do their business.
“I had somebody say, ‘Oh, I wish I could just sit around and paint all day,’ and I started laughing and said, ‘So do I!'”
Have you had to fight the stigma of the ‘starving artist’ in your own creative life?