Artist Interview with Crista Cloutier
Artist Crista Cloutier shares her journey to becoming a professional artist and the origins of The Working Artist workshop.
Crista Cloutier Bio
Actively involved in the contemporary art world throughout her career, Crista Cloutier is the founder of The Working Artist, an online business school for visual artists of all media. Honored as an “Influencer in the Contemporary Art World” by LinkedIn, Crista’s work has reached artists in over 50 different countries. Visit theworkingartist.com to learn more.
What is your art background?
I went to university to become a fine art photographer. But like a lot of artists, after college I had no idea how I was going to make a living. The combination of student loans and real life was sobering. I needed a “real job.” Somehow, I talked my way into a nationally-known fine art print studio as a part-time assistant to the sales manager. I didn’t know the first thing about selling art, but I learned fast. Within a year I’d worked my way up through the ranks, from glorified intern to director of the whole company! It wasn’t easy. I stepped on a lot of toes as I learned the dance. But over the years, I sold over $10 million in art and placed work in nearly every major American institution.
How did you get started with The Working Artist ?
A few years ago, I felt ready for a change. I wanted to work with my own ideas as an artist again. I didn’t know what that looked like, so I sold all of my possessions and moved to France by myself to figure it out.
In a lot of ways, I did exactly what I advise other artists to do. No, not selling your possessions and moving to Europe. That may have been overkill! But to take a jump of faith in yourself, in your own creativity. What did that look like to me? I didn’t know exactly. But I did know I wanted to write and make photographs. And I wanted to make money through my creativity.
I just wanted to make a living by being Crista because isn’t that what all artists want? To make money by being who we really are? And this is where my grand plan began to take shape. But I won’t fool you, it took awhile. An art career is a marathon, not a sprint.
It takes faith to jump into a creative career because artists can’t always see exactly where we’re going to land. But we set an intention and then we jump, trusting the journey will take us where we need to go.
My grand plan was to make money while doing what I love. Writing and photography. I surveyed the writing industry and saw that it was collapsing. Everyone said this is the worst possible time for writers, the market was dead. I’m a big believer in turning weaknesses into strengths. So I wrote. All day, every day. For a couple of years. It’s called developing your craft. And there really is no shortcut. Getting good at what you want to do is one of the most important steps of your journey.
At the same time, I started carrying a camera everywhere I went to develop my eye. I did some good work. I did a lot of bad work. But it got better. To support myself while I was doing this, I shared the one thing I knew how to do really well, how to sell art. I created a workshop called The Working Artist to show other artists everything I knew about how the art business works. I traveled to universities, art schools, and artist collectives throughout England, the United States, and then Europe and South Africa.
To promote my course, I began writing blogs and Facebook posts about the art world, about what it is to be an artist, about artists I’ve known and the artists whom I meet. And I became The Working Artist. I was using my craft, visual storytelling, the marriage of words and photographs, to share my knowledge and promote my work. So now I’d found a way to perfect my craft and find my voice and build an audience while showing other artists how to perfect their craft and find their voice and build their audience. I simply applied what I knew.
When the workshop grew into a master class, I wanted to bring it online. The information had become so comprehensive now that it was too much to share in a weekend seminar. So, I ran a crowdfunding campaign and literally used my visual narratives, my stories and photographs, to run my campaign and raise the money I needed. And I haven’t looked back. That was just a few years ago but The Working Artist has already changed the careers of artists in 35 different countries.
I continue to support my business with my art. And to support other artists with my business. Today, I am proud to say that I am a writer and I am a photographer. And The Working Artist is the premier online resource for visual artists.
Do you think creating courses for artists is a good business direction for artists to take?
I don’t know if creating courses is a good business direction for artists to take? It depends on what it is they want to say, what marketable knowledge they have to share.
Personally, I don’t believe anyone should do anything just for the money. As artists, we’re not motivated by money anyway. I’m not saying we don’t like it, but the love of money isn’t going to drive an artist to create an online course of value anymore than it’s going to drive them to create a compelling body of work.
It’s got to be a passion, a calling.
That’s the business direction artists should take, toward whatever has sustainable meaning for them.
If you could start over, what would you do differently?
Business, like life, is a dance. It’s two steps forward and one step back. You’ve got to learn from your mistakes as much as your success.
I wouldn’t do anything differently because each of the mistakes, each of the setbacks, has proven to be vitally important.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Work! Being an artist is about developing your craft and voice. It’s a journey without end because you’ll constantly be challenging yourself to do better, to aim higher.
And the best way to develop your craft and hone your voice is through the work. Not only that, but doing the work will also develop your confidence, and that’s crucial in this business.