Reader QUIT: Allowing Others to Define My Work (by Anne Belov)

Your Brain on PandasI went to art school from the mid ’70s until the early ’80s.  In those days, it was standard operating procedure, if you were a painting student, that you were to look down on, or at least askance at, any of the other disciplines that were taught at your school.

This especially included—for painters—printmaking and illustration.  Never, never, never should you admit to any interest in or regard for these disciplines.  At all costs, you must be faithful and obsessive about the supremacy of fine art (and by that we mean oil painting) and the non-existence of everything else.


Let’s fast-forward a few…um…decades.  Funny thing is, many of those other students left school and got jobs doing what they trained to do.  Oh how shallow, all the painting MFA grads said, from their posts as waiters and baristas. A job!  How very quaint and commercial!

I don’t regret the years I spent working menial jobs to support my chosen destiny as a painter.  I could not be the painter I am today had I had work that interfered with my determination to be the best painter I could be.

What has changed over time is my need to be quite so single-minded about the whole thing.

The change came gradually.  In the mid ’90s, I started doing printmaking—etching and lithography.  There were two revelations: First, it created an alternate income stream so that my finances weren’t quite so “boom or bust” anymore, as I waited from annual show to annual show to see if I would get paid that year.  Second, it made my painting better.  Particularly in etching, where you work with limited colors, your drawing and composition has to become much stronger to carry the work.  This had a major positive effect on my paintings, which had a positive effect on sales, which…well, you get the picture.

Any artist worth her salt knows that art is not a static endeavor.  If you keep doing the same thing year in and year out, you are going to get stale and your paintings will become boring.  About 12 years ago, I started adding people into my paintings, which added a new challenge and an element of narrative, which led me to an interest in visual story telling, which led me to children’s book illustration—and somewhere along the line, I started drawing cartoons, and before I knew it I was writing and I had three blogs!  Where will it all (not to mention, that last sentence) end????!!!!!

It is both a bad and a good thing that the art business is changing.  Our country’s recent economic woes put some galleries out of business and caused others to trim their list of artists.  Many artists believed that once you had a gallery or two showing your work, you had it made and could leave the driving to them.  It turned out that a gallery’s requirement that you show with them exclusively in a region did not constitute a commitment to continuing representation by said gallery.

The good news is that we no longer have to let someone else define what our creative career should look like.

We no longer have to pigeonhole ourselves, or allow someone else to do it to us.  This applies to the writing and publishing industry as well.  With so many options for self-production now open to us, we can redefine ourselves and our work.  We still have to do the work, and it needs to be the best we can make it.  I still want to work with traditional galleries and publishers, but I can reject those who say “You do it my way and my way only, or hit the highway.”  To them I say:

Hasta la vista, baby.


Thanks and a couple of cuppycakes to Kelly/Cordelia for inviting me to do a guest post on her blog.  You are the bear!


Anne BelovAnne Belov paints, writes, makes prints, and is the founder of The Institute for Contemporary Panda Satire.  You can find her paintings at the Rob Schouten Gallery and on her blog Nothing Overlooked, her cartoons on The Panda Chronicles, and her new book here.  She will be teaching beginning egg tempera at the Whidbey Island Fine Art Studio in April.  For more information, contact WIFASShe also writes regularly for The Whidbey Life Magazine, a free journal of art and culture on Whidbey Island.


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  • Woot woot! Thanks Kelly! I love it when I read something I’ve written and I don’t look like an idiot! Huzzah!

  • Following Anne’s career and enjoying her friendship have been a huge blessing in my life. Listen to her wise words, all you creative types!

    • Aw, shucks…you are an inspiration too, Deb.

  • Sue Taves

    Love this post Anne! Yay for unbridled creativity!

  • Ann

    Good for you and how you have evolved. I am an amateur watercolorist with a “knack” as opposed to real “talent”. I thank God every day that I never had to make a living with this, because it is VERY HARD WORK. People think artists just have fun. Not true. The ones I know who do it for a living work their behinds off. By the way, I love the Panda Chronicles and just ordered both books

    • Hey thanks for ordering my books! and you are right, watercolor IS hard! I have another friend who is a very talented artist, and when ever someone suggest to her that “gee they wished all they had to do was sit around and draw…” she would start having steam coming out of her ears, and yelling about how art is NOT fun!!!
      Well, unless you are drawing pandas, and then it really is fun. (but don’t tell…the rest is really hard!)

  • Thanks so much for gracing CCIQ with your pandarrific presence, Anne.This post is an awesome reminder that we are in charge of our careers and that “they” don’t know anything.

    • Thank you again for having me here. As I read your recent posts, I can’t help but remember my own leaps of faith, and even though it seems hard right now, you have loads of talent, and loads of drive. just remember, everything is hard, it is just hard in different ways. If I can do it, so can you.
      I always like to remind myself that when I was in school, I was not a star. what I was, was stubborn. Stubborn works way better than “talent” Trust me on this one.

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  • Great lesson, Anne! Happy to see you writing for Cordelia 🙂