Sebastian Errazuriz on ‘Hacking Life: Using Creativity to Break into the System’

Today I went to an AIGA lecture by Sebastian Errazuriz, a Chilean artist based in New York that was pretty interesting. He was the first presenter in a series called “Hacking Life: Using Creativity to Break into the System” and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. First of all, he wasn’t even a graphic designer. :)

The premise of his lecture ended up being a little how-to (or how-he) was able to be successful in the creative field. He opened with some alarming statistics:

He was a graduate from the NYU where each year 1,000 people apply and 16 are chosen. Since graduating, for years before him and years after him, he’s the only one that has managed to be a successful, sustaining artist *. The median income for male artists is something like $37,000 and for female artists, $22,000**. That currently 51% of artists are women but they are only represented in 5% of galleries nationally***. I mean, not exactly the point of his talk, but it got all of our attention and gave me something to chew on later.

He talked about this contradiction in the artist community about being unwilling to make concessions for art. That there’s stereotype that artists need to be Bohemians that are poor and are working for their passion, not for money. Errrazuriz emphasized the need for artists to be realistic with themselves an admit that there are things that the want. That they want to be famous and successful. Artists need to stop living this “pseudo-life”—ignoring what they need to do to sustain their work or they cast aside their work as a hobby as they work a day job. That’s not acceptable. For one thing, we become less creative as we age.

So here is his advice. Keep in mind that Errrazuriz is a sort of a cheeky young fellow:


  1. Construct a stage to tell a story. Errrazuriz told us about how he rearranges his studio when he knows a photographer is coming. For example, in the photo above he pinned up a bunch of drawings on the wall, borrowed a skateboard, and dressed himself to look younger because the article was about “up-and-coming” artists. He’ll set up a space and let the photographer feel like he found it, the photographer was then proud of his photo and worked at getting it on the cover of the magazine for Errazuriz (which he did).
  2. Create a character. Errrazuriz claims he doesn’t have an interesting face so he always wears suits in his pictures. Makes me think that he agreed to do this lecture for the press.
  3. Tell a story. Something that people will understand.
  4. Craft, technique, materials. Have the skillz to pay the billz.
  5. Make your work timely and meaningful.
  6. Provocation, truth and humor.
  7. Bite the hand that feeds you. 
  8. Instincts, guts, obsessions. Follow them.
  9. Double your bet, make a difference. Really, trust yourself.


What do you think?


*I don’t know how this is qualified, but you get the point.

**Obviously he didn’t cite this during his talk. I looked around and some sites I saw said the median was around $50,000 in the US, but that does feel high to me. 

*** Source!

Your Turn:
  1. Katie says:

    “Artists need to stop living this “pseudo-life”—ignoring what they need to do to sustain their work or they cast aside their work as a hobby as they work a day job.”

    Amen. Dayle and i were talking about something somewhat similar this morning. We were discussing how it’s important to embrace any oppurtunity that pertains to your craft (any professional opportunity that is) even if it’s not your artistic ideal in order to establish yourself and achieve the marriage of an artistically fulfilling job with one that is monetarily rewarding.

  2. Jacklynn says:

    It makes sense to me, and I agree. But I can also see how some artist would not want to “compromise their work” for the sake of getting it sold.