Life Decisions: Becoming a Fine Artist

By Matthew Bates


I grew up in an artistic family. For many years my parents never had financial stability and I was always concerned about the life they were leading. The fact that they were living the life that they had chosen, and loving it was lost on me when I was a child. I guess that because of my unusual parents I was very wary about following in their footsteps and living the artistic life. I thought that it would be better to become an advertising executive and make a bundle of cash. I even went to New York with an AD Exec. when I was sixteen to see how it was. It was very glamorous, but I saw right away that the amount of stress involved was higher than I had expected. At eighteen I got into college at the University of San Francisco and I signed up as an Advertising Major. That put me in their art department, which was actually not at USF, but at the Academy of Art College, in downtown San Francisco. All of a sudden I was taking drawing and painting classes in a real art school. Meanwhile in my Advertising 101 class we were already at each other’s throats in the faux stress environment of our classroom which made our teacher laugh at us, a knowing laugh that spoke volumes, it said: “If you think that this is rough, try it out for real!”. After that class I dropped my advertising major and kept taking art classes at the Academy. I didn’t know that I would become a painter, I didn’t know much back then.

At this point I should have become a Fine Arts Major, instead, I chose to become an Illustration Major, a career choice, I thought that I would make more money as an illustrator than as a fine artist. I took a class in illustration and hated it. I wasn’t even very good at the assignments, which frustrated me because I thought that my talent would be enough. Apparently it was not. I was now at a crossroads, I was a senior in college, on the honor roll, seemingly doing great in the beautiful city of San Francisco and yet, I had no major, and I had no idea what I really wanted to do. So I did the most insane thing that I could think of, I dropped out of school and moved to Italy. Amazingly it solved all of my problems. I was so busy trying to learn the language and customs of this foreign country that my former career issues just faded away. Italy is so incredibly beautiful that I was constantly inspired to create art. I had a job, I was a night porter in a small one star hotel. That meant that I could paint all day, and then go to work in the evening. I had just enough formal training as an artist to pull this off. At night I would study, I read about a thousand books. I read on all subjects, I gave myself the gift of culture.

Through my job at the hotel I was able to be financially stable enough to not worry about selling my artwork. I wanted to sell it in a prestigious gallery, but quite frankly, I was not good enough back then to show my work. It was too disoriented, without a solid base on which to stand upon. I kept at it, reading, learning, painting, and then when I was twenty five years old I made my first painting based almost exclusively on photographs. I had seen paintings by Richard Estes, and Chuck Close and I wanted to paint like them. This painting, Holy Water was a breakthrough watershed moment in my life as an artist. I had seen the light and I was quick to take advantage of my new found skills. By using photos I was able to put together projects which had stability and depth.

Eleven years later, I am now almost thirty six years old. I have had a successful one man show in a glamorous gallery near Washington, DC, and I consider myself to be a professional artist. I still work nights to have a salary, in a quaint bed and breakfast. However I have the ability to say that I create my own artwork, whatever I feel like making. This is a great luxury. By separating my artistic life from my financial needs I have been able to free my art and spend enormous amounts of time on one painting, I work on it until it is done, no deadlines, no stress. In 2006 I worked on a painting named Mercato di San Lorenzo from January until August. It is an extremely detailed painting which I am proud to have made. I am just about to start another one which is even bigger. I have to be true to my art. It is the only way that I can make it beautiful.

Ironically, I have followed down my parent’s path. I placed every barrier in my way to get here, always thinking that I had to make lots of money to be successful. In the end I found out that money is the answer, just to a different question. The question is not how much money you can make, but how can you make just enough money so that you can have lots of free time to do what you love.

Update November 2010:

I have just recently been accepted into a pretegious brokerage house which is offering my work for sale. If you are looking to make an investment in art, I strongly suggest that you invest in my artwork, I can attest to its value, the proof is right there for you to see and appreciate for yourself.



Matthew Bates Painting Galleries: Flowers - Still Life - Cityscapes - Landscapes - Statues - Email