Being an Artist in Rochester

Choosing this life is deceptive; it feigns freedom and opportunity, to create that which you decide you should, without revealing the sobering reality that financial success is not guaranteed.  It stokes ego, pushing your passions into the realm of thinking you can support yourself with your art, without admitting that creating art is merely a fraction of the overall job of being an artist.  These are not new revelations, and I take no ownership of these statements, I only convey my personal experience to reinforce them.

How have I been successful? Beyond my own skill and creativity, I try very hard to be a decent human being.

Growing up, I had two passions: art and science.  I originally chose science for a career, and the universe laughed at me.  To put it lightly, I failed out of college for trying to pursue something I was not as good at.  To make matters more complicated, my academic reset was at a school with few connections in the art community.  The programs were strong, but realtors are right: location location location—my school was too far away from any major city to make an impact.

Coming home to Rochester, I was a step behind.  Finding creative work was incredibly difficult, so I went the path that most artists take to make a living: working retail.  The benefit there was invaluable training in how to talk with the general public (As an artist selling their work, you’re going to have to talk to people).

Finding Work as An Artist

When I did find work as an artist, it was the exactly the situation I had hoped to avoid: I hated my job, and therefore hated what I was good at.  I was in an extremely toxic environment of corporate bullshit.  For all its negativity, it was a great lesson in knowing exactly how NOT to run a business and how NOT to treat people.


These experiences ultimately led to my starting my personal project: Transit Apparel, and formally entering the Rochester Arts Community as one of its working artists.  I have been fortunate enough to enjoy success with my project and grow my work these past six years.  I had no connections or friends when I started, only an idea.  How have I been successful? Beyond my own skill and creativity, I try very hard to be a decent human being.  And this community is pretty observant to who is civil and who is not.  For the many circles of Rochester’s creative world, I have witnessed MANY egos shot down and left to rot.  It doesn’t matter how good you are or think you are, there will ALWAYS be someone better than you (I tell you this not as a resignation, but to convey that there is always more to learn).

Secrets of the Trade

Within the circle of artisans, I’ll share with you a secret: for every art show or festival you apply to, there is a black list.  That list is full of egotistical artists who don’t play well with others, and the organizers have grown tired of dealing with their antics.  It is best not to make that list.

So in trying to wrap this up into something useful for those of you trying to make it as an artist in our little slice of paradise, I wish to impart this wisdom: be a decent human being.  It is a fantastic personality trait if you don’t have connections from school, artist collectives and groups will be much more open to you, and galleries and shows will be much more eager to exhibit your work.  Great work is great work, but who will see it if you can’t get it displayed? And yes you can go about it yourself with your own public space or forum, but as I said earlier, as an artist selling their work, you’re going to have to talk to people.  And in Rochester, we’ve been through too much to put up with bullshit.


By Matt Rogers