What made you decide to quit your day job?
Hannah: At day jobs you spend most of your time doing work that really doesn't matter to you, or the world; and yet somehow you find yourself invested in the work. You work 8 to 9 hours every day and the emotional investment takes a toll as well. This kind of work leaves very little time for the things you really want to do. That is why I decided to finally quit.
Were you scared of quitting?
Hannah: I wanted to leave the company I had been working for while living in Prague when we first moved to Berlin about a year ago, but they convinced me to keep working for them here. I tried to quit so many times, and kept getting convinced to stay. After several months a co-worker (an actress) and I decided to make the leap and give our creative careers a real go—we quit at the same time. Because it took so long to leave I wasn't scared at the time, but I certainly am now.
What are you scared of now?
Hannah: For a time I had the benefit of being sure that the first step was quitting my day job. Unfortunately now that I’ve taken that step, I don't really know what the next step is.
What are you doing at the moment?
Hannah: I now have two jobs in the art world, and they are really fantastic, and fulfilling; unfortunately, they are still not what I want to be doing with my life in the long run. The contradiction between having really wonderful jobs that provide a clear path for a future career and this dream of being able to make it as an artist is a tough one for me. With my current jobs I have a better understanding of how to move forward, I can see the way forward. Trying to build a career as an artist I feel more in the dark, and yet that remains the dream.
Do you have any idea what you need to do to become a full time artist?
Hannah: Not really—that doesn’t seem to be something a lot of artists are comfortable talking about, there is an aura of mystery about it. As far as I can tell there seem to be three different ways to 'make it' as an artist. You have rich parents who can support you while you work on your art, you go to a prestigious art school and make contacts in the industry; or, you put on shows with your friends and hustle until a gallery notices your work and decides to represent you. For me option three is the only option. Of course you could always do what Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe did: show up in a new city, sleep on the street, steal art supplies, survive and make art. There’s an appealing authenticity there, but I’m afraid I like a warm bed too much for the bohemian alternative.
What keeps you determined to become an artist?
Hannah: It's really difficult to stay determined. You have to have a certain amount of faith in yourself and your work, and I can be a very insecure person. I’ve heard it said that if you want to be an artist and you can do anything else, you should; because building a career as an artist is just so tough. I do have other skills, some that I’m more sure of than art-making, so I come up against a near-constant doubt that I shouldn't be doing this. My partner really believes in me even at times when I don't. That helps me a lot. I suppose at the end of the day it’s the only thing I really want to do, so I feel I have to at least give it my best shot.
How did your family and friends react when you told them you wanted to be an artist?
Hannah: It seems, at least from the stories I hear, that most artists have a sense of their calling from a very young age—it took me years to figure out that I wanted to be an artist, and even longer to feel comfortable saying it out loud. At university I majored in international development and social studies of medicine, but most of my friends were artists. A brilliant roommate took me to a life drawing class, and from there I became more and more interested in art, and sculpture in particular. I decided to finish my undergraduate degree in three years, and apply for a one year graduate program in fine art to see if I wanted an art career badly enough. My parents offered to pay for my graduate coursework, since they had budgeted for a four year degree anyway. I had friends in art school who had been disowned for making the decision to pursue a creative life, my parents were there for me every step of the way. I’m incredibly lucky.
What inspires you?
Hannah: Speaking with other artists, it’s fantastic to be able to talk about artistic creation, and the ideas behind it. I also really respond to seeing great work in museums or galleries; although, seeing really terrible art can also be inspirational, in it’s own way.
How do you define success?
Hannah: I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently. I suppose the goal is to be famous enough to get to make whatever I want, and to show at any venue I am interested in. That said, I would be thrilled if I could simply make a living exclusively as an artist.
What are your plans for the near future?
Hannah: I'm not entirely sure, I’m at a bit of a crossroads at the moment. I think it’s time to start setting specific goals for myself, to take back some control over this unknown future. All I know for sure is that I have to keep making art, because when I think about my future it's the only prospect that doesn't make me a little nauseous.
Thank you so much, Hannah, for answering all my questions so honestly. I had a wonderful time talking to you and getting to know you a little bit better. I wish all the best for you and your art career and can't wait to see what you come up with next! Vanessa xxx
Hannah Nelson-Teutsch is an American sculptor living and working in Berlin. You can see more of her art on her website HannahNelsonTeutsch.com.
All photos in this article are properties of Hannah Nelson-Teutsch.