My Career Choice: Anne Yoakam – Artist 

Anne Yoakam’s paintings have a way of transporting the viewer to another place, one that may be familiar, or one that is on a travel wish list. Through her art, Yoakam seeks to explore humanity and the natural world, and to inspire viewers to reflect on their own role in shaping the ecology for the future. 

Now based in New York, Anne was born and raised in the Southwest and received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Oklahoma. Her paintings have been featured in galleries and exhibitions throughout the United States and Europe, including The National Academy, The Art Students League, the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, and the Oklahoma State Capitol.

The Cranberry Bog

One of Anne’s most notable pieces, “The Cranberry Bog,” was painted en plein air in residence at the Nantucket Island School of Design and the Arts. The piece is both visually striking and thought-provoking, demonstrating her love of the great outdoors. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards and honors, including a study abroad scholarship with The National Academy and a class monitor scholarship at The Art Students League. She interned at The Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and worked at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. At her graduation from Casady School, she was awarded the Bishop Chilton C. Powell Award for Creative Talent. She spent two summers at the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute, first as a drawing student, then as editorial staff, and also received a Young Talent in Oklahoma scholarship.

Yoakam is an active member of the arts community, regularly participating in artist talks and workshops, such as Artshare at Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York. To learn more about Anne and see her work, go to her website.

Can you point to one event that inspired your interest in your career?

One event that made me think about painting as my calling was participating in the ISAS Arts Festival (Independent Schools Association of the Southwest), where my portfolio reviewer asked “How does it feel to know what you’re going to do for the rest of your life?” Her enthusiasm for my paintings, along with encouragement from my school, family, and friends, helped me believe in myself. 

USS Comfort leaves New York Harbor

What about this career choice did you find most appealing?

What I found most appealing about an artistic career choice was that it was family friendly. I could “work from home” before everybody had to work from home. I could do it while traveling with my former husband. I could pick it up at night after I put my daughter to sleep. I could run out and paint while she was at school, sports or music. I could not do it one day without getting fired. I could do it without people knowing I did it. I could do it without hiring live-in childcare. I could always make breakfast and dinner for my daughter, walk her to school and back, volunteer and host play dates. It helped me value my time against other activities. Is getting involved in this worth not painting a new canvas? I always have work. My ability to earn is not defined by an employer. The fine arts also offer residency and travel experiences with other artists in an international community.

What steps did you take to begin your education or training?

In addition to going to schools with excellent fine arts departments, I took summer watercolor and museum art classes. I just showed up and tried to create things I liked, drawing inspiration from works of art I saw and admired. Then, the teachers would have shows, and suggest we enter competitions. Sometimes, I won! I got to study at the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute, where we made drawings all day, every day, and watched performances at night. It was incredible to go from art classes as part of the curriculum to 100% of your work being in your discipline. To spend day and night exclusively with talented artists was the most fun. Instead of being in a school with a few creatives in the mix, every student, instructor in the entire institute was an artist. We got to draw all day. In the dining hall, bunk house, performances and master classes, we came together to share our work.

Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?

Along the way, people were encouraging, which gave me the faith to pursue the fine arts seriously as a profession.  

Those who discourage art often mean well – they want me to have financial security, conversations around the water cooler, chic suits and shoes, and to do something useful. Some simply can’t see art as real work, like we’re kids with a giant size box of crayons with a built-in sharpener. Do they really think artists don’t work, that the paint flies onto the canvas by itself? Nobody ever says to bankers, “that must be therapeutic.” I was relieved to read Winston Churchill’s words, “Painting a landscape is like fighting a battle”.   

Texas Bluebonnets

Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?   

All the time! Things seem to work out for me, though. The creative, problem-solving mind works wonders in fields that really are more an art than a science. I’ve written business plans, speeches, grant proposals, articles, press releases. Yet what would the world be if everyone were a banker? I’ve also gotten back into the performing arts, and explored graduate degrees. It takes a lot of faith to realize everybody has unique talents, and to follow those instead of what makes sense for everyone else. Being a “multi-hyphenate” has become much more acceptable in the art world; everyone is multi-tasking, pivoting, side-hustling, and there’s no cheap place to live anymore. There are also living artists making over $100 million a year from the sale of their work. Even in a town full of billionaires, that’s as good a bet as any.

When did your career reach a turning point?

Has my career reached a turning point? When I started selling paintings (to people other than my parents), for a price at which one can be taken seriously as an artist, I knew I could do it as a viable career.  

Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?

In my personal life, I’ve overcome heartbreaking loss, and through that, I came to appreciate the gift I have to create beauty and light, warmth and happiness. I want to share that with others. Building something good and stable helps to counter the adversity in life. 

The other challenges for me are staying organized and on top of deadlines for show entries and applications. Making it work financially is another. Taking it a day at a time, and breaking things down into smaller action steps makes it easier to set and reach goals.

What single skill has proven to be most useful?

Visualization: Both the ability to look at something and create an image of it in oil on canvas, and the ability to envision a livelihood as an artist.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Honestly, the accomplishment I am most proud of is raising a lovely, wise, focused and kind daughter with a sparkling sense of humor. All this and some artistic achievement make me very thankful every day. My landscape paintings at the Nantucket Island School of Design and the Arts, and my National Academy study abroad scholarship were great honors for me.

Any advice for others entering your profession?

Always go! Every opening, every lecture, every workshop, every performance or event you possibly can. Meet people, talk to people, share your work. Join organizations, participate in new things, while keeping in touch with old friends. Going out and connecting with people promotes health, solvency and prosperity.

Photos courtesy of Anne Yoakam