For Eitan Barokas (17B), becoming a professional artist was far from his obvious postgraduate path. A student in Goizueta Business School with a double major in interdisciplinary (IDS) studies, Barokas began creating art in his spare time during his collegiate career. As his love for painting, digital drawing and photography developed throughout his time at Emory, he shifted his focus from business to visual art.
In pursuit of fulfillment, Barokas decided to carve out his own future as an aspiring artist in New York City, where he is self-employed as a studio artist. Facing the reality of life after graduation, he continues to adjust to his new career. His story of straying from expectations to act on his passions serves as a reminder that success comes in many forms.
The Emory Wheel interviewed Barokas in person about his experiences in artistic communities, his passion for creating and his self-motivation on Nov. 6. The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
The Emory Wheel: How long have you known that you wanted to be a professional artist?
Eitan Barokas: Even though I wasn’t steadily creating as a kid, art was always something that I was around. My mom is an awesome ceramics potter. I’m from New Jersey, not too far out from [New York City], so art was always there in museums, galleries [and] studios. At 17, I downloaded an app on my phone for doodling. I started playing around and getting these characters, faces and expressions. That’s where it all started. I came to Emory to study business. Then I found IDS, and I was like, “this needs to be what I do.”
I kept IDS, but I decided that I want to do business school. My junior year came along, [and] I was deciding between taking an internship and doing my own thing. I had been creating for a few years. I started with digital, began painting around 18, and I really fell in love with it. Down in SoHo, [N.Y.], on Prince Street, I grew up around that culture. I was friends with all the artists. I always loved what they were up to. Ultimately, the summer after junior year, summer 2016, I decided to turn down the internships and open up a stand on Prince Street and Broadway. I ran [it] for 40 days between June 10 and Aug. 10. Every day I would show original paintings, digital prints and photography and I would sell my work.
EW: What feedback did you receive in the beginning?
EB: From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., how many people do you think walked by? You have an unlimited amount of exposure, but you’re in the busiest city in the world, everybody has somewhere to be, nobody is looking side to side. The first day was a giant grab for me. I sold a canvas to a young girl for a few hundred dollars. She convinced her mom to buy it. That first sale was a defining moment, and I thought, “I can really do this.”
EW: Were you part of an artistic community? How did you figure out how to set up a table and all the logistics?
EB: I had a big creative community at school. I was putting events on in [Atlanta], working in music and managing an artist. When I came home, it was me, myself and I. I knew I had to apply for a permit and that was it. Artists can set up where they want. Even though it’s first come, first serve, there is an order on the street. The same people hold the same corners — there’s respect. I was fortunate that artists I knew moved people from a spot to make room for me. People are genuinely willing to help.
EW: What do you love about art?
EB: The ability to express freely. Painting is my most raw, emotional medium. I put something out there in my paintings, but it’s read a completely different way. On the digital end, faces and writing come in, some more cryptic than others. Photography is almost exclusively on the street, catching people in real moments. I love that I can express so many messages to people. To make people feel is one of my biggest goals. People are always trying to understand art. How can you know you fully understood someone’s abstract creation?
EW: What advice do you have for students who want to pursue a career in art?
EB: Go do it. I started this art pop-up and I was working on a start-up my junior year. I tried to zoom out and look ahead. In my heart, art is what I want to be doing for the rest of my life. A common thing with outside-of-the-box career aspirations is you go to work, make some money and work on your art at night. Ultimately, I said let’s chase the dream. If I don’t do it now, I’m forever going to be looking back.
EW: It sounds like you didn’t want to wonder what would have happened or regret not doing it.
EB: I have a strong skill set in the business world, and I could see myself jumping into a full-time business job, but that’s not what fulfills me. It came down to what was right for me in that moment. You have to be willing to step out and lead by example. People said, “You’re crazy, you have to get a job.” I have to trust my gut and be what I want to be, not what anyone else wants me to be.
EW: It’s hard when there’s so much pressure, from parents, money …
EB: There’s a laundry list of reasons why you shouldn’t do something. I had to find that one reason it was right. It’s not easy. I’m a very happy-go-lucky guy, but I’m very private in my head. It’s a lot of work to be positive. Every day I talk to myself in the mirror saying, “You can do this, you have to stick to your vision.” Even when it gets tough, you have to be positive.
EW: Are you still in contact with other artists, so that you know you’re not the only one struggling?
EB: There’s a whole world of emerging artists. I don’t feel alone at all. I’m lucky to have talented friends, and we learn from each other. If we don’t support each other, who’s going to support us? I’d still like to meet more people. I had a stronger creative community in Atlanta than I do back home, and that’s a challenge.
EW: Do you feel like you’ve gotten into a regular rhythm or schedule? What do your weeks look like now?
EB: I have a studio space. Almost every day I’m there for hours creating new concepts. Another chunk of my day goes to researching galleries I’d like to be entering, building plans for the future, which city I want to be represented in. Keeping a full-time schedule on your own as an emerging artist is tough. There are days when I’m pushing through and doing things, thinking, “I should be further than where I am.” In between two milestones there are a million little steps, and it’s hard to stay on it as you’re inching toward your goal.
Barokas will host his first show Jan. 18 to 28 in New York City. The location of the show has not yet been determined. Barokas’ work can be viewed at @Eitan.Don on Instagram and ArtByEitan.com.