The Fairy Tale

This is a story every artist knows by heart.  I have no idea where it originated or why deep inside many of us still expect it. 

There's this artist.  He's moody and gifted and surrounds himself with works that he has created out of his passion for beauty.  One day he has a visitor to his studio and they are amazed at his work and they offer him a one-man show.  Instant success!

There are, of course, uncountable variations on this story.  But it always seems to boil down to the rags-to-riches formula.  Popularists have even tried this story on several contemporary artists such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.  If you were to watch the movie Basquiat you might even buy into the myth.  It barely even mentions the group shows that he was in or how he courted the art galleries aggressively.  Apparently all one had to do was spray paint on a wall and happen to run into a famous artist and art dealer and barge in on their lunch to become an instant success.

The reality of being an artist (and my firm conviction of why so many artists fail) is that it is a job.  It's work.  Nobody is going to saunter through a doorway and crown you the next king of the art world.  The very idea of the "moody" artist that paints when he is inspired is a load of rubbish.  For anyone who has ever worked in a studio, you know that inspiration comes when it comes.  In the rest of the time there is plenty to be done.  Stretching canvases, cleaning, documenting work, putting down base coats, mixing paints, the list could go on forever.  These tasks that make a studio a working environment are what makes an artist who he is.  They are the tasks of his trade.  Putting the paint on the canvas is just where it all comes together. 

I've known so many artists.  So many that had no head for business whatsoever.  The fairy tale never addresses the nitty gritty things like the contracts our artist has to sign, or what the split is between his income and the gallery.  What about non-compete clauses and selling directly from his humble studio?  Every artist has art hanging on their walls that has been there for a while.  Some of us have a lot of it.  How much of being an artist has to do with creating art, and how much has to do with marketing it?  From a creative standpoint it seems almost vulgar to degrade one's own work as a product or commodity.  It's difficult to switch gears from creating something inspired and unique and then turning around and trying to find someone willing to pay the highest price possible for it.  And when one settles for a lower amount than they feel the work is worth, they feel cheated by themselves and a bit like a sellout.

Learning the business of art is hard.  They don't teach it in art school.  They don't instruct on the best way to deal with rejection, and there's a lot of that.  I think they should.  Learning artistic technique is incredibly valuable, but not if it can only be applied in the sense of a pastime or hobby and not a valid career. 

Think of your studio as a business.  How much money do you invest in it?  How much time?  What is that worth?  When you tally that up, you'll begin to see the true value of the works you create.  Then decide upon the best course to market those works so that you can make art a profitable venture.

Most of all, be patient.  Our fictional artist didn't need to be, but in the real world it's essential.  Art is the greatest of luxury items.  Realistically it has no function whatsoever except to make us happy.  You can't even wear it like a necklace from Tiffany's. It's no wonder people are slow to make decisions on buying art.  Finding a group of people who appreciate your art is invaluable.  Nurture those followers and fans.  Make them feel special.  They are more than patrons, they are your core clients.  Over time as your work grows, so will their desire to collect them. 

It's a wonderful thing that I see so many people here on MySpace sharing their thought and ideas and images of their work.  By posting an image of your work, you have taken the first step.  Our imaginary artist apparently never even left his studio.  You let the world share in your art and most of us have gotten responses (good and bad) from people all over the world.  Hardly a day goes by when I don't have a friend request from a fellow artist somewhere in the world on here and in my book, that means I must be doing something right. 

Being an artist is hard work.  It's not a romanticized stereotype.  We don't all wear black turtlenecks and find ourselves oh-so-intellectual.  The artists that do...  well, they are the ones I worry about the most.