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
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
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.