Friday, July 12, 2013

Out on a limb...

New in my Etsy shop

I could just catch you up on my week as usual but I feel I have something more to say. I will say I have had a productive week in the studio making progress on the final 12 patron rewards paintings for some of the sponsors of my project. I hope to finish them up this weekend or early next week. I also launched a new limited edition print in my Etsy shop. Okay now for the serious stuff...

Today while I was working in my studio with my headphones turned to loud, I noticed my brush strokes were getting looser and perhaps even restless. A voice in my head said, "who is my advocate?" As a professional artist, who is my advocate as I walk this path?

As most art students know it is not your institution, most schools teach art and theory but not how to get into a gallery or make a living. It is almost as if it is top secret and the professors are either too exhausted from teaching as they would really rather be painting full time or they are keeping the strange magic that is navigating the gallery system a secret because ultimately you are their competition.

I must confess I was very lucky and I got everything I asked for from the University of Oregon and more specifically from my mentor Ron Graff but as far as the business end of things, I learned it on my own through trial and error and reading lots of books on the subject.

Back to the question, as an artist who is my advocate? If not your institution, it's probably not your gallery either (if you are lucky enough to get representation through a reputable one). Galleries can be amazing and open doors and gain you and your work exposure and if the relationship is a healthy one you can hope to feel a partnership about your work. A gallery might give you a show, promote your work and garner more money for your work than you could have hoped for on your own. If you are unlucky, you might find yourself in a gallery with questionable motives, they may forget to tell you a painting sold, pay you late or not at all and perhaps even play games with your head all while taking 50% of your sales.

Are my patrons my advocates? I would like to think so and if you have a good relationship with a reputable gallery they will usually give you the names of your patrons so you can thank them personally and expand on the relationship your work has forged and keep them interested in your work and career. Many galleries don't really want you to know your patron because they don't want to be cut out of any sales. Why can't we all just get along? Why does art have to be this way? I am lucky that I have been able to have such contact with my patrons over the years but from what I hear from my peers mine is a unique experience.

Am I my best advocate? Probably. No one can sell my work better than me. I know the place where the work comes from intimately and I can articulate this to strangers and regulars quite well. However, society has been taught to look for art in galleries and museums and that artists are only as good as the galleries and museums they are found in and most of the public doesn't know about the gallery/artist relationship or the 50/50 split. They just wonder why the work costs so much and why they feel uncomfortable or under dressed or out classed when they go into certain galleries. We seem to be getting nowhere fast.

Is the Internet my advocate? In the feel good department and relationship building sense it probably is. I love being able to have direct and regular communications with my friends and patrons of my art. I like to share with them who I am, what I believe and what I am doing and seeing and where the inspiration is coming from. Social media and blogs seem to be an effective way to do this and sometimes it also yields money to pay the bills.

What am I trying to say with all of this? I am saying that I have been at this art making thing for seventeen years. I have been out of school for fourteen of those. I am now 41 years old and my serious practice of art making has been with me most of my adult life. I am considered a successful artist by many and for this I am grateful and I would agree. I have been in some 27 featured and solo exhibitions and 40 some group shows and I have been represented by 12 galleries over the years. I have sold hundreds of paintings all over the country and world and do not have a back log of inventory hiding in a painting shame closet. All my paintings live with people eventually and they live all over the world in private and corporate collections. This is what every artist wants; to work, to be appreciated and to be collected.

If you add to all of that my recent fortune of raising funds to visit Scotland for six months and paint a new body of work and have a studio here, you would think all my dreams have come true and you would be right, they have. I am living the dream as they say, however I am not making any money. I rely on the kindness of others for so much. I live with so many things that are up in the air all the time, there is no security, no savings and no safety net. Last year's net income after expenses was what most people make in a month. Who is my advocate? When things got dire, I did the "right thing" and I got a part time cubicle job. I was beyond miserable but I couldn't complain because I know that many people are miserable in their jobs and they just stick it out and do the best they can. Here is the thing, I have a job that I give 100% to every day and I work evenings and weekends and it is a job I can't quit. I think telling an artist to get another job is a bit like telling a depressed person to cheer up.

I want to live in a society that understands and values my passion and pays me a living wage for it. I want artists to get real world business training at the institutions they attend. I want galleries and artists to coincide peacefully with trust and the common goal of the love of art and the relationships it creates to be the main principle that guides them. I want to be able to have a bad day at the office without feeling like some spoiled child. I want my patrons to know that I am grateful for them and that they are feeding me, clothing me, buying me more materials and inspiring me. I never take my patrons for granted, I may thank them too much at times but the gratitude is overwhelming and true. They have been the closest thing to advocates. I have some of the best patrons in the world but I also know that the same 100 people can't sustain me forever.

I see so many variations of my life and my work before me and since we don't leave in a barter and trade world just yet, many of these variations will require money that I don't yet have. I have to believe I will figure it out and stay on the path and over time more advocates will come out of the woodwork and some how I will manage another year of being an artist.

Thank you for being along for the ride and for your support along the way.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing - of course as a professional artist myself, I get everything you're saying.

    I believe in staying true to a passion, and I believe in that passion being a way of life, not a job. I believe in allowing our creativity to be expressed, and I believe in taking that thing and making a living out of it.

    If only the last sentence gave us the income we truly deserve and really need.

    One day.... xx