Every so often someone lets me know that times are bad for artists. I’ve been receiving this message for years. The carriers of the bad news warn me in recession and depression — as well as in times of economic boom. I had another notice yesterday. This message of doom must be a function of the bearer, I thought. I’ve heard that even when there’s nearly full employment the use of food-banks still goes up. I’m thinking it’s more to do with “attitude.”
Maybe it’s always bad times for artists. But why do some of us see a half-full glass — while others see a half-empty? Attitude. I’ll swear on a stack of Lexus brochures that these times aren’t bad. Yesterday, another artist wrote that her art group was about to discuss — overcoming the current bad times.’ She wanted to know if I had any “guidelines.”
I thought about the individualistic attitudes of the great and successful artists that I know. On the other hand I remembered how “misery loves company.” I remembered how artists who are blessed with good times crawl wearily into bed at night with a kind of benign optimism for their tomorrows. And when tomorrow comes they have a gentle, easy-going sensitivity and love for what they’re doing. They may live in their imagination — maybe even in a fantasy. They may be a big bunch of self-deluders. They’re not much for luck. They have the weird idea that quality works in all seasons. They tend to favor escape and cozy up in their studios or their landscapes. They have respect for their own processes and push themselves to extract what they can on a daily basis. They are private workers who pay little attention to the competition. Some of them are roaring workaholics, but their work feeds them like no other addiction. They may be self-focused, but that focus tends to be on the brain-hand axis. It may be tedious stuff to others — but this compulsive busyness magnifies and recycles their creativity. You might even say that some of these folks may have a mild brain disorder. They fail to see the reality of it all. Their stunned and disoriented condition keeps them too amazed and excited to notice or believe that times are tough.
PS: “What distinguishes a great artist from a weak one is first their sensibility and tenderness; second, their imagination, and third, their industry.” (John Ruskin, 1884) “The harder I work the luckier I get.” (Samuel Goldwyn)
Esoterica: They may be stunned, but they know that it takes the efforts of others for the completion of their dreams. Our brotherhood and sisterhood extends to those who supply our tools and to those who have the ability to share our magic with others. Nobody said it was going to be a rose garden. But it can be, and for those with the right attitude it is pretty darned rosy right now.
Loving the struggle
by Mary Madsen, Las Vegas, NV, USA
These are times of massive and critical transitions as we ease into a global community. It’s our job as artists to hang loose, remain receptive, and filter these changes through the gift of our creative talents, obsessions, and fascinations. Let the bad times roll! I’m loving every minute of the struggle.
(RG note) There was an overwhelming volume of letters in response to “Times are bad.” I’ve noticed that when I put in a negative subject line, there are always lots of artists who will help to refute it. Thanks so much. Especially in this Painter’s Keys Community I’m thinking that artists are a positive and optimistic bunch. Of the several hundred who have written so far there were only a few who were really glum and said “yep, times are definitely bad.”
What a rush!
by Christine Taylor, Barbados, West Indies
I am happy and fuzzy headed as I get more and more into the “reality” that I create on blank canvases. I find it inspiring and awesome to be in the company of other artists and am so grateful to have been born with this gift of seeing the world through the eye of an artist. I see living paintings as I drive down the street and pass light flooded scenes of daily life, what a rush! I discovered this I think at the age of 6 and have never tired of being different in the crowd of more practical minded individuals.
Swell time anyway
by Linda Blondheim
It is all about attitude. Bad economic periods happen to all of us but maintaining a spirit of anticipation and joy are the key to success. When I wake up every morning I think to myself, today I will have a swell time whatever comes my way, for one reason. I get to be an artist and others don’t. I have a couple of doom and gloom artist friends, and they don’t feel the excitement and thrill of being able to paint every day. I pity them.
Messes with my spirit
by Barbara McCleary, Okemos, MI, USA
I will not hang out with whining people — it messes with my spirit. No matter what their life situation they would find it to be woeful. I worry about the images such a state of mind creates. Here’s to us who remain optimistic — even if deranged.
No vacations in this job
by Eileen Doughty, Vienna, VA, USA
Do artists ever really take a vacation? No matter where we go, it seems we are always ‘seeing’ a possible new subject for our art, and thinking how we would create it. Is there any such thing as a vacation for artists? (Not that I want one!)
Leave ego at studio door
by Jessie LaVon, Demopolis, AL, USA
Sell I do. Both my folk art and my hard-times art! So many artists take an ego trip, “I’m not selling at a lower price etc.” As a single mother I have to support my children and make a living by accepting change and getting my work out there so that the more folks that saw it would come and buy. Those with an ego attitude must have a mate that brings home the $ so they don’t worry about paying bills with sales from their art. Yes the small mini paintings of cats, people etc., does add up in dollars. If artists would leave the ego at the studio door and live in their world and create with joy hard times is just imagination they could put on canvas instead of passing it on to others.
Pie in the sky?
by Cindy Campbell, Arlington, TX, USA
Because I have stepped up and followed a life long dream of becoming a painter, my children can see that following your dreams can and does enhance your life. Success is so much more than money. I might add that I’m fortunate to have a husband that supports me and doesn’t want me to work outside the home (I have six children). But nonetheless I still have a full time job raising children and keeping the home functioning. I also think a person’s success as a painter has a great deal to do with how they see themselves as an individual. Instead of seeing myself as a struggling artist… I choose to see myself as an adventurous artist who tries to embrace failures as stepping stones to more successful paintings. It might be pie in the sky but that’s what I’m trying to do.
Just keep going
by Ann Whalen, Cleveland Heights, OH, USA
I guess I am one of those who believes it is 90% attitude in life. You can choose to be happy, creative and focused on your vision or you can dwell on the doom. I prefer to love what I am creating at the moment and just keep going.
Throw the dice
by David Oleski, West Chester, PA, USA
I’ve always had an aversion to the word “luck” in the business of art, or even in the business of life for that matter. There is no such thing as luck, only calculated risk. Pursuing every opportunity that presents itself makes one appear “lucky” when one of these opportunities pans out, possibly years later. Like the game of backgammon, you roll dice to decide your move, but you take the greatest opportunity of every roll, and with optimism (and a certain amount of aggressive planning) you can tear up your opponent. The dice don’t know what numbers you need, just like the whims of the stranger off the street are nothing that can be charted and predicted. Don’t wait for what you need, put in the energy to create what you need. Creating work as though you’ll sell out tomorrow, scheduling shows for work that doesn’t even exist yet, meeting as many people as possible and educating them about who you are, and listening to who they are, all of these things help cultivate a climate rich with opportunity. As long as you have the energy and optimism to keep throwing the dice, times are never bad.
by Lynne Foster Fife, Unionville, IN, USA
Sometime it seems you are writing just to our group: the Art Alliance of Brown County, IN. In this last year we have literally taken the half empty glass and made it half full! With a mission to network, educate and inspire we managed this year to produce a full color map-fold brochure featuring 36 artists in Brown County, Indiana. We’re quite proud of our achievement together, and now we worry less abut what the “art business” is doing and more about what we’re doing as artists.
by Bobbi Kirk, OR, USA
I’m as much a proponent of seeing a glass as half full as anyone, but when the 10 galleries that carried my work 5 years ago has shrunk to 6 (and one of them had been in business for 23 years), and my income has decreased by 50%, it’s a little hard to blame it on my “attitude.” I’m working as hard as I’ve ever done and I still feel privileged to be able to make art full time, but honey, times ARE tough and trying to blame artists’ attitudes seems rather myopic to me.
by Mark A. Brennan, Westville, NS, Canada
Attitude will always define who we are in life. For myself I found over the years working with other artists a lot of the time was a negative experience. It created cliques and in my younger years I worked the ‘social ladder’ to become accepted by other artists. Now with some life experience and some personal growth I have come to learn that for myself at least — working on an individual level is a much more positive experience.
I control my work, my attitude and my outlook. I do my own thing, for me it is not so much about the sales, but more about saying what is important. To use my hard earned ‘gift’ to portray what I feel. Am I lonely in the ‘art’ world when working alone? No — not really, I try to surround myself with positive thinking, encouraging people who think as I do. I once visited Ethiopia when there was famine. The glass will always be full for me.
Just how miserable are you?
by Marj Vetter
What the heck are artists talking about? Hard times indeed, my grandmother was a homesteader, in the middle of Saskatchewan, single parent, no plumbing, very few neighbors, was a seamstress to help pay for the farm. Come on, how many of you are hungry, or cold?
We are not victims
by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
As with the depression some feel about the outcome of the recent election, we all have to remember we aren’t helpless and we must hold the light for ourselves no matter what the situation. Bottom line is when we face our own inner conflicts, then the ability to create harmony, success and maintain hope becomes a reality. We are not victims unless we choose to be. The external circumstances are one system, but the deeper, more powerful source lies within us and moves us beyond all limitations. Do the inner work and the rest will follow.
No boss but herself
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA
As long as I’ve got some paint and the freedom to use it, times are not bad. One of the many blessings of being an artist is that I don’t have to wait for someone to hire me before I can work. That’s wealth beyond measure.
Tricked the kids
by Deborah Wheeler, TX, USA
I teach high school art and am working on a Masters. There are a few negative folks in education also, and it’s a choice to be that way or go along committed everyday to doing the best job you can — and all points in between as you can imagine, but overall, it’s a wonderful life. Thanks! It is attitude! I used Stephen Covey’s paradigm shift story about the man with the noisy kids on a train (from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People ), to demonstrate how we can change our outlook in a matter of seconds. The kids were amazed at their change of perception. Yes! Tricked them, yes I did!
We all choose our times
by Alfred Muma
The attitude or mind set is what makes us who we are. Our outer lives are a reflection of our inner lives, our thoughts and prayers. No, I’m not religious… prayer is just a concentrated way of thinking. Artists do a lot of prayer as they work. In other words we think and live in our thoughts. That is what and where creating springs from. For some it starts the moment one picks up a brush. For others it comes from talking with people, listening to music, walking in the park, meditating, whatever inspires a person. Why does that trigger inspire a person, because of who they are and their thought pattern. So even negative thinking people are inspired but into negativity. We live in a world that functions on many levels but the only immediate level we can see is the physical one we currently occupy with our thoughts. So yes, there are hard times and good times because so many people out there live in hard times and so many live in good times and some live in hell and others just live. But, we’ve all chosen our times, our thoughts and our environment. To change it we have to change our thoughts, our attitude. It’s hard but it can be done. I think the artist’s way is just one journey on the road of life we all take to learn about life and to grow individually. Artists are lucky in that they can be so attuned to their own creations that they can have a more immediate influence on their environment through their creative process.
Good humor lady
by Carol Jessen, St. Louis, MO, USA
I recently had a conversation with a fellow watercolorist (a well-known workshop artist), who was bemoaning the bad economic times and the lack of sales. I kept to myself the same feelings that you expressed in this most recent letter — that there are always people who want to buy good art, in good times and hard times. This past year I doubled my painting sales income! I was able to completely pay for my entire summer’s rent in Maine, and pay the sales tax on my new car! I have a two month trip to Florida coming up, and in the past, through trading paintings for rent and selling to people on the street, have mostly been able to finance the winter trip as well! I think it’s my humor as much as my artwork that sells. So attitude does count!
Going to be very rich
by Carolyn Smith, Victoria, BC, Canada
If times are bad, when they get better I am going to be very rich! I notice a lot of bah humbug lately. Then on the other hand there are the ones I have noticed that change to something new. I find that keeps the mojo going. Yes, thinking positive is helluva lot more fun, plus it keeps the ideas flowing. Closed mind, blind to opportunity. You have to be open to what can be! I do have a brain disorder. The only time I’m happy is when I’m painting, creating, and living in the luxury of art. I say Bah! Humbug to those who like to be stale! My glass is always full of opportunity.
Produce work that sings
by Linda Anderson Stewart, Twin Butte, AB, Canada
I too have been hearing the litany of complaints that it’s been a bad year… Do what you love having just come off one of my best seasons it puzzles me as well. I’ve tried really hard not to let public opinion and consumption of my work be what motivates me to make it. (pandering to a public and a market kills the joy really fast) Perhaps in so doing, I have continued to be able to produce work that “sings” and as such is recognized for its joy?
Do what you love
by Steffani Smith
There will always be bad times — it’s a cycle of life. I’m living in poverty, yet I’m giddy with excitement that I can create beauty. It makes my heart joyful. It keeps me up late at night to finish a project. It gets me up early in the morning to drive the 40 minutes to go to my classes. Please don’t try and pooh-pooh my life and heart’s desire by telling me the economy is bad. I do what I love.
Positive painters privileged people
by Sylvio Gagnon, Ottawa, ON, Canada
On any given day, rain, snow or shine, I’ll set up my easel and make a beautiful landscape my subject on a canvas. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, the last 12 years on a full time basis. Long ago, I have given up calling my buddies to go painting. They always had a lame excuse for not coming — the weather was bad, they were tired, they were expecting company, they had some Xmas shopping to do, they could not sell what they painted, etc. All negatives that numbed their mind and killed their creativity. Many times they would say, “Times are bad,” or “We need a break.” One time, a friend came out and all he did, once in the field, was drink beer and criticize my work. With painters like that who needs company! So today, I select my buddies and I do my own thing, pretty well in isolation — no planning, no commitment, no promises, no fighting. Just paint, as if it were my last day on this earth. I don’t stress about the outcome, I simply enjoy the journey. Things usually come out in the wash better than I can anticipate. That makes me a child again and I’m happy. I sincerely believe that we positive painters are the most privileged people in this universe.
by Jamie Lavin, Gardner, KS, USA
Times are very hard here. Wal-Mart is the biggest industry. We manufacture so little now of what we in North America purchase. Hard to believe I’ve never been busier, but, the harder I work, the more orders and commissions I fill. If I get more than 5 hours of sleep a night, I think I’ve had a day off. I’m always worried I’m not doing enough to justify the space I take up on this earth, or that I’m not going to cover expenses, or that I’m late paying something or doing something. I take baby-steps getting organized, but it is overwhelming to handle every business issue that artists’ face. Just when I get the new computer, the roof needs replacing, I’ve ordered too much paint and not enough stretcher bars, will I get into the shows I need? Am I going to make the kids’ chorale performance tonight? Can I finish the commission early and get paid early? Once, in a Midwestern picture frame distributor’s office he told me, “Jamie, we all have the same problems: cash flow, distribution issues, sales goals, etc., it’s all in how you manage it.” OK, another skill I’ve got to manage but He keeps giving me another day and another chance. Somewhere in between, I keep hoping I’m learning something and doing a little good. Shannon, my 11-year-old, is sick at home today and I’m sitting up here in her room with her. Maybe that matters. I like the fact that the brush is always in my hand, and not someone else’s.
Turned house into museum
by RT Shepherd, Charleston, SC, USA
The public has never been eager to buy art, at least in my city, so I turned my house into a museum. Now the artists I like have wall space, even rooms! Perhaps I’m a bit bitter, but I keep the price of the work very high to discourage potential buyers. I tricked up the house with unknown artists, and spent about fifty-thousand dollars for the collection.
Dig in or quit
by Angela Kuprion, Bowling Green, KY, USA
I have over a year wait on my oil portraits. It is a wonderful time to be a painter. Perhaps those who are not selling now should check their pricing, find a new gallery, or check their work. It is usually your work. Then work on it. Take some classes, increase your painting time, do your research. Or just throw in the towel and find another job. Dig in or Quit.
See the good in the bad
by Susan Easton Burns, Douglasville, GA, USA
I’ve been seeing all the good (great) in bad lately. This is a Buddhist teaching… Everything is good, even the bad. It takes a slight shift in attitude to see this. Yes, I have to admit that I am ridiculously negative on some days, but when I become aware of these negative thoughts, I see that I’m making an unconscious choice to feel negative… With all of the censored art (read Art Papers Magazine, November 2004) and the political and economic and religious tension in the world, there is an awful lot to paint about! All the “bad” will turn to “good” and I’m looking forward to it. Also, I am presently looking for and finding art lovers, gallery owners and artist representatives that appreciate and are sensitive to the efforts and unique struggles of artists, and respect the artists enough to treat them exactly in the manner that they themselves would like to be treated.
by Diane Carter, MI, USA
This Wednesday I presented a talk on my paper concerning authentication through the creative arts (Know Thyself). What I have found is that art and artists are driven by passion and the emotional ride can veer off to anger and/or depression. Whoa, have we forgotten to enjoy the experience of daily creativity (whatever that may entail)? The complaining and the bad stuff is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Good in a creative sense
by Victor Gerloven, Leland, NC, USA
I work at art because I keep searching for what I don’t really know. But I keep working anyway and things take me to many different avenues. I do not make much money from my art, but I do love the idea of finding new things as I go along. Things are good for the artist in a creative sense though you may not make a lot of money.
Finding the balance
by Kim Power
I hear often also that times are bad for selling art. I guess I still hope that people will buy what they love and value no matter what. I remain optimistic. My only problem is how do you find the balance between selling and making your art? I have spent the past month only working on the selling part and it has taken me away from my first love, which is creating. I’m finding I spend more and more time trying to get my work shown. I find this disturbing when it keeps me from my work, but accept it as part of the reality of being a sole employee in this business of selling my art. Is there a happy medium? Nonetheless, I refuse to alter the quality of my work and make art that will appeal to the masses. If you have anything to say about this subject of selling I would be glad to hear it. It, the selling part, seems like so much work for so little return!
What me worry?
by Joyce Cusick, Inverness, FL, USA
As I sit by the Withlacoochee River painting the light and the water, trees and birds, I am blessed by a beautiful day, friends to paint with and an occasional sale. Times may be “bad” but people still buy pictures that make them feel good. Why worry about “times” when the works of most of the famous artists have not brought big dollars until after they are long gone. Taking joy in the moment is where it’s at.
Too many good artists
by Brian Knowles, CA, USA
One of the problems here in California is that are simply too many artists, and too many of them are too good. The market is flooded with good art, but it’s not flooded with good art buyers. The supply far outstrips the demand. From an artist’s point of view, however, it is not always the best artists that garner the greatest sales, but the best marketers of their art. Some pretty bad art is being very successfully marketed, and some great art is lying around in artist’s studios because the artist has no marketing skills or inclinations.
(RG note) Hope may be given by the encouraging thought that so much bad art is actively sold and bought. Looking around at a recent show, I thought, “It’s not that my work is so good. It’s just that everybody else’s is so bad.”
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2004.