Yesterday, Colorado painter Tom Lockhart wrote, “I work 50 to 65 hours per week, teach workshops and serve on the Board of a Local Arts Center. I judge art shows and travel to locations to paint. I earn $75,000.00 to $100,000.00 annually — too much to get a grant. I pay more than my share of taxes, expense out what the law allows and still find it difficult to make ends meet. I’m constantly paying entry fees, dues, advertising, framers, suppliers and travel expenses. I can’t understand why the public insists on buying cheap, crappy art from poorly educated artists who suffer for their craft. Yuk! There are constantly retired lawyers, doctors, architects, dentists and other professionals who decide to become painters. They put their work in galleries and sell to the unsophisticated, taking sales away from deserving, serious artists. And now with the economic bad times, it’s even harder to sell your art. What do you think about this?”
Thanks, Tom. One of the great features of our game is that it’s a level field where anyone can come and play. You may have noticed that a few years ago when you first ran out onto the field. While you have managed your career well, it was the quality of your work that ultimately got collectors’ attention. While there are back eddies and fearsome rapids in the river of creativity, it’s my observation that quality is still pervasively on the rise.
We in this brotherhood and sisterhood live in a state of uncertainty and flux. One year’s laureate is next year’s dead poet.
When we get too stuck in the relative affluence game, like some of our friends in the cash register of commerce, we lose sight of the truly great thing we do. It is to live this life of exploration and daily delight. It is to be free of the grind and indignity of working for someone else’s gain, of commuting to some office, factory or field. Of selling our souls for pay cheque and pension. Of joy in struggling with our shortcomings and weaknesses. Of ultimately making a wholesome product that fine people cherish through generations. Tom, practically everyone thinks you’ve got it made. Fact is, you have.
PS: “Paradoxically, I have found peace because I have always been dissatisfied. My moments of depression and despair turn out to be renewals, new beginnings. If I were to settle down and be satisfied with the surface of life, with its divisions and its cliches, it would be time to call in the undertaker. This dissatisfaction which sometimes used to worry me has helped me to move freely and even gaily with the stream of life.” (Thomas Merton)
Esoterica: Some segments of the art world are a remarkable meritocracy, while other segments are living proof that idiots have taken charge of the asylum. The wild cards are not always the artists, but the critics, media, dealers, interloping amateurs and the incorrigible, unsophisticated public you mentioned. Leave out those other guys and we’d be a pretty happy bunch. Leave out those other guys and we’d all be dead broke.
Tom Lockhart paintings
by John Osburn, North Bay, ON, Canada
I have real sympathy with Tom. Anyone can pick up a paintbrush. Anyone can take up a photograph and produce an image that will pass for art it seems. We know this product for what it is. You and I have seen it everywhere; hotel rooms, boardrooms, waiting rooms, living rooms. It has little to do with Tom and his vocation and in the long run it will mean nothing. It will eventually find its way to the recycling bin. As a successful architect in my salad days I thought my design ability would easily translate into a satisfying second career in art. How naive. How difficult that transition has been. Thanks to artists like Tom, their generosity, their patience, their ability and experience, I have learned so much. I am listening, studying every day, but mostly just doing it. The only value I set on this work is how much it pleases me to produce it, how it speaks of nature, and how it tells the truth. I believe these values reward both Tom and I in the same quest and I am grateful to you for reminding us both of that.
We’re big kids now
by Esti Mayer, Montreal, QC, Canada
Yes, it’s a level playing field. Yes, dissatisfaction can be our constant companion. Yes, working and persevering is the best medicine. But still, I think the artistic siblinghood errs in failing to educate the public. We have become so post-modern in our valuation of every scribble as “art,” of every unabashedly tacky canvas as “creative,” we have stopped criticizing. We are all too politically correct, always afraid of offending and hurting people’s feelings. Well, my siblings, not all art is art, not all canvases are good, not all creative impulses result in worthy works. It is time to stop being so nice and polite, time to call a spade a spade, time to critique and give meaning to the exercise by making it real. I am so tired of platitudes, we are all guilty of them as you know. I am tired of telling bad artists that “way to go” they did a fabulous job, when in fact their work can hardly stand on its own without blushing in embarrassment. Some of my paintings are good, some are bad. I know, I made them. But everyone says “wow” all the time — how are we to know where we stand? How are we to overcome the dissatisfaction welling in us, when we are in fact alone in our own reality. Let the artistic siblinghood vow truthfulness. We are all big kids now — we can and should take it!
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by Karl Leitzel, Spring Mills, PA, USA
Tom’s situation is pretty much what I seem to be heading toward and hope to achieve within another year or two. As to the mostly amateur artists who try their hand at selling their work, I don’t worry about it. I don’t think they cut into serious art purchasing to any great degree, and most will not keep at it long if there is little positive feedback. In the meantime, it makes life more enjoyable for them and gives a creative outlet. Besides, some of those same retired lawyers and doctors are actually serious art buyers and workshop participants as well, and if dabbling in art themselves helps keep that interest up, I have no complaints.
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by Keith Cameron, Sierra Madre, CA, USA
Tom, in response to your comments you are obviously a well educated technical artist who has in my humble opinion a strong sense of color and form within your interpretations. Having said that, to think that education is the only way to become an artist borders upon subjective fascism. Those you speak of must enter the art market under the same conditions that you face and suffer, or enjoy the sale of their work just like you. Again in my humble opinion the entire world would be a much better place if in once in their lives people could discover the intricate wonder of the contours of the human body; the closeness to nature you feel when you see the complementary colors in dialogue within a sunset and earthly forms; to see our amazing planet reduced into fractals that boggle the mind in macro, and macro views. I wish experiences like that for everybody, and if along the way they enjoy a sale that reflects an appreciation for their efforts we are better for it. I wish you well in your efforts to make more money, but please do not turn on the collective inamorata(o) when you don’t.
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Life is good
by Joyce Aysta, Los Angeles, CA, USA
When I decided to leave the film industry and make my living as an artist, I also decided not to be a “starving artist.” I spent a great deal of time early on, learning about the business side of being an artist, and that was very helpful. However the most helpful thing I did was read a book called How to Get the Things in Life You Want with the Money You Already Have by Carol Keeffe. The premise of the book is that no matter how much money you make or don’t make, you always think you need about 10% more. Carol’s answer is that no matter how much money you do or don’t have, you can live the life you want. The first 10 years of being an artist were a constant financial struggle. The last 5 years, as I have learned to apply Carol’s principals, life has been much easier. The bills are paid on time and I get to do things like take vacations, buy new clothes and get season ticket s to the Hollywood Bowl… Life is good.
Unique voices please
by Elsha Leventis, Toronto, ON, Canada
This is a “problem” in just about every field of human endeavour — there are people with talent who never make it and people with no talent who rise faster than helium balloons, and the rest of us somewhere between the extremes. Martha Graham had wise words. To paraphrase — it’s not up to us to judge whether what we do is good or bad, we need to get our unique voices out there because if we don’t the world would never know our work at all and would be a poorer place. There are a whole slew of us who admire and respect Tom for making what most would consider to be a very respectable living at art — or in any field.
Obstacles into opportunities
by Alev Guvenir, Istanbul, Turkey
The art market has its own dynamics. The customer is the decision maker. If he/she likes a piece he’ll buy. An artist cannot criticize the artistic taste of the customer. Every seller has a buyer. Similarly if he is participating in a competition he cannot criticize the jury. He should not lose time and energy trying to control the world. People buy to decorate their houses: It’s their environment, their taste, their value for the money. They buy to invest. They get the nearest critic’s advice. They fulfill their soul. They may get transcendental in front of a blue square painted by a dentist or Rothko. There is the freedom of choice and one should be thankful for that. It is a small perception shift to see obstacles as opportunities. And one benefits a lot. Obstacles drain energy but opportunities motivate.
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No entitlement please
by Doug Walker, Calgary, AB, Canada
There is no entitlement just because we are “trained” in a certain area. Labor Unions have tried this setup in our society (in the start for good reason). G.M. and Chrysler are now collapsing because of the distorted effect of their product and in part the people who work there. Even countries have tried. I used to go to Cuba every year and found that the artists and doctors all get paid the same. This year the hurricanes came and destroyed houses, etc, etc. In the villages one house would be repaired and not the next. When I asked, Why? I was told that the repaired house had a brother high in the government. So there is equal and more equal. Even in the area where the artists are tenured, such as the universities, there is no “Equal” but there is entitlement of income. These are the people who give classes to the retired lawyers, teachers and others such as myself. Would Tom change this or does he want to be part of it? I would say the latter. Also, Tom, I am seventy this year and have been painting 15 of the 15 years since I have been retired. Are you saying my art has no value? “Our system is not perfect but it is better than the alternative.”
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Phase out the negative
by Callie Beller
My initial reaction to your writer’s “dilemma” was to throw a rock at his head! Since he wasn’t handy to aim at, the urge got stifled. Seriously though, if this artist is so dissatisfied, perhaps it isn’t the income that is the issue. Judging from his letter, travelling to give workshops and being a leader in his art community don’t seem to be providing him with the level of satisfaction that one would expect. He has needs that aren’t being met, and at 75-100k a year, they have nothing to do with food, shelter or clothing. (Or framing. Just include it in the price of the painting, for pete’s sake!) I think if anyone is going to be a professional artist, they need to manage all aspects of their career, including work/life balance, just the same as any other professional. If another artist has something that you think you should have, examine what the emotional payoff is that you’re looking for. If any part of your career isn’t contributing towards your wellbeing, then it needs to be phased out in favour of something that is.
Room enough for everyone
by Beth Christensen
REALLY??? Let’s see…I’ve worked for 30 years teaching 4th graders and pulling down less than half of what our dissatisfied artist friend makes… oh yeah, and that’s before taxes and expenses too. My dream was always to be a professional artist, but my family was my priority, and so I limited myself to weekend and occasional evening indulgences in art over the years. That was my choice and I feel no regrets, but now I finally am able to quit my job and follow my own heart. I am exceedingly happy learning and experimenting and would like to show my work sometime in the near future. If I were to sell a few pieces, I’d be over the moon, not because I’d be getting rich, but because someone liked what I have to say enough to invest money in it. Art is what touches a person’s spirit and makes them feel something. There’s room enough for everyone, and thank goodness most of the artists I know are generous both in spirit and in sharing advice and encouragement.
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Great life in commercial art
by Jesse Silver, Burbank, CA, US
One of my teachers, James Doolin, spoke to our class about the likelihood of making a career in the arts. What he said was that one in ten thousand would be able to support him or her self through art and that if just one of his students managed a career, out of a lifetime of teaching, then he would have beaten the odds. Well, I’m one of those artists, and I have to take issue with Robert’s comments. I’m a commercial artist. I take home a check, am building a pension, and help others make money. I’m pretty well rewarded for it, making a good six figure income on average. I work in animation and live action films. All in all it’s a good gig. I’ve traveled and worked all over the US and Canada. I’ve dreamt up ideas for everywhere and everywhen. Worked with a swell bunch of extraordinarily talented creative people. I’ve always liked telling stories with my work and this field is perfect for that purpose. The work is demanding, challenging, and ever changing. And it’s a kick to see my paintings, or applied creative input, on the screen. The quality of the work that goes into a film is staggering, and generally of a much higher calibre than I see in galleries. The people with whom I work are fine artists who have chosen a commercial path. They draw and paint and sculpt and model and animate with passion and dedication. They don’t make any big fuss about it. And they support their families through the application of their art and craft. All in all, we’re very fortunate, perhaps blessed, to be able to do this. And anyone who considers us somehow “less than” because we take home a check, earn a pension, and/or help others make money, doesn’t get it.
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Incompetent songwriter does well
by Lynn Harrison, Toronto, ON, Canada
This week, an influential friend happened to praise a songwriter I consider incompetent — one who, to my bafflement, continues to pursue his career on a professional level. Like the painters Tom mentions, he had another career before and is relatively new to the game. When he started out, I thought he’d drop out quickly… but no! Strangely though, when my friend praised this artist, I actually felt happy for him (maybe because, indeed, he’s had his share of criticism). But more than that, I think something had changed in me. In that moment, I didn’t feel jealous or threatened or as eager to point out the artist’s shortcomings, as I had in the past. Now that he’s achieving a little success, maybe I don’t have to pity him either! There’s a great freedom in seeing that his career has nothing at all to do with mine… that the comparisons I make are all on the surface, and so fleeting and inconsequential.
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Don’t bite the hand…
by Marie Johannes, Denver, CO, USA
Ouch! I live and paint in Colorado and I know who Tom Lockhart is. I like his work. I respect his skill. But, I was largely disturbed by his comments. I am an “other professional” who is working constantly on my skills to be a better painter. I work many hours a week to improve my painting ability. I’ve spent a fair amount of money on classes and workshops, supplies, etc. I tell ALL my artist and other friends about the fine artists I have studied with AND those with a superior attitude as well. In these tough economic times, all retired professionals are watching their dollars closely. I’m pretty sure that all the “serious” artists who supplement their incomes by teaching are seeing declining enrollment in their classes as well as a decline in gallery sales. Too bad! My husband’s retired from Chrysler! It IS a “level playing field” and there are many who would envy Tom’s stature in the art world. Tom, have you heard the expression, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you”?
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by Joseph Yos Tany
We are co-realizing a few facts and emotions. When self aware one can recognize the happy painter. It is the genius — the playful witness. In the midst of being oneself, the painter is registering all that is in silent meaningful ways. But also be aware my friends, the riff is coming back. This is a self aware universe balanced through creation. The good days for visual artists are returning. They are on their way. The spiritual starvation of all classes of awareness is coming to an end! Tom, buddies, be prepared.
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Breton wash basin
oil painting, 8 x 12 inches
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, 2013.
That includes DJ Geribo of Alton, NH, USA, who wrote, “Okay, all you poorly educated artists out there, let’s hear it for Tom, ‘aaawwwwwwwww!’ ”
And also Gordon France of La Grange, IL, USA, who wrote, “H.L. Mencken summarized the problem most succinctly: ‘Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.’ ”
And also Cathey Schuster of Auburn, CA, USA, who wrote, “I cheer for each person’s success — not pout about it.”
And also Lanie Frick of Licking, MO, USA, who wrote, “What the mind focuses on most, life will deliver. If one’s thoughts revolve around unfairness, then unfairness is what you’ll receive. If one thinks more about what’s good in life, then you will receive more of what’s good. You will draw to you what you project out into the universe. When I catch my thoughts going in a negative direction I stop, take a deep breath and get my mind on positive things. This can be hard if I watch too much news that’s filled with negativity so I stay away from it as much as possible. Think positive, look for the good, be grateful.”
And also Hans Mertens of Holland, who wrote, “Feeling dissatisfied only hurts yourself. Feeling rich inside is what being an artist is about.”
And also Dianne Harrison of Roswell, GA, USA, who wrote, “I was quite surprised that Tom’s letter was rewarded with top billing and an amazing gift of exposure.”
And also Valerie Greene of Fresno, CA, USA, who wrote, “Would you like cheese with your whine?”
And also Shela Breau of Annapolis Royal, NS, Canada, who wrote, “This was too bloody funny not to say thank you.”
Enjoy the past comments below for A dissatisfied artist…