Those first few years

Dear Artist, Yesterday, Ryan Foster of Tampa, Florida, wrote, “Between my Bachelor’s degree and my Master’s I’ve spent the last 7 years in school. Now that I’m done I feel pressure to get a job (to pay rent), but all I want to do is paint. How do I convince my newly married wife that it’s possible to make it as an artist? What were your first couple of years out of school like? How did you get the ball rolling?” Thanks, Ryan. Great questions — many answers. First, things were just as tough then as they are now. Second, in my case I was not particularly good at a lot of things, but, like you, trying to get good at painting was almost an obsession. Third, I wanted to be independent and self-employed at all costs. Getting a job would have sucked up my energy and signaled defeat. I just knew that I could do better than the crummy paintings that I was doing at the time. While disheartened, I was not the type to give up. Unattached, I was on my own. After an excellent formal education, I still didn’t know what I was doing. I felt I was on the outside looking in. Everybody was doing better than me. In a small rented studio I gave myself six months of concentrated, anti-social energy. I painted like a banshee — over six hundred paintings — anything that crossed my mind. My work seemed to form up and I gradually winnowed my preferences. With a naturally upbeat, non-angst nature and a fondness for peace and tranquility, my work began to show it. This was not calculated — just lucky. Finally desperate, I took my work around to several galleries — got rejected, then barely accepted by one. At the time, my work was just marginally “marketable.” From the very beginning I fought the idea of being a “local artist.” I tried very hard to get my work into respectable galleries in other cities, other countries — even at the expense of local markets. Never one to sign contracts, I ran my life like a mutual fund — diversified dealers, varying results. I was strategic. I planned ahead, penciled in projects. At no time did I ask for grants, nor did I enter contests or competitions. Looking back, my stance of ‘simple worker’ helped maintain my fragile self-esteem. My life was one of calculated studenthood. Still is. Inevitably, I fell further in love with painting. I so much valued and enjoyed the daily challenge of looking and seeing, contemplating and painting. Still do. Best regards, Robert PS: “A wish has been defined as a ‘goal with no energy behind it.’ Hope is not a strategy.” (Brian Tracy) Esoterica: When I was about thirty-two I came to understand that my mutual fund concept was the right one. Walking to the mailbox one morning I found three separate checks from three separate galleries in three separate cities. I came back down to the house and told my new wife, Carol, that I didn’t think money was going to be a problem from now on. And it hasn’t.   Follow your heart by Caroline Simmill, Morayshire, Scotland  

oil painting
by Caroline Simmill

I returned to Scotland to become an artist; I saw for the first time who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. I had the sole companion of my sheep dog at the time and enough money to last me two years. I focused on painting everyday starting early and working late into the night. I felt so sure I could make it as I had a plan of action to paint local beauty spots and where I wanted to sell them. My work was less than average so I had to work very hard to improve my skills. I did manage my goal. It was very hard work and I was isolated at times only knowing a few people, but I felt in my heart it was the way to go. I am still as committed and still selling paintings in galleries here in the highlands sixteen years later. I believe if you have a vision and are determined to work towards it then it will happen, but it is not easy, it is hard work. You need to follow your heart and to use your brain to work hard every day. But I still believe it is worth it. It becomes a way of life. There is 1 comment for Follow your heart by Caroline Simmill
From: Eliah — Jun 21, 2011

Love your story, it’s easier to convince a sheep dog than a wife.

  Perseverance is key by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA  

“The orchard”
mixed media painting
by Paul deMarrais

There is no formal way to enter the system of the art marketplace. The only way this fellow will convince his wife he can make it as an artist is to go about doing it. It will be a struggle. He’ll likely have to ‘get a job’ and paint on the side. If truly obsessed, he will continue to paint and improve to the point where his work is marketable. He might develop the teaching end of it, if that is a natural talent. Hopefully he will have some business acumen and self-confidence to handle the inevitable bumps and bruises to the ego that all artists face. Perseverance is key. If he’s truly serious, the drive to make it as an artist will push him up the mountain. If not he’ll wander about in the valley and become discouraged. The odds are against one making a living as a painter.   Quality ensures success by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA  

original painting
by Diane Overmyer

I wish I had read your strategies when I first got out of school. One of the most interesting things you wrote is that you have never entered art competitions. I’ve been told that is the way to get noticed by galleries, but when I really think about it, it really has only been the quality of my art that has gotten me into galleries. Great advice! I suddenly feel very free with the thought of no longer worrying about what competition is coming up when, and no longer having to deal with all of the time and effort of entering them. There are one or two major competitions that I will still enter, but I really do think that I would be much happier simply putting all of that time and effort into my art! My one bit of advice for Ryan is to have patience. It might happen in the near future or it might be years to be able to really earn enough money to support the family in the way he wishes to, but if he continues to follow his inner voice, success will come! There is 1 comment for Quality ensures success by Diane Overmyer
From: Lanie Frick — Jun 21, 2011

I really like your painting Diane. Good color with nice brushwork.

  What a blessing! by Yonnah Bezalel-Levy, USA  

“Pow-wow, Festival of the River”
original painting
by Yonnah Bezalel-Levy

I am 66 now and feel much younger indeed because of the choice to pursue an art career from the age of 13. After attending three undergraduate schools majoring in art the whole time, I ended up teaching after my junior year. I decided to teach art after that as well, so I went on after birthing two children to get my MAT from the U of W. I really just wanted to do art only, but the kids grabbed me when I was only twenty and I ended up teaching and going to school and having babies in my twenties… all creative activity. That was before and during the hippie revolution. When my children reached school age I found my niche in the wildlife circuit in the NW and did paintings and bronze sculptures of birds, especially raptors. At age 36 after a very difficult divorce I ended up in Israel and once again started from scratch in a new side of the world with an entirely different culture and language and religion. I was asked to write a five-year goal plan and I did just that, outlining the steps I would take to be an international artist, not just a local one. It was only a few weeks later that the opportunity to travel to Israel via NY, and Paris came up and boy did I grab it. That was thirty years ago and my second husband and I met in Jerusalem and are now celebrating our anniversary. We have been living in the States the last thirteen years and are planning to go back and forth more often because I just retired from teaching art to do it full out. I am hardly known internationally but have sold to people around the world and I am not such a known entity in my Pacific NW origins either, but my husband and I have been blessed to be able to do our lives in the arts and share our love for them and still survive. What a blessing that is.   Start by teaching what you know by Sally V. Smith, Houston, MS, USA   In regard to the artist who graduated and then wanted to know what to do, I would suggest that offering private, group art lessons might help to pay the bills while allowing plenty of time to paint on one’s own. A group of 5-10 is okay — 5 being the best size but, if you have room, up to 10 is doable. The biggest problem might be finding the space and the way to advertize. You can use the local newspaper, give talks to local groups, or you can start painting in your area and have some business cards or flyers ready to pass out.   Who supported you? by Mark Hofreiter, Orlando, FL, USA   So, from, say, in your twenties to 31, how did you pay the electric bill, the mortgage or rent, the water bill, the food bill and on and on? How were the tens of thousands of dollars it takes to live on, gotten while you, at the beginning, earned a few thousand at most in a given year? Even if you were a fine painter within 6 months, it takes time, years in some cases, to develop a following and in the meantime, who supported you? That is what I think this, I assume, young man and especially his bride wants to know. (RG note) Thanks, Mark. This is what you and hundreds of others wanted to know. I’d just like to clear it up that I wasn’t a fine painter in six months — that implication of mine was inaccurate. I improved in six months — enough so that I became a borderline artist in a few better galleries. To live I flipped the odd antique car for a profit, occasionally got free meals, lived frugally and put in my 10,000 hours. Miraculously, I supported myself. For a better explanation see letter and response below.   A painter’s progress by Frances Poole, Desert Hot Springs, CA, USA  

oil painting
by Frances Poole

First, I enjoy and look forward to your very intelligent, informed, entertaining and energetic bi-weekly letters. The information you give artists is always informative and mostly spot-on correct. But in this case, I can’t agree with the way you responded to Ryan. I think you left out important remarks and facts. The six months you focused to get into the art market is remarkable, commendable and excellent advice but there is one big difference between you and Ryan. He is married and, as you pointed out, you were single. You didn’t go any further with that. Perhaps you didn’t want to get into the touchy subject of marriage and responsibilities. I, on the other hand, have no problem saying what needs to be said; the first mistake Ryan and his wife made was to get married before he had some financial success. Unless they had a contract and agreed he could pursue his art career, he should expect to carry his share of the financial burden. They need to have a talk about that. It looks like neither one of them thought things through before tying the knot. The advice may be too late for them, but may help others planning on going down the same path. Furthermore, I don’t agree that things were as hard back then as they are now. First, after the big boom of the ’80s, herds of artists rushed to get art degrees so there are far more artists now, therefore more competition in a tighter than ever art market. Second, many galleries are not taking on new artists in this economy. Third, the cost of living is much higher; rents, gas, food, art supplies and everything is more expensive. Nothing but the great depression can compare with our current economy. Artists used to get really cheap studios to live-work in. That simply is not true anymore unless someone is willing to take over abandoned buildings and that isn’t always safe or wise. Fourth, in the ’80s it was common to have sold-out shows; that doesn’t happen much these days. Art sales are much slower and less frequent, even when one is lucky enough to get a show. Also, even if you get a gallery and the work doesn’t have rapid sales, the work will be shipped back. It doesn’t matter if the work is good or not. Lastly, you left out three vital bits of information: First, you had to live on something for six months. You rented a studio and painted 6 hundred paintings. What were rents back then? -cheap I bet. Did you live on savings? With your parents? A rich uncle? Second, you told us you were 32 when you realized you could make it financially, but how long did it take to start making sales after those six months you outlined? These are very important facts to share so that young artists can make educated decisions and to be realistic about what they need to do to survive. Third, what did you do after the six months? Get a job or continue to only focus on your art; and did you make enough sales to live on? There is a big gap between those six months and your financial success, or is there? (RG note) Thanks, Frances. You brought up a lot of interesting and valuable points that I’m sure our readers will find useful — and to be clear, it’s true I glossed over some things that should have been included. To be sure, I had been painting all along since I was very young — even when I was going to University taking History and Psychology. I even had some one-man shows — the results of which were spotty. Off and on till about age 32 I took in a few industrial design, advertising and illustrating jobs. I inherited nothing, nor did I live on the avails of a rich uncle. I didn’t figure out how to paint in six months, it was just a valuable part of my self-education. But I never had a standard type of job. If you were looking for one thing to put your finger on — I was prolific. Still am. Can’t get it stopped.   What of your wife’s dreams? by Kathleen Sauerbrei, Crossfield, AB, Canada  

“The Woodpile”
acrylic painting, 16 x 20 inches
by Kathleen Sauerbrei

I think what is important here is how will you, Ryan Foster, support yourself here! Who has footed the bills these past seven years? Yes, while it is a good thing to be able to follow your dream, relying on your wife (I assume this is what has happened these past years) may not be fair to her. Seems she has enabled you to follow your dreams already. Who is paying the debt of these past years of education? Now it is your turn to say, “I will do this and you can follow your dreams now.” You need to come up with a viable plan that benefits the both of you and make it work. Dreams are wonderful, but in order to follow them we must be able to stand on our own two feet to walk the path. How can you in all conscience say that your dreams will only come true if your wife agrees? This is your dream, not hers, and you must find a way to make it work without her involvement now! We all have dreams; do you know what hers are? There are 2 comments for What of your wife’s dreams? by Kathleen Sauerbrei
From: Anonymous — Jun 21, 2011

Amn, Sister!

From: Diane Overmyer — Jun 21, 2011

Kathleen, Thanks for pointing this out! I often think about this very issue in terms with my husband, who is not an artist, and who was not even the least bit interested in art when we first met. My husband has supported me and my dreams for years now. I have tried to always let him know how much I appreciate him and now the cool thing is that my dreams of becoming a successful artist are his dreams as well. He has pushed me to stick with my career and he has seen enough benefits, both financially and emotionally, that he really wants me to keep on course. A supportive person; be it a spouse or other close person, in an artist’s life is the most valuable asset an artist can have! We need to be ever mindful of helping those people along their journey through life as well!!

  Doing well by doing good by Mike Jorden, Osoyoos, BC, Canada  

“Fort Langley Sunset”
oil painting, 24 x 30 inches
by Mike Jorden

I had the privilege of attending the Robert Genn presentation to the Triptych art show in the Okanagan valley of British Columbia this week. Hearing you in person talking about tips for painters was like reading your twice-weekly letters but in closer proximity. The most important message I got from your talk, however, was not another “painter’s key” but your incredible personal generosity. I am told you did not accept a fee for your presentation, offered two additional prizes for the competition and once again freely shared your knowledge and experience gained in a lifetime of making art. For those of us who enter competitions, knowing that even though it is a game it can be extremely competitive, you reminded us not to take ourselves too seriously. That in the midst of the striving we are a brotherhood and sisterhood of artist-practitioners and in sharing our gifts with one another we enrich ourselves as well as our fellow competitors. Doing well by doing good.    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Those first few years

From: Marcia Wise — Jun 17, 2011

For Ryan in Tampa: We all need to continue to cultivate what Robert has expressed, however, the current market place is unlike anything we have seen since the 30’s. Many galleries are now working on new paradigms of the business of art just to stay afloat in this economic climate. As artists, we must continue to create and pursue our dreams. It is also time to be more creative in our thinking and in our dealings with galleries. I have gallery representation, but newer affiliations are unlike any I have had before. Many galleries are asking more and more of the artists in terms of fees, and many galleries who have been long standing will only take mid-career artists who have a track record, who have had museum exhibits, and have had their work published. I finished college in the early 70’s and then found myself teaching, ultimately returning to school for that degree. It supported me, helped my family and I still had time to pursue my painting. Today, art teachers are struggling to find employment. I have encouraged students for many years now to think outside the box and use their talent in as many creative ways as possible, because one must be able to be self-sufficient. The problems with the global economy are not going to go away overnight, meanwhile artists committed to their work must continue to develop. It is always a good time, in a downturn, to do this. However, one must be rational and reasonable and understand the economic climate in which we live. Talk with some gallery directors – the love to talk about their “new” ideas concerning survival. Look at alternatives to traditional galleries – cooperatives are everywhere now. Pursue your dreams while having one foot in that arena and one foot planted in the reality of today’s marketplace. This is what I tell all my students and this is what my artist friends and I discuss when we are together. It doesn’t mean you will not find gallery representation, but the way in which galleries work now is much different than they were able to in the past. Stay current, talk to people who are doing now what you want to do, and talk with gallery directors and owners. I am finding they love to share their new ideas and process. In my day, I made a living in education while still painting in the studio. Retired from teaching, today I paint full time and have representation, and take only a few private students. Pursue your dream and be practical. That’s my advice to new graduates wanting to break into today’s art market.

From: John Ferrie — Jun 17, 2011

Dear Robert, We all want to live the dream of sitting in a field of lavender in France, painting dozens of beautiful paintings and having galleries clamouring for our work before they are even dry. Artists like Ross Bleckner raise the bar where there is an actual 2 year waiting list for one of his pieces. This is not the reality for most of us. We have day jobs and jobs that pay the rent. I graduated from Art school in 1988 and I STILL have a waitering job. I never know when a painting is going to sell and I always seem to need to pay my rent. I am good at what I do and I actually gain a few paying clients from this job. I met a woman a few years ago who changed my attitude about having to work in a restaurant. This woman counselled Prostitutes on how to get out of that world. She was once a prostitute herself. You would never know it as she looked like a successful business woman. I asked her what she said. She told me she told them to “Keep your regulars, just don’t work on the street”. I thought those were words to live by, keep your regulars. Having to go to a job and make money to support your family in this day and age is crucial. Having the luxury of carving out time to paint is important as well. I have always said, if you want fame and fortune, go sell Real Estate. But if you want to live the passionate life of an artist, go for it, just be realistic about making a living. John Ferrie

From: Marvin Humphrey, Napa Valley — Jun 17, 2011

Unattached, you can focus all your energies on your art. The concert pianist can focus on honing his or her skills by studying music, and pounding the keys 10-12 hours a day. The sacrifice is loneliness. Top priority as a married man is to provide for his wife, and children when they come. The major cause of Vincent Van Gogh’s demise was lack of love in his life.

From: Suzette Fram — Jun 17, 2011

Very interesting to read your story, Robert. Thanks for sharing it. I find it hard to believe that things were as tough then as they are today. The world has changed a lot since then, the global economy, the demographics of our population, the internet; no, this is a very different world. The overabundance of painters, galleries, shows and available art, combined with with the ease of shopping online and being able to buy art for very little, not to mention the new reality of an uncertain financial system and future, makes the selling of art much more difficult. Becoming successful as a visual artist today is about the same as wanting to be a singer, or an actor. The reality is that there are an awful lot of very talented people out there who are not able to make a go of it and must support themselves with other jobs. Supply exceeds demand. Today, factors like contacts, opportunities and luck may have more to do with success than talent. That is today’s reality I think, for many of us.

From: Brigitte Nowak — Jun 17, 2011

In response to Suzette Fram, and the changing face of professional art-making: while in university, I had the opportunity of taking a course with Canadian artist Ken Danby. Facing 30 or so eager art students, and trying to get a handle on the class, he asked us a number of questions. One was, “how many of you are intending to be professional painters when you graduate?” At least 20 or so people put up their hands. Mr. Danby then snorted. He had the decency to avoid lecturing us on the challenges on which we were about to embark. That was when he was just on the cusp of recognition, some 40 years ago. Yes, things have changed, but supply exceeded demand even then. What hasn’t changed – much – is that work of quality will find an audience, and that people who “go to their rooms” and practise, in whatever field of achievement they choose, will improve. Thank you for your newsletter, Robert. I now have to go paint.

From: Darlene Suzanne Silva — Jun 17, 2011

There are artists aplenty in my town. On the other hand, buyers are scarce on the ground. The art that matters most, here, is afixed to bumpers, or silk screened on tee shirts. I had a decision to make years ago. Stay, work on art, and starve. Leave, work on art, and maybe starve. At the time I had no idea of dragging canvases to major urban centers. Anyway, I chose the former, but avoided the starvation be eating judiciously and taking non-art employment. I’ve never regretted it. What I do sometimes regret is that I don’t get more sleep between my full time employments, art and non-art.

From: Anon — Jun 17, 2011

Supply does indeed exceed demand and 99% of artists can’t live from their art…until you get to the top. Over there, top paid artists can’t make enough stuff for hungry collectors, so all kinds of crap gets “manufactured”, as discussed in the last letter. What is wrong with that picture?

From: Paula Timpson — Jun 17, 2011

Holy Holy are early morning Creations abounding in rich color! Faith is in Art~ Believe in the mystery that is Life One cannot see the future, only God can , Miracle is, Happiness is in simply making Art and being Family, Simple…

From: Susan Gellner — Jun 17, 2011

I have never responded to your emails but this morning felt I must tell you how much you inspire and comfort the restless artist in me. I am an encaustic artist with a passion to paint and love of the art. Thank you for your candid wisdom and advise. It truly helps.

From: Karla Pearce — Jun 17, 2011

Robert you’re an exception to the rule and from the baby boomer generation to boot. Most gen-x or gen-y artists end up starving. We are the over educated under paid generation. I worked, made babies and painted when I should of slept. I own my own gallery now, but the road was very hard. I think art and creativity are wonderful gifts, but very bad career choices. Ryan needs to suck it up and get a job or else he will loose his young wife. Family comes before career. And yes even an art one.

From: Colleen Wainwright — Jun 17, 2011

I cannot begin to express how much this particular letter cheered me. And I am an ancient (almost 50!) writer who has been at it for a long, long time. As they say in certain circles, you’re doing the Lord’s work. (I like to pronounce it with a slight Irish lilt, so it comes out “lard.” Sweeter that way.) Thank you a thousand times over. For this letter and all the others I’ve been gobbling up—and yes, passing on—over the past several years.

From: Lori Boast — Jun 18, 2011

Thanks Robert for this commentary. Very helpful. I’m reading some comments here of some artists who are pretty negative. It’s sad, but I guess the reality is that it is a bit of a numbers game as are all pursuits. I won’t give up, for the simple fact of, if others don’t buy my work, I love it enough for all of them! I’m painting for myself first. I think that we as artists need to promote fine art to everyone who will listen and create a demand. Subtly, and not so subtly in every conversation that it’s possible, steer the way to this message- Unless you own a piece of original fine art, you have no real taste. And while one piece is good, a collection is better. That posters are for teens, unlimited high-end giclees for very young adults, and original art for adults with taste. – repeat ad naseum. Get it into letters, articles, and on TV and radio if possible. The compromise and in-between stage, is numbered signed limited editions. They’ll get hooked. They just need to make that first “buy”. In marketing, they say that a buyer needs to be contacted and exposed 7 times before they buy. So contact and expose away. People buy fancy cars, oversized mcmansions, and cookie cutter throw away, but nice looking furnishings, all in an attempt to be stylish, and appear to have taste. They buy expensive haircuts, jewelry, and meals out. They have disposable cash for that. Those same people then line up for hours to see “fine art originals” in a museum. Sometimes they need to be led a bit. We need to send the message that taste is in unique style, original paintings and art. Repeating things over and over actually seems to work. If someone doesn’t like your particular art, thats fine, ask what they do like and recommend an artist you think they may like. And ask other artists to do the same for you. Create demand, and help fill supply- all revolutions begin small. If they can’t afford to buy it, can they afford to rent it? Pay on installments? Do they understand why it costs what it does?- educate them. Once they understand the value, the wallet loosens up. Can you diversify and create other products? Smaller pieces? I look around me and see art everywhere, not always fine art, but design at least. There are many great artsy “jobs” that feed the creative soul while pursuing fine art. And to all those who despair, do what the big companies that survive economic uncertainty do. Rethink, regroup, redesign if necessary, and persist. Maybe we need to do an article on a “study” that children who grow up in houses with original art are smarter? I wish you all prosperity, and creative joy.

From: Carole Belliveau — Jun 18, 2011

Karla is right, love for family comes first which is why so few woman artists in the past. However may I suggest that there are many careers in the practical arts which allow you to continue to be creative, support the family, and then if you demand of yourself to hold on to the dream, that experience can inform a full time fine art career later. I was forced to raise my child alone and so had no choice. I became a very successful designer instead. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Childhood is fleeting and they do grow up. You have a life beyond and if you put family first you will continue to have a companion to share your future as an artist. being an artist that is sustained by a loving companion is a special kind of power.

From: Peter Kiidumae — Jun 18, 2011

In her opening paragraph Lori Boast states “if others don’t buy my work, I love it enough for all of them! I’m painting for myself first.” The question raised by Ryan Foster related to earning a living from his painting. That means being able to pay his rent, buy groceries, and secure adequate art supplies to be able to produce paintings. I have to guess, then, that either Lori missed the whole point of the matter, or she pays herself handsomely for those paintings that nobody else buys. The rest of us do have to concern ourselves about actually selling our work in order to generate the income that qualifies as “earning a living”. Lori does, however, make the more useful suggestion to “rethink, regroup, redesign if necessary”. That process would include reconsidering silly prejudices about alternate ways of generating income, such as high quality giclee reproductions. Personally, I can only sell my original once, but there are, I’ve found, many others out there who have equally good taste as the buyer of my originals, who like the painting just as much but can’t acquire it either because it is already sold or because it is simply beyond their financial means. What nonsense to suggest that acquiring a work of art in a form that is affordable somehow reflects on that buyers level of taste and sophistication. My advice to Ryan, if he wants to earn a living at painting, is to leave any art snob prejudices locked up in the closet, and do whatever you need to do in order to earn the income you need in order to keep on doing what you want to do.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Jun 18, 2011

I have a question Robert- Where did you get the money to pay for supplies to paint 600 paintings in your first 6 months of painting? Because it doesn’t grow on trees- and I’ve NEVER had that kind of funding. Where’d it come from?

From: Jackie Knott — Jun 18, 2011

Ryan, your greatest challenge is personal. Have you expressed a commitment to your art whatever it takes, or have you vaguely talked about a relatively safe career? Did your wife marry an art student with no income and a mountain of student debt to manage? Hello??!!! Does she work (what is her passion?) or is she already hunting a tidy little cottage to start your family? You both need to sit down and have an honest talk about life goals … and what you BOTH are willing to work for. I don’t read anywhere in Robert’s letter there wasn’t a great deal of sacrifice and hard work … and, by his wife. Recognize his experience is an anomaly. What, you’re expecting everything to magically fall into place and you’ll ease into the art market with regular income?? Please …. I once heard a rodeo announcer talk about what it takes to be a professional calf roper: “Expect to be on the road most of the year and sleep in cheap hotels and eat in junk restaurants. You have to have a gas sucking pickup and a horse trailer. It takes a really well trained horse worth at least sixty, eighty grand … borrow that from a relative. And hope you have some really understanding in-laws and a wife with a good job.” Nothing is easy. Many artists work “day jobs” (and still do) to become successful. Deal with it. And then when you do absolutely everything “right” and nothing you do produces your dreams … live with it. That’s the life of an artist ….

From: Brigitte Nowak — Jun 19, 2011

One more thought for Ryan, Lori and the other artists out there, in reference to Robert’s “tricks” for getting his work into galleries, and thence out the door: as Robert noted, in the early days his work was “marginally marketable”. That’s another thing to keep in mind. Once you have “gone to your room” and become a competent painter (or artist of whatever stripe you choose) another step on the ladder is to paint work that resonates with other people, the people who will fork out their own hard-earned cash in exchange for your inspiration and vision. Of course you have to love your own work, and you have to make it as good as you can, but to be “independent and self-employed”, as Robert wished to be, you have to, either, have an inheritance or understanding spouse to support you, or you have to make work that the marketplace will accept and embrace.

From: Leila Pearson — Jun 20, 2011

I always love to hear this story, but everyone’s circumstances are different. If I went to my room for 6 months to make art, I would have lost my job that feeds my family and pays for our home. I am from a low-middle class family. We work, we earn and we don’t borrow. There ain’t no dough for living (and making art) unless we do our 9-5 of employed labor from the first day out of school – lucky to have a good job. I could (and did) make myself a very unhappy person believing otherwise. I have met people that seemingly proved this wrong, but I don’t really know where their money is coming from. My advice is to be realistic and do according to your means. Another word of caution – if you are from a working class and try to live the life of the “padded”, your money will quickly find a way out of your pockets. Ms Orman says “first people, then money, then things”. I say “first family, then money, then art”. Took me long time to accept that this is not a sad reality. It’s a good life for patient people. I personally prefer the idea of good art coming from a good life than from a bad one, but everyone has a choice.

From: Anon — Jun 20, 2011

Good point by Robert. The wife will trust the cheques. So figure out how to get the money flow and everything else will be fine.

From: Tray Sutton — Jun 20, 2011

Robert’s path is similar to that of many. The important thing is first of all to be prolific, the second is to distribute widely. That way the artist can do what he wants and depend on volume and distribution to take care of cash flow. This concept does not work for slow or seldom painters.

From: Nicholas Hendry — Jun 20, 2011

Slow painters have to rely on making reproductions or prints

From: K LEICHERT — Jun 21, 2011

Excellent topic! I have been fortunate to have a vocation which has transferable skills (architectural drafting). The painting helps my work and my work, the painting, as we are constantly toggling between 2D and 3D thinking. By not having to live off of the painting, one can paint what you wish at the rate you desire. If you have to sell, you either must fetch high prices or paint in volumn. For me, it became a “fast food” approach of making as much art as I could wanting to have shows and sales. In anguish, I took a year off from painting and found that I needed to slow down – as it was a compulsion. In my case, that it was not about making art but gaining approval (which in our society is often given through selling). Certainly, there are fewer pieces and sales (didn’t sell much anyway), but the work’s quality is higher. This was accomplished by setting aside a dedicated time to paint with no expectation other than the time would be used for artmaking, which has helped me contemplate rather than paint and develop craft rather than product. My satisfaction is based more on my improved abilities to perceive and render. If one wanted to be a full time artist, this approach would not work but I have contented myself to do the best work I can in the time that is allotted.

From: Liz Reday — Jun 21, 2011

When you see successful artists who have won national prizes and whose work sold out shows in New York for upwards of $10,000 a painting only six years ago, you would think that teaching summer workshops would be not be a high priority. But the reality is that even the successful artists are supporting themselves and their families by teaching these days. The New York galleries have taken a hit. Overheard at an art fair in L.A. by a major N.Y. gallery: “Most of my big collectors were hedge fund guys..” The recession drags on and yet the art schools pump out bright eyed graduates yearly. Many artists are grateful to the Jeff Koons of the world for hiring so many assistants! That may be why so many artists are creating large museum type works requiring multiple MFA’s glueing glitter or fabricating mountains of trash or moving mountains of sand: these concoctions employ many highly qualified artists and create a lot of buzz. If you’re the salesman type of artist, you’ll be O.K., but the shrinking violet and the anti-social artists are in for a hard time in this economy. Before getting married, a simple discussion about proposed sources of employment might be in order unless you or the spouse is a trust fund baby, and even then, those funds only go so far. Artists with good social skills will find teaching to be a good fit, but it takes a certain kind of person- you have to like being around people! Not all artists are cut out for the interactions required to keep students coming back and plonking their hard earned money down, especially not when you can easily sign up for workshops with top names who are very skillful in both painting and teaching right now. I imagine there’s a fair amount of competition right now for workshop & teaching positions. The art world is always looking for the next new thing as well, so past success doesn’t always translate into consistent sales. Collectors move on, there’s so much art out there to choose from. Times are tough. All I can say (to myself) is KEEP PAINTING regardless. Hold your loved ones tight. Use this down economy to do that which you always wanted to do – maybe it’s the most exciting, least commercial painting subject you can imagine. Now is the time. Paint for yourself.

From: Ann Parr — Jun 30, 2011
From: System Administrator — Jun 30, 2011
     Featured Workshop: Jeremy Lipking
062111_robert-genn8 Jeremy Lipking Workshop   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Blue Venice

oil painting by Bill Barnes, FL, USA

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