Florida artist Larry Moore asks, “It seems as though you are always in France or Hawaii or Sumatra — somewhere. Any chance you can elaborate on how you, and other artists like you, are able to accomplish this sort of life-style? Do you just sell a lot of work or are you independently wealthy or do you have 23 charge cards? Inquiring minds want to know. I mean it seems like a pretty dreamy existence. How do you do it?”
Well Larry, so far I haven’t inherited a plugged nickel. Thankfully, mom and dad are still with us. I have only one credit card and I pay it off every month. But yours is a good question with no simple answer. A lot of artists might deliver a profile something like this:
We put in a lot of studio time.
We are always trying to create more and better.
We have developed methods to become prolific.
We don’t try for fame, just proficiency.
We tend to work quite a bit, even on holidays.
We like to work, even though it’s often frustrating.
We attempt a skeletal understanding of economics.
We know that travel is a welcome refresher.
We try at all costs to be our own man/woman.
We try to put our own unique stamp on our work.
We often do what we say we are going to do.
We have an excellent stable of dealers.
We make deliveries.
I’m sure that other artists will give you further additions to this profile. To add to the equation I have to say that, except for roaring geniuses, it doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve also noticed that there are no roaring geniuses. To be fair, during a lifetime it’s possible to advance prices to the point where you’re quite highly paid. Ten percent increase a year gets you into brain-surgeon territory by the time you’re fifty. Being philosophic and not fretting the small stuff, like critics, is valuable as well. To me, contributing to worthy causes and sending power back into the creative community are important. And finally, I think that the whole ball of wax is based on a vague (and sometimes shaky) sense of self-worth. Yes Larry, it’s a dream. Sometimes some of us have to pinch ourselves. In my case I think it goes back to my dad and mom: Dad said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” And my mom said: “Do what makes you happy.”
PS: “Never mind what others do; do better than yourself, beat your own record from day to day, and you are a success.” (William J.H. Boetcker)
Esoterica: Last week marked the passing of Frank Barron. He was a Berkeley scholar who made a life of exploring the creative mind. In his studies he found that successful creators have vague insights that others cast aside. The creative person learns to develop what he called “ego strength” that helps him/her rally from difficulties.
The following are selected correspondence related to the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.
Secret to artist’s success
by David Oleski, Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, USA
Just a few years ago I wondered how Robert Genn could jet set around the globe. After only four years of being an active artist, I can easily understand how he does this. I’m driving a brand new van that’s almost paid off after only 5 months and I’m preparing to leave to spend almost the entire month of November in Thailand. And this is with my girlfriend, whose expenses I’ll be covering as well, as a bonus for a long and prosperous summer show season that was so much better with her assistance. Rather than have good dealers, I exhibit at many of the better outdoor summer art shows. These shows provide an excellent opportunity to travel around the country, and we have a blast while running a business. You see old friends, make new ones, eat well and work hard. Sometimes things get tough with poor sales, but I realize that most of my business comes from follow-up calls after a show. For this reason I constantly paint as though I could easily run out of work at any time. Something always seems to come up, and you only have yourself to blame if you don’t pursue every opportunity of exposure and advancement that presents itself. If somebody isn’t sure about a painting, I’ll offer to drive my van to their home and let them see how it looks in their space, and sometimes even let them live with a piece for a week or so while they make a decision. A week later they’ll just hand me a check and say they can’t live without it. Almost every iron in the fire eventually starts burning. Yes, it is a great thing.
Talent and hard work equal success
by Theresa Bayer, Austin, TX, USA
Larry’s question about your dreamy lifestyle reminds me of questions I get asked all the time when I’m drawing caricatures. Over and over again for the past ten years that I’ve been caricaturing, I’ve heard people voice the same assumption: that artistic ability is all due to pure talent that you either have it or you don’t. They will ask me if I was just born knowing how to draw, and they will tell me that they could never, ever draw like that. I always reply that art is like sports — it takes training and practice. Being an artist is like being an Olympic athlete: years of sweat and dedication to build up skills, lots of sacrifice along the way, lots of obstacles to overcome. All that, and no gold, silver, or bronze medals. When I draw caricatures at events, I’m there as an entertainer and artist, something to make an event more fun and creative. Caricaturing has also become my way of educating the public, to make them understand that being an artist is not just a dreamy lifestyle or something you’re born with, but that instead it requires an incredible amount of hard work, discipline, and commitment.
Focus on what’s important
by Anna Conti
To your insightful answers about ‘making it’ as an artist, I would like to add: Use your creative abilities in your daily living and financial situations. My husband and I (both freelance creatives) live quite well on an annual income that is officially below the poverty line for our area. Barter. Share. Repair and refinish rather than replace. Make good friends and help each other out. Ignore the mass media ‘suggestions’ to buy the latest thing and focus on the things that are really important in your life. Focus. There will be enough.
Advice not easy to implement
by Mike Lauchlan, Seville, Spain
An enviable lifestyle you have to be sure, and no doubt it was equally enviable years ago. “Do what you like” is such an important phrase. My children are just out of their single digit years, but know this to be the golden rule. Many people with a talent for art or music tend to go for the sure bet careers, assuming that they can always pursue their passions in the ‘off hours.’ Unfortunately, the years go by, career demands and energy levels fly off in opposite directions and they find themselves in the ‘frustrated artist’ club. My engineering career provides us with a comfortable lifestyle, and we are currently living an adventure in Seville, Spain where I am working on contract for a year. Life isn’t bad, but it could be better. You can’t live your life in the ‘off hours.’ They all matter.
De-bunking genius myth
by Cassandra James
This is some of the most useful practical information you’ve offered. You addressed your goal in art making, but even more interesting would be a conversation about other elements of your personal process — beyond technique — how you organize studio time, maintain dealer relationships, label slides — your environment, psychology, sources, etc. Thanks for again de-bunking the ‘genius myth.’ It’s much more a matter of hard work. Good dealers help, though, and finding them may be more a matter of good fortune. A word on this?
(RG note) Lots of possibilities there, Cassandra. Thanks. Over the next while I’ll try to tackle some of those.
No magic genie
by Larry Moore, Florida, USA
Thanks for answering my question, Robert. I guess I knew that your answer would be along those lines. I think it’s the most wonderful thing that there are good people doing good work, making a decent living and living the proper life of an artist. I was hoping, though, that really you just had a magic genie and I could get one down at the ‘Genie Mart.’
How to adjust pricing
by Yvette Muise, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
You mentioned in your letter that artists can/should raise their prices by 10% a year. Does that increase apply to all the works we have for sale, including older ones, or only the new stuff we produce this year? I’m just curious as to how to do this.
(RG note) I publish a new price list every April Fools Day. It wasn’t intended to land on that day, it just did. In it I state: “All paintings advance to these prices on the above date.” Even if a gallery has had a painting for ten years—they still have to put the price up each year when the new price list comes out. This has several effects. One of them is that it automatically raises the value of paintings that have been purchased by collectors in previous years. It also sometimes precipitates gallery sales as people go into galleries and buy the work before the price officially goes up. A little feeding frenzy sometimes takes place in the Ides of March.
The choice of 10% is an average. Prices are rounded out and wander a bit. I think 10% is a good fair advance that tends to make it interesting enough for the “investors” without being either ridiculous or improvident. I take the advice of my dealers each year. One year we advanced 20%. Several years not at all.
Covering all the bases
by Pam Wong
Thank Heavens someone finally asked! I was lucky enough to have a better year this year. Why? Maybe Pam Wong because I painted more, paid attention to price point and size, took a class from a new teacher whose style I could easily relate to and just let it happen. Luck of the draw I guess.
Negative perceptions are biggest bad habit
by Shelley McGuinness
In addition to your list, doesn’t it come down to whether or not you are willing to make things happen? Many of us daydream about winning the lottery, when what we need is to apply ourselves, make plans, and act as though our lives require a trip overseas every year. I have succeeded at some things in my life because I went after them; the failures will always happen, but sometimes they happen because I have listened too much to the big ‘No’ voice. You commented somewhere in the “Painter’s Keys” that those of us who aren’t succeeding possibly have bad habits that need to be overcome, and that we can all do it. My own negative perceptions are my biggest bad habit, but I allow them to exist. And, if you are a professional artist or writer, aren’t those trips considered business expenses? You have the habit already of thinking, “Yes.”
Two worlds apart, meet
by Jan Boydol, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
I am back from my latest creative adventure, Bhutan. Yes, I am back, in body at least, but I have to admit that part of my heart, my soul, are still floating in the Kingdom of the Clouds and will always be in the dreamland of peace, openness, warmth and happiness, where the hypnotic chanting of monks vibrates and awakens every cell to the beauty of the morning sunrise or the blessed rainy day. Where thunder is the roar of the Dragon, lightening is the Dragon fire breath and everyone welcomes the elements as a holy gift. Where the morning mist and the earth spirits rise up to kiss the lush green terraced rice fields awake. Where the glow of the morning sunlight caress fields of pink and white cosmos flowers like fine silk on bare skin. Where loving kindness sings out to you from the eyes of every man, woman and child that you meet in any village, on any road. Where the giggles of school children, trying to concentrate on their lessons and not the distraction of you kneeling by their side pointing a camera in their laughing faces re-opens your heart to the infinite wonder of innocence and curiosity when two worlds apart, meet.
by Nana Dixie
Life presents numerous challenges that require postponement of artistic development. I find great satisfaction in providing volunteer work for needy causes and people. The habit of postponing my personal desires is well developed. An acquaintance, requiring less personal contact with the rest of the world, has repeatedly traveled on monies earned from her painting. She lives frugally and paints every day. She has her own list of priorities.
Connection to Nature
by Alan Taylor, Swan Valley, Montana, USA
I try to walk in our northern Rocky Mountain forests of western Montana almost daily, so that Nature can speak to me, and show me some of her secrets, for example about incredibly beautiful bark beetle carvings in tree inner bark, so that I may share them with others through my paper relief sculpture. Perhaps a one-liner for my profile would be: “I watch and listen to Nature — a lot.”
Frank X Barron (1922-2002)
Where can I find out more about Frank Barron?
(RG note) Frank X Barron was for a long time associated with the University of California in Berkeley. He began exploring the creative mind in the fifties. He found that risk-taking is a common characteristic of creative people. Barron said: “Creativity requires taking what Einstein called ‘a leap into the unknown.’ This can mean putting your beliefs, reputation and resources on the line as you suffer the slings and arrows of ridicule.” Barron interviewed hundreds of creative people and designed personality assessment tests. His best-known book (1963) is Creativity and Psychological Health. In it he shows how creative people pay attention to what he called “vague insights.” He also says that creative people have a need to bring new order to their world and the worlds of others, and often risk being a non-conformist to do so. “The creative genius,” wrote Barron, “may be at once naïve and knowledgeable, being at home equally with primitive symbolism and rigorous logic. He is both more primitive and more cultured, more constructive and more destructive, occasionally crazier and yet adamantly saner than the average person.”
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.
That includes Renee Agarwal who writes, “Lately, I have been carving out more time in my life for what I value most — my art. It is so easy to fill up time with jobs, errands, and other necessary, but sometimes tedious items!”
And Gisele Lapalme who says that the part she doesn’t like about being an artist is the pressure of deadlines.
And Arnaud Prinstet of Paris, France who sends this quote from Auguste Rodin: “He who is discouraged after a failure is not a real artist.”
And David McHolm who says, “I have a sense of urgency every day.”
And Ilania Abileah of Morin Heights, Quebec, who says, “We are made to dream and to actualize.”
And many others including Bob Holmes of Nicola Valley, BC Canada, who are still kindly offering condolences for the loss of Alfi the Alfa Romeo. “But don’t you,” asks Bob Holmes, “still have Eddie the Edsel and Connie the Continental?”