Winston Churchill said that only a fool would write for any other reason than money. I know of painters who insist that they only pick up a brush if they know they are going to get paid. This attitude bothers many of us. There’s a strange dynamic going on here. Let me tell you about it.
A percentage of us live in our work while money takes second place. Surprisingly, this attitude is often found among the highly successful. Multi-millionaire painter Robert Bateman claims that money and the discussion of it is his “least favourite subject.” Others, like Richard Schmid and Jamie Wyeth let somebody else worry about it. There may be an economy of scale here that lower-income and beginning artists cannot afford to indulge. They have to keep an eye on the bottom line. It’s important, from my point of view, not to get hung up on that line.
Live in your paint, attend to quality, and work like it’s your last day in the studio. You’ll get more joy and satisfaction when you manage your muse. At the same time, keep one eye cocked for opportunity. Early-career artists can be especially inventive. For example, rent or lease your work to offices or other venues that will indulge your experimentation. Seek out business friends who are curious about your progress rather than those who may want to see more of the same. When a batch of new work is produced — sit back and make a small commercial decision. Decide who is truly deserving of your generosity. Decide where it would best be seen. Then ship it off, forget about it, and get on with the next project. I’ve always found it’s a good idea not to relate cash flow to specific works. It’s the total artist that counts. Look after her first. The money will follow.
PS: “An artist should never be a prisoner of himself, a prisoner of manner, a prisoner of reputation, or a prisoner of success.” (Henri Matisse)
Esoterica: One of the most valuable systems for an artist’s peace of mind is to have multiple dealers. Think of your agents as sled dogs. All will not pull equally, but all will pull a bit. Feed them properly, protect their space and your sled will move forward. Mush!
The following are selected responses to this letter. Thanks for writing.
In the hands of the gods
by Pierre Frigolas, Nice, France
When you come right down to it “manage your muse” is the heart of the matter. It doesn’t really take a lot of capital to run the sort of muse I do — perhaps a thousand francs worth of materials in a year. Win or lose, sell or not sell — I can still keep going and be happy and feel a sense of accomplishment. What the hell — it’s all in the hands of the gods anyway.
In my own hands
by Riddell Booth
I know that I am the master of my own destiny. One of the skills I’ve had to learn is the balancing of my creativity with sound business practices. Why shouldn’t I? All sorts of successful people in other pursuits have to run their lives on multi levels. Think of doctors — do they concentrate totally on the health of their patients without a concern for the bottom line? If they did they’d end up holding hands with dead ducks for days.
Who’s in control here?
by Wim Spaad, Amsterdam
Here in Europe there is less hobby art. Most of the artists I know and work with are serious and need everything they have at their disposal to move their sleds forward. One of the top ways to improve our bottom line is to enter important art exhibitions and competitions. In Europe this gets one noticed and sometimes dealers and museums come after you. Here the commercial dealers largely choose the artists and the artists are less in control than you would indicate the situation is in America.
by Mary Smart, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Because of the reality of art as a shaky profession, many of us come by our monetary attitudes naturally. Having early suffered the depravity of depression and shortage of funds — when the money begins to flow it’s a bit easy to make a religion out of it. We may all, at times, have to catch ourselves in mid-sentence when we are relating everything to money. Keep in mind that in our ideal world we are naïve of commerce, as innocent as new babies, and the public at large likes to see us as pure unblemished souls also.
Knowing what works
by oliver, Texas, USA
To me art is ultimately schizophrenic. The best work is done following your passions, but you have to know — even as you do the work, that the 40’x40′ garish picture of a nude woman who has been eviscerated has a very thin potential market no matter how well the piece is done — The very big size, combined with very difficult subject matter eliminates most homes, and most corporate public spaces for presentation and the ability to communicate the artists message/passion, whatever. A decision is often made to work in sizes appropriate to smaller areas — bedrooms, dens, studies, etc. You suggest develop the work first and then determine where it belongs. Okay, but isn’t there a reflexive process that an artists’ experience determines what is produced next? Isn’t part of that experience how and what type of feedback the world provides for your last project? This is how we know what works.
by Shirley Parish Hatfield, Oklahoma, USA
I had the distinct privilege and pleasure of attending the Prix de West at the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, OK, at which, Robert Bateman was a featured lecturer. His presentation covered a slide show of his works and his home as much as his professional career. He was such a good speaker and was humble as well, with no pretentious attitude…. just a divine interpreter of what wildlife painting should be. I have one of his books, NATURAL WORLDS that is one of the finest books I’ve ever seen. I am a portrait artist, forever learning and soaking up all I can to apply to my own creativity.
Breaks my heart
by Mary Jean Mailloux, Oakville, Ontario, Canada
I have so much to say on this subject but I have to get to work because I might get a paid commission. And it’s really like that. I can only work for only so long and feel excited about what I’m doing and then it comes down to being able to pay the rent and eat. I must say doing these paintings of my father which I don’t think would ever be a viable commercial venue, has been very satisfying. However even wearing my designer/commercial hat, I tend to paint what I like and they don’t sell either. They are original and different and what I would like to see in my home but I guess not appealing to the general populace and I do get a lot of a satisfaction out of painting them. My agent has been carrying some designs for nearly a year without a sale. It breaks my heart that someone doesn’t love them like I do.
by Kim Wyatt, El Cajon, California, USA
People who make art only if they know they are going to get paid? I find it impossible to believe that they can do their best work if all they ever do are command performances for commissions. When will they grow? We are not talking house painting or interior decorating here. This is art! Individual artistic growth is of paramount importance in a career as an artist. To me art has always been about learning. Not money. Money is just a happy coincidence.
by J. Abrams, New York, USA
Bateman, Wyeth and Schmid have all gotten to a level where they can AFFORD to let someone else think about it. I would do the same at that point. Meanwhile, I enjoy being able to combine my business savvy with my passion of creating, support my family and do what I love and get paid for it (albeit it on a much smaller scale than those artists), rather than work some other job to keep my art so called “pure.”
by Jennifer Seymour, Vancouver, BC, Canada
In reading the clickbacks, I am always struck by the community you’ve built and the conversations that happen. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to carry it one step further…. perhaps we could ask those submitting if they’d like their email address published along with their response. Not that they have to, only if they want to. Some responses are so smart or touching or exactly what I’m thinking too, that I’d love to contact them.
(RG note) What do you think?
You may be interested to know that artists from 74 countries have visited these sites since January 1, 2001.
That includes Joan Justin of Vero Beach, Florida, who says, “Like oil and vinegar, they never bind… but how delicious they make a salad when used in balance.”
And Betty Johnson who was “thinking only of money but will now be on the right track.”
And David Stanley of Manchester, UK, who says “Look after the paintings and the pounds will look after themselves.”
Question from Mark J. Justad, PhD, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee: “Would anyone know what piece or pieces of Charles Ives’ music Robert Motherwell was listening to when he produced the painting (monster) which links the two men?”