“A true artist must expect to be out of step with his times and live a life of public disdain and poverty.” A commendable thought, I suppose, and almost a usable quotation, written by a respected name in the arts. It has, however, a flaw. It’s wrong.
These sorts of statements are part of the popular and conventional knowledge, penned by theorists and those who do not like to see us buying Bentleys. They echo the Gauguin myth and bring on images of cold-water garrets, bearded malcontents, pauper’s graves.
It’s lamented that the average annual income of artists is $7000. The annual income of golfers from the avails of that activity would produce a similar figure if you included all those whose swing is less than acceptable.
Here’s how to stay out of the sand traps:
Put in the same hours as a normally employed person.
Approach your work in a workmanlike manner.
Don’t be shy about brushing up your techniques.
Be open to new directions and avenues of growth.
Learn how to gain joy from your work.
Know that quality is always in style.
Join in the dance of life and be happy.
Trust your instincts and follow your passions.
Find people with talents which complement yours.
Don’t let the peanut gallery get on your nerves.
Keep your score.
In order to be a true artist you do not have to be poor; you have to be competent.
PS: “Artists are often excellent businessmen. They have to be. Otherwise they do not remain artists.” (A. Y. Jackson)
Esoterica: Salvador Dali, while putting on a convincing display of craziness, was an artist who amassed a private fortune by hard work, careful management, shrewd investment. He once admitted, “I am a manufacturer of wealth.”
The following are selected correspondence relating to the above letter. If you find value in any of this please feel free to copy to a friend or fellow artist. We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities Thank you for writing.
To be, or not to be
by Dan Spahn, USA
I have this week begun investigating the market for a small gallery. We have a “village” section of Davenport, Iowa that was supposed to be a haven for the tourist and upper crust trade. These people are hurting in sales and have large inventories of unsold art. If it wasn’t for the framing, it would be worse. The framing services market is also being divided to the large chain craft stores. New construction of expensive homes is big here. What is going on their walls? Are decorators hurting too? Is there just too much wall covering chasing too little wall? The colleges and universities keep churning out tens of thousands of degreed artists each year and they have to do something. The number of full-time staff at colleges today is growing smaller as current faculty retire in favor of part-timers. My gallery in Chicago which also serves corporate markets, hasn’t sold a piece in over a year. So… Is the money chasing the stock market or are collectors being thrifty?
(RG note) It has always interested me how one gallery operator can be constantly crying the blues, while a few miles or even blocks away another is talking bonanza. My conclusion is that it’s more to do with the personality and attitude of the dealer than any other factor. Some dealers live in a world of constant denial, clinging to outworn principles, living in the past, while others see the world as opportunity, accept the challenge, and make hay. It has also been my suspicion that throughout history walls have been built faster than good art has been made to put on them.
by Bonita Silver, Canada
The unknown artist is always poor until recognition. I have found in my own experience that business knowledge is essential for all artists to succeed. Artistic domains such as galleries are the hardest to enter into as an unknown, self-taught artist. I have found our own don’t necessarily support the fledglings.
If dedication and love for one’s work are not predominant in one’s mind, the struggle to succeed becomes impossible. As an artist I try to work a normal day, but due to circumstances today, business plays a predominant and intricate part of our work as well, thereby forcing the artist to be accomplished in both areas. This, unfortunately, lessens the time in a day one can actually spend on their art.
To be successful, one must be known, and to be known is the hardest thing of all.
by L Letourneau, France
What about all those brilliantly talented artists who never find an audience? What about those terribly hopeless artists (we all know one or two) who manufacture wealth with bad stuff? Should we just hand it to them for being savvy like the untalented Mr. Dali?
by Manfred Hille, Germany
You might have added to your list of bunkers to stay out of the admonition to realize you are not the victim of anything, that you have chosen this direction out of free will and owe it to yourself just simply to be professional and proactive.
Isolation prevents contagion
by H. W. Thomas, New York
One of the hazards of communicating with others is that an artist tends to pick up the negative stuff that’s going around. In cafés and art schools it’s easy to find naysayers who, through personal failure, have seen fit to proclaim it the norm. The condition is all around so you tend to believe it. Correspondents to most of your letters seem generally to be on the positive side of the fence. This is perhaps because they are isolated in remote areas and don’t know what’s going on.
(RG note) I’m not sure about being too remote, but I do know that many artists are busy doing their job and they may not have the time or the inclination to write. And that’s okay.
by Jane Morgan, Kentucky
I agree with your thought that artists don’t have to be starving. When I was going to the university to get my BFA degree, our professor in painting always told us we had to be “starving artists.” He never believed in marketing artistic ability, and he abhored LeRoy Neiman, Norman Rockwell, etc., who made the big bucks. I say, “go for it.” If golfers and basketball players can make six figures plus, why can’t we artists? We need to educate the public and we need to educate the artists in economics/marketing/sales!
P.S. My professor went to school with Neil Welliver, and I suspect some of his cynicisn was due to the fact that Welliver went on to success and he chose a more secure role as a college professor. He didn’t take the risk, or was afraid to. So, it boils down to choice. I say if you don’t try you will never know whether you would have succeeded or not!
by Peter Shulman
We don’t have to be poor. In my case I first started expanding my income through limited edition prints based on my paintings. I then began to use my copyrighted painting images to bring in extra income by licensing them to marketers, ad agencies and other companies. “Peter Shulman Licensing” now has granted over 500 licenses and inquiries through the licensing web site come in daily. I then opened “artzap.com” to sell the images from my paintings on products retail to the public. That site started with a modest 4 figure investment returned a 7 figure gross in the past year and is running ahead of that this year. I have converted 2 barns here on Moon Shadow Farm into stock and shipping rooms. The wholesale “Peter Shulman Wholesale” site which is an offshoot now supplies products to 76 stores in 11 states and is growing. Artists should realize that their copyrights on already sold work can produce solid income and are valuable. My almost 1500 copyrights are valued by my accountants in 8 figures. Artists must also realize that after they finish a piece of work and that wonderful “I created this!” moment has past what they have is a product not something to hang on their wall. Artists have another advantage not connected to money but to quality of life. They can live where they choose.
You may be interested to know that artists from 74 countries have visited these sites since June 1, 2000.
That includes Lawrence Buttigieg of Malta whose portrait painting was a finalist in the AIM FCA show in Canada, and Amanda Bouriscot of Canada who currently has an exhibition in Macau.
Swift one: Did you know that Plato thought art an unworthy pastime for a citizen of the Republic? Because it was the truth twice removed. The Form was the real thing. And carpenters, who were more valuable than artists, made a concrete copy of the real thing. Artists just copied the copy. In which case, the philosophy of art, otherwise known as the study of art history, must be truth thrice removed. Take that Robert Hughes and Sister Wendy. (Arla J Swift)