This Business of being an Artist

mixed media process montageThere’s been an interesting, if hardly new, thread of conversation taking place in one iteration via LinkedIn, where a Mr. Duane Bronson posed the eternal question thus: “Does an artist have to have a recognizable ‘STYLE’ or a cohesive body of work to be of interest to a gallery and marketable?” My short answer would be a resounding Yes, but I couldn’t resist expanding on what is for me a perpetual problem. I said:

A good, thought-provoking read here! I have experienced much of what is discussed by the various commenters who precede me and think that all have some valid points for our consideration. My own answer to Mr. Bronson’s original question is that I might state it a little differently: to be of interest to a gallery as what it/they would consider marketable. Anything is marketable, if you put the right seller and buyer together under the right circumstances, but galleries, no matter how much they might pride themselves on being ‘in it for the love of art’, are businesses, and (logically enough) are not particularly interested in anything they don’t think is a relatively easy sell. [Commenters] Messrs. Bruland and Moore are absolutely right in recognizing that art does sell–at the confluence of the right forces. Figuring out what those are and how to orchestrate their intersection is the big magic trick that few of us can perform.photo of mural [with artist]I was approached by gallery owners when I was finishing my undergraduate art degree; one of them (the more successful in business, not surprisingly) met with me mainly to encourage me to produce a larger body of the same kind of work so that he could later represent me; the other, being a fledgling in the business, was willing to take what little I had already produced at my young age and give it a go. Of course I was inexperienced and had no concrete plans or prospects, so I opted for the latter, with the predictable result that that gallerist, with such limited experience and connections, was too busy simply trying to work out the logistics of her own business to actually represent any of the artists she hoped to promote. Thankfully, I’d only agreed to half the proposed trial period as part of that ‘stable’ of artists and retrieved my entirely unsold (and as far as I could ascertain, also virtually unseen) work and go forward at the end of it. [And only a year or two before it was also the end of that particular gallery, as far as I could ascertain.]photoIt wasn’t until many years later, after working in construction for a few years to save up for grad school (I suspect I’m of the same vintage as Ms. Senn, having had many similar experiences 30 years ago in that field of work) and then going through the grad program and then teaching for a couple of decades, that I could afford the luxury of devoting real time to focused practice and larger productivity of my own artwork. Along the way, however, I had continued to produce smaller quantities of work. As I’m quite sure many of the artists commenting above have experienced, what pleases me most in my own practice is to do what inspires me at the moment, to experiment, and to follow the serendipitous occurrences that happen along the way, resulting in a recognizable character in the works but not a whole lot of terribly similar subjects, media, and techniques. So I, too, have been told by many a gallerist that he or she thinks my work is terrific but, no thank you, they don’t see how they can possibly ‘package’ and market me.digital collageThe upshot of all this is that I can only echo what others have already said or intimated here: keep doing and being what is right for you, but know that you’ll likely continue to labor in obscurity unless you simply find that combination of luck and resources and persistence coming into perfect confluence. I must assume that all of us are here because making art of whatever sort matters enough that we will do it endlessly, whether it profits us in any way other than inwardly or not. Hurray to being successful, financially of course if we can, but if not that, then as wildly successful in satisfying the artistic urge as we can manage to be.I will add to this that I am no more going to stop making art because I don’t come close to making a living at it than any of the millions of others who can’t ‘get by’ doing what they love best would quit their passions. You might, just possibly, have noticed that I’ve been hanging out here in the blogosphere for some time just churning out art of the visual and written kinds and handing them out daily like free candy. But like many others, I also keep the business side of art on my radar, looking around me to see if there are any connections and opportunities I have overlooked or ways to introduce my work to others who may find something in it that speaks to them as well and (miraculously!) be willing to pay me for it. I guess this is simply my love letter to any other unsung heroes reading this, saying that we’re all in this together and yes indeed, also that I have no plans to leave off pursuing my dreams any more than you have. Might see you at the bar later, though. Everybody needs an outlet, whether it’s on LinkedIn or in the studio or somewhere else entirely. Cheers!graphite drawing

15 thoughts on “This Business of being an Artist

  1. Kathryn, thank you so much for this! I really enjoyed your perspective (and encouragement) to just keep on producing. 😀

  2. I think writers and graphic artists (and art dealers and book publishers) have quite a lot in common, Kathryn. There is the love of doing, for sure. But also the almost unforeseeable, not-quite-completely-blind luck of finding a profitable venue for our work. Luck to all of us!

  3. It often seems as if the hardest job in the art field, is the business side. Even getting an agent, who can handle your work well, usually involves selling yourself, and a lot of artists have trouble with that. When I was a young man, I was most passionate about art, but because I had a family to support, I was constantly tense and worried about making a living. As a result, I found a related profession where I could earn a good living, regardless of whether my art would be sold or not. But as it turned out, the security I gained by having a ‘straight’ profession, enabled me to continue as an artist, and to enjoy a fairly good life. I’ve had many artist friends over the years, and some of them chose to teach art, or to do illustrations for commercial companies to stay above water. As the English say, necessity is the mother of invention.

    • Not only does necessity teach us how to do new things, sometime it can teach us to love those new things, so a bit of trial and error is hardly reason to stop trying! And of course, there’s no field that is free from its complications; it’s only because I have spent all of my adult life both working and being immersed in the arts universe that I’m particularly aware of how few of us artists of any sort have the additional skills required to excel in business.

    • Your work is so lovely that I yearn for some people with money and influence to ‘discover’ you–sooner rather than later–but I know you have that same sense of purpose (or compulsion) that I do and will keep striving toward whatever success is achievable. You so deserve it! xo

  4. Pingback: Filling in the Blanks | Art-Colored Glasses

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s