I’ve been looking through a batch of old photos, ones taken at the home where my partner and I lived in our first years together, and find it quite striking how time changes my attitudes. Yes, of course, my tastes change dramatically as time goes by, like everyone else’s, and sometimes when I look at old photos (of house, hair, habit–) I am mortified, sometimes I’m mystified, and much of the time I’m just too busy falling all over myself laughing at my ridiculousness to worry much about it all. This time, however, as I looked at my pictures I was struck rather pointedly by another aspect of surprise in revisiting what had once been familiar almost to the edge of invisibility.The photos looked remarkably foreign. It felt a little odd that I’d forgotten so much so completely in a relatively small number of years; is my personal fad-of-the-moment so shallow that it’s obliterated from my memory the instant it’s not in front of me anymore? Well, yes, probably so. I know when we downsized significantly to move from that place we sold or gave away tons, including beloved antique and heirloom items that I feared I’d regret losing, yet in truth hardly ever even thought about again afterward. But the stronger effect was that I am amazed to remember now, on seeing this former home of ours, how much of its DIY character and even the design choices I made were directed and colored by the modesty of our income. Just as I had never clued in when growing up that my family wasn’t rich because I wanted for nothing truly important (thanks, Mom and Dad, for the choices you made!), I never thought of it in those terms either when my husband and I lived in our first together-house–au contraire! I was happy that not only did we live in a place that reflected our tastes and comfort level and our own labors but our friends and family seemed to enjoy visiting there, feel at ease there too, and even admire it as a nice place. No one would ever have mistaken it for upscale, palatial or a showplace, but its humble charms seemed to be more than enough for us to feel glad of it.People even hired me to do design (interior, objects, exterior and garden) projects based on what they liked of my work in, at and on our home. I was asked to allow a garden club to tour our yard the year after I had it bulldozed and reinvented it to my own tastes. I got hired to redecorate and consult on homes and offices and churches. Was it the swanky air of chic pouring out over every windowsill and sprouting in every flowerbed of our home, the hipness of our up-to-the-minute styling? Certainly not. But would I ever hesitate to invite any trustworthy person who came to the door to come in and make him- or herself at home or fear that I would be unkindly judged or seem uncool? No, even in my shyest and most anxiety-ridden moments, my insecurity never moved outside of my own being: I have always been confident of the niceness of my nests.Thing is, I was most taken aback by recognizing in these old pictures a home happily occupied by a couple of people getting by on teachers’ incomes and setting up our grand estate on the masses of free time afforded by our having two full-time teaching jobs, his having two additional ‘outside’ choir gigs and my doing extracurricular commissioned design and art projects. As an adjunct faculty member I was in the familiar position of working over a decade full-time before getting to the pay level of the New Kid who came into the department that year straight out of grad school into an assistant professorial position (and I got to argue plenty for a huge percentage raise in my paycheck just to scrape up to that point)–those of you who have worked in higher education know full well what I’m talking about and also why teachers rarely work ‘only’ the fabled nine-month year of the academic calendar without having to supplement by taking side and summer jobs. Still, we were most certainly affluent compared to many, just not in that fairytale way of Having Money to Throw Around.So the intriguing thing I saw in these photos was that much of my fanciful decorator achievements were then, as now, created by use of the designer’s equivalent of sleight of hand, smoke and mirrors. DIY. And lots of throws, slipcovers, repurposed and recycled and upcycled goodies of every sort. All of this to say that, far from being ashamed at the obvious poverty of my resources, I was and am proud of finding ways to make whatever I do have the best it can be and making my surroundings better with what I can manage. Nowadays I tend to think in those terms less because I actually can’t afford the more extravagant approach and more because I’d rather do it in a way that conserves and respects the resources more fully. And because I’m enough of a snob to know by now that what rich people consider Simplifying or Conservatism or Mindfulness is a far cry from the poor person’s point of view. The beauty of Home lies far less in decorative statements than in clean, secure shelter, in warm hospitality and kind hearts. If being impecunious can be motivational, then why indeed not do it well!
There’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.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.]It 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.The 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!