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

Rainmakers

Now that super storm Sandy is mostly past, those in the wake of the destruction are left to dig out from under all of the mayhem. As all natural disasters do, Sandy left behind not only massive damage brought on by the high winds, flooding, snow, fire and explosions that were part of the storm and its immediate effects but a whole swath of financial, social, political, logistical and definitely not least of all, emotional and personal damages that will take years to be mitigated, let alone resolved. Besides the losses of life and health that are such obvious costs of a massive storm ripping through, we all know–those who have been through this grinder before, anywhere in the world most especially–that there are innumerable other things once held dear that have been slashed away in a few hours’ time and many of them will never be recovered.digital painting from a photo

The homes blown down, stripped away by violent waters, or burned were filled with people and lives and the Stuff of those lives–in many cases, all gone. The businesses closed for a few days, often in crucial periods of their peak season, are eclipsed by those whose doors, if they still physically exist, will close forever and by the many owners and employees and customers who will have to find other resources for making a living or acquiring the services and goods they count on to shape their ordinary lives. They will all find, as my spouse said very quietly to me when I came down the stairs to find him waiting palely on the 11th of September in 2001, that ‘the world as we know it has changed.’digital painting from a photo

But we also know from long experience that disasters, whether natural or human-made, can bring unexpected goodness trailing in their wake. The immediate selflessness and generosity and heroism shown by those who rush into the maelstrom to save others and who pull the stricken into their waiting arms of safety and warmth and shelter and healing are, when we others take a lesson from their shining examples, only the first wave of light and hope to follow the darkness and despair. If we all, whether by the nebulous but potent means of offering support in our hearts, minds, prayers, and invention or by the more concrete ways of donating, digging, driving; of building stronger buildings to replace those lost, remembering those who have died with forward-looking perpetuation of their virtues, and taking up whatever tools we have to recreate a more closely knit community that can expand exponentially to bring in every person with every need and every gift that can fill that need–then every storm is not an irremediable horror and every battle is not the one that will end safety and sanity forever. We are bigger than the storms. We can be the rainmakers who rise up out of ordinariness and even destruction to build something real and new and extraordinary.