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June 18 2011
Many of you reading this may not be familiar with the twice weekly letters from Robert Genn. Robert is a very accomplished and successful Canadian artist who generously shares his thoughts, insights, and experiences freely, via his emailed letters, with tens of thousands of subscribers from all over the world. His letters always elicit lots of comments from his subscribers, and yesterday's letter promises to generate much discussion.

The subject was a concern from a recent art school graduate about how to get started earning an actual living from his painting, a tough enough challenge even after years of experience. Most responders talked about how difficult it is, particularly in the current economic circumstances, and suggested artists had to find "new" ways of doing things (although none of them seemed to have any concrete examples of what that actually meant). However, one person's comments really jumped out at me as symptomatic of why so many artists do have a hard time earning a living from their art.

In her opening paragraph she stated:"I won't give up, for the simple fact of, if others don't buy my work, I love it enough for all of them! I'm painting for myself first." This seems to be a pretty widely held philosophy within the art community. Disregard the preferences of the art-buying public and be true to yourself and your muse above all. If the landlord comes looking for the rent, lock the door and pretend you are not in. If you get hungry, drink water. Where did this attitude originate, I wonder? Do you think Michelangelo would have chosen to lie on his back in the Sistine Chapel for years painting religious scenes on the ceiling if he felt as strongly about painting for himself first and disregarding the preferences of his ecclesiastical patrons? Not bloody likely. But was he able to earn a decent living and be renowned for the quality of his work? Damn right he was.

It is every single human being's responsibility to take care of his own basic needs to the full extent he is able to do so. In this day and age that means "earning a living", and the only way to do that is to provide a service or a product for which there is a need or demand and for which someone is prepared to pay, even if that service is simply physical labour. If it allows you to support yourself so you are not a burden to others, then that is a noble thing. If you decide you want that product or service to be your artwork, you'd better be damned sure your work satisfies somebody's need or you are just going to add to the statistics of artists unable to support themselves from their art. All of the great masters earned their livings and did almost all their work to suit the requirements and expectations of those paying for that service. I suspect the current attitude of too many artists today that actually scorn the idea of earning a living in that manner comes from years of inbreeding through the various art schools that promote the concept that artists are above all that sort of thing and somehow more special than everyone else. What a load of crap! To illustrate how far that high and mighty attitude has expanded, I close with another direct quote from the same responder to Robert Genn's latest letter. Believe it or not, she said:"Unless you own an original piece of fine art, you have no taste". How do you feel about that?

Posted by Peter Kiidumae at 03:14
Dolores Delgado said...
Boy, Peter, that is a hot subject! I can understand the viewpoints of both sides. If you do what you love (doing it "for yourself", sort of) you will be doing what you love most and hopefully coming from that artist within. Doing it for the money works if you are lucky enough to be doing what sells. Hopefully, we each can find some way of doing both either through, style, use of color, if not at least subject matter. I just returned from an art function benefit for the Armstrong Woods State Park where there is a 1400 year old tree among the many ancient Redwoods. Most of the artists there were selling Giclees, cards and small prints of their works because of the economy. No, they didn’t stop painting what moves them but still were accommodating to the present economy. Actually it all depends on location where you are selling - - there are still buyers out there. And, yes, you are so correct - - it depends on if you need to "earn the money" what your choices will be. Jun 18, 2011 05:48
Peter said...
Thanks for your comments,Dolores. I do believe that to be able to earn a living at your art, first of all you must be a good enough painter. If you are good enough, then I believe it is quite possible to find a good balance between doing what you enjoy while at the same time creating work for which there is a market. It certainly does not need to be an "either or" situation. But any artist, no matter how talented and skilled, that needs to earn his/her living from painting and refuses to accept that the work needs to be marketable, has no business whining about how difficult it is to make a living while insisting they paint only for themselves. Jun 18, 2011 11:40
Ann said...
I guess I could say the same about some of my artwork. That kind of thinking kind of makes me feel better with my lack of sales, but I have the luxury of not relying on sales to live. Yes you have to enjoy your subject matter to create good work, but if people are relying on sales to feed themselves or a family, they’d better produce what the buyers want or they’ll surely find out where the low rental units, charity soup kitchens and second hand stores are located. Jun 24, 2011 07:09
Cam Anderson said...
Peter - your blog "The Hungry Artist" was (as always) well written and thought provoking.

It has inspired me to write a blog entry of my own,intended to help artists with the customers perspective on this issue.

I would be interested in your (and everyone’s)thoughts on my blog entry.
Here is a link to the blog: Art Marketer’s Top 5 key customer-driven necessities to sell art
Thanks for your thoughts,
Cam Anderson Aug 16, 2011 11:54