Artists know there are probably a hundred more realities than what I will list here, but I will start with the first 5 that pop into my easily distracted, constantly coming-up-with-ideas mind. As well as being a small gallery owner who deals almost daily with 35 or more artists, I am also an artist myself. It carries a double “burden”, but also gives me insight into what an artist thinks. Believe me when I say, we’re all a little crazy, a little delusional, or a little full of ourselves. Speaking from experience? But of course! So, for the purpose of this blog I won’t say “artists” because that smacks of finger pointing. Instead, I’ll simply say “we” and include myself in the category of artist.
- We think we’re something special. Yes, the rest of the world doesn’t “get” us and though frustrating at times, mostly we like that designation and use it to excuse our quirky and sometimes questionable behavior. A recently made friend has bestowed me with the title “the Crazy Art Lady” which is kind of fun and dismissive of my way of seeing things. I like it, and I believe most artists love being able to say, “Oh, and I’m an artist” as an addendum to the career status. Being an artist almost immediately puts you in a “cool” category.
- Artists make a lot of money. Hmmmmph! I say. They didn’t come up with the term “starving artists” for no good reason. I haven’t seen too many of us starving because it is true most have a day job and art is what we do the rest of the time. Yes, there are some who have made a career of producing and selling art, but it’s more the exception rather than the rule. In fact, we occasionally undersell art in order to buy more art supplies. We recycle canvases, scavenge interesting items, and barter for much needed supplies. Resourceful people we are at creating something out of almost nothing. We create because we are creators. Sadly, we’re not bankers, though.
- Artists have plenty of venues in which to display their work. Not so, not so! We have our homes, our families/friends homes, a studio….maybe a gallery, maybe a doctor, lawyer, bank, hotel, etc in which we may exhibit work, but mostly we have eyes pealed and ears perked for the slightest mention of a place to show. Creativity comes into play here, too, as we offer a few pieces of art to a local restaurant or bar, a friendly coffee shop or contemporary office lobby for free. Sometimes those places will result in a sale, but more often it doesn’t because the casual onlooker assumes the property owner has bought art to decorate, not exhibited on a loan agreement. The exposure is the main benefit, but if you the reader have a place where art is welcome, please let your artist friends know. They will thank you.
- Artists create only original art. Hate to disappoint you, but there is “nothing new under the sun”. All artists look at other work and either recreate it with their own twist or develop a uniquely recognizable style that reinvents something from someone else. Even van Gogh studied Japanese art and meshed it into his work. One of my favorite books is “Steal Like an Artist” where he explains the difference. Copy work IS stealing, but looking at another artwork and being inspired to create your own interpretation or version is NOT a sin (or crime). I deal with this all the time in the gallery where an artist will create a new image that reminds someone of another artist’s work, and yet is completely different. If John Smith paints Elvis, and you paint Elvis, and then I paint Elvis, chances are, Elvis still looks like Elvis….but hey….it’s still new work. Okay, maybe not THE best example, but I think (hope) you get my point.
- Saying you are an artist doesn’t make you an artist. I really struggled for a few years to even say “I. AM. AN. ARTIST.” This is because my mother was an exceptional painter in the realism style, and taught art in our home studio to hundreds over a 40 year career. I compared my skill to hers and always came up short. However, it occurred to me one day that I am not like her, but I have my own artistic style, therefore I CAN say, “I am an artist”. I had a body of work, had a solo show, and began to sell before I could say the actual words. Unfortunately, I have dozens of “artists” visit the gallery with a cell phone photo of two or three shots of a beginners level painting and they want to put one piece in my gallery. It’s so sweet, but I do have to be gentle and encourage them to keep working and bring me more examples in a year. I’m not saying they are NOT an artist, I’m just saying keep at it and return. Who knows where the work will progress to in that time? All I know is, when you tell someone your mother or aunt or cousin is an artist, brace yourself because it’s all relative. Build a body of work and let someone who is an artist see. Don’t depend on the non-professional to back you up. Just do what you love and enjoy it along the way.
So, there you have it. Five reality checks that I “think” most artists will at least partially agree with knowing that there are always exceptions. We are all hopeful to sell art, but mostly we are all hopeful to CREATE art. It is what sustains us through the ups and downs that life brings. It seems to keep us sane….or at least most of us.
April 9, 2017