Tuesday, April 20, 2010

“Starving Artist” cliché or truism?

Is there inevitability for individuals choosing to be artists to end up starving or at least having to earn a living from something more mundane? Why? I have often pondered why so few artists can earn a living from their creativity.

Most of the time my theory is based on the idea that if you are really gifted in one area of life you are rarely given mad skills in others. Therefore if you are a gifted artist you are not likely to be a skilled sales person or bookkeeper. Annie Leibovitz undoubtedly is a gifted photographer, and has had more “success” than most artists could hope for. Yet, that success did not bring her long term financial stability. Why? Most of us never reach that level of notoriety, and cannot hope to earn a fortune from our craft. Why is it that so few of us can even earn a living from our craft?

I heard a story (on NPR, I think) about successful entrepreneurs. One of the things that sets them apart from the less successful is that they find a niche that needs filling, or keep looking until they find one. When they find that their product is a dud they dump it and move on until they find something that the market really wants. That’s great, if your goal is to sell someone else’s widgets. But what if it is your art that you are compelled to make that no one seems to want to buy? Do you give up creating things in your own style and mimic items that have a proven audience? Clearly that model works for some folks, look at the preponderance of people making and selling items with Disney, Hello Kitty or Twilight characters on them. But that is neither legal or honorable, nor is it truly creative. Do you listen to the myriad voices that suggest ways to improve your art, or new directions to explore? If their suggestions are coming from a marketing perspective is that more or less valid to an artist than if it were encouraging you to explore new artistic inspirations?

Do artists create because they are driven by something internal to make things, because they have something to say and art is their mode of communication, or because they see it as a viable career path? It may be some combination or none of those.

There are no Renaissance patrons out there offering to pay you room and board and provide all the supplies you could ever wish for. If you are compelled to create, no matter what your medium or your skill level to survive from the sale of your work you must also master sales and business skills as well. Yet, once an artist has a mastery of business skills what do they do if there is no market for their art?

So many questions, so few satisfactory answers.

What do you think?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Random thoughts

I bought a copy of Brian & Wendy Froud's The Heart of the Faerie Oracle when I was at Ren Con. I have never been much for Tarot or any form of "fortune telling/predicting" so it was mostly for the art that I made the purchase. Out of curiosity I have been pulling one card per day since then. They are undoubtedly beautiful so even if it were only for the chance to spend a little time each morning with the Froud's work I would still pull a card, but I have to confess that each card I have pulled has either pinpointed my current situation to a tee or given me something really important to think about for the day.

I started a Facebook Fan page recently. Facebook and I don't seem to get along well. I am not exaggerating when I say it took me over 6 hours to get my first picture to load successfully. I have had marginally better luck since then. But it is still making me nuts that I can have in excess of 4 dozen "upload failed" messages before I give up and try a different image. It does not seem to matter what size the image is, or if it's been edited or what I used to open the photo on my computer - facebook just does not want to work or play well with me or my computer. But I keep trying... if anyone would like to check out my fan page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/ToadstoolsNTreestump/113120242050436?ref=ts

My kids are both in school bands, my daughter is in several. After years of limited success trying to volunteer at my kids schools high school music programs usually have a variety of jobs they need volunteers for. Over this past school year I have tried a lot of those "music booster" jobs, chaperoning, flag sewing, making things to sell at the booster table, equipment moving (a little), and what ever else I can do when it needs to be done. What is my reward for being helpful and involved? I've just been elected president of the music boosters. This should be interesting.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hopping out of that comfortable nest

Ren Con 2010 is now over, at this point even the organizers and performers are nearly home (many had flights today to the West Coast of the US, England, and Germany). I have caught up on sleep, and food, and am ready to share.

I am so glad I decided to be a volunteer at Ren Con, I could have had a table and might have made some money, but I am richer in many other ways now than I would have been if I'd been sitting behind my vendor's table all weekend. I have made friends, and met people I have read, admired and heard much of but would not have imagined being part of their circle. Even if my time in that circle was fleeting and inconsequential to them it was meaningful to me. I met both Brian and Wendy Froud, both of whom I admire greatly for their artistic talents and their spirits and the grace with which they greet the multitudes of fans that swarm when they just stand still long enough. Brian is whimsical and amusing yet grounded and very approachable. Wendy just radiates an intangible peace, tranquility and grace that I'm having trouble describing. She is a gifted artist, a generous teacher and an old soul who can make you feel comfortable and inspired without even speaking.

I was officially only scheduled for the clean up/break down shift on Sunday afternoon/evening. But I let them (Dave Olsher, who was coordinating the volunteers during the event) know from the moment I checked in I was available all weekend and to let me know where I could be most useful. As an inherently shy person I struggle in large social gatherings and knew my best chance of stretching my wings would be to stay busy in as many areas as I could and place myself in a position of having to reach out and speak to all kinds of people, all weekend long. From that perspective it was a wonderful weekend. I stopped back at the Will Call/Ticket area frequently and there was often a job I could do. It was not long before I knew where things were being kept and could anticipate some of the things/jobs that needed to be done before Dave had to ask. By Sunday I was reassigned and instead of the break down/pack up job I was asked if I could drive Caitlin Matthews and one of the members of Qntal (the feature band from Saturday night's ball) to BWI airport. I was happy to oblige. I have heard Caitlin Matthews speak (and sing) several times and she has been a tremendous influence on my friend Jenny (who was a vendor with me at Faerie Con and was a vendor at Ren Con). Caitlin Matthews, like Wendy Froud radiates positive energy, peace and something intangible/ indescribable. I was honored to accept the reassignment (OK giddy would be a more appropriate word).

Ms. Matthews was charming and gracious and very easy to talk to as we found our way to BWI. Someday I'll sort out how I feel about the GPS systems. They are a very mixed blessing, none of the 3 of us were quite sure how much we liked them, but we were dependant on it for plotting our route there. Lessons learned on that drive: Celebrities are people too, GPS + chatting sometimes results in missed turns, the GPS is easily freaked out and should not be touched while you are driving, don't let the GPS lull you into not reading the road signs, they may be more accurate.

So, after all this babble, I think my wings were stretched. The next challenge is to learn to keep them in motion. To keep pushing myself, to learn new things, to speak up and to just put myself out there.

The first photo is Billy Scudder (Harlequin) and Dave Olsher
The second photo is me, Caitlin Matthews, and Dancing Hands the Faerie Goddess Mother

Friday, April 9, 2010

Stretching my wings

Shy people have challenges the more outgoing may just never understand. I have often pondered how much any one person can be good at. My current theory is that we all have a limit on our natural “gifts” and skills that come to us relatively easily. If you are a genius (in any one area) you may get short changed somewhere else – maybe in social skills or other life coping skills. How many movies are there out there that point out those stereotypes? The beautiful cheerleader types are often cast as academically challenged; the academically brilliant are often cast as being socially inept (nerds, geeks …). Having worked with many types of gifted people I have noticed that those movies are not always exaggerating those character types. Let’s face it if we did not see some truth in them we might not find them as real or as entertaining.

I would never call myself a genius or even gifted, but my skill most noticeable skill sets is in the creative end of the spectrum, not in the accounting/business administration end of things. I am also networking challenged, as an inherently shy person I find reaching out to people not already known to me to be a challenge that often make me extremely uncomfortable. My natural impulse is to avoid situations that would force me to reach out or to open me to exposure to strangers. I have noticed that when I have a task to do I am less uncomfortable and better able to take on those challenges.

So in a few minutes I will be heading out to Ren Con, I did not book a table for this event, I have opted to challenge myself and work on a different career building path. I have opted to volunteer at this event. My hope is to reach out and meet many of the people who organize these events, to watch how they interact and make connections that may expand my horizons if only in helping me face similar situations in the future.

It’s never too late to expand your horizons or to push yourself to learn new skills and open yourself to new experiences. What will you challenge yourself to do?