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?

1 comment:

  1. About a year ago I decided to take a major gamble and leave my somewhat safe box of veterinary technician world for the risky and exciting art world. I am a trained vet tech and worked emergency for several years. It was a hard job emotionally but I was getting paid and I lived a little more comfortably. There are days when I wonder if I did the right thing. And then there are days, such as the ones at FaerieCon that there is no question to be asked. I can go back to the vet world - I have the credentials but I refuse. I've never been happier 'catching creatures' and burning wood. True it's tough especially when it comes to money but there is truth in what we artists do. We document the imagination and intangible feelings that humans rely upon everyday. We should get paid more but we don't and I honestly only care when it comes to paying stupid taxes and irritating bills. And when it comes to selling it I make sure that I'm not selling someone elses heart and soul mixed in with mine. I've seen the etsy stuff that screams Edward and Bella and what not and as cunning as those people are to bank in (even indirectly) on that bandwagon, I feel like they sold out - even if just a little. I believe we as artists create for many a different reasons - after all we are all individuals expressing our versions of the world around us. Unless you have that patron to pay for everything though, you have to have your business skills or at least the smarts to hire someone who has those skills to represent you. And in all honesty, there is market for all kinds of art - you just have to go out and find it. My high school art teacher said my art wasn't really art - but I went out, found my market, and snicker from my work table every so often at my success in doing so. Besides, Brian Froud said he was told something similar...apparently artists everywhere encounter speedbumps - money, supplies, market, venues, public opinion - but we're artists, we may starve but we're never wanting of expression and creation. :D