Sunday, May 27, 2007

brave new (art) world?

oceans one

It's interesting that I was directed to this article, The Intersection of Economics and the Arts, at a time when I've been taking a break from 'serious painting' and considering my direction(s). I'm never really stuck for inspiration, which is actually my biggest directional problem: I choose one direction then switch gears because, like a magpie, I'm easily seduced by shiny objects. Right now, rather than head out willy-nilly down a new path in an effort to find both creative and economic nirvana, I am taking some time to clear my head so I can be more productive. I've been told more times than I can count that "If you do what you want to do and not others, then success will follow." If only everything could be reduced to a simple homily. The problem is, I want to do everything and my most successful work, economically, is the work I'm least interested in doing.

One lesson I have learned is that if the bottom line was my prime motivator, I would be painting landscapes. They sell and they sell through dealers (this one went last week), which means I could take the whole time-consuming marketing problem out of my own hands (a lot of it, anyway), but I have very few of them to go around and absolutely no desire to paint more. As a result, this is my first dealer sale in months.

According to
Tucker, "Most working artists split their time among the various sectors fairly evenly, according to a report from University of Minnesota. Roughly 39% spend most of their arts time in the commercial sector, and 42% engage in part-time commercial work. Only 19% of the artists surveyed did no commercial work at all." The commercial sector, as he describes it, has taken on a new face. I consider the most successful work on places like Etsy and eBay to be under that 'commercial' umbrella. But the similarities between, say, an artist who sells small, affordable work on-line and one who toils creating large-scale sculpture in a warehouse for the high-end gallery market are more remarkable than the differences. They both march to their own drummer, work in isolation and choose a good idea and stick with it. Multi-tasking seems the intelligent way to go, but I think the best work comes from people who are able to narrow their focus. I can think of a hugely succesful collage artist who writes books, jetsets all over the continent giving workshops, makes podcasts, etc., but I don't think her actual artwork is as successful as her career. She's leading a good life, but will her work hold up?

"The so-called reclusive artist of fifty or sixty years ago, the Horowitzes who showed up, played their concert and then left, although extraordinary artists, are gone. The world has changed a great deal, especially in America," says Joseph W. Polisi, president of the Juilliard School.

I guess that's true to some extent, but on-line sellers are more and more returning to the reclusive lifestyle described here. They see their postmaster far more often than they see the purchasers of their work, let alone anyone in a gallery or shop. Their computers are their link to the rest of the world.

At the end of the day, it's all about finding what works for you as an artist. Recently, Angela took a break from blogging and is producing some stunning work as a result. Like the Etsy artists I linked to above, she has discovered her niche and it's not the same niche as those high-volume print-producers who have successful on-line businesses. Like them, she is narrowing her focus and doing what she needs to do to make it work.

UPDATE: A fantastic link related to this topic is here. Thanks, BeadBabe49.


Blogger beadbabe49 said...

I think you're trying to solve two questions with a single answer and I'm not sure it can be done.
First you want to make work that feeds your soul and second you want to make work that feeds your kids. What you are hoping is that you can do both with the same work, and that's something I haven't seen a lot of.
The best advice I've seen in years is at this website...

27/5/07 9:32 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

BeadBabe: Wow -- this is a FANTASTIC link. So good I'm adding it to the post. And your comment is absolutely on-target, too. Thanks.

27/5/07 9:54 a.m.  
Blogger thepinkangel said...

oh how I wish I could find my niche. I agree with the fact that what we like to do may not always make us the most money.

I prefer to take and process photos of landscapes, but portraits is where the money is (unless your work is on display in a gallery).

I admire you for finding a way to sell your art. It's harder than people think it is.

27/5/07 10:06 a.m.  
Blogger Jana Bouc said...

Really thoughtful interesting post. Thanks so much for the wonderful link to gaping void. I love her list--amazing stuff. I also found your link to Angela and her beautiful paintings and renewed inspiration sans blogging. I really like the landscape too. I finally finished a corny still life in acrylics and I'm getting a little closer to halfway understanding acrylics. What you do with them is just amazing.

27/5/07 11:39 p.m.  
Blogger kj said...

andrea, definitely a thoughtful post. i think having a 'niche' with some trademark predictability helps most people 'bond' with your work. it creates the safety of a known world.

not to say that variety isn't important or that a change in medium or direction isn't exactly what to do. for me, rapid swings for the sake of commercial benefit leave me too much all over the place, and then i communicate that to others.

gee, am i making any sense? or am i rapidly swinging again?


28/5/07 1:56 a.m.  
Blogger Caroline said...

As a long time fan of your work I hope you find lots of interesting profitable niches!

28/5/07 3:08 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

PinkAngel: I'm thinking BeadBabe49 is right and we need to separate our commerce art from our soul art. In your case that would be portraits vs. landscapes. (But your portraits are *so good*!)

Jana: I responded to your acrylics post. I like to think I finally understand the medium -- somewhat.

KJ: I understand rapid swinging! I also understand the need to have some control over it... :)

Caroline: :)

28/5/07 10:20 a.m.  
Blogger tlc illustration said...

I know what you mean - narrowing focus is an ongoing Battle! with me...

I believe I saw one of Angela's paintings hanging next to yours at the Church show last week. It was a tiny little exhibition - I will post more details soon. It was fun to see yours in person! (The print of it is very accurate!)

28/5/07 11:07 p.m.  
Blogger thepinkangel said...

I didn't even read that first comment! what a great link that was!!

28/5/07 11:58 p.m.  
Blogger Bibi said...

I know it's possible to feed the artist AND your children (although as you know I'm not an artist). And you're right, it's all about finding the balance that works for you as a creative ... simple, but not always easy!

I've taken gigs I hated purely because the money was great and they enabled me to then 'pay myself' to create my own projects and get them off the ground. Way back in the beginning, I did a couple of small, specially targeted pro-bono gigs in the field I loved just to get my name out there. I can't tell you how much has come back to me over the years from those two projects!

I've found that some of my most interesting work (i.e. satisfying to my needs) arose from work that I'd done weeks and even months and years before hand. Example, my radio show came to me based on a series of newspaper interviews I'd done several years before.

And boy ... do I know the magpie syndrome well. I'm interested in so many things that it's easy to take on too much, which is always counter productive. Knowing and doing ... two different things.

29/5/07 2:39 p.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Tara: I'm glad you got to make it to the church! Looking forward to the post.

Bibi: I'm re-thinking the idea of dual-tracking. Many artists and writers do it. And I'm doing my best to spread good karma with my work -- in hopes that if it doesn't pay back in my career, then maybe it'll kick in after I kick off. :)

29/5/07 3:06 p.m.  
Blogger Barbara said...

Thanks for your thought-provoking post and especially for the link to gaping void ... actually I don't know that I should be thanking you for that link - I lost over an hour of studio time reading that blog and I'm sure to lose much more studio time re-reading it and pondering it!

30/5/07 12:05 p.m.  
Blogger Alda said...

Really interesting ruminations, Andrea. I often go down the same road, i.e. wondering if I should stop blogging and devote my 'blogging time' to more serious pursuits, like writing a whole book. But like Anais Nin said, 'I can't stop living in order to write'. Sigh.

31/5/07 3:34 p.m.  
Blogger Alda said...

PS I love that landscape. I remarked to EPI the other day that you paint really 'Canadian' landscapes. It's a unique style. Is it intentional?

31/5/07 3:35 p.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Barbara: Me too. And it's bookmarked for later time wasting.

Alda: Reminds me of that quote about living being what we're doing while making other plans. As for the landscapes I think that's why people identify with them: they are definitely evocative of the area ... but there's no formula except: impose style on subject!

31/5/07 6:59 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone was on my blog yesterday and looking at my bird's nest and commented and ask if I had seen your work. So I popped over.

I read your long narrative and looked at your birds. I found both very interesting. Part of it sounded like me about 30 years ago. I have been an artist most of my 72 years and did it all and also did magazine and book illustration. Normal Rockwell used to advise me by mail in those days on my indecisions on style and substance. He was a friend.

Anyway, I also did the 12 foot long or wide oils for churches and places like school lobbies on canvas. And I used 2x4s for stretcher strips.

That was long before computers and email. Hard to believe now.

Abraham Lincoln

Brookville Daily Photo

3/6/07 2:00 a.m.  
Blogger Philip said...

A very interesting article. I would say that I am pretty much in the same position as you. The thing for me is that although I am not too bothered whether work sells or not, there has to be a reason to continue painting.Its not about cash for me but finding a purpose to carry on.

4/6/07 2:08 a.m.  
Blogger Anil P said...


4/6/07 6:53 p.m.  
Anonymous swampgrrl said...

hey grrl...

i've been outta the blog loop for awhile, so i'm catching up.

you touch on one of the basic problems of making a living as an artist. i have no idea what the answers are.

i love the fish series. where can i get me mine lady?

6/6/07 6:37 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Hi S. Grrl. I've been tardy, too. The fish series (three done, seven to go) will be available on-line through artstream gallery in a month or so.

6/6/07 10:41 a.m.  
Blogger Bronwyn said...

"...but I don't think her actual artwork is as successful as her career. She's leading a good life, but will her work hold up?

"The so-called reclusive artist of fifty or sixty years ago, the Horowitzes who showed up, played their concert and then left, although extraordinary artists, are gone. The world has changed a great deal..."

Yes, genius doesn't equal fame; fame does not equal genius!

11/6/07 1:42 a.m.  

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