Friday, November 16, 2007

art and fundamentalism

Sometimes, when I have a couple of minutes to kill, I pick up Steven Pressfield's The War of Art. A few days ago I hit on his comparison of the artist with the fundamentalist ~ primarily religious though also political. He explains that the main difference is that the core philosophy of the artist requires looking to the future while the core philosophy of the fundamentalist requires looking into the past:

To combat the call of sin ... the fundamentalist plunges either into action or into the study of sacred texts. He loses himself in these, much as the artist does in the process of creation. The difference is that while the one looks forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks backward, seeking to return to a purer world from which he and all have fallen.

It's an interesting idea that I've been turning over for a few days. There's a simplicity and logic to it. If he were to broaden the search, though, could the opposite be said of the progressive religious person who gets involved in empowerment activities, like job training for the homeless, and the traditional artist who believes the only true art builds on a classical past?

In other news, I've been continuing to play with Etsy but am getting a bit frustrated. (Note: please no lectures on creativity being more important than economics. I know that. I also know that creativity doesn't pay the orthodontist bills.) My recent attempts to understand Etsy success have been interesting and have also revealed that this artist has sold more than any other. 9500+ sales! It's an amazing achievement and would be encouraging but is actually quite sobering because her work is so profoundly different from mine and so sought after that it makes me want to pour a tall Scotch and check out That said, I have decided to test the limits of Cutesy -- er, Etsy -- and see if a series of eight of my photos, called Urban Myth, will make any sort of blip on the radar. It doesn't get less cute. I still have to load the rest of them but I'm taking my cue from Etsy experts and not uploading all at once to ensure higher viewer stats. Sigh. (I'm working on getting my BS from the U of Etsy and am in danger of flunking out.)


Blogger Heather said...

If it's any comfort, the Black Apple won't get any of my orders and you WOULD (and did). :-)

16/11/07 2:50 p.m.  
Blogger Alda said...

NO NO NO! Do not go for cutesy, please! Your art is worth so much more. Really.

Those cutesy photos remind me of images ubiquitous during my teenage years, crying clowns and such, that I really can't stand. I hate to sound like a snob ... yeah, so I will refrain from saying what I was about to say.

I can understand the temptation to 'sell out' (for lack of a better phrase) but I think you're too committed to your own truth for it to work out in your favour.

My two cents. Of course do what you feel is best.

16/11/07 4:38 p.m.  
Blogger dinahmow said...

I know which I'd rather find in my stocking!
All in the eye of the beholder, of course, and less-discerning eyes tend not to look beyond their first "ooh! how sweet!" reaction.
I hope lots of people with my good taste, but more brass than my threadbare pockets look here!

16/11/07 10:38 p.m.  
Blogger Peter said...

It's such a difficult one, isn't it? I'm still working on the basis of having many strings to my bow ... as long as none of them affect my sense of self too much.

Interesting stuff about fundamentalism ... gonna think about that.

17/11/07 1:49 a.m.  
Blogger HMBT said...

Great post about the war of art...I'm gonna have to get that book and read it now. Cool.
Etsy is sooooo dissapointing to me (artwork over 25.00 is a hard sell on etsy) I have sold a couple of things (7) but it's been more than a year now....and I don't know, I am thinking that etsy isn't about art (fine)'s about the cute and the cheap, which there is nothing wrong with!!! If I was more gimmiky I know I would do the china plate person...or the aceo people. I don't know it's just really dissapointing to me, because I don't want to create for the etsy marketplace (or any marketplace for that matter, lord I'm stubborn!)...I just want to sell my work, and my prices are already really cheap! Ahhh, I think I am giving up on etsy all together for myself. It's really nothing more than cheap advertising and google rankings to me at this point.
Great post my friend!

17/11/07 4:56 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Heather: I love it when people take a leap of faith and buy an original piece so thank you for that! (and have you seen my Etsy avatar? :)

Alda: I think that's exactly what I needed to hear. It can get so lonely in the trenches and when I see others making huge volumes of sales with something I could so easily do I become a little greedy and needy. Stupid. Must be stronger.

Dinah: Out of curiosity I posted something about this in Etsy forums and the number of people who were thrilled with high-volume work (that was very different from mine) was a little sobering, but not surprising. I'm learning as I go. Thanks for your great support.

Peter: Me, too, though I'll need to focus at some point if I'm to make progress on the creative side...

HMBT: On the other hand, are you marketing every day? I'm beginning to realize that exploiting every feature Etsy has to offer is the only way to raise your profile enough to start making regular sales, but there just aren't enough hours in the day for it! Just keep on keepin' on.

17/11/07 7:37 a.m.  
Blogger Janvangogh said...

I have been following the BA for awhile trying to "learn" -- ie, why reinvent the wheel? She may well become the Thomas Kincaid of Etsy -- you either love it or hate it. But damn, you wish you had their business managers/sense.

My goal for my etsy shop is to make it a bread n butter business -- so I can enjoy working on other type of art -- and not feel guilty if it isnt profitable.

Maybe you should consider a different name for your etsy shop?

17/11/07 7:54 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Jan: The role model approach is definitely a very practical approach. If I change my shop name what would that do? I'm trying to be a fine artist first and Etsy seller second and the only way to do that is to use my name.

17/11/07 8:02 a.m.  
Blogger Janvangogh said...

Changing your shop name would just help to separate your fine art side from the perception that Etsy as more of a craft/inexpensive art site.

If you search the art category by price, you will find that probably 80 percent is under $100. And from what I have been reading on the design blogs, they view it as a good place for inexpensive art. And they are quite happy with so much of it being prints as opposed to "original" -- and honestly, I dont think they even think about the difference.

I struggle with wanting to do fine art and making a go of Etsy myself. One of the things that I am probably going to have to do on etsy is either open another shop, or decide to stick to a narrower variety of style in my current shop. Looking at those top sellers, I see that this is one thing that they do. The BA's style is unmistakable.

If you have been browsing the forums, you may have come across Andy Mathis. He will only put prints in his etsy shop. Originals are on Rubylane. But Rubylane requires fine art to start at $100.

Well, I have rambled and it is hard to keep with a train of thought trying to post in this little comment box.

Anyways, I think you have a great style and look to your work. Once it gets noticed on Etsy, I think it will take off. If you consider how much you are willing to let a gallery take in commission and compare that to Etsy's fees, it makes it easier to renew more frequently.

Well. I hope I made some sense.

17/11/07 1:28 p.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Jan: Thanks. So much to digest. My brain hurts.

17/11/07 3:41 p.m.  
Blogger Janvangogh said...

Yeah, I still havent gotten a handle on it all. I ended up renewing practically my whole shop today.

BTW, Check out
and .
You have a really marketable style.

17/11/07 7:52 p.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Jan: Your cards are an excellent price! Next time I need some I'm shopping at your place! Now to check out those links...

18/11/07 8:20 a.m.  
Blogger homo escapeons said...

There is a real art to being a real artist.

"seeking to return to a purer world from which he and all have fallen"

Sad but true and they can have it!
We are just starting to figure things out..We would go crazy if we went back in time with what we could sure make a lot of money though?

19/11/07 12:58 p.m.  
Blogger nadine said...

I find Etsy so totally overwhelming, just the size of it. How does anyone become a "top seller"? The random chance of even coming across the same artist twice (if you don't save it as a favourite) is so low. Do these big sellers succeed because they are mentioned on design and art blogs? I don't get it.

19/11/07 6:18 p.m.  
Blogger Cynthia said...

I had to chuckle at your comment about the BS from the U of Etsy!

I am barely selling anything on Etsy these days, but to tell you the truth, I'm not fanning the flames so to speak.

I wonder what the demographic is on Etsy. Maybe it's in their Wiki somewhere, but I'm too damn lazy to look for it.

19/11/07 6:29 p.m.  
Blogger Paula said...

Oh my, so many of these comments were good for me to read.

Recently I've posted a couple of items to my blog and have comments have been "oh that is so cute", and to tell you the truth, those comments set me on I going down a path I hadn't intended to ???? As an artist, how do I reconcile "cute"?

I've given a lot of thought to Etsy and most recently loaded some items at EBSQ but that is quite a different venue.

I've got a few pieces at what I call a boutique gallery. They show a mix of things, paintings, jewelry, upscale gift items. Anyone have opinions on this????

20/11/07 6:30 a.m.  
Blogger Paula said...

Oh my, so many of these comments were good for me to read.

Recently I've posted a couple of items to my blog and have comments have been "oh that is so cute", and to tell you the truth, those comments set me on I going down a path I hadn't intended to ???? As an artist, how do I reconcile "cute"?

I've given a lot of thought to Etsy and most recently loaded some items at EBSQ but that is quite a different venue.

I've got a few pieces at what I call a boutique gallery. They show a mix of things, paintings, jewelry, upscale gift items. Anyone have opinions on this????

20/11/07 6:30 a.m.  
Blogger homo escapeons said...

Here you go..
the PARA Group Of Seven (well 8 really) colour swatches..
passing of the maple brown, lefroy glacier blue, canadian shield beige...
I get all choked up just thinking about them.

20/11/07 11:28 a.m.  
Blogger Jafabrit said...

The artist you linked to on etsy is really popular now with the juxtapoz crowd. Sometimes an oeuvre/style just hits at the right time and does well.

Some seem to do well on it and others flounder. I wish I knew what the answer was. I wish you the best with it.

20/11/07 12:39 p.m.  
Anonymous Julie said...

I LOVE your work. I am a regular lurker here, but had to weigh in on this one. I look at so much of the stuff at Etsy and think it didn't take much talent to do, or "enough of the birdies and mushrooms already." Your art is truly art, and beautiful. I know this doesn't help your dental bills, but if I had the money, I would treasure one of your original pieces. I have only sold one thing on Etsy in 6 months, so am ready to give up, I don't know what the answer is.

20/11/07 5:15 p.m.  
Anonymous Cathy said...

The vibe I get from Etsy is that the sellers (and not necessarily the buyers) are a young group (which I don't fit into) and is a place for the less expensive item (prints, etc). Since listing on Etsy is inexpensive, it doesn't hurt to list original art either. The exposure gained on Etsy is worth it, and promoting your shop, art, etc. helps (via a blog, website, exhibits, etc). As a seller on Etsy for the last year, it has definitely been worth it for me just for the wholesale contacts I've made, commissions and repeat customers. While I would prefer to sell more original art (on Etsy), I'm just as happy to offer prints, cards, etc. to those who cannot afford the original. I want to reach everyone and not just the big time collector. Since this is what I do for a living, it's a must for me and I have no problem with that. I certainly don't have all the answers for how Etsy works, but, I thought I'd throw my two cents in!

21/11/07 10:27 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

HE: The author made the distinction that art is a positive, hopeful thing whereas fundamentalism is the opposite.

Nadine: Beats me... and I've been 'studying' it!

Cynthia: Youngish. I think I read soemwhere that the avergae Etsyite (not sure if it's buyer or seller or both) is something like 32.

Paula: Talked to you over at your place.

Jafabrit: If only trends were predictable but that wouldn't be any fun, would it?

Julie: Thank you for de-lurking at a time when I needed a boost. It's a funny business, isn't it?

Cathy: Your insights are valuable and I like your inclusive attitude. That's what I'm trying to do, too. I've been an Etsy seller for a year, too, but have let the shop lie fallow for months at a time sometiems so still feel like a bit of a newbie. Next time, leave your shop link! :)

21/11/07 1:32 p.m.  
Blogger CS said...

Yikes, I much prefer the work you do. (And, hey, it's a big thing that I bought a piece, given my current moneypit house situation!)

23/11/07 5:25 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea, duh, I should have left my Etsy shop link, its: I do wander through Etsy when I have the time and have taken note of the big sellers. I will tell you this, I actually bought two pieces from one of the big time sellers just to see what all the hoopla was about. I'm pretty particular about things and I have to say, I wasn't completely impressed either. While what I bought really was not my taste, I just had to see it for myself. I don't do that kind of thing very often and, to this day, I still don't get what all the hoopla is about. But then I'm sure some people don't get what I do - it's a matter of taste I suppose. Art can be a funny thing and so many different things to people, especially the artiste!

23/11/07 6:59 p.m.  
Anonymous Cathy said...

Ya know, I did leave my name, it's Cathy and not Anonymous (as stated in the above comment). Hmm....

23/11/07 7:00 p.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Thanks, Cathy. Love your shop, especially the Day of the Dead stuff, and you look like you're well on your way. I'll keep tabs on you!

23/11/07 9:22 p.m.  
Blogger Jana Bouc said...

Yeah, and then there's Thomas Kinkaid....that cheesy American artist who does evocative greeting card style paintings (which I actually kind of like in a weird sort of way). I think there's room for doing art that sells (which I think of as craft, having been a potter and wearable batik artist for many years in my past, there's nothing wrong with making things to sell...better than pushing paper in an office) and doing art that might not sell but feeds the soul. It doesn't have to be one or the other, don't you think?

25/11/07 3:47 p.m.  
Blogger girl work studios said...

What a great post and discussion. I can relate completely. I have in my studio half finished paintings I care the most about and determined they have a life on gallery walls before they hit my etsy store. Having been selling on ebay, then just now switched over to Etsy , I always feel that pull to maybe be more sellable with trendy/cute items. The long labour of working on a piece and pouring yourself into it and seeing it sell for peanuts is depressing. On ebay I sold some cat illustrations I had done for a project, totally not my style, but they sold like crazy, but then I had to ask myself, "do I want to be known as the whimsical cat lady painter?" Not that there's anything wrong cat paintings, just not at all the artist I am, it felt too fraudulent. One thing I've discovered over the years for successful online sellers is how prolific they are and how much staying power they have -lots of paintings, lots of exposure, consistent style.

25/11/07 11:01 p.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Jana: I'm not good at splitting my attention but I think you're right ... and Kincaid -- shocking. I understand why he has some appeal but the HUGE popularity of his work is totally mind-boggling.

Girl Work Studios: Can't find your Etsy link! Thanks for commenting and I've had a similar experience to you and your cat illustrations. I think that trying to predict what people will like is the first mistake.

26/11/07 9:21 a.m.  
Blogger girl work studios said...

I'm, still in the early stages, more of me is on And I am neither prolific (snail paced painter), consistant or have made any real effort to get'exposure'. BTW, I love your work, nothing you have in your shop says, 'cutesy' or 'sell out'. It's alive, has integrity and a real sense of place (very Vancouver, being a west coast gal myself, I'm sure I've driven past those houses you've painted.)

26/11/07 10:00 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Ellen : I totally love Tabloid Trash! Do more like that! As for the Vancouver houses, I think I've freaked a few people out, lurking around neighbourhoods, taking photos of houses! And thanks for the encouragement -- much appreciated.

26/11/07 10:14 a.m.  
Blogger girl work studios said...

You just touched on more unpredictability about Etsy. ‘Tabloid Trash’ came from a small exhibition I had - a fairly large sized, ‘non-cutesy’ painting.I asked close to the gallery listed price and it sold in a few days.First thing I sold on Etsy, go figure.
And not to blog hog, (actually never posted on a blog until yours, so I maybe off with the proper etiquette) but I just have to say that’s HILARIOUS about lurking around people’s homes to get good pictures. I can completely relate. I’m working on a “Suburban Wildlife” series and noticing the best place where crows congregate around here is the dumpster behind the local Tim Horton’s. There I am, looking like crazy bag lady with my camera, hoping like heck my kid’s teacher or anyone I know doesn’t see me, thinking I’m dumpster diving for half eaten donuts. What we do in the name of art, eh?

26/11/07 2:45 p.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Depends on where you are: the farther out in the 'burbs the stranger it looks. At least on the DTE people might actually think you're an artist! :)

26/11/07 4:05 p.m.  
Blogger Kris Cahill said...

I love 'The Art of War' and have read it several times. I recommend it to all my friends, be they artists or not.

Each of us must be the artist/writer/director/star of our own lives, or let someone else take that role!

I always enjoy visiting your blog.

27/11/07 9:57 a.m.  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home