Bringing Art Making Into Your Life
Maybe it’s because I don’t sell nearly as much art as I would like too.
Maybe it’s because I have to do other less exciting jobs to make money so I can go and make art.
Maybe I am jealous because other artists do make enough money to live on from their art.
Or probably its a mixture of all of the above.
Part of me has always assumed since I left art school that making enough money from my art was never going to happen. Various things that happened along the way confirmed this view. I worked for a while lecturing at University in a Visual Communications Degree. Like a mixture between graphic design and photography. It had a pretty vocational bent which is ok with me since I have made money doing both of those things. My office was in hall with lecturers from a Visual Arts Degree. It did not have a vocational bent. That’s ok too. When I moved into my office I was impressed by the inhabitants of the other offices. Basically a big pile of successful, grown up Aussie artists. But what made me sad was that all the people who taught in that degree, had to work at a University to pay the bills.
Goodness knows it’s a good job but my point is: if you are a successful artist shouldn’t you be able to survive on that alone? Most of the people teaching in that degree would have preferred to be just making art.
Yes I know a few artists who don’t need other jobs but they are wildly in the minority. And their ascent to the top of the heap often seems a little magical and random. Not so much that they shouldn’t be the successful ones but that there are so many good artists, that maybe that particular person had a big dollop of serendipity along with their hard work and talent.
I have some possible ideas for why its hard to make money from your art in Australia:
I have also read two book recently with completely opposite views on the topic.
The first is Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat Pray Love fame. It’s a good book. If I had to summarize I would say it’s about giving ordinary people permission and encouragement to bring some creativity into their lives. Gilbert wrote a number of books and many many articles and short stories before she hit the big time money on Eat Pray Love. She talks in this book about the fact that all she was ever going to do was write and that’s what she did. Gilbert’s view on making art [book, script, painting, whatever] and being creative is that it doesn’t owe you anything and that you are lucky to have it in your life. Its a pleasure and a joy. And I agree with her essentially. But this still doesn’t stop me from wanting to sell more of it and to be able to not have other jobs.
The other book is Art Inc. by Lisa Congdon. This is also a good book. It’s about marketing your tootsies off through all types of mediums. Building a career, licensing your work for commercial products, etc. She uses examples of successful artists telling their own stories . The schtick is you CAN make money with your art. But I still can’t really help thinking that:
a] the work ends up being either Illustration [ ie the pretty/funky end of graphic design]
b] the artist gets stuck making the same type of work over and over again long past the point of what they were exploring and essentially making prototypes of production run products. [aka design.]
So we end up as designers. Design is good, we all use it everyday. It’s everywhere. But if what you really love doing is being at the pointy end of art making; an explorer, going somewhere new, following ideas like a grey hound, occasionally shocking or delighting, design just isn’t what you want to do.
As you might know I am writing a book about ideas in art making. I can’t in good conscience say that you will make money from it. But I can say with confidence you will have a good time making your own original art. You will be satisfied. You might find meaning. You might get obsessed! Certainly I can’t stop making the stuff. The questions Gilbert asks is would you want to keep making it even if you know you will never sell it?
And for me the answer is yes.
A big fat juicy YES! Because not selling it means I can have total freedom to explore play and make as I will. Without ever giving a moments thought to pleasing or impressing another.
Make ANYTHING you want.