Starving Artists and the New Economy

A lot of art school grads come to the art world with the elevated thinking that art should always “say something” and that actually selling art is below their lofty goals. So a lot of art school grads look down on what they consider commercialization. Many venues don’t even put a price on a painting or sculpture, but require the viewer to seek out a desk in a corner office and ask for a price list. For some reason this makes all these people feel good, above the hoard, sophisticated.

Artists actually making a living with art know that it takes constant, determined and driven marketing to do so. Your paintings need to be in many, quality venues. They need to be in front of people. People need to identify your work and identify with it. Most people who purchase artwork on a regular basis are not interested in “statements.” They are interested in something which speaks to them; something they can walk past every day and still enjoy. They are drawn to works with color and stories; stories they can tell their friends, about the artist or the artwork.

To create work which connects with real people doesn’t mean “selling out.” We don’t have to become Thomas Kincaid in order to make a living. Thomas Kincaid set out to do something and did it, very, very successfully. Ultimately, his success didn’t make him happy, because apparently the criticism from his peers actually did get to him, millions or no.

So, the bottom line is really to find what it is you love to create and make it accessible. If you like it, chances are a lot of other people are going to like it too, because you are going to be generating positive energy all around it. If you are positive about putting work out for people to see, they are going to pick up on that.

You do have to pick your venues. Not all art shows are created equally. And even so-called “juried shows” are often just a way for the venue to make money. Think about it: how much money have you invested in entering juried shows for which you did not get chosen? For me, over the years, it’s hundreds of dollars, many hundreds. Getting into galleries is not easy, either, and getting into galleries does not guaranty monetary success. Galleries are struggling in this economy, just like everyone else.

I’ve taken too many “business of art” courses to count. They are pretty consistent with advice: know your market and connect with it. They also counsel much the same path for doing so: emails, social media, thank you’s, private sales, juried shows. All of those are good resources, but none is better than simply asking people what it is they like.

When someone comes into my studio and says “I really like that,” the smartest thing I can do is ask them why. We talk about it and I learn how people connect to what I do. That, in turn, helps me to continue in my creative process with a path. I don’t have to “sell out” to make what connects with people. I am still creating the works that speak to me. But if I do that with an eye to what also speaks to others, I am more successful in the long run.

I came to painting late in life and I intend to make it my retirement income as I age, but that does not mean it is a hobby. I paint every weekday for five or six hours a day. I work hard at my craft. I take classes in areas where I need more refinement. I go to critiques where I can learn how to improve various pieces. I think about what I do ALL the time. I dream about it. Am I obsessed? You bet! But it’s the best obsession I’ve ever had, and if I can also make a living at it, all the better!

Someone said “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” That is what painting is for me.

About Carol Joy Shannon

A former sailor of the seven seas, living in my beloved Lowcountry, between the blackwater swamps and the saltmarshes, surrounded by pre-revolutionary history.....thinking about current events....painting dinosaurs and other whimsical animals for children, with the occasional abstract or new cityscape for my delightful collectors. The best thing about being a seasoned old salt is sitting down not running around, so...
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