Bread and Butter Art

What are the biggest challenges that the artists face? Is it hardest creating the works, or getting them shown? Finding people interested in seeing the art, or making a living doing what you love? Or is it something totally different? If you asked me I’d say one of the biggest challenges facing visual artists, and particularly those who create fine art, is cash flow. There is a market for work, although it may be difficult to identify, but an artist needs to pay the bills while creating his or her next collection. The next big challenge is gaining publicity, especially as a new artist, to attract attention from potential collectors. Being an unknown is a huge challenge. Having people in the art business compliment you on your work and, at the same time, tell you it will be a challenge for them to sell an unknown name is, well, part of the challenge all artists face. Something else? Most artists do something else for years. Working eight-ten hours six days a week is a challenge in itself. Having the energy to face the easel? There just isn’t any left. Some days, the work, and yes, art is work, is accomplished easily than on other days. Getting your work shown? Yes, over half of an artist’s time is spent reaching out in an attempt to network with gallerists, art consultants and anyone whose job it is to find saleable work. After all, making art and selling art is no different than any other business. Finding people interested in seeing and, especially buying the art is part of the artist’s job description, whether it is direct sales or through the partnered efforts of the gallerists, art consultants and others who make their living sourcing and selling art. For these artists, I think the greatest challenge is the problem of being both artist and businessperson – but not because an artist is not capable of doing business. They certainly are. But there is a problem, and it’s a big one. If an artist is working deeply, they are going to a very profound place. And while there, they are incredibly vulnerable, undefended. They pull their skin off, and surrender themselves to the source of their art. It’s a very difficult and rather magical process they go through from whence art – hopefully – comes. You absolutely cannot be in an undefended state when you do business. If you are, you will get murdered. Business requires defense, lots of it. And that’s the rub. As a human being, an artist cannot be simultaneously undefended and defended – and furthermore, the one is much more difficult to achieve than the other. As one artist I know says, “I can go from artist to businessman in a day, but it can take me three weeks to get back to the other state.” It is so much easier for any of us to cover up than it is for us to be vulnerable – especially to great depth, and in action – even when we have a discipline and a practice where we do it regularly. This is why artists have so much trouble wearing both of these hats – not because they can’t manage the roles, but because they cannot manage them simultaneously, and the productive cost of doing both is very high. This is also why, so often, a spouse or partner ends up doing the business. This is also not a great idea, because it’s tough on the relationship. But it eases the artistic burden. I think art schools need to develop a curriculum for art partners. This would be a business/marketing degree that would be a route for those who are not quite up to being professional artists, but who still have a heart for art – and could provide a serious solution to this dilemma, while also helping artists move forward much more efficiently.

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