No More Starving Artists!

May the starving artist be a thing of the past!

Van Gogh is the perfect example. He produced an incredible body of work during his lifetime – 864 paintings, 1,037 drawings/sketches, and 150 watercolors. But he only sold two pieces before his death. Two.

Of course, if you know Van Gogh’s story, you might say, “Well, no wonder then…” or something similar. And, of course ,Van Gogh didn’t have a virtual assistant or a blog or an etsy shop. He did have the perpetual support of his brother, Theo, which was no doubt a lifeline for him. But, limiting the parallel only to matters of business, I find the lack of community and affirmation in his life to be quite poignant.

So, in an effort to be an artist who can afford to eat well (the opposite of the starving artist), what can we learn from Van Gogh?  Talent isn’t enough.

Again, talent is not enough.

And, for an artist, money certainly isn’t the goal. Otherwise, that artist probably would have chosen a different profession. But, we all need to eat. We all need to do the thing we were born to do. And we need to eat.

Consider this paradigm:

  • STARVING ARTIST – Talented, dwelling only in said talent, expecting to one day be “discovered”, eventually sulks about being unappreciated
  • BREAD-EATING ARTIST – Talented, carries work to an outdoor festival on a whim, sells a few pieces, earns just enough money to buy more supplies, plus bread
  • LOBSTER-EATING ARTIST – Talented, identifies his market niche, puts in the effort to sell deliberately, celebrates by sharing good food and wine with friends

Though not without lots of hard work, it is very possible these days to make a living in the arts.

In the art and fine craft community, there are a lot more people talking about the nuances of business as it applies to an artist. This trend is apparent in the offerings of artists’ conferences and in arts education.

I attended a symposium for art majors at a nearby university recently that was designed to present the aspects of business in the world of art and fine craft. Those about to leave the world of art academia to enter the outside world got to hear eating artists talk about how they’ve built their careers.

At the last Society of North American Goldsmiths annual conference in Philadelphia, I arrived early to attend the Professional Development Seminar organized by Harriete Estel Berman and Andy Cooperman. I dare say it was not the most entertaining part of the conference, but definitely, hands down, the most essential.  Harriete also maintains a blog and has created Professional Guidelines for artists and craftspeople. These are must-reads.

Christine Kane is a musician who has become a guru on business for creative types. She understands the struggles of people who are created and born Artists (capital “A”) when it comes to matters of sales figures and mailing lists. Her program – Uplevel Your Business – is designed for artsy business owners, like me. Her program has also been used in lots of various types of businesses, which tells me that while there are some business aspects unique to artists, there are also universal truths.

Artists must consider so many questions:  Gallery representation, or solo? Wholesale, or retail? To teach, or not to teach? Make only one-of-a-kinds, or multiples?

Unlike Van Gogh, artists today have the power to build and market their own enterprise through a vast array of venues. The internet is no small thing. And, community is everything.

On Monday, I am beginning a 12-week journey with Christine to take things to the next level. I will be climbing a mountain, and it will take me at least 12 weeks. But, I heard they have lobster at the peak.

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~ by gingermeekallen on January 28, 2010.

One Response to “No More Starving Artists!”

  1. very true.
    Noone automatically comes to you.
    Years of reputation building is essential.
    But we can make it

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