An Art Business?

I was lying in bed, thinking about death- as you do- and imagining looking back over my life. Would it have been a life of selling art or making art? An art business or ‘being an artist’?

I suppose the former has ‘grubby’ (why?) connotations of doing things for money, the everyday-ness we all struggle with, whereas making art is, and should be, outside of the everyday. The studio, a place of the sacred and magical. How can the two marry up?

To say, “she spent her life making art and sold all of it” or “she earned her living from art” doesn’t have a great ring.

But still, we must make a living. Or must we? Many artists I know have income from elsewhere or choose to live in a certain way. They still choose to make art. Does that make them hobbyists, amateurs? The idea of not selling anything, making no money, is also a difficult thing to bear (we don’t all want to be Van Goghs, or starving in a garret).

It’s interesting that a lot of male artists seem to make a good living from it. More than that, they seem to view making their living as more of a ‘right’, just taken for granted- however they choose to make it. I’m generalising of course, and I know we all have examples that go against this, but still…

Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that many more women are involved in community (unpaid) work, as well as unpaid labour raising families and keeping households together. They are used to unpaid work, not being noticed, and their time being worth less than their male counterparts. Roles that we all seem to slip into, perhaps too readily. I always remember being told by a visitor to an exhibition, ‘ your work is lovely, just don’t have children, or you’ll never make anything again’ (I was pregnant at the time).

For women, making money from art, seems to be a real struggle. Is it ‘the system’, society, or a fundamental mindset that says, ‘that amount of money shouldn’t be coming my way’, or that they don’t have the capacity to make that kind of money/work that hard. Are we still suffering from art being amongst the ‘accomplishments of a lady’?

I notice there has been a massive growth, flourishing even, of courses, memberships, coaching and workshops, all designed to build people’s confidence in their art, and selling it. Manifesting their success. And yes, I’ve been partaking of some of them- I’ve even found a lot of the teaching quite useful. But what I’ve noticed is that, though these are not explicitly targeted to women, almost all the participants are women. Women seem unable to feel that it’s their right to make and sell art, without a lot of bolstering.

Or is it that women struggle more with the idea of making money and art as mutually exclusive? They are certainly very different things to manufacture. To make art, though you need some skills, you’re essentially opening the heart and mind to endless possibilities, then picking one, that might fit to make this image or sculpture as you want it to be. An exercise in being human, freedom and constraints.

Making money is often a formula essentially- do A, B or C and money will come. Except in the art world it doesn’t always happen like that. It becomes obvious to most artists at some point that the wildly successful people they’ve been comparing themselves to, only have one difference to them- that they can be slotted into a neat pigeonhole, easily described and therefore marketed. Combining the the freedom and the formula essentially.

Is there a correlation between being able to describe or market a piece of art and the greatness of that art? If the art says something that can’t be said in words, is it not, then, a successful work of art?

All this still leaves the question of whether it’s not only possible, but desirable, to make money from art, and by extension, art for money. Art history is full of artists who started making ‘bad art’ while they were scrambling for money- Samuel Palmer being the classic example. I always thought he was unfairly castigated- there was no welfare state then, he had children to support and the very real threat of debtors prison. Of course under that type of stress, you’re going to paint what will make money (by the by, it may not have been ‘bad art’ in his case, just not to our taste). And perhaps that’s the key, whether you’re under pressure or not. The annoying thing about making good art, is that it’s nigh on impossible when you HAVE to.

I look to contemporary artists who seems to have kept their integrity and made a living- Barbara Rae, Norman Ackroyd, Kurt Jackson. All of whom have an astounding output and financial security and success.

Perhaps, seeing yourself as an artist, as somebody through which art (energy) flows, the end product going on to flow through someone else’s life, is helpful. I always think of my ‘things’ as a flow, and when they get ‘stuck’, lie in the studio for too long, there’s a palpable sense of congestion.

I realise that all this can sound like new-age rubbish, but at some point all artists need to look at these ideas head on, so they can know themselves better and, more importantly, know why they make. This blog post is questions to ponder rather than answers to them, and I’m sure there will be more pondering to come.