When you make art for the simple joy of creating – there’s incorruptible magic in the act. It’s fueled by your own expression, your personal sense of aesthetics, and your choice of media & subject. The entire adventure belongs to you. But as soon as you think about showing & selling your work – whether via social media, an exhibition, an online shop, or taking commissions – everything changes. Now, you’re making art for other people, and they might give you money for it, or your creative time is fused with desires for winning Best of Show. The switch from private playtime in the studio to taking your art out to the public, or making a living with art can inject a critical overseer inspecting every molecule of an artist’s experience of “making”.Artists selling work were previously dependent exclusively on galleries, where they split sales proceeds to be insulated from the marketing, selling & public end of the business. Now, with the internet, artists who sell directly to the public are wearing many hats while tossing the pizza dough in a tight kitchen – creating, marketing, exhibiting, updating online shops, writing blogs, closing sales, invoicing, shipping and managing collector relationships. The audience is in the kitchen too; public reaction to your art is on a daily drip campaign, straight to your iphone in the studio. Your brush strokes can be influenced by directives from your patrons, comments left on a Facebook post, or scrolling through another artist’s absurdly successful art. While mixing colors, you can ponder: What will patrons think? What’s selling? Should I alter my preferred subject matter based on what’s winning prizes?
That kitchen pig-pile is crowded enough to freeze many artists into creative block, or even worse, abandonment of any artistic practice at all. If you’re one of those rare artistic souls with skin that’s impenetrable to criticism & lack of sales, or you experienced wild success right out of the gate, and your passion to create supersedes all concerns about what the public thinks or buys, then you’re good to go. Have at it & a galaxy of power to you.
But if you’re just starting out, or you’re thinking about becoming a full time artist, set up a plan & map out a body of work based on your personal aesthetics, and your own sense of artistic joy BEFORE you start showing & selling to the public. Build creative muscle-memory with the subjects & a style of art-making that you love for you. Painting for yourself develops your skill set, and lays a solid foundation under your art-house. When you show the fantastic results of your creative determination, your audience’s critiques, feedback and suggestions may influence little adjustments that appeal to you, but they won’t burn your whole house down in favor of constructing a giant termite mound, because, you know, everyone thinks those are so cool these days. ????
Allowing patrons and the public to direct your studio practice can empty an artist’s cupboard of all inspiration, because everyone has a different idea of what makes great art. You could be changing direction every day if you listen to advice from your family, your art peers, magazines, art marketing gurus and the like. Making a consistent body of work is challenging enough without all of those chefs yelling at you. Make your art first, and then find your patrons. This is just my opinion about it, but I’m interested in hearing your thoughts…
Ask yourself what sort of art you’d make if no one ever saw it. What subjects would you choose if you were the only person viewing the work? What supplies would you reach for if the process was meant to be nothing beyond fun. And setting all modern art trends aside – putting a cork in the Niagara Falls of influence & comparisons posted on social media – what exactly are you compelled to create? Perhaps it would be a little slice of paradise to gift yourself those parameters in your studio for a few weeks. What do you think?
If art making & selling is your livelihood, these questions might be impractical, but I think there is merit to barring the audience outside the studio door at least some of the time, to pull out all your favorite supplies, and make art that’s just for you. Maybe you’ll never sell it, but you can lean your whole weight into the conviction that you’re honing skills, exercising intensions, having fun, and moving forward in the most personal aspects of your creative journey. Artistic development isn’t age-based; we start as kids with crayons, and we can make things until we’re too feeble to hold a pencil and a sketchpad. At least some chapters of that life-long development merit a little security guard of protection from the outside world in order to feel safe enough to explore, experiment & continue sprouting.
Do you make art just for yourself? And have you ever made art for a show, and felt the strangle of What People Will Think? If you make art for a living, how do you balance the needs of your patrons against the needs of your own creativity, if there’s a gap between the two?
Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you in the next post!
If you love what you do, keep doing it…. Have patience – if something sounds great on Monday, and it does not sound so good on Tuesday. Don’t give up. It means that it’s not yet there, so keep practicing, slowly, again and again. And by Wednesday, it’ll be slightly better, and by Thursday, even a little more…