Surviving and Thriving as an Artist III, or “A continuation of the discussion with Tina”

Oh, this is an exciting and stimulating intra-blog conversation! I love it!

Tina, don’t feel bad for using me as an example, in fact I’m glad you highlighted this particular viewpoint, it’s a perfect dovetail into Labor day!

I should also state that I want to sell my work, in such a way that the equation I highlighted in my other post results in X equaling a year or two per sale!

However with that being said I can’t change the latent manifestation of guilt when I’m making a sale of my work to an enthusiastic admirer and fan. There is a deeply ingrained part of me that feels something this wonderful shouldn’t require an exchange of monetary value, that same part of me really just wants to share what I’ve created.

But let’s face it, I live in the real world, and as we artists are wont to say at times, “I have a real job.” (A particularly useless and stupid phrase in my opinion.) Which is to say that I have an alternative revenue stream, it’s just not the most ideal revenue stream in terms of allowing me the time and freedom to pursue my artwork unfettered.

And I think that’s the really salient point I was trying to make, which Tina highlighted beautifully in referencing the way creativity manifests itself in so many facets of life and work. You could ask many of those factory or other workers how they express their creativity and they may look at you a little funny because when you start talking about art and creativity to large swaths of the populace they immediately assume you only mean things like drawing, painting, music, etc…

Despite the depth and breadth of the creativity they unconsciously express they don’t think of themselves as creative.

Now before people start jumping all over me for accusing the masses of being mindless cogs, I’m painting broad strokes here, and I’ve worked in factories and other settings and experienced this firsthand. Trot out the words creativity or art(istic) in a setting that doesn’t overtly champion it and people will largely claim to be uncreative and unable to draw a straight line.

But I digress again, because when we do recognize that creativity within ourselves and embrace it as part of the fabric of our lives, we start to pursue it for the joy of it and it quickly becomes something we have to do and want to do whenever and however long we want. That’s what I mean by pursuing our creativity unfettered. Speaking for myself, I just want to be able to do it and not have to worry about money in any aspect of it. And yet the monetization and pursuit of sales as often gets in the way of that unfettered pursuit as does my current alternative revenue stream.

So when Tina points out the creative professionals who happily get paid for their work, I’d be willing to bet that for as many paid projects as these and other recognized creatives are involved in there are projects that they do unpaid for the pure joy of doing them.

And yes, I understand the correlation between the two, that being paid for one begets the ability to do the other unpaid.

That’s what I want!!

Which is where this dovetails nicely into the post I started working on the other day as I continued to marinate on all of this.

Back in around middle school I discovered author Piers Anthony and read every book of his I could find. I eventually came upon a series of his called, “Bio of a Space Tyrant”. Out of one of those books came a quote that over the years I have always tried to apply. I have distilled the quote down over the years to this.

“Don’t let the means become the ends.”

For years I carried around the quote thusly:

“Money is a means to an end. Do not let the means become the end.”

But money is interchangeable with anything, power, art, sales, whatever. Insert your favorite vehicle and you instantly have a new nugget of wisdom.

The guilt I feel in selling my work is attributable to the fact that my goal in life isn’t to amass as much money as I can get my hands on. My goal in life is to enjoy my life. Both goals require varying amounts of money to achieve based on personal definition, but the distinction between the two is very different. (I don’t make any assumptions as to the motivations of other artists that sell their works, whether or not their chief desire is to amass wealth.)

Right now, financially my wife and I are in a very good place with our current revenue streams. As such, with goal number one I would be very happy at my current and future prospects of amassing wealth. At goal number two though, the revenue stream is introducing some burdens on me that are both time consuming and a hindrance to that unfettered expression of creativity that I yearn for. So in terms of goal number two, you might say some adjustments are necessary.

So where am I going with this? Part of the problem is that I don’t know. Nothing worth doing is ever easy and the path I’m taking seems less so as I’m increasingly unwilling to invest my time or energy into things that don’t interest or enrich my life, including revenue streams. (existing or potential)

Which is a function of me not allowing the means to become the end. I’m not interested in doing something just so I can make money.

The other part of the problem is that in being unwilling to just pursue this to a maximized monetary conclusion I may be limiting myself. Realistically what I am interested in doing is ferreting down some of these different ideas that I’ve raised and exploring where they go in an effort to re-define (for me at least, and anybody who happens to be interested) why and how artists survive and thrive when their main pursuit is expressing their creativity.

Case in point. I had the privilege of exhibiting at the LuCille Tack gallery in Spencer, WI last October, and during the opening reception a young high school girl was absolutely in love with one of my pieces, you could just see her light up in reaction to the work. A beautiful thing to see, and yet her experience of that piece of work was limited to the one month the exhibit was hung.

As a high school girl she couldn’t afford to buy the piece (I was selling for $150 at the time) and if she expressed the desire to own it, her mother who accompanied her to the show was unwilling or able to make the purchase for her.

And yet it was clear as day to me that the girl valued that piece of art I had created. It was just as clear that the arbitrary assignment of value I created to satisfy the market based system that everyone accepts as status quo became the barrier to the possibility of assigning a different kind of value to the art, the exhibition and my creativity.

So it’s with that in mind that I have to stand on my belief that monetary value is a poor measure of value for art. In a market based system, you are forced to accept the means as the end because when you bring something to market the understanding is that you wish to receive a prescribed amount of money in exchange for what you’ve brought to market.

Certainly I could choose not to sell and enter a different class of artist, but I’m not interested in hoarding my art, I want to share it with the world, I want to reach the people like that young girl, I want to know that what I’ve created can elicit an emotional response from people and I want those people to have unfettered access to my art, as I want unfettered license to create it.

So imagine now if I held an exhibition where I did one of two things.

1. I gave all of the art away. Free. Zero cost. The vultures would show up, a large majority of the work would go to people who don’t appreciate it, and would in fact be angling to monetize it themselves, and my overall body of work might lose poignancy and impact by those who feel that giving the work away free actually devalues it monetarily which would then somehow equal a devaluation of the art itself.

2. I didn’t price the work, and simply said, “make an offer, any offer.” You can imagine the range of offers you might get, from the vultures offering $1 to a collector trying to score a deal. The real result would be discomfort because the universal way we ascribe value to art is with money, and nobody has a real good answer on how to do that.

For the auction house it’s as much as we can get for it, sometimes ethically, sometimes not.

For the artist it can be any of the ways Tina cited in her post, each subjective and arbitrary in their own right.

For the art buyer it can range a from size based, (that’s bigger, it should cost more) assessment to a financial assessment to maximize investment value.

Which could be considered the ultimate compliment or bastardization depending on how you look at it, since it is commonplace to consider art a monetary investment.

Now what does that mean?

Spyros Heniadis

2 Responses to Surviving and Thriving as an Artist III, or “A continuation of the discussion with Tina”

  1. Tina says:

    Spyros, try not to worry so much.

    There is no one, simple answer that works for everybody. Relax and keep doing what you love. You will decide what to do when the right time comes for that. Any way you choose (just exhibiting, selling or donating artworks) would be fine if it would make you happy.

    However, believe me that it is very, very nice feeling when you learn that there are art patrons who love, admire and appreciate your artwork so much that they are willing to purchase it. I donated or gave as presents a lot of my work, but I never was completely sure how honest the recipients were when they said they liked artwork I gifted/donated to them. If a stranger buys my painting (regardless if price was $5 or $50 or $?) I was sure that that person liked my work.

    Good luck in pursuing your dream.

  2. Sorry if I went a little wild-eyed on you with that post Martina! It kind of caught me at a vulnerable moment when all this was churning around in my head.

    It was very cathartic to get it out like this though, and while I considered not posting it, I decided a glimpse into the maelstrom wouldn’t be so bad.

    Now I’ll have to convince people I’m not the crazy man in the corner! 😉

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