You’ve probably realized by now how much I constantly second-guess myself as an artist.
Like countless others, I’ve struggled the last few years in a poor economy, with galleries and artists alike going under like rocks in a lake, trying to imagine a success that’s no longer defined by dollar signs. After all, making lots of money is considered a pretty good definition of success.
It’s hard to keep your good energy going when your work isn’t selling like it used to. It doesn’t matter that NOBODY’S work is selling–it still feels personal.
So what do you do?
Do you get bigger? Or smaller? Keep doing the big, expensive shows, even though they’re no longer a sure thing? Take a break from doing big, expensive shows, because they look like the ONLY thing?
Work your current customer list? Look for entirely new customers? Do you change the work? Or hold fast to it, working even harder to find the right audience?
I’ve looked for answers everywhere, in books, on the internet, seeking wisdom from friends and fellow artists, consultants and columnists.
I’ve tried to keep my spirits up, and my focus sharp. Sometimes with more success, sometimes less.
It’s funny–but what really got me fired up was encouraging someone who’s in the same boat. Actually, someone who wasn’t even in the same room with me.
I was at a party. I was asked what I do. I said I was an artist and writer.
I was asked what kind of writing I did. I said, “I write about why I make art. What inspires me. And I write about how making art has made me a better person. And how the things I’ve learned in life–from trying to be a good parent, trying to be a better martial artist, learning how to ride a horse and climb a wall, and do yoga–have made me a better artist.”
I was actually starting to feel better already.
Well, someone in the group has a daughter who yearns to be an artist, too. But she hates her job, and she can’t figure out how to support herself as an artist.
And the next thing you know, I was on fire with what I call my “Be the artist you were meant to be” speech.
I said, “Tell your daughter not to focus so hard on how to make a lot of money. Focus on doing what she loves. That has to come first.”
She asked about doing little local shows and fairs. I said, “They may or may not work well for her. But she could try them. She’ll learn a LOT about how to display and market her work. And she’ll learn a LOT about how to talk to people about her work.”
She lamented that where her daughter lives is an economically-depressed area (translation: “Nobody buys art”) and not really her customer base. “ALL artists say that,” I countered. “It may be true, but there’s this thing called the internet that can help a lot. She can research galleries in other places, find other shows and marketing opportunities, and even sell online.”
She said her daughter wasn’t good at the marketing/selling thing. I said again,” MOST artists feel this way. But that’s no excuse to sit on the bench and not get out there into the game. She can learn those skills, just like learning to play the piano or parallel-park.”
She brought up other obstacles, and I had an answer for them all. All of them.
Because I’ve heard them all before. Heck, I’ve told them all to myself before.
It boils down to this:
It gets tempting to give up. It’s too easy to say that being “successful” with your art is an all-or-nothing proposition. And then step back and say ‘all’ is too hard.
It doesn’t have to be ‘all’. It doesn’t have to be 100% successful. It doesn’t even have to be someone else’s definition of success. It doesn’t have to always be only about fame or fortune. Plenty of mediocre artists have both, and plenty of talented artists have neither.
It has to be about what is creative and worthwhile inside you. Something that, when it is fully expressed, makes the world a better place.
Maybe the world is more beautiful because of it. Maybe the world is more peaceful because of it. Maybe someone else is happier because of it, or more thoughtful, or more inspired.
And yes, it can also be because you are richer for it, whether in spirit or in your bank account. It’s okay to make money from your art.
Now, maybe I came across as just another artist who hasn’t figured anything out for sure.
But what I suddenly realized was, I had some pretty good advice for her. AND myself.
You HAVE to follow your heart, and believe the money will follow. Because we’re all learning a very hard lesson about where ‘follow the money’ will take you.
Don’t think so much. Just….DO.
Usually we’re very good at giving advice to others that we should be following ourselves. It’s much more fun to GIVE advice than to get it, after all.
But if I’m smart, I intend to be very, very good at following the advice I give to others.