(6 minute read)
A week ago, I read the latest newsletter from Robert Genn, who created the powerful series of articles called “The Painter’s Keys”.
Genn died in 2014, and he is sadly missed. His articles range from “how to paint” to “how to be”, and all are well-written and illustrated. Fortunately, his artist daughter Sara has continued the tradition, and carries it well.
This article was originally published in 2011, but still has relevance today. Perhaps even more so! You can see the article here: https://painterskeys.com/plight-undiscovered-artist/
He opens with this sentence: “Last night I met with five of the 17 million artists who currently need to sell more of their art.
His take focused on the need to “get better” at our work, rather than “feeling good” about our work. Obviously, although this little group were working very, very hard to sell their work, his advice suggests he considered the work slightly “less than.”
Remember, this is a guy who, when he realized he would not live out the year, sorted through all his paintings, pulled the ones he thought were “less than”…..and burned them. He did not want a shred of evidence of any low quality left behind.
Part of me understands this.
Part of me balks.
I have older works, older artifacts, etc. that make me squirm a little when I see them. I mentioned this to a dear friend in Keene many years ago. I said maybe I should destroy them.
She said, “Did you love making them?” I said yes.
She said, “Did people love them, and buy them?” Again, I said yes.
She said, “Then there will be people today who will love them, too.”
Bonk. Head slap.
In fact, this very insight came into full force during the two weekends of my open studios. People went through my artifacts drawers (a printer’s type tray chest) where all my older pieces and overstock pieces are stored. (If I have the perfect piece of real turquoise in hand for a necklace, I’ll use it. If not, I’ll make it. And while I make it, I make extras so I’ll have them on hand.)
I have just started selling a few of the older ones, the ones I don’t care for that much, and the ones I’ll never actually use. (Oddly, the ones I don’t like aren’t my first pieces, but my “middle period. Go figure!)
So there may actually be buyers for every stage of our creative work: Our earliest efforts, the period where we expand our skillset, and now, when we are making our best work ever.
And yet, why is it so hard to sell today? (Genn wrote his original article during the recession, when many galleries actually closed, sales were so poor.)
I think it’s in his very first sentence.
17 million artists in the world today.
Now I spent some time trying to verify this (although, I dunno, maybe he just threw it in there for effect. It worked!) And of course, “artist” usually only refers to 2D painting. It may or may not include people who work in other 2D media, or people who work in 3D media. It may include stone sculpture but not clay work. It may not include people who do fine craft, or even not-so-fine craft. It may not include singers, actors, dancers, writers, poets, etc., etc. For sure it doesn’t include my broader definition of creative work.
Although one of my favorite responses I found simply stated, “That would be the number of people in the world. Because everybody has some creativity in them.” YES!
So between the estimate of 2.1 million artists I found for the U.S. (a city the size of Chicago or Houston) and everybody on the planet, perhaps 17 million is a pretty good guess.
So every day, we are trying to make our work visible, accessible, and sales-worthy in competition with enough other people to populate a city smaller than Beijing (22 million) and slightly greater than Istanbul (15 million).
Wait for it…..
DO NOT LOSE HOPE.
I know our first reaction might be, “Why bother?!! I’m just gonna throw away my brush/pencil/clay/etc. and become a doctor/lawyer/CEO/pilot (or whatever your other, more lucrative dream career might be).”
And if you’re in art for the money, maybe that’s a good idea.
But that’s not why we took up art, is it?
I’ve heard every possible “creation” story” of how we came to making art. Many of us felt that urge to make something, even before we were old enough to know what it was called. (When I was four, I was given a pad of typewriter paper and a pencil. I drew something on every single sheet, including a spider wearing a little shoe with shoelaces on each foot, and affixed them to the walls of my bedroom with scotch tape onto my newly-painted walls.) (My parents were not happy.)
Some had no idea they had this in them until they were much older. Some walked away, thinking they weren’t good enough, only to return to it when they realized how fulfilling it is to make something wonderful. (Ahem. That would also be me.)
Some of us constantly judge ourselves, our process, and our work. Remember the commenter on one article who was mocked by family for working in “chalk”?
And yet they persisted, because pastels speak to them in a way that cannot be ignored.
We may feel less-than, we may feel we’re “doing it wrong”, we may feel we aren’t “good enough”, and maybe that’s true. Lord knows, there’s always someone who feels free to tell us that, even when we haven’t asked.
But the power of embracing where we are right now, the power of telling our story with the work of our heart, the power of starting where we are and stay focused on doing better, is heady stuff.
Genn went on to conclude his thoughts from that meeting:
Everyone left with more questions than they brought. Maybe you can answer some of them. Which is better — feeling good or getting good? What is good? Has everything already been done? Does it matter? What courses should monetarily artists take? How much of the current art-poverty is due to the current recession — or does the current poverty have something to do with sliced cows?
That last remark refers to some of those folks thinking if you’re selling skills are good enough, you can still sell poopy work.
Here’s my take-way:
Do it because you love it.
It’s not selling yet, because your audience hasn’t found you. YET.
Keep getting better. But don’t let the judgment of others keep you from the work of your heart. (There’s constructive criticism, and there’s vicious criticism. You get to choose which to listen to.)
We may be just another “one” in a million.
But there is nobody else on earth who can tell our story. There is no one else in the world who can speak with our voice.
We are, each of us, truly “one in a million.” Or maybe even several billion.
Do the work of your heart. Get better. Keep trying. Persevere.
Do it because you love it. And because it’s good for you!
If you enjoyed reading this, you can sign up for more articles by a variety of artists at Fine Art Views or subscribe to my blog for more of my articles.
If you know someone who would like this, send it on to them with my blessing!
And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, ditto the “If you enjoyed reading this…” links.