THE HUNGRY ARTIST
Many of you reading this may not be familiar with the twice weekly letters from Robert Genn. Robert is a very accomplished and successful Canadian artist who generously shares his thoughts, insights, and experiences freely, via his emailed letters, with tens of thousands of subscribers from all over the world. His letters always elicit lots of comments from his subscribers, and yesterday's letter promises to generate much discussion.
The subject was a concern from a recent art school graduate about how to get started earning an actual living from his painting, a tough enough challenge even after years of experience. Most responders talked about how difficult it is, particularly in the current economic circumstances, and suggested artists had to find "new" ways of doing things (although none of them seemed to have any concrete examples of what that actually meant). However, one person's comments really jumped out at me as symptomatic of why so many artists do have a hard time earning a living from their art.
In her opening paragraph she stated:"I won't give up, for the simple fact of, if others don't buy my work, I love it enough for all of them! I'm painting for myself first." This seems to be a pretty widely held philosophy within the art community. Disregard the preferences of the art-buying public and be true to yourself and your muse above all. If the landlord comes looking for the rent, lock the door and pretend you are not in. If you get hungry, drink water. Where did this attitude originate, I wonder? Do you think Michelangelo would have chosen to lie on his back in the Sistine Chapel for years painting religious scenes on the ceiling if he felt as strongly about painting for himself first and disregarding the preferences of his ecclesiastical patrons? Not bloody likely. But was he able to earn a decent living and be renowned for the quality of his work? Damn right he was.
It is every single human being's responsibility to take care of his own basic needs to the full extent he is able to do so. In this day and age that means "earning a living", and the only way to do that is to provide a service or a product for which there is a need or demand and for which someone is prepared to pay, even if that service is simply physical labour. If it allows you to support yourself so you are not a burden to others, then that is a noble thing. If you decide you want that product or service to be your artwork, you'd better be damned sure your work satisfies somebody's need or you are just going to add to the statistics of artists unable to support themselves from their art. All of the great masters earned their livings and did almost all their work to suit the requirements and expectations of those paying for that service. I suspect the current attitude of too many artists today that actually scorn the idea of earning a living in that manner comes from years of inbreeding through the various art schools that promote the concept that artists are above all that sort of thing and somehow more special than everyone else. What a load of crap! To illustrate how far that high and mighty attitude has expanded, I close with another direct quote from the same responder to Robert Genn's latest letter. Believe it or not, she said:"Unless you own an original piece of fine art, you have no taste". How do you feel about that?