A simple “Fiat” is the key.
I am a frugal artist. If something is useful, it should be used. If art is worth creating, it should be on someone’s wall. Sell it or give it away, but “use it.” I simply cannot come to grips with the idea of creating anything at all unless it is for a purpose. My left brain and right brain are equally vociferous! Some will say that art is not practical. But who said that to be “purposeful” a thing must be practical? Isn’t the joy one derives from seeing something beautiful practical enough? So for years, I made art, exhibited it proudly in a large number of juried shows, then put it away in my closet. I was told that to get my art into someone else’s hands, I have to market it. Well that makes sense. So I initiated my marketing plan. I gathered up all the free advice I could find from the specialists in the “business of art.”
The first thing they all said was: “To be successful, an artist must spend at least 60% of his/her time on business and 40% on creating art.” What? When I broke my week down into these proportions, I found that I had an ever-evasive 20% of my time left for art, since cooking, cleaning house, errands, showering, eating, paying bills, watching the news… etc. etc. – and my part-time teaching job took a big piece out of that 40%.
But the experts were experts for a reason, so I persisted with that carrot on a stick (future fame) always one step ahead of me. I researched and put into practice as much of the marketing advice I could glean from friends, conferences and websites. It was taking a lot more than 60% of my time to get rolling, because it was all new, and I couldn’t afford to hire these experts. I had to go it alone. I kept telling myself that as soon as I sold a painting or two from my stored artwork, I could afford the materials to paint something new: even a small amount of “fame” would ease the pressure and let the creative juices flow again. For you see, they were not flowing any more. I was discovering that artistic creativity and business savvy are like oil and water. Any artist who can pull off the two of them successfully must be a saint. I couldn’t. I stopped painting!
The end result of my extensive attempts to market my art resulted in more than ten pages of “Lorena Bowser, Artist” on Google, numerous personal and subscribed-to websites, an ever-growing number of excellent testimonials to my work, closets full of previously exhibited art sinking fast into obscurity – and no sales! Well, OK, that‘s not entirely true. Family and friends, and a few anonymous purchases through a friend’s frame shop, represent actual art placed – on average about one artwork a year. But I had heard the “experts” say many times: “You can make a living from what you love.” Where had I gone wrong? Where was the fine line between failure and success? Was success measured by a few people loving your work and taking it home, or by making a living from what you love?
Fortunately for me, I love other things too. I threw in the towel on art and returned to my language teaching. Was I giving up or just being practical? My creative juices were dried up, and my stored art had nowhere to go. Why continue to produce something that will end up in a dark closet forever. I couldn’t even give this art to my appreciated admirers. When I offered, I would hear: “I would feel bad taking your work without paying you for it,” or “Hold on to it. It will sell one day.” Would that be posthumously? It was time to put into practice my favorite saying: “Happiness is not getting what you want but wanting what you get!” After years of wearing myself out to be recognized as an artist, I changed my priorities and said “Fiat!”
Have you ever forgotten a word and tried every way possible to pull it out of your brain with no success, then when you are relaxed and no longer thinking about it, it just pops back in? Sometimes I think that everything that we experience in life is related in thousands of ways to other experiences yet to be discovered. Here’s the connection: I forgot art. Art then found me!
I had returned to my language teaching, Art was the furthest thing from my mind, and within a year, on inspiration from a friend from the language school, the art door opened wide and I walked back through. I was creating again, my art was “getting around,” and numerous artworks never saw the inside of my closet.
Where are they? New artworks are on my language colleague’s wall, plus three old ones that came out of hiding – and I finished two more for him on request. He purchased another from my closet for his mother. One of my students from Germany took a number of my paintings and monotypes home with her and she commissioned two more for her parents’ home – in a little town on the Danube. Hey, I’m international! Some artworks from my “stash” are now in my Redding friends’ homes, and, on inspiration from my Finnish class connection, I “Finn”ished a sizeable series of artworks on Finland for the Tori Market at FinnFest 2011, several of which sold. I became a bona fide artist when I returned to my language. I now have art in Paris, Germany, Finland, Japan, Mexico and residing happily on some walls in the U.S.
Is there a moral to this story? Perhaps it’s time we seriously considered that running circles around ourselves to accomplish lofty goals is not the way to achieve them. If we do our best at whatever life gives us, what is meant to be, well….it will just happen!
But first, we have to say “FIAT!”
Follow up article next week: The mercurial wiles of “Fiat”