It has been a busy few months, filled with talks and shows. Art a Whirl, a huge open studio event still looms ahead and it always makes me consider why I create artwork.
When one decides to be an artist no one tells you the job description. It is so much more than just creating artwork although that is of course where it starts. Let's assume that you've created a body of work that you are pleased with, no small feat. Now what?
And even more important, why?
When I first began to focus on my artwork I did something that I suspect many artists don't. I wrote a strategic plan. Coming from a business background this was a familiar exercise, albeit with a totally different subject. I began with my objectives. Why was I doing this?
Now most business plans are focused on an effort that involves making money and I realized that was not my objective at all. Now mind you, I am not opposed to making money, but I realized very clearly that it was quite ancillary to what I was doing and sometimes diametrically opposed. And frankly, if I wanted to make money, creating artwork was not the most lucrative tool in my toolkit. I had worked in finance for years and it had taken some time to unhook psychologically from getting that nice paycheck. If that was my objective I knew where I could meet it.
Different artists have different objectives and they are not all financial. Much depends on where someone is in their life and those who have come to their artwork after a career in another discipline may bring a different focus. I am in an artist building and many of the artists are in fact trying to cobble together a living from their artwork. That may mean selling through galleries and often teaching or graphic design to supplement the unsteady income of an artist. If that is your objective you have to ask what the buying public wants and what galleries want and that of necessity influences what you create. You want to create what you can sell. Historically many artists have done two lines of work, what would sell and what engaged them personally.
I realized that I was focused on the latter. I wanted to examine those difficult subjects that I am trying to better understand and engage others in dialogue about them. And my subjects have been gnarly, the Holocaust, identity and loss of memory. Not the warm fuzzy subjects you may want hanging over your sofa.
Once I was able to state why I was doing this, my approach became clear. I tell stories and each painting is like a chapter. That means I need to work in series. It also means I want to show work as a series. It is not especially meaningful to me to enter one piece in a show as it loses its broader context. I also want to talk about my work because I want a platform from which to tell stories and create dialogue. And so I've become a public speaker, something I never imagined I would seek out and enjoy.
When I sell paintings from a series it is as if I've ripped a few chapters from a book. It leaves a hole. More recently I've begun to sell work after I've shown a series widely and often I make a print so I can continue to exhibit my work. In fact the last two paintings I sold were committed for sale a year before I shipped them as I had exhibitions pending.
After a big open studio event well-meaning friends often ask,"Did you sell anything?" It sounds a little strange to say, "That isn't my objective". When I was painting with a different purpose, selling something offered a certain validation. Someone liked what I had created, but validation comes through other channels. During Art-a-Whirl I spend the long weekend telling stories and hearing the stories of others on the topics I address. It is satisfying and pleasantly exhausting. I feel a real connection with the many people who come through my studio. We have conversations about real topics that touch their lives and I realize that we share many points of connection. I test my stories, learning how to construct them for an audience and that carries over to my talks. I see the circuit burning with energy, creation and dialogue feeding each other. And I know why I do what I do.