I often wonder how the term starving artist first came about. The Wikipedia definition of a starving artist is “an artist who sacrifices material well-being to focus on their artwork.” They typically live on minimum expenses, for lack of commissions or because their disposable income goes toward art projects. In the painting Bedroom in Arles (left 1888), artist Vincent Van Gogh gives a visual representation of the simple living conditions under which he lived and worked. Though a talented artist, the troubled Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime and eventually committed suicide. Today Van Gogh is widely recognized for his unique style, but perhaps he could have learned a thing or two from the industrious visual artists of today. There has got to be a way to stay true to your art form, and to make money while doing it. Right?
I am not starving. I don’t live in a studio apartment. I work two other jobs besides creating artwork so that my family and I don’t have to go without. The other day a fellow art lover expressed interest in purchasing my original Inner Struggles of Self painting. I tried to convince her to consider buying a canvas print, but this self-proclaimed art snob wants only original artwork. I struggled to arrive at a price high enough to capture what the painting means to me, and arrived at $900.This seemed a fair amount for the small 16×20″ painting.
I was surprised at my husband’s reaction to the interest in selling one of my originals. “You are going to actually SELL our painting from right off our wall?” he asked me. I was happy that he cared so much about my artwork, but at the same time shocked he felt passionately about NOT selling certain pieces. “You can’t sell everything. Some painting are not for sale,” he went on “No matter how much they pay, these are for us.” At first I wanted to fight him on this point. Doesn’t he realize that I am at artist? That I WANT to sell my artwork and be able to live off that money? Doesn’t he see that we could pay almost a month worth of bills from one painting?!
Doesn’t he believe in my ability to … oh wait I get it. I began to understand. Perhaps, this wonderful man believes in me so much that he is showing me to not be anxious to sell, anything. Believing in oneself means that I don’t feel compelled to sell paintings that have special meaning to me. It means that some paintings are therapeutic and inspirational to the artist, and even to her family. It helps me to value myself, my time, and my work more.
I still believe that artists can and should create paintings for others, with the point of selling. Maybe one day someone will offer me hundreds of thousands of dollars for Woman Power and I will finally give in. Maybe not. Am I a sellout just because I want to create and sell my artwork for money? Does the fact that I also work as a producer and teacher make me less of an artist? Is my dream of one day having an art factory like Austrian artist Hazel Dooney so wrong? I want others to be moved by my artwork, not concerned with the situation that I live in. I strive to maintain artistic integrity and achieve commercial success at the same time.
The combination of artistic and commercial success can be traced to the 17th century, with Rembrant Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669.) This extraordinary painter was also a teacher and man of finance. He earned good money from the sale of his works, especially from commissioned portraits and prints. He collected fees from his numerous pupils and journeymen painters. I am not a sellout. I am a Rembrant.
The solution: create a new version of the painting especially for the client. She can have a piece of artwork created with her in mind, in the style that she admired from the earlier work. I found it exhilarating to create this new version of Inner Struggles with her in mind. I can use what worked but also take the new piece further, work on a larger canvas, and create an even more vibrant piece.
I ponder these thoughts as I struggle to sell my own originals, and continue to make new works of art that inspire. I am an artist. I am also a savvy business woman with a master of arts management degree, and a day job that I love almost as much as painting.
Call me an arts entrepreneur: concerned with the creation of art and with making it available to the world. An arts entrepreneur is primarily motivated by the art form, not with making money. Arts entrepreneurship (such an my online art gallery) is the process an artist engages in while creating a business that utilizes the skills and the artistic talent possessed by that artist. I am someone who has hedged her bets so that she doesn’t have to sell everything, or anything.
THE RESULTS: MIND BATTLE.
the battle for your mind
is one fought with strength
the battle for your soul
in life can make or break
when the devils
and the demons
have you by the throat
and the love
have your ever lasting soul.
which side will you chose?