Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Money + Art

“Beautiful work!” Seal said to an artist who had a booth at APE.

“Yeah, but I don’t do it full-time,” he countered, “I’m not a professional yet,” he flustered. “I’m not PAID for it yet.” Seal heard the door of a heart slammed shut.

“But your work is beautiful!” She protested. “Whether you are paid for it or not, it doesn’t take away the fact that it’s still beautiful and people notice it.” (A young couple lingers around his table and drops $7 for one of his prints. I look at him in confirmation, see?

“I guess,” he said with a sigh, “but I’m still not paid the ‘big bucks’ and uh, this is a local show, once I get into a National or International gallery, then . . .  then . . . “ he shook his finger at me and trailed off. The entire convention center became very boisterous. I am left alone to my thoughts and I suddenly become very angry.

“Then . . .” WHAT? You can finally believe me? Only when you’re paid the “big bucks” or in a “big institution somewhere” then you will believe that your work is actually beautiful as people think it is? When you get paid and other institutions recognize you, THEN you can finally embrace yourself as an artist? Or “better” yet as a professional artist? You are waiting around for some big institution or high-end client to swoop down from somewhere to come “save you,” and lavish over you art, especially when art is very personal and very subjective and money and pricing proned to inflation, you are waiting and waiting for someone outside of yourself to say that you are a professional artist?

Dude, you’re living in the future that may or may not come while ignoring all the people who are stopping by your table to admire your work. Whether people pay $3 for your art of $30,000 – it is still beautiful.

Don’t discount your artwork! Just because it doesn’t readily translate to big monetary equivalent.

Money is very very subjective. At craftshows, we’ve had “rich” costumers throw their crisp $20 bucks at us for a tshirt, vs. a young boy who was clutching his only $20 allowance and after circling the entire craftshow and our booth 3-4 times, he wholeheartedly gave us his entire savings for a “Create or Die” tshirt. Even though both instances were a purchase of $20, that 20 was worth a world apart difference to us.

It took Seal a while to learn that money or big institutions will never equal to the value of one’s art.

Most everyone I know, including myself, has a money problem. Artists often have double the trouble because we equate money with recognition and value of our work. Given all the myths we’ve heard about being an artist, it’s no wonder why it’s hard to untangle: “art doesn’t make money,” “if you make money as an artist, you’re a sell out,” “art for art’s sake” (don’t pay for it?), “money is greed” “if you become too tall, they’ll cut you at the base” “starving artist” “art is superfluous” “art is selfish” etc etc. It doesn’t help to have a society that is rather unaffected or diminishing towards artists. While other occupations usually have a standard starting pay (think doctors, mechanics, etc.), an artist can be paid anywhere from nothing (a free service) to $100,000 or more for an art piece.

Of course, it’s a challenge to know your true value as an artist. But let me tell you a secret, money isn’t it. Money will never equal the value of your art.

For a long time, especially throughout art school, Seal kept hoping that a big studio would pick her up. Then . . . then . . . she would be recognized for her work. Then . . . only then . . . will people value her. It was the magic pill. Suddenly, if she worked at a big institution, everything will be solved: she would always be creative, she wouldn’t be proned to roller coaster rides of artistic blocks. She would have peer recognition and money (something she didn’t grow up with) and could buy all the reference books and canvases she wants (instead of scouring for found objects, antiques, and wood to paint on). Then, she would be paid the “big bucks” and be labeled a “professional artist.” Then . . . then . . . the prince comes in a magic pumpkin carriage . . .

But this is not reality.

Whether you work full-time, part-time, contract, intership, or as a hobby in art . . . You will still have to deal with artist blocks – it’s part of the process. Whether you are at a big studio, small studio, or in the humble corner of your apartment making art . . . you will have to deal with the day to day frustrations and existential crises of being an artist, you will always have deadlines to meet and critics to face, you will always have to feel unsure when you put your work up. You will still probably have to deal with naysayers and family members who may or may not support you. Whether you are showered with praise, some or not at all, or whether you are paid big, small, or none at all . . . at the end of the day, you will still have to face the biggest challenge – yourself. Do you value yourself as an artist? If money were non-existent and you were the only living human in the world, would you still create art? Would you have fun doing it? Is your current project challenging you as a person?  Does it makes a statement about you as a person? Are you SATISFIED? FULFILLED?

When Seal takes away the myth of getting paid the big bucks and being in a big institution, she finds that she is just very happy to be creating art. She works on an independent film set with inspiring and creative people. Her voice is heard by the director and she can make positive contributions on the project and the people around her. At night, she explores her paintings further. Her limitations on money actually help her to be more creative, as she is forced to find alternative surfaces and new ways to approach a painting. She finds rare antique wood and unthinkable items to incorporate into her art and has expanded beyond the canvas. And people actually like her works on wood better than on canvas as they all have unique grain and texture. She is learning multiple ways to tell stories, to make art, and find her inner voice. She paints and creates comics as she wants. And she’s surrounded by warm encouraging friends who are excited for her and her art. She is in the journey towards knowing herself. She no longer lives in the future, but at the present moment enjoying her life and art-making.

Because the artist at APE is still waiting around for his “big chance,” when it actually comes in the form of people complimenting and buying art from his table, he didn’t notice that he is currently living his dreams, making art and being PAID for it. It was as if he was living on the ground breathing his dreams of being an artist, but still looking hopefully at the sky for something else. He’s waiting around for someone, something outside of himself to ordain him as a professionally paid artist. In the end, it’s not really money or big institution he wants. What he actually wants is someone, something “out there” to shut the critics in his brain and answer the burning question, “am I good enough as an artist?”

And no amount of money or outside recognition will ever fill up that hole, but yourself.

You are enough. You can begin it now. As you are.

Don’t wait for your life to start, to value yourself as an artist. Don’t give power to something outside of yourself to make or break your artistic endeavors. Don’t wait for the big bucks or the big institutions. Because at the end of the day, do you want to create or not? Are you having fun or not? Do you respect yourself as an artist or not?

Sure, having money is nice. And working in a big institution – if it fosters you and is aligned with your values and priorities – is nice too! It’s more than ok to want money or full time work as an artist. And you should definitely be paid for work that you do. And if you live on this earth with other people, you cannot avoid acquiring and spending money on something. We all need shelter, food, and ways to make our art, and even indulgences. But money or big institution should never be the measuring stick for satisfaction, and can never substitute the longing for the final verdict of  “I am a worthy artist.”

If you are living and breathing, you are worthy already. If you are creating, you are worthy already. So start now. Begin and live in the present moment. And create. Live your life because you are a million bucks already.