The Laws of Nature

Monday, December 21, 2009

Full-time or Part-time

This may not be the year (decade?) to consider Roberts' eighth principle entitled Full-time or Part-time. Yikes! Could there be a worse time to leave a paying job to become a full-time artist? Maybe this is a chapter that we should think about later when the economy recovers. Even so, I'll relate Roberts points about what to consider when making this decision. (The pie chart serves as my illustration for the reapportionment of time wedges.)

Below, I've paraphrased Roberts' main ideas about what an artist should consider before making the leap to full-time status:

  • Are you prepared to handle the business of being an artist in addition to the demands of creating works of art?

  • Will you be able to produce enough paintings that are sellable to generate sufficient income for your needs?

  • Will you be able to find joy in your work without succumbing to the stresses associated with running the business side of art, creating a sufficient amount of work under a deadline, and producing an adequate income?

  • Can you maintain and even improve your creativity and the quality of your work as you strive to meet all these goals?

  • Would you be willing to teach art in order to supplement your income if necessary?

These are all good questions, and ones that I had to consider before making the leap. I'd like to elaborate on the first question about the business of art. You should be brutally honest with yourself when answering this question. Being a full-time artist IS a business, and this means that you should be comfortable marketing your work and yourself. In order to do this, you must develop a very tough skin to deflect the rejection and indifference that you'll frequently encounter as you persevere to find opportunities in every possible nook and cranny. And, don't get caught up in the romantic notion that you'll be "discovered" by some gallery dealer who'll do everything for you so you can simply stay home and paint. It almost never happens. And, if it does, you still need to know enough about business to understand how to manage a contractual relationship. I spend a lot of time promoting my work through galleries, the internet, personal connections, national and international juried exhibitions, brochures, and so on. It takes a lot of time and can be expensive, but it's worth it.

And, because this is a business, you must keep a complete and accurate financial account for both tax and personal reasons. You need to know if you're meeting your financial goals so you can make adjustments if necessary.

The second, third, and fourth points are also critically important. Are you the sort of person who can handle the stress created by deadlines and financial concerns and still find joy in your work? Will you be able to continually improve the quality of your work in this type of environment? Personally, I like deadlines and the challenges of running the business. It motivates me to stay in the studio, get the job done, and to do it well. These deadlines enhance my level of creativity as I try new techniques on newly formulated concepts. The rewards make it all worthwhile.

One last thing ... whether or not you're a full-time artist isn't important to the creation of unique and meaningful work that's technically masterful. You can become a successful artist without assuming full-time status. How many museums display works of art by "Masters" who worked at jobs outside of art while they were creating? Plenty! Just because you've chosen to be a part-time artist doesn't mean that you aren't serious or that your work doesn't deserve serious consideration.

There's so much more that I could say, but I've learned that this blog has many astute readers who can add gems to this golden nugget. Please add your thoughts ...


jimserrettstudio said...

I always find discussions on the “business” of art of interest.
You have already made some very good points. Most important I believe is balance, figuring out how do you put all of the aspects of your life (career/family) together and pursue art. Being creative people it should be easy to apply creative measures to our profession. Marketing, finance, and all of those departments that other businesses have no dilemma understanding and embracing, should not be such a hurdle. I think we need a major paradigm shift in how we educate artists and prepare them for careers. Very few undergraduate programs do anything to educate students about the business of art. And only in graduate programs do many actually begin to speak of art as a profession.

I truly believe that anyone who has the desire and motivation to be an artist “can” be.
They may never hang work in the Louvre, but they can find a niche or an arena where they can produce a living. The pie is big enough for everyone who tries, without eating beanie weenies everyday. Is not that really our goal, to continue making art?

There are more ways today for an artist to reach their audience than ever before in history. If they can’t, that is just inertness. The market for competent, reasonably priced art is larger and more varied than any market since the first artist scratched an image on a cave wall. How does the painter approach this opportunity? First by producing work they believe in, and by selling that work at a price that will allow them to produce more work.

And Happy Holidays too.

Unknown said...

Fantastic response, Jim! I wholeheartedly agree with you, and am thankful that you took the time to write such a substantive comment. Happy Holidays!

hw (hallie) farber said...

I've read your blog several times and this came out of the blue:

I think maybe artists have something in common with doctors. We may not be on the job but we're always on call; i.e. Margaret's travels--she's actually doing research for art works. I know that I see art in just about everything and most of my time is spent thinking about art.

I'm too old to dream of being discovered; an assistant would be nice, though (young & handsome would be okay)--one who would keep the records and clean the brushes at 3 a.m., but stay out of sight the rest of the time.

I agree with Jim Serrett that there are buyers for reasonably priced art. And, if I had no customers, I'd still need to paint.

Recently I've wondered: Do we create the art or does the art create us.

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Unknown said...

Hallie - you have the BEST ideas! Maybe you, Pam and I could share that assistant ;) I also like your idea about artists being like physicians - always on call. How true! Thanks for your great comments.

Pam - you're too generous, and thanks so much for all your encouragement. It goes a long way. I think that transparency is needed in the art world, or any business for that matter. There's always been this shroud of mystery about artists and it really isn't necessary. Thanks for reminding us, Pam!

-Don said...

Nice pie chart, Kathy... I'm assuming the slender orange slice is how much time you allocate for sleep...

Great post. Having been forced recently into the full-time artist roll I'm still working my way thru all these steps. I've got the creating, joy, thick-skin, growing and networking down. Now I need to get the business part ironed out. My biggest hurdle is marketing myself and my work. Until recently, I painted to fill the need in my psyche while working for someone else to fill the needs of my bank account. So, it's been a bit of a transition, as I knew it would be. That's why I dragged my feet to make the step into painting full-time, and I'm quite sure I'd still be dragging my feet if I'd had a choice in the matter... Thank God for unemployment compensation!

So, my ducks are in a row. The next step is to shove them out the door... 2010, watch out!!!


P.S. I may have taken Pam's transparency comment a little too literally... Please don't see my comment as a downer. It's just me working thru things as I enjoy the benefits of great blogging friends.

M said...

It's late, I'm tired. The other comments all sound so intelligent and not where I am right now.

The last several months seem to have brought me to a crossroads with my art. I'm thinking a lot and not painting much. I only have questions...
Am I full time or part time? Am I serious about being an artist or not? What do I want from my art? What is art giving back to me? What do I do with all my art that doesn't sell? How do I market my art? I think that's the real question that I don't have an adequate answer to. You get the idea! Oh my, this is sounding very much like a "poor me" response but it's honest.

Anonymous said...

This is another wonderful, timely topic. I think I have had all the questions Margaret speaks of in the last day or two. I know drawing and painting are my passion but I sometimes wonder. Yesterday, I told my husband, half in jest, half in frustration, that I was done with art. Not sure you want to know all the reasons why; some of them are the same reasons Margaret outlined. Margaret, I share your frustration!

My personal mantra is “focus on doing what I love and my time will come”…so I draw, paint, and get up the next day and do it all over again!

The Artist Within Us said...

mariateOh I seem to be tagging along again . . .

I like what hwfarber stated, that we are like doctors, always on call, I guess we just cannot help it.

Doing the groceries or even the laundry, my mind is always actively contemplating something, be it art, writing or creating a dinning scene for when we have guests over for dinner. Even baking I look at creatively and how to make something a little different from the last time. But back to the subject at hand.

Having worked as a freelance graphic designer and commercial photographer for 30 years, I have had to supplement my income by working for temp agencies.

When it comes to dead lines, I feel that artistic creativity cannot be forced into a time table, while graphic design or shooting commercially can. The two are worlds apart.

When working as a designer, a different kind of mental thinking goes on, a different kind of creativity, whereas with a painting, I seem to take considerable more time contemplating the issues.

Only in a few cases have I been able to create a work of art from start to finish in a manner one might say was like my design business.

I would have to add that part of not being able to paint under pressure has to do with the fact that I have never taken a painting class, in which one is taught the technical aspects of painting. So when I take longer to finish a canvas, it has more to do with thinking about the technical process and working out the various steps.

Since I have entered the blogging sphere, I have come across numerous blogs on art and see that due to the economy, artist have been downsizing their canvases to where the size and price point equals one hundred dollars.

I myself just have made an investment in canvases that are under 12 x 12 for abstracts and 8 x 10 for traditional oil paintings so that maybe I an weather out this cycle of a very slow economy.

As a friend recently stated, she felt that we were in a new 'gold rush' and having to think differently then before.

Even an article I twittered about today from the UK Guardian, were artist were taking over plush building in high end neighborhoods that were vacant and saying to the owners, let us live here, hold exhibits and we will keep the buildings safe from vandalism. Like I said, thinking outside of he box.

Warmest regards to everyone,

Unknown said...

Folks, I'm grateful for and impressed by the candor and substance of your comments! This is wonderful.

Don, Margaret, and Peggy: feeling that you're at the crossroads is daunting. When I made the decision to become a full-time artist I decided to do it with baby steps while transitioning out of a full-time faculty job at a college to part-time and finally, out the door. During the last five years of that transition I took a bit of my income and heavily invested in art materials as well as promoting my art anywhere and everywhere I could get my foot in the door. It worked. But, I had to be imaginative. My first solo show was in a restaurant. This wasn't a particularly great venue, but I gained local recognition. I remember learning that when the famous sculptor and painter Louise Nevelson was trying to break into the art world she placed her work everywhere, incuding a beauty parlor in her neighborhood. These days, the web is very useful. I've made sales from my website, and even found an interior decorator who purchased originals for his clients up-scale condos. I've dropped off paintings and portfolios to other interior decorators as well, and spoken to someone in charge of the art that hangs on the walls of hospitals and doctors' offices. And then, there are the galleries which I work with on occasion but they take too much money. I do better on my own. And, of course, I teach art as well and do illustration on occasion. There are so many ways to find opportunities, even in this economy. I'm reviewing my financial records for 2009 again, and this seems to be my best year so far. I'm surprised, but not so much since I know how much time and expense I put into promotion. If there weren't a recession, I probably would have done better.

Also, I'd like to address a point that Egmont brought up (thanks Egmont, for such a substantive comment!!). He mentioned that a lot of artists are dropping their price point to under $100. I know this is true especially for those who sell on eBay. It's another approach. I did just the opposite, and raised my prices this year. My paintings range in price from $200 (very small ones) to $750 - 12,000 for the large ones. They do sell. But, you really have to consider comparable work by comparable artists in a similar marketing region before you set your price. Just be careful not to undervalue your work!

Once again ... a fantastic discussion! Thanks all.

Unknown said...

P.S. I forgot to mention. For those of you who subscribe to "Art Calendar" there was a great article by Jack White about selling art on eBay. He used an alias to test out the marketability of his small pieces, which he produced in rapid succession, and found that after a three-year period he was able to make $40K in a single year! That's amazing.

Mark Sheeky said...

I found that those questions were very loose, I mean, they could apply to anyone really! The first was practially a trap! Like any question that starts "are you prepared"... every confident person will say yes!

You don't have to maintain and improve creativity to make a living from art, or design, or creative anything. I seems that most of the most commercial artists cling to their one narrow mind.

Anyway, a fascinating discussion that it looks like we've ALL been thinking about! Like Don 2010 is going to be a crunch year for my art I think. The problem is I secretly love putting lots of hard work into work that takes more time and effort than a current price tag will fetch. That's because I did the opposite for years and found that success comes from passion and self-belief, truth and beauty. When I made things to sell, they didn't sell because they lacked those things.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Hi Mark - yes, these questions can and should apply to anyone who chooses to go into business as a solo enterprise. Hence, the generalities. I must respectfully disagree that the first question is a trap. It's intended to cause one to deeply reflect and I think that most people would give it due consideration rather than respond with bravado. I agree that you don't have to improve your work in order to make a living as an artist, although I do make the distinction between commercial art and fine art in this blog. And, most of us would like to continue to improve our work throughout our lifetime. Keeps it fun and interesting! Like you, I think most of us put far more effort into our work than the price tag allows. If only we could charge by the hour! And, while I agree with your statement that "success comes from passion and self-belief, truth and beauty", commercial success (e.g. selling the works) needs a big dose of marketing skills. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!