Friday, January 27, 2006

Making a living as an artist

I spent the day in New York yesterday with the one and only Seth Goodin at his seminar. While he presented a huge amount of information about marketing, including, getting permission to talk to people about what you are trying to sell, presenting your materials in a clear and concise manner and most of all, being honest, I came away with the knowledge that marketing is work. Aha?!? Well, not really, but for this recovering egomaniac, I realize that marketing is the hardest job ahead for me, making art is a breeze in comparison. Well, I have 30 plus years making art, so hopefully that is the easiest part of my job. The marketing piece, while I am eager to learn as much as possible, is a relatively new realm for me. What I know now is that telling people my story, making the best work I can, continuing to improve my ability to make my work and being as good as I can be at it are all parts of this complex thing I do, making a living as an artist. There are no magic cures, no instant bullets and certainly no get rich quick schemes out there to help me. Creating a livelyhood so that I can make art most of my days requires being organized, available and talking to people. Oh yeah, TV advertising doesn't work, especially for art! Yelling's not so effective either.

What about selling out? What does that mean? Making crap? If I don't make too much crap, maybe I'm not selling out? Or maybe the whole concept of selling out is another bit of mythological, conventional wisdom that deserves scrutiny, analysis, and well attention. Maybe we just avoid making crap.

Revolutionary? Oh yes...


Betsy Palmieri said...

Mary Ann, thank you for this extremely thought provoking post. It made me really think. (I wrote about it at my blog this morning too.) I will be interested in hearing more from you as you continue to fight the good fight!
sincerely, Betsy Palmieri
blog at

johntunger said...

Selling out is definitely a myth, and an ugly one at that.

I hear rumors that some artists in my old neighborhood claim that I've sold out because I'm actually making a living with art and some of it is on the commercial side... They are apparently upset that not every piece I make is a unique, edgy, high-concept piece. It's said that I'm wasting my talent. Hmmmm.

Here's a simple question that reveals the truth of the situation: If I were flipping burgers for a living instead, would that be less of a waste of my talent? Is painting houses more honest or more engaging than painting a mural for a restaurant?

I think that when it comes down to it, making some production work that sells at a reasonable price is not a bad thing. Nor is it selling out. The fact is, you'll develop your skills better in a production setting because you have to work fast and clean to get the work done in an affordable amount of time. When you go back to your masterpiece, those skills will be stronger for the time you've put in on the product work.

Mad said...

Thank you, John, for your recognition of the fact that artists NEED to make a living, doing what they (we) do. Focusing with passsion and energy on our art, however that manifests and getting paid, that is the sustainable course to a life dedicated to making art. Hooray for the conversation!