Thursday, August 11, 2011

Doing what you love (and not allowing the money to follow)

Dear blogreaders, this is a very long post that has been roaming in my head and heart for a long time. I hope you take the time to read it, because it's something I feel strongly about and I needed to get it out. Thanks for listening. No pictures this time, just words...lots of words ;-)

Every now and then the question comes up. "Wouldn't you like to make a living with your art?" or "Wouldn't you like to be a professional artist?" or "Have you ever thought about selling your stuff?". I guess loosely translated the question is if I would like to make a living doing what I love. This question has haunted me for years now and I am just now starting to unravel it's true answer and what it means for me.

The question often comes from people who have seen some of my art and like it or who have merely heard I am a creative person. There seems to be this consensus that if you're good at something you have to make money with it. And yes, I have thought about it, in fact it is the question that constantly pests me in one way or another and won't let go of my ego. And my ego is very much involved when it comes to this, which is also the big stumbling block in truthfully answering this question. But I'm going to try...

It is flattering when people love what you make. It's even more flattering when they want to pay for it and it's even more flattering than that when you haven't made anything yet and they will pay you to think up something for them. That feels like a vote of confidence in your abilities as an artist. Don't get me wrong, by no means am I constantly being offered payment for my work, but I have sold a few pieces, be it all in the small circle of my friends and acquaintances or the people attached to them. I have gained enough confidence to maybe wonder if I could make at least part of a living with my artsy endeavors if I put my energy into it and I actually think that I might be able to. It sure is true that I love nothing more than making stuff. I love putting things together. And wouldn't it be a dream come true if you could make a living doing what you love? Of course it would!

The essence however for me is in the words 'doing what you love'. I know that it's a wonderful idea and often said that if you just do what you love the money will follow. I don't believe that's true at all (wish it was). I believe you can turn what you love into something that might bring in the cash, but you will have to do a lot more than just make things. You have to market it, price it, find an audience, keep up a shop, maybe teach or write articles, etcetera etcetera. All sorts of things that will get you noticed and bring attention to your art and yourself as an artist. You have to think of your buyers and/or students, whether you like it or not, for they are your customers and the suppliers of your income. That is simply how it works. I have read enough books and blog posts on the business side of art to know that it is hard work and I am not so naive to believe that if I just sit in my studio and make art the money will automatically follow. But...unfortunately for me keeping a business is not doing what I love. In fact it is turning what I love into something that I mildly hate and resent. It would turn this one thing that is completely my own into a means for making money and that simply won't wash with me. 

Before you become angry with me, let me say that I am not one of those people who has some principled belief that art and commercialism don't go together or that it's wrong to turn (and maybe slightly adapt) your art into a business. I know there are some who think this is selling out. I don't. In fact I have a great admiration for people who can do it. There's some very good examples out there who just blow me away. Why some of them are on my ever growing list of inspiring blogs! I think Kelly Rae Roberts' enormous success is the perfect example of a dream come true (to name just one). It takes a lot of courage and persistence to try to make it as a professional mixed media artist and I bow my head to any of you who have done it or who are trying it or aspiring to it. You should be worshipped for following your dreams.

But I have wondered about my dreams and they don't add up with what the professionals are doing, no matter how much it attracts me in theory. Yes, making a living doing my art indeed seems like a dream come true, but it is actually not my dream. My dream is just making art (sans the money making or building a name for myself).  My dream is a quiet life surrounded with books, nature and art supplies (and possibly a couple of cats) away from the busy world, not so much in it. In a perfect world I'd live in a nice secluded house in the country or near the ocean and just scurry about writing, making art, reading and going on long walks. Yes, exactly the things I do now if I'm off work. Boring to talk about, but what a wealth for me inside my head and heart. My life is not exciting for others, it's only fascinating to me, and that's fine with me! ;-)

Let me give you an example of how my mind works. I love to read. Love love love it. Nothing makes me happier than to curl up with a book and a pot of tea and just escape the daily grind or learn something new. But here's the strange soon as for some reason I have to read something I start to hate it. For instance, to graduate from high school we had to read loads of books for our language exams. Good beautiful novels. I hated it! As soon as there's a list of requirements and a grade attached to it, reading becomes a chore, it becomes work. It no longer matters if the novel is wonderful, it only matters that it's mandatory. And mandatory and I don't go well together. I don't want to be tied up! It's as simple as that. When and where and how and what I read has to be completely up to me. If it's not, it's tainted. It's no longer really mine. I cannot do it. (Hence I only read part of the required list at high school, so much for the educational system.)

The same thing goes for anything else that I love doing, including art. When it becomes work I cannot love it as much. It's too tied up with expectations, requirements, demands or the need to make profit from it. It's no longer free and enriching and so it becomes a burden. If there's one thing I don't want it is for the thing I love to become a burden, 'cause then I can't love it freely anymore.  And that to me is the bigger dream really, I need to be free in the things that I love doing and free from expectations and demands. I need to experience the joy of simply doing, not so much the joy of accomplishing and producing (even though I'm as much a perfectionist and control freak as the next person and my ego loves all those things).

The problem is of course that expectations are all around, even in my own head. And the way our western world works it is highly strange to just do something for the love of it and nothing else. This always brings a conflict inside of me and it's easy to be swept away by all the wonderful examples in the art world of women who are doing it, turning their love for their art into a viable business, and of course there are a thousand times more people who would love to try it, if they only could figure out how. Sometimes I think I am one of them and I start thinking about it and planning it. I ask myself questions like: What would my business look like? How would I go about it? Hey, there's a reason I read so many books on the business side of art! But what happens then? I'll tell you what happens: the minute I even go mildly into that direction I get seriously grumpy and mildly unhappy and ... I loose the love. It's gone like it never was. Art becomes a job and I somehow cannot stomach it, not even in theory. Sigh.

I even notice it when I mention to people that I may be starting an etsy shop by the end of the year. They immediately start to bombard me with advice on how to market my stuff whether on or off line. But I am simply looking for a way to allow people to acquire something of mine that they might like outside of my direct surroundings. There's only so much you can put up on your own wall or give away to friends and every now and then I do like to make something on canvas or loose paper (outside of the books I prefer to work in). I can't count the amounts of times I've been asked to join the local art fair, but I keep telling them that I have very little to sell, that most of my stuff is done in journals and books and that I have no intention to produce in order to sell at some market.  But it's hard not to be tempted.

I think yes, I am an amateur at heart, but art is yet by no means a hobby for me! For me art is an absolute priority, a necessity if you will. I cannot not do it.  If I don't do it I also get cranky and miserable. I pretty much do it on a daily basis (unless I'm in a little rut like last week) and not in a shy way. I work full time in an office and have to keep up other obligations too, but I try to be in my studio every day for several hours. While taking my art in itself really seriously is a sure killer of my love for it, taking the practice of my art seriously is an absolute must. And that is exactly what it is to me, a practice. It's all about self development and personal expression, about building skills and learning new things, about getting my hands dirty with paint or meticulously drawing or writing. It's all about the doing, about the love of making. I think in the end that's also why I keep this blog: to keep up my practice and to share the love.

On my personal profile it says: "I love making art. I love reading books. I love going on long hikes across my island. I am happy as long as I can do those three things." That is not me sharing a little tidbit about myself, that is me sharing my essence! I know this sounds dramatic and maybe it is, but those really are the things that are my priority in daily life. It's all about love and wonder and unfortunately those don't pay the bills.  That's what the job is for. This has and will forever be my eternal frustration and is what keeps me being tempted to be one of the thousands who want to be professional artists. I just don't think it would be good for me to give into this temptation and that's what this post is all about. I needed to clarify this for myself.

I hope I'm not the only one out there who sometimes struggles with these questions and even more I hope that I am not the only one out there who tries to stick to the practice instead of going for the profession.

For those of you who are still with me after all this lengthy writing, thanks for listening.
I would love to read your input on this, you can do so in the comment section, but if that's too public for you feel free to e-mail me. My e-mail address is in my profile on the sidebar.