Summer fields, Paris Hill, NY 6"x 4" (detail)
Like my publishing business, having an online gallery is proving to be a pretty interesting experiment, both inner and outer. Some work has sold, but at this venue in particular, it seems like most people are looking for items that are affordable; here that means $20 - $50. Prints are one option, as are very small works. I'm trying both, and have just reduced the prices on all my spring and summer paintings. I've had to set up yet another accounting system, figure out the international shipping, devise lightweight mailers, work regularly on the online shop -- all that stuff that goes with having a business, but fortunately I don't mind that; having a business is familiar territory, it's the online marketing that is different, whether it's publishing or art or music or whatever.
On the inside, though, I think even more has changed. For so many years, my "career identity" was "graphic designer." As we transition from doing design and communications pretty much fulltime into a broader mix of activities that includes an emphasis on art and writing for me, the direct relationship of money-to-work is changing a lot. The work I've done with my partner all our professional life was intense and demanding, with tight deadlines and a lot of financial/supervisory responsibility for making sure things went properly -- but it was well paid. It also had a social component: long-term relationships with clients and suppliers, and the interesting psychological side of understanding what people were looking for and giving it visual expression. We received some verbal appreciation, to be sure, but that was never a major part of the equation or the motivation.
It's challenging for me to do work now that is just as difficult and demanding, or even more so, but almost entirely self-motivated, with little chance of financial reward. Whether it's publishing books or writing my own words, or doing artwork, I'm doing it for one primary reason: because I want to. I wonder if, without the internet, I'd find it too isolating: I think the social aspect was a major factor why I turned toward graphic design and having a business long ago. I'm a person who likes and needs solitude, but I'm not an introvert.
We're all getting used to sharing our art and writing online these days, maybe even taking it for granted, but I remember how isolated and lonely I used to feel. It bothers me that it's become so difficult for artists and writers to make a living from their work -- it was always difficult, but much mroe so now -- and the internet has added to the perception that art is free. In an ideal work art would indeed be free, but artists would be supported and valued by the society at large. In the meantime, people are scrambling, and no one knows how it will all shake out. It's a struggle some days to keep from feeling discouraged, whether personally, or about the many talented writers and artists I'm privileged to know and sometimes represent, especially with the din of voices clamouring for attention. On the other hand, I feel very fortunate to have the time and resources now to do my own work, and to share it, and some thoughts on the process, with others. It's easy to forget what a rich milieu we have here, both in terms of friendship and sharing, and in access to resources that would have made my early years, for instance, entirely different.
Meanwhile, choir rehearsals for the new season at the cathedral started last night. It felt great to be singing again, back in touch with that incredible wealth of music. I worry, though, how long is this going to be sustainable? There are days when I feel like all the things I love the most are under attack and undervalued -- days when I feel like a complete dinosaur. And a majority of days when I know the thing to do is just be myself, and do what feels right.
It's a mixed and complicated bag. If I had to choose, now, between financial gain or the opportunity to share my work, I'd opt for the latter. Do you agree? I think what most creative people want the most, in addition to the ability to create in the first place, is to share our passion with others; it's the little words of encouragement and support that help us go back to our desk or studio or piano and begin again the next day.