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September 07, 2012


Like you, I am more motivated by that passion to share with others ... which is both a blessing and a curse. I tried to give up that "passion," and went even as far as taking accounting classes to make myself into a better business woman, but though I learned the principles and got excited about sharing what I learned, I've never been able to practice those principles :)

But on a more serious note, I think it is dismal that it has become so difficult to make a living as an artist, or even as a teacher, come to think of it.

Thanks, Maria. Somehow I just can't see you as an accountant but admire you for taking the time to learn how to be!

What I feel unsure of is how much the difficult economy has to do with people's reluctance to pay for art, music, books and so forth, vs. the general devaluation of the role of art and artists in society, vs the fact that a lot of art is available for free, vs. the prevalence of "popular" culture, celebrity icons, and blockbusters via the media (as opposed to smaller presses, lesser known artists, etc.) These are all factors, and there are others. Even among those who share these views, many pay lip service but don't actually support artists and writers with their dollars. Public radio is an example. But how to change this?

I think it has always been difficult to make a living as an artist. I made and sold jewelry for years and did fine with it but I think the handmade crafts movement has seen its peak. The average age of craftspeople is probably around 60.
We're still making things, we now design and make camera gear which we ship world wide.
The internet has changed things so much, on the one hand we have customers everywhere for our camera gear, since it is a small and specialized field. On the other hand for artists, even though it is easy to post and sell your work world wide you're also competing world wide. If I want a print for my house I can choose from anywhere in the world.
There are a couple of painters who seem to do well posting a new small painting everyday for sale. One got so popular he changed it to an auction rather than just posting a price.
We're changing away from our video production work which is demanding, to our camera gear, which we make and sell without leaving the house. You just need to find a creative way to find your audience and sell what you enjoy making.

For me, the opportunity to share my work is more important than financial gain...though it's nice to feel at least a little bit valued! I think a lot about decoupling value from income. When someone reads my poems online for free, and perhaps leaves me a comment or sends me an email, that matters to me deeply -- even if I haven't made a penny.

Of course, I have the luxury of being able to take this stance; I have a partner with a good job, and now I have a job myself as a rabbi (thank God! :-) -- which is as much a vocation as it is a "job" per se -- so I get both fiscal and spiritual sustenance from my rabbinic work, which in turn makes it easier for me to derive only spiritual sustenance from the poetry.

In a funny way, I find that one of the reasons I want to keep selling 70 faces is that you took a risk on it and on me, and I want to repay you for all of the time and energy you put into making my book beautiful, and into making the other Phoenicia books beautiful (and making them exist in the first place.) I mean, my first desire is for my poems to get out there and to be shared and read and loved! But I also want there to be some small financial remuneration for you. I suspect most small-press authors feel this way.

In any event: I'm endlessly grateful for the creative community we've found / built / co-created here in the aether of the internet. I feel blessed.

I am not an artist or writer by profession or career, and want to make that clear.

Here's what I noticed. I purchase art or writings when the spirit moves me. It is not a complicated process. If I saved receipts, I bet I'd find it had no rhyme or reason in terms of my income at that time. Just where I am and what I discover.

Beth, that's a lovely little painting - hard to believe that it's only 6"x4", it looks as if it is much larger.

I don't think it's harder for artists now to sell their work than it was in the past. Certainly in the early years of modernism, art that was not of the strictly academic kind did not sell at all - Van Gogh would not have survived without his brother's financial support and many of now super-famous artists like Picasso etc. were giving away work in exchange for food.

The art scene is more commercial now than it's ever been and many people just out of art school become wealthy overnight if they happen to hit on some gimmick that becomes fashionable. There are a lot more art promoters/dealers/curators/what-have-you now and those who have a knack for working the system do well financially. The internet has also opened some opportunities even if it's generally for lower-priced work.

The problem is that, because PR has become such a huge factor in the selling of art, and artworks are considered products like cars or shoes, artists who are unable and/or unwilling to get into intensive PR, either by themselves or via agents, are simply by-passed. Teaching has been and still is the standard option for those artists whose work doesn't sell enough to pay the bills; there's also the form-filling route for thoe willing to follow it: applying for grants, residencies, prizes etc.

As for me, I'm on of those who hates the PR aspect of an art career. I've had to do it in the past but I'm less and less inclined to make those efforts.

What a thought provoking post that has elicited a lot of interesting comments all of which in one way or another resonate with my own experience. Like Natalie, I dislike the PR stuff intensely. I have pretty much given up trying to sell art. I did the teaching thing for a while, but now I am actually reluctant to part with my better work and to some extent regret having sold some things in the past. I have 5 children, 12 grandchildren and 2 1/2 great grandchildren. Much of my art covers the walls of children, grands, and hopefully in future great grands. That will have to do for me.

Lovely work, Beth. Challenging subject. I guess I tend toward sharing because I have the freedom from financial necessity, because the sharing and positive feedback fulfills me, and perhaps because there is less risk to my ego to simply share. I'm not the selling-type. I probably should push myself harder in that direction, but it feels unnatural. I'd rather spend the time finding new ways to express myself instead of work on marketing. Lazy, perhaps. Cowardly, perhaps. But at this point in my life I want to bring something out of my depths and that takes priority over making a public name for myself. Or . . . maybe I've just gotten so old I realize I will never take the world by storm and I might as well enjoy living my life for myself.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.