April 28, 2014

How to Be A Successful Artist

Administrator's Note: I received the following email from a Los Angeles artist, referencing an exchange I had with Lenny Campello about so-called "Mistakes Artists Make." Even though the exchange dates from August 2009, this artist's interaction with a "well-known architect" about the topic of commercial galleries and "making it" as an artist has prompted me to post his email (with his permission) and my reply to him here:



I enjoyed reading your post and your debate with Lenny on your review of the book "The Artist's Guide to Getting into Galleries and Selling More Art" by J. Jason Horejs, owner of Scottsdale’s Xanadu Gallery. [Note: My comments on Lenny's blog entail my "review."] 

I agree with you. 

I had an interesting dinner conversation a month ago with an artist and his wife, an actress friend of mine. (Quick background - I have been pursuing an art and acting career for a few years, with successes here and there, but neither has been so lucrative that I can afford to quit my regular 8-5 job. But I always hold out hope for that.) She invited me over to meet her husband and to see his studio, in Venice, CA, which was spacious and beautiful. He is a well-known architect, he told me, and this has allowed him to build this fabulous studio, but his passion now is making art. In getting acquainted, he asked me when I found time to create my work and I told him I dedicate my Sundays to painting, as my acting pursuits take a lot of my time - with acting classes, studying scripts, going to workshops, etc., as well as working a weekdays 8-5 job. He had gone to my website, he said, and left quickly. He said, "You cannot or should not call yourself an 'artist' since you don't have a 'voice' in art, you are adding nothing to the art conversation." Neither did I concentrate on one particular style, which he felt was the worst sin towards art. He argued if I didn't paint every day and didn't focus on one subject matter or one style, I could never hope of being anything more than a "Sunday Painter", without gallery representation.

I feel this philosophy is like "the tail wagging the dog" approach to representation. Where the gallery and public tell the artist what to paint. Instead of the artist painting what he likes and the gallery and public follow after. Shouldn't an artist be following his own drummer?  I admit, I have fallen in the trap of trying to adhere to the other way of thinking . Currently, I am doing paintings of Paris. But, luckily I like the subject matter, for now, and it interests me. It feels to me, my style of painting on this so-called series has evolved. I've only gotten maybe 8 done. By the time I get 100 paintings done, which I am sure I will lose interest by then, my first paintings will be completely different than the last, I suspect. 

Anyway, I honestly didn't mean for this email to be this long. I came upon your posts because someone on Facebook posted a link to Horejs' mistakes artists make - and the things he wrote about were the same things regurgitated to me by the artist I met. It upset me all over again.  I then did a Google search for anyone that disagreed and came upon your post. Thanks for writing that.

[Name withheld for anonymity.]


Dear [blank],

I went back to re-read what Lenny Campello and I "debated" on his blog re: Horjes' book, which I never actually read due to his ideas about those "mistakes." I'm pleased to report that I haven't changed my mind, particularly on these points:

An intelligent gallery needs to catch-up and learn to spot the unifying reasoning or theory behind the work...
Still "spot on" as to the necessity of gallerists to educate themselves on contemporary art theory and open their minds to the concepts an artist is working on and/or with; it's not all "visible" in the objects.

We're beyond the traditional ways of making, presenting, representing and selling art.
Never truer than now, as the growth of "pop-up" shows and alternative spaces clearly shows that the "old school" (read commercial) approach is quickly losing traction with young artists as they realize making a living off your art is neither required or even possible - and that's not a bad thing.

But what I want to address is what this pompous "well-known architect" said to you: 
"You cannot or should not call yourself an 'artist' since you don't have a 'voice' in art, you are adding nothing to the art conversation." Neither did I concentrate on one particular style, which he felt was the worst sin towards art. He argued if I didn't paint every day and didn't focus on one subject matter or one style, I could never hope of being anything more than a "Sunday Painter", without gallery representation."   

First and foremost, how can someone who is not "making a living" off his art (since he presumably supports himself with his architect's income) have the arrogance to tell you how to do it? So he's got a fancy studio in high-rent Venice, CA and can putter around with his "art hobby?" Good for him, but I wouldn't take his advice on anything related to the art world.

His mistake is in believing that your "voice" is your artistic "style." Your "voice" is based in linguistics; to be a part of art discourse all one has to do is read, think and discuss art. We've reached the era where concepts are driving the form we use to convey those concepts - it could be a painting, but it might be a video. Concentrating on "one particular style" is a methodology borrowed from literature, and athletics to a certain extent, and it doesn't work in contemporary art. As a method of making art I would liken it to working with blinders on, ignoring one's cognitive revelations that occur during the conceptual processes of art making.

I don't make art every day but I do think or read about it, or teach it daily. In this way, I have been most fortunate to have my "voice" continually refined within the art discourse and that has been essential to my development as an artist. No one has the answer to "how to be a successful artist" and there is no formula either. Rather than equate "success" with monetary goals we ought to work to develop new ways to perceive artistic success itself.

Thank you for your email and I wish you well in your continued pursuits.

Regards,
MCB




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