This article discusses the perils of the artist living off his artwork. I recently came across some passionate discussions pertaining to this topic in someone else’s forum. The writer’s deep feelings about the struggles of an artist and the comments shared on his post set me thinking and convinced me to write about this. Though I am not a ‘hard core’ artist, I do consider myself as an artist to a certain degree because I am an architect by profession, and architecture, as you all know, is nothing but an amalgamation of science and art. Not only that, I have also had my share of sufferings during the early days of my profession. Therefore, I think I can dwell upon this subject with some credibility.
So, what exactly is the problem with the ‘Artist who lives off his artwork’ ? Why is that art and poverty always go hand in hand ? The answer is that the artist is simply unable to sell his passion. He is not comfortable wearing the salesman’s cap. An automobile engineer designs and manufactures a car. He too is passionate, with his work, with his product. He is as passionate as the artist is. But, in the end of the day, the ‘car man’ has no problem translating his passion into specifications and estimations, whereas an artist will find it very difficult to do so. I won’t say it is be impossible for the artist, but it’s certainly a difficult task. Why this difficulty in converting art into numbers ? There could be two reasons for this. One is that the artist simply does not know how to quantify his art, or in other words, he does not know how to calculate the pecuniary value of his artwork. In fact, there is no agreed method to measure an artwork. Art business purely follows the law of demand and supply as any other business, only that there are no international standards and norms to define it more tangibly. But this is relatively a less complicated problem. All that one has to do in such a situation is, for some time at least, accept the quote/bids of the buyer without any bargain. It is just a question of patience, observation and practice form the side of the artist. In time, he will be able to understand the ‘conversion’ game and become a successful artist who can comfortably live off his work. The only hitch here is the lure of money and a tendency to tilt more towards the business side by ‘playing it to the gallery’. Artists should never ever forget the reason for which they are in demand in the first place. If at all a compromise has to be made, it is prudent to compromise the business side rather than the art side. This should be a mantra for all commercial artists if they are planning for long innings in the field of art and business.
Now coming to the more complicated members of our clan, the main focus group of this write up – those artists who don’t want to learn the business side of the whole matter, but insist on living only from their art and nothing else. It is these dear friends who have romanticized the image of poverty-ridden poet. This happens when we get over attached to our passions, and when our passions slowly and unknowingly turns into obsession, which in turn vents itself either as active aggression or passive depression. Such an attitude towards ones source of living, be it art or anything, is not a healthy one. It is a situation in which our art is too precious to trade off, too high to see the ground reality, and the very art which we love so much becomes our liability and a potential death trap. If one values his art so high that it is higher than himself and his own life, then it is better not to depend on it for a livelihood. Better is to find some other occupation to live upon. Never say you don’t have any other skill or aptitude that could be encashed. If you say so, you are just finding an excuse to remain cocooned in your comfort zone which is slowly but surely finishing you off. I know many people who are salesmen or teachers by the day and artists by the night or the weekend. Some of them have even hosted exhibitions to sell off their art (mainly because they dint have enough storage space in their homes ) and donated the proceeds to charity houses. I think that is the happy marriage between what your heart wants and what your life demands.
Life of an artist need not be so difficult provided he has the clarity in his mind as to what he wants out of his artistic talent. It is okay to do business with your God gifted talent. It is also okay not to trade your gift. But it is certainly not okay to be stuck in the middle. It is not okay to make feeble halfhearted attempts to trade your art, fail in the process and then feel miserable about it. If you want money from your art, then thoroughly learn the business side of it. But when you take the pen or paint brush ( or the guitar) in your hand, be a total artist. If all this toggling and juggling is difficult for you, then keep your artistic talent purely a private affair, and find something else to live upon. Choice is yours. But whatever is your choice, enjoy it, have fun with it. After all, Life, Living, Surviving – these are also forms of art, in fact these are highest forms of art. In that sense, everybody is an Artist.
Image source : http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2014/05/the-subtractive-canvases-and-street-art-of-pejac/