I’m going to be blunt. The art market sucks today. That’s not just my opinion but I’ve heard the same sentiment, more tactfully stated, by individual artists and gallery owners. Some think the market is coming back but it’s going to be a very slow rise. Even well-known contemporary artists like Damien Hirst are diversifying so my foray into diversification seems timely. I’m not making T-shirts or hats but I have branched out from only offering my paintings for sale. I had hoped by now, two years into my full-time career as a visual artist, to have some semblance of a client base. After all, I’ve not had a month in which I didn’t have work on exhibit, and at times multiple exhibits, since April of 2012.
While my painting is already diverse as you can see from my Oil and Acrylic Paintings galleries I resisted putting my photography ‘out there’ because I had always viewed it as a source for painting rather than a ‘product’ in itself. I have a good eye and enjoy photography but I felt like offering my photographs was ‘selling out’ to my painting. I resisted to the point of, not just figuratively, but literally stomping my foot with my hand on my hip as I stated this viewpoint. However, the pieces I have sold have been photographs so perhaps that wasn’t such a bad move.
As I read this month’s ’52 Ways to Nurture Your Creativity’ by Lyn Gordon I was prompted to think once more in terms of what being an artist means to me. The card, titled “For You”, states, ‘Do you make art to fulfill your mother’s dream that you’d be an accomplished computer programmer by day but also an internationally recognized painter? Whom are you trying to please and what do YOU get out of being creative? Is it the process you enjoy, the end result that gives satisfaction, or some other way that creativity enriches your life? Since all creative industries are subject to the highly idiosyncratic whims of executives and the market, there is little point in trying to produce stuff for anyone but yourself. After all, when that twenty-foot mural doesn’t sell, you’re the one who’s going to have to live with it.”
The last line really hit home with me since I have two pieces that are 7′ x 4′ hanging in a spare bedroom because they were too large for my studio and they exceed the size limitations of every exhibit or show I’ve entered. I’d like to see them in a Yoga studio or in a show but, happily, I really like the pieces so I don’t mind having them around. But I mainly spent time pondering the question of what I get out of being an artist. I decided that what I probably like most is the discovery and ‘unveiling’ I get through creating art.
This is especially true when I create without any reference point (what I like to think of as ‘free association’ painting). I have no idea where I’ll go or what the outcome will be when I apply the last dab or paint. That process is a slow uncovering of my mood, my color choices, and even the technique I choose. When I start most paintings I have generally created sketches or studies before beginning but even then the painting often comes out different than I anticipated. Each painting evolves with each color choice and each brush stroke. Photography, on the other hand, provides immediacy particularly in our digital age.
I love seeing how a shot turns out based on white balance changes, the lenses I choose and even, at times, filters I select. When I decided to try my hand at digital enhancement I thought I’d get a combination of both worlds. I was very wrong. The digital enhancement techniques I’ve used are more like painting with a computer but takes longer. Part of that, I feel certain, is that I’m teaching myself the software and tools required for this process. For an artist, I have a pretty balanced right/left brain and have always been able to pick up technology relatively easily. But the uncertainty I felt about utilizing technology with my photography leaves me prone to self-doubt and when people criticize your work created this way it reinforces that doubt.
At a recent exhibit opening my husband, Jim Booth, overheard another artist/photographer comment on one of my photographs exhibited there. The comment made was, “That’s just Photoshop.” Initially I was annoyed and disappointed – then I had to remind myself of my initial reservations. But the before and after of this piece, shown below, illustrate the significant difference achievable using a program for manipulating your photography. This took me six hours to complete (disclaimer: I am still learning so I’m probably slower than those who have used these types of programs regularly).
If there is one thing I’ve learned is I can’t rely on other’s opinions of my work or the art market for encouragement. I have to be reminded that I am pursuing what I always dreamed of doing. After many years in the corporate arena I am more relaxed, have fewer health issues, and don’t have to wait for an evaluation of my performance. Of course, the income is significantly reduced but all of the joy and beneficial side effects go a long way towards making up for that.
I remain my fiercest critic but when I step back and look at the body of work I’ve created over the last two years I’m pleased. I have some favorite works but with each painting I am able to recall the discovery that took place and each one has a distinct path. I value their uniqueness. I don’t have one style and, like many creative musicians and writers, my work can’t be siloed. We each have to be true to our muse and trying to duplicate another’s style just doesn’t fit my creative world view. I also know that many artists that are well-respected today were not appreciated until after their deaths so I don’t strive for popularity. This creativity card helped me realize that whatever the outcome I create for me. I hope you do the same.