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Why I’m Giving My Art Away

Art should be shared and experienced – no matter what the cost

I have an “Art Give Away” event planned for the last quarter of this year.

As a full-time artist for nearly three years I’ve learned about exhibiting and selling my work.  One of the things I’ve discovered is that my work is good but our cultural environment makes selling it problematic.

I utilize technology – this site, LinkedIn, Facebook, Etsy, even Pinterest – but that means I rely on people being interested in art to seek out my work.  If you review my CV, you can see that I am continually ‘putting my work out there’ physically as well.  But a growing lack of appreciation for art is evidenced by dwindling public and private support for the arts – arts councils, grants for artists, purchases from professional artists.  The number of solo/independent artists in the United States has increased over 39% in the first decade of the 21st century; if you look closely at the Bureau of Labor Statistics information, the landscape of the world of the artist is not as positive.

According to the BLS, the “Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation” industry – which are not equivalent categories – has over 1,750,000 workers employed.  But included in that figure are jobs like Athletes and Sports Competitors; Coaches and Scouts; Umpires, Referees, and Other Sports Officials; Radio and Television Announcers; Reporters and Correspondents; Public Relations Specialists.  When it comes to “Independent Artists, Writers and Performers” there are close to 50,000 workers.   However this still includes occupations like Entertainers and Performers, Sports and Related Workers, Athletes, Coaches, Umpires, and Related Workers, and Broadcast and Sound Engineering Technicians and Radio Operators.   The actual number of independent Fine Artists, Including Painters, Sculptors, and Illustrators is 4,070 workers making an average $32,500 year.

Given the enormous amount of data available, I decided to look at just four states and only four counties within my own state to compile my overview of the ‘state of the arts’.  The counties in my state, North Carolina, were chosen because they represent the four regions in it – mountains, piedmont, coastal plains, and coast.  I chose the states randomly going WNW from my state thus staying in the central United States.  The data in tables below are just a few of the items accumulated and reported by the Americans for the Arts in their National Arts Index.

What I found supports my impression of dwindling support of the arts and artists as a widespread cultural change.

North Carolina Counties:

  • Expenditures are outpacing revenues for nonprofit arts organizations across all counties selected.

  • State level support in the form of grants is drastically behind the national level.

  • The number of solo artists have either declined or risen only nominally from 2009 to 2011.

  • “Creative Industries” businesses have increased significantly but the jobs included are not all artistic workers (e.g. finance managers in a theatre organization) and thus falsely inflate the number of jobs in the arts.

Category Ashe Forsyth Wake Dare
Total nonprofit arts expenditures per capita, 2009 $13.47 $79.75 $82.34 $101.44
Total nonprofit arts expenditures per capita, 2010 $12.81 $86.39 $84.96 $103.49
  -$0.05 $0.08 $0.03 $0.02
Total nonprofit arts revenue per capita, 2009 $4.53 $14.87 $26.33 $49.80
Total nonprofit arts revenue per capita, 2010 $4.68 $14.00 $25.00 $51.95
  $0.03 -$0.06 -$0.05 $0.04
NEA grants per 10,000 population, 2005-2009 $733.11 $369.29 $295.01 $1,916.27
State arts agency grants per capita, 2003-2009 $11.92 $7.17 $4.99 $19.05
Solo artists per 100,000 population, 2009 205.27 226.71 226.19 409.79
Solo artists per 100,000 population, 2011 162.38 241.45 240.93 393.37
-0.26 0.06 0.06 -0.04
Creative Industries businesses per 100,000 population, 2009 190.61 295.15 367.04 536.56
Creative Industries businesses per 100,000 population, 2014 446.54 786.57 1022.32 922.69
0.57 0.62 0.64 0.42
Accredited degree granting programs, 2009 N/D 0.57 0.33 N/D
Visual and performing arts degrees per 100,000 population, 2003-2009 N/D 463.40 198.34 N/D
Total consumer expenditures on selected categories* per capita, 2013 $306.95 $307.44 $375.17 $382.65
*Expenditures on entertainment admission fees, recorded media, musical instruments, photographic equipment and supplies, and reading materials.

In the four states selected:

  • Expenditures are outpacing revenues for nonprofit arts organizations .except in Colorado.

  • State level support in the form of grants is still behind the national level.

  • The number of solo artists increased under 10% from 2009 to 2011 except for Missouri where the number declined by 8%.

  • “Creative Industries” businesses have increased significantly but the jobs included are not all artistic workers (e.g. finance managers in a theatre organization) and thus falsely inflate the number of jobs in the arts.

Category NC MO CO CA
Total nonprofit arts expenditures per capita, 2009 $82.34 $45.12 $453.74 $66.88
Total nonprofit arts expenditures per capita, 2010 $84.96 $60.20 $470.51 $67.45
  $0.03 $0.25 $0.04 $0.01
Total nonprofit arts revenue per capita, 2009 $75.45 $51.52 $470.42 $64.89
Total nonprofit arts revenue per capita, 2010 $84.89 $57.81 $492.89 $65.41
  $0.11 $0.11 $0.05 $0.01
NEA grants per 10,000 population, 2005-2009 $295.01 N/D $2,140.27 $431.71
State arts agency grants per capita, 2003-2009 $4.99 $4.78 $17.97 $0.91
Solo artists per 100,000 population, 2009 226.19 113.17 371.40 157.32
Solo artists per 100,000 population, 2011 240.93 104.76 380.91 172.12
0.06 -0.08 0.02 0.09
Creative Industries businesses per 100,000 population, 2009 367.04 250.03 602.01 272.91
Creative Industries businesses per 100,000 population, 2014 1022.32 872.15 2377.87 709.32
0.64 0.71 0.75 0.62
Accredited degree granting programs, 2009 0.33 1.32 0.83 0.21
Visual and performing arts degrees per 100,000 population, 2003-2009 198.34 43.43 791.13 190.73
Total consumer expenditures on selected categories per capita, 2013 $375.17 $373.86 $429.08 $329.99

The following categories have only been tabulated at the state level and show that attendance at popular entertainment events, the movies and zoos is almost double that of art museums and live performing arts.

Category NC MO CO CA
Adult population share attending popular entertainment, 2011-20131 24.90% N/D 27.50% 19.30%
Adult population share attending live performing arts, 2011-2013 28.60% N/D 27.50% 23.70%
Adult population share visiting art museums, 2011-2013 27.30% N/D 20.30% 19.30%
Adult population share visiting zoos, 2011-2013 15.30% N/D 32.50% 25.20%
Adult population share purchasing music media or online, 2011-2013 20.30% N/D 17.10% 16.30%
Adult population share attending movies, 2011-2013 50.80% N/D 49.90% 45.90%
1This indicator estimates the percentage of adults – those 18 and over – who attended one or more popular music concerts – country music, R & B, hip-hop, and rock and roll – as well as comedy and other ‘stage’ performances in the prior 12 months. It uses data from 2011, 2012, and 2013 from Scarborough Research. It measures the three-year average percentage of respondents whose households supported arts and culture organizations including public broadcasting. It is limited to the 515 counties where Scarborough had data from a minimum of 180 respondents over the three years.

Then we need to consider art scandals as a potential cause for dwindling support.

The print market dropped off considerably many years ago when artists began printing second runs of  successful limited edition prints – which changed all the print to open editions and reduced the value of the initial limited edition prints.  The art market definitively considers this an ethical violation and bad business.  However, when it comes to photography a judge recently sided with a well-known artist that produced images using digital reproduction  rather than the dye-transfer process used on his original ‘limited edition’ prints.   In other cases it’s not just the artwork that may be suspect.  As related in the book Provenance there was a worldwide scandal involving forged paper trails for the paintings’ histories in addition to the actual forged art.

Access to original artwork can be problematic as well.   While I have a Facebook Page, an Etsy Store, and this website, not having gallery representation limits access to my work.  Fortunately, there are still outlets for exhibiting works through community/business exhibits and art association galleries, and in special shows.  But even then limitations are placed on what can be exhibited.

I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise most people that these limitations include subject matter (certain shows focus on particular types of paintings such as Still Life), size of artwork (due to gallery space limitations), and even type of work (e.g. all watercolor paintings, only photography, etc.).  But what non-artists are likely unaware of is the constraint placed on the age of the work to be exhibited.  In many, if not most, a work of art has to be less than three years old – although that’s been extended in several places to five – in order to be accepted into an exhibit.

All of these factors have led to my upcoming give away event.  To continue to exhibit I must create new pieces not just because of my desire to do so but because of the art age restriction.  Since I have paintings ‘aging out’ for exhibition purposes, I will be offering several paintings in my Ecwid store for the cost of shipping only.  You may ask what purpose this could possibly serve and my answer would be not a single purpose but many purposes.

Discretionary income is defined essentially as what you have left from your income after taxes and basic necessities.  Despite our economic ‘recovery’ (actually a jobless economic recovery) nominal disposable income  is up 60% since [January 1, 2000].  But the real purchasing power of those dollars is only up 20.7%.”.  Several sources have reported savings rates of American consumers went negative for the entire year in 2005 which has only happened “twice before – in 1932 and 1933 – two years when the country was struggling to cope with the Great Depression…”.  This drop in savings may be attributed to reduction in disposable income – less disposable income = less money to use toward savings – or toward purchases of ‘value added” properties such as works of art.

When anyone can utilize technology to print their own photographs on canvas at the local print shop or at the photo shop of a drug store for $39.99  or purchase a mass-produced piece of art in discount and department stores for as little as $9.99 – why spend $400 on an original piece of art?    Technology cannot convey a work of art adequately.  But canvas printed personal photos and cheap store prints cannot convey what the experience of viewing an artist’s work is worth.  Through advanced technology you can view Camille Pissarro’sAvenue de l’Opera – Effect of Snow, 1898 from your computer but it will never compare to standing in front of the original painting.

I will never forget the emotional experience of seeing my first original Monet painting at the New Orleans Museum of art.  Since art education is disappearing in the United States, and while my art may never have that effect on anyone my ‘Monet experience’ evoked in me, at least the textures, colors and details of an original work can be examined, shared, even studied, in someone’s home.

One result of this event will be to get original artwork to people who, due to economic circumstances, might not be able to purchase one.

A Robert Klonoski article explores both the economic reasoning and  the psychological reasoning for buying art and makes a distinction between artwork purchased and displayed “for personal viewing only” and artwork purchased with the intention of putting it “on display…where others can see it.”  He writes, ” In other words, the acquisition and display of artwork for personal viewing only is at least in part about enhancing the self-esteem or self-perceptions of its owners. The art makes its owners feel good or better about themselves whenever they look at it, and in so doing, fulfills its purpose from its owners’ perspectives.”

“[When artwork is purchased for public display] it’s still personal, of course, but since people besides [the owner] will see it, that relationship, in a sense, is on display too. So viewers not only experience the art as art, but also as revealing something about [the person who purchased it.”  Perhaps, having an original painting will make someone feel better.

Another purpose relates loosely to education.

Some of the first areas that get cut when school budgets get tight are music and art because we undervalue the impact of those subjects.  Since art education is disappearing in the United States, while my art may never have the effect that my ‘Monet experience’ evoked in me, at least the textures, colors, and details of an original work can be examined, shared, and even studied in someone’s home.  This is important because a child in one a household where one of my ‘give away’ paintings ends up might be influenced positively by that exposure at an early age.

The American Association of School Administrators published an article that discusses the importance of art on children’s mental development.  It states that “[d]uring the brain’s early years, neural connections are being made at a rapid rate.  Much of what young children do as play – singing, drawing, dancing – are natural forms of art.  These activities engage all the senses and wire the brain for successful learning.    When children enter school, these art activities need to continued and enhanced.”

The benefits of arts education have been studied and proven many times and yet we are focusing on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and we seem intent on dropping the arts out of the education equation.  Some posit a change to the acronym from STEM to STEAM because of how participating in arts education impacts overall learning.   A 2013 Washington Times article describes ten skills that are enhanced by arts education.  The highlighted skills are creativity, confidence, problem solving, perseverance, focus, non-verbal communication, receiving constructive feedback, collaboration, dedication, and accountability.  The article states ways in which each of these skills provides groundwork for success in future careers – even if their careers are not arts-related.

Ask any business manager worth their salt if they want a workforce that can solve problems, provide innovative solutions to business challenges, receive constructive performance evaluations positively, work effectively as part of a team, not ‘pass-the-buck’ when they make mistakes, are dedicated and focused and don’t quit at the first obstacle in a project and what do you think would be their response?

The final benefit is for both me and the people who receive the paintings.  Artists don’t create work just for themselves.  While it is true that every piece of art I create feels like an extension of myself, I want other people to enjoy that work as well.  Work that can no longer be exhibited begins to accumulate, as another artist I spoke with recently described it, ‘in closets, under beds, and anywhere else you can find to store it when you run out of wall space’; so I will be giving away my art this fall.

No art should be relegated to the homes of dust bunnies and moths.


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