After reading the letter from the outraged artist responding to Stapleton Kearns’ blog interview with a gallery owner, I was forced to think hard about my art career, and the struggle that atists experience. The anonymous artist had issues about “the teaming mass of absolute amateurs that have flooded galleries and museums. It is as if the barbarians have broken through the gates and have taken over. There is so much work out there that just kills my spirit. It is not just work being shown at simple art fairs, but work getting major gallery and even museum shows. I feel like I am in competition with crazy people. My work is judged on the same level as an untrained street person . . . I am talking about the soccer mom that has a studio, and now is an artist.”
Being the fiery temperamental female that I am, I felt compelled to respond. Below was my response that I posted on Stape’s blog. (a great art blog by the way)
I can totally understand your comments. So does that mean you’re quitting art? Good. One less “great painter” for us to compete with. C’mon now, your post reeks of wounded pride, which gets us nowhere. It is human nature to look down at others to support a weak ego. This is a fear response – fear you are not as good as you think you are, fear that there are not enough buyers for your art, fear of failure, etc. Neither artists nor anyone can afford to waste time in this life being afraid. It’s like an intelligent accomplished woman complaining that men are all attracted to the young inexperienced girls just because they are pretty – even though these silly bimbos don’t have any real “substance”. There will always be a younger, prettier girl that gets more attention, just as there will always be amateur or emerging artists with a style or gimmick that people like – in or out of the galleries – and spend their money on.
Today, exceedingly few artists (great or otherwise) make a living just from painting alone, whether or not they are in a gallery. Most artists have a side job, do framing, have their own art gallery or find other ways to make ends meet. Even the artists at the top of their field count on the amateurs, weekend painters, “wannabes” and “soccer moms” out there to fill their workshops or buy their dvds.
There is no denying that the art business is competitive by its nature. But creating art is not about competing or who has the biggest mahl stick. There is always someone better at techniques or selling more artwork than others, regardless of whether you think other artwork has true artistic merit. Some artistic success has to do with the marketing done by galleries, or who is chosen as a “master” by the artistic pundits. Still, all artists’ work is subject to judgment in the court of public opinion, and we must accept the verdict of the people. So should the rest of us “painters” (great or not) lay down our brushes in defeat just because people prefer to buy a Thomas Kinkade instead of our work? (yes, I thought about it) As my mother used to say, “if you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen”!
An artist is someone who is driven by their nature to create art in their chosen medium. Your labels of “artist” vs. “painter” are egotistical and elitist. So, Velasquez, Rembrandt, and Sargent were just “great painters” because they did portraits and catered to what their clients wanted?!? They had to make a living, same as anyone else, because few were ever recognized as being “great artists with a voice” in their own time. So, instead of worrying about who your competition is, you should focus on being the very best at what you do. “A painter who calls himself an artist is like a priest who calls himself a saint”.-Wayne Thiebaud
Yes, there are people who are going to care more about whether a painting matches their décor. Do you know anyone who has a print of the Mona Lisa over their couch? Let’s not forget that paintings for people’s décor were done by Vermeer and Rembrandt too. Everyone is entitled to their own taste, and there are plenty of artists to cater to those tastes. While there may be some really “bad” art out there, that is completely in the eye of the beholder. There is also competition and knockoffs from cheap overseas sources – some of it in art galleries. So what? Like any other business, you have to struggle to find your niche market. “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his own level of incompetence.” – Dr. Laurence J. Peter’s “The Peter Principle”. The same is true of all professions, including art. You have to accept that there is room in this world for a Bob Ross or Jeff Koons, as well as a David Kassan or Joan Miro, and trust that each will find their deserved audience.
Those of us who are driven to be an artist start out with an idealistic drive to set the world on fire, or we wouldn’t do it all. But the reality is that artists create a commodity/product – be it paintings, sculpture, music, etc. – that no one really needs and is subject to the whims of the marketplace. Yet, artists continue to create their art because they really love what they do. A true artist is buoyed by the hope they might be successful, not threatened by other artists, and are not discouraged by what might be seen as lack of acceptance of their artwork. They are driven to express their creativity and inner truth through their chosen media, regardless of whether there is little or no market for their work. And that’s show biz, kid.