Up until 4 years ago I had left my art behind me. It was the early 80’s and things were pretty rough for aspiring artists fresh out of grad school. I wanted to teach. I’m a damn good teacher but couldn’t find work anywhere. Those getting part time work would spend much of their free time hanging out and helping the professor with the more mundane chores to run a college classroom studio. This was largely done for access to the studio. You had to pay your dues in those days, something I was unwilling to do. It’s difficult to support a young family on studio space, so I dropped out and joined the corporate world.
Fast forward to 2011…with 3 smart and productive kids, and an amicable divorce later and unbeknownst to me my return to art was eminent. My eldest son does well financially and had just moved into a spacious new condo when he approached me bemoaning the fact he didn’t have any of my work. He further pointed out that neither of his siblings had one of my pieces and the least I could do is take care of this “Oversight.”
I explained that my skills have likely diminished (I had no idea how true that was) and didn’t have any place to work or even fire my work. The following Christmas my son gave me the gift of one semester at Arapahoe Community College $500! He removed my excuses so I accepted.
I had forgotten the physicality associated with throwing and found myself literally out of breath after wedging about 10 lbs of clay. I finally got my ‘sea legs’ and was surprised just how complete the little community college ceramics department was. It had everything! So I began to do raku, salt fire, and learned sawdust techniques that turned my head around. I finished those housewarming gifts for my son but more importantly I fell back in love with clay.
I found studio space in a so called co-op calling itself “Artists on Santa Fe” and moved in. I was in heaven. I immediately began where I left off in grad school and two years later was invited to exhibit my work in the gallery upstairs. I never dreamed I’d have another “Opening.”
I’ve returned to the point where I’m thinking about competitions, galleries, and actually selling my work. I’ve noticed things have become highly mercenary when it comes to the business of art. From what I’ve experienced, there are plenty of folks willing to add layers of bullshit and flattery in hopes of getting one to sign a contract asking the artist for hundreds of dollars to promote the artist’s work, exclusionary shows, but only taking a small percentage. WTF!
Galleries have always taken a percentage, that’s not surprising. What staggers me is the fact most exhibitions now charge a non-refundable fee running anywhere from $15 to $65 or more simply to throw your ‘hat in the ring’ and enter!
This is outrageous!
Recently I walked around a weekend art show in a neighboring “Art District” to see what I should expect and gain insight to price points. Items ranged in price from $20 to $100 on average, but I didn’t see much cash changing hands. Outside of the two bars that seemed to be doing a brisk business the artists weren’t seeing much action.
This juried show not only charged a non-refundable entry fee of $15, but if selected depending on the size of your booth charged the artist $225 for a 6×6 space to $550 for an 8×16 space. Then if you got one of the outside spaces you had to rent a tent which the show had available for $60.
This simply blows!
That said, many times we only have ourselves to blame. Bad business practices are rampant in the art world and artists it seems are a dime a dozen. We get so desperate to “sell” something we almost give it away hoping for a bit of exposure, but sadly that’s rare. We want to be good people, we want to help others, but more often than not, we (artists) take it right up the ‘kazoo.’
Collectively, there’s been articles written and blogs a plenty saying “Artists are stupid.” Mel Jacobson wrote:
“Then they figured `hey, these artists are stupid, they
will pay us to promote our own cause.` then they raised
the fee and the artists still showed up, they tripled the fee
and they still showed up in droves, then they decided
to take a percentage of sales….and they still showed up.
i left the year they said…`you gotta pay`.”
Proportionately there are few artists that enjoy a “very good living” with their art and is of course what all of us strive for. But at what point do we stop the madness? We can continue to be rolled over by art fair promoters, listing services like Café,’ non-refundable entry fees, and on-line stores such as Etsy. They all make good money…scraping artists off their shoes like dog shit. Or we can “Do it the old fashioned way…and earn it.”
Put on your walking shoes and do some old school door knocking. I have to believe self-promotion is still possible. Put the right product (your work) in front of the right person and chances are you’ll make a sale without pimping it out to greedy promoters.