When you buy from an independent artist you are buying more than just a painting or a novel or a song. You are buying hundreds of hours of experimentation and thousands of failures. You are buying days, weeks, months, years of frustration and moments of pure joy. You are buying nights of worry about paying the rent, having enough money to eat, having enough money to feed the children, the birds, the dog. You aren’t just buying a thing. You are buying a piece of heart, part of a soul, a private moment in someone’s life. Most importantly, you are buying that artist more time to do something they are truly passionate about; something that makes all of the above worth the fear and the doubt; something that puts the life into the living.
–Rebekah Joy Plett
When I saw this quote from artist Rebekah Joy Plett, it stopped me right in my tracks. I was at an open studio event at Zhou B Fine Art Center in Bridgeport, and the quote was framed and mounted on the wall. I felt like the author said exactly what I had always wanted to say regarding the business of selling art.
A few months ago, discouraged by the lack of attendance at my open studios, I sent out a survey asking about how I could increase attendance. It, like my open studios, didn't get many responses either. But a few people said to "partner with charity" or "raise money for a good cause." It sounds like a nice thing to do. And I'd like to do that at some point, when I can afford to. But right now, I need to raise money for my own cause. And I think my cause is worthy also.
It seems like a lot of non-artists I meet believe two misconceptions:
1) Original art is extremely expensive and they could never afford to buy it.
2) Artists starve.
There are always news stories about art by famous (often dead) artists selling for millions at auction, so perhaps that's why so many people who don't go to art events don't realize that there are also beautiful original paintings that sell for the price of a similarly sized flatscreen TV. They may not know that there are emerging artists like me, for whom every sale makes a huge difference.
And the starving artist has become a stock character, a familiar stereotype. But people need to remember that's all it is, that it isn't a reflection of reality at all. So many of the artists I have met, especially the ones who have their own studios and/or gallery representation, are savvy entrepreneurs. They are passionate about their work, but also take it seriously enough to treat it as a business. They have an online presence and market themselves. They would create art whether they got paid for it or not, but they expect to get paid for it. And I don't see what's wrong with that at all. Of course there are plenty of artists who loathe the idea of thinking of their art practice as a business, and equate all forms of commerce with evil corporate empires that exploit, plunder, and pollute, motivated only by greed. I'm not one of those artists.
If I could pay my studio rent, web hosting fees, and Etsy fees with good vibes, happy thoughts, and warm fuzzy feelings, perhaps I could afford to give my work away for free. But since I have to pay for these things with money, that means I need to make money from my art. And then there is another form of currency some people want to offer called "exposure." Last time I checked, exposure is not a form of legal tender. You cannot deposit exposure in the bank or use it as collateral.
I don't want to sound selfish or cruel. I'm only speaking from experience. I have donated my art to charity auctions before, and the "exposure" I got from it didn't lead to any sales. I have also partnered with a nonprofit once, and it was a great experience, though I actually lost money on the venture because of the fees involved with that show. And that's why I say I can't afford to do that again right now.
But once I sell more paintings, once I get caught up on my own bills and my studio begins to pay for itself, then I will finally have money to donate to PBS, NPR, Demoiselle 2 Femme, Harlem Children's Zone, La Rabida Children's Hospital, the alumni organizations of the schools I went to, and various other worthy causes.
Then I could also afford to support other artists. Then I could buy other people's Blurb books, or a scarf from Andrea Lebeau; or a necklace from Kathy Dotson, Lauren Beacham, or Smitten Kitten; or a bracelet from Makeshift Accessories; or earrings from Lady Bird, Kab's Creative Concepts; or a bag from Viva Zapata; or a print from Krista Peel, Dovile Riebschlager, Lucius Art, or Ryan Kapp; or a terrarium from Twig or Alapash; or a coaster from Case Island Glass, or pottery from Circa Ceramics. Then I could buy music from independent artists. Then I could go to storefront theater performances and film festivals. Then I could pay it forward. But I can't pay it forward if all my pay goes toward paying to have an art studio to work in and an online presence.
And I'm not the only artist who is in this position, as I mentioned in this post from last October. So I hope that people will keep that in mind when they see an independent artist selling their wares. Supporting artists is a good cause, too.