What makes art entrepreneurial and what doesn’t

‘There are few modern relationships as fraught as the one between art and money. Are they mortal enemies, secret lovers or perfect soul mates? Is the bond between them a source of pride or shame, a marriage of convenience or something tawdrier? The way we habitually think and talk about these matters betrays a deep and venerable ambivalence. On one hand, art is imagined to exist in a realm of value that lies beyond and beneath mere economic considerations. The old phrase “starving artist” gestures toward an image that is both romantic and pathetic, of a person too pure, and also just too impractical, to make it in the world. When that person ceases to starve, he or she can always be labeled a sellout. You’re not supposed to be in it for the money.”  A. O. Scott

“On virtually all fronts, art is immune to entrepreneurial impulses. First, technology has removed most of the barriers to infinite, free distribution of art, which creates an extreme winner-take-all market. Second, art is functionless by necessity, and any attempts to add function to it (propaganda, advertising) are treated with suspicion. Third, there is the ingrained expectation that art is somehow outside of money, that artists shouldn’t discuss their art in monetary terms, that the starving artist is purer or better than the wealthy one, etc. Fourth, people have no idea what the fixed costs of art consumption should be, and they resent any attempt to make them pay for perceived intangible costs.”  Aaron Gervais

“And it is here, in the middle, where artists are “just doing their jobs” (Scott’s phrase) that arts entrepreneurship becomes an important tool for working artists. The mega-stars don’t need to be entrepreneurs, don’t need to proactively showcase and distribute their work to their audience – there’s someone already doing that on their behalf and making money doing so. The skilled amateur doesn’t need to find financing for their next installation and invite critics to see it because they are amateurs. It is the broad middle defined by Scott that needs to take entrepreneurial action; call it arts entrepreneurship or call it artist self-management, it is part of the work-life of the artist in the US.  It is these artists, the artists in the middle, who can serve the social good, create excellent work, and critique this system in a meaningful way.”  Linda Essig

I’ve been sitting on the sidelines of some of these discussions for a while now, and what seems abundantly clear is that there are valid points on just about every side of this argument. The fact of having a good point and things about one perspective being true doesn’t mean that an opposing point of view will not also have similar claims to veracity.

Obviously despite all the difficulties mentioned by Gervais the arts ARE entrepreneurial. The problems he mentions are mechanical/practical obstacles that make it hard to do at times, but the truth is nevertheless that some people manage just fine. Even managing poorly qualifies art as at least occasionally entrepreneurial. Lesson: What makes something difficult is not what makes it untrue (Otherwise we ordinary mortals might think that all Higher Mathematics, Organic Chemistry, Quantum Physics, etc., were simply ‘untrue’. And where would that get us, exactly?). Arts entrepreneurship survives despite these concerns. Just as Linda Essig said, there is a middle group of artists who DO benefit from entrepreneurial activity.

And yet, there is real truth to the attitude that Scott recounts (The part I quote is not exactly his position, by the way, he merely sets it out as a starting point for his discussion). The issue, he notes, isn’t so much mechanical or logical but psychological or ideological. Its a mental disturbance. And it is often primarily because of these ‘feelings’ and sensibilities that the entrepreneurial aspect of the arts gets called into question.

Sometimes selling our art does feel like selling out. Sometimes it can’t be understood as anything but a betrayal of the art itself. When Gervais says, “When you look more closely you’ll notice that “art entrepreneurship” is and has always been about art technology, not art itself” you get the feeling that he is really onto something important. The art itself seems to exist at once both above its means of distribution and occasionally hopelessly mired in it. And this is, perhaps, the root of many artists’ disquiet with the entrepreneurial aspect of being an artist.

But maybe talking about this issue does nothing so much as send up the usual red flags and provoke the time honored responses from us. Maybe we can’t see the issue except through an unwavering lens. Perhaps we have already formed opinions about art and money that won’t budge. Or, we are too close to the issue to see things clearly. There can be a lot at stake in how we describe the situation. It is a self-description for many of us, after all…..

Perhaps we can look at something besides art to gain insight from the comparison. Maybe a lateral shift will help us see familiar things in a new light.

Imagine we were talking about sex.

Just about anything can become commercialized and commodified, amenable to an entrepreneurial spirit, and sex probably tops that list. We even talk about ‘the world’s oldest profession’. Porn is a massive modern institution. And there isn’t much that can’t be advertised by dressing it up in the temptations of sex. Sex sells. Sex is entrepreneurial. The sex industry is BIG money. The marketplace where sex is the transactional object or its selling point dominates us. That seems so straightforward that it should be easy to digest. Turn on the TV for a few minutes and see the truth of it: Svelte appealing model/actors with big teeth, toned abs, and tight buns. How much money is being invested just to bring a bit of sexiness to your viewership?

We have no problem seeing it out there in the world: Sex and money go hand in hand. The problem is in taking this relationship out of its anonymous commercial context. If sex is inherently entrepreneurial then what would that mean for dating, hooking up, and other potentially sexful conjugations of ordinary consenting adults?

And here we see the difficulties that artists face as practitioners in a commercially viable industry.

The parallel between amateurs and ordinary people getting paid for sex and ordinary artists getting paid for art is that these activities don’t seem like jobs in the strictest sense. To the ordinary person, getting paid for it is weird. If you have any doubts just try handing your lover some cash the next time you fool around, making sure they understand that its ‘just compensation’ for the ‘job’ they just did. See what I mean? If you didn’t get slapped I would wonder why.

So here’s the obvious next question: If you think of yourself as an artist (or a lover), does it mean you necessarily think of yourself as a person who should get paid for what you do? If getting laid means getting paid, we have a problem. Would getting paid make you a ‘better’ lover or artist necessarily? Is professionalism a useful standard, even?

The reason this needs to be asked is simply that most people first enter into these activities without the intention to make money. And its not as if they have a void where that intention should be filled. Rather, what they do is complete in itself. I’m not sure I know anyone who started making art because they thought it would be a great way to make a living. Same thing for sex: No one starts doing it because it seems like a decent career choice. Trying to be ‘the best’ artist or lover is not even remotely the same thing as trying to get some money doing it. We are not usually doing it because of the money, like most ‘jobs’ would entail. And doesn’t that say something?

So you see the problem: In many cases the professionalism of an entrepreneurial stance is either incidental or deferred. Seldom is it the prime moving force. Too much about art is ‘impractical’, as Scott notes. Same thing for snuggling on the couch, stealing kisses underneath the bower, and copping a feel in the back seat of your parents’ car. Does it diminish the experience to not get paid for those things? And professional artists often feel this ambivalence. Sometimes they instinctively know its a quandary. Why would we ever think it was a simple situation with an easy answer?

The argument that Linda sets out is that by making money at art we feed the ability to make more art, and that seems fairly straightforward. How can it not be true that funding for an activity is part of what sustains it? A(art)B(commerce)ABA…. Its the picture of a worm eating its tail, as Linda describes it. Regeneration and self perpetuation wrapped up in one.

But the deeper question is whether the activity being sustained is fully circumscribed by what counts in a transaction and can be pedaled in a marketplace. The question is whether A always translates to B (some art being inherently unsuitable to commodification) and whether the art that was enabled by the marketplace has in fact sustained itself, or whether it has been changed into something else, transformed. Is it the same thing that comes out the other end? Does A lead to B lead to C lead to B lead to C again or maybe even D? This seems a question worth asking: Is what we get from putting art in the marketplace always a path to the same things we valued when we first entertained the transactional nature of making art?

Think about that for a moment.

A professional sex worker or professional artist knows the truth that paying the bills allows the endeavor to go on. Get paid and we get to continue doing ‘this thing’. Stop getting paid and it becomes marginal really quick. But a too easily ignored question is whether ‘the job’ of doing these things has the same exact rewards as doing it merely for intrinsic reasons, only with money on top. Its a reasonable question.

What many artists feel is that it doesn’t, and there is plenty of psychological research to back this up. For instance, much of art starts out as self exploration, as attempts to solve particular problems, or as insight into unusual ways of looking at the world. Sometimes its just something we like doing or feel we need to do, regardless of whether we are paid for it. Its not always conceived with the strings of potential cash value attached. Its often so much more (and less) than the object that can be bought and sold.

Sex too is often more than merely the object that can be bought and sold. At least in the hands of amateurs. It can be a sign of love and passion. It can reflect an intimacy that depends on the far ranges of a relationship. It can be an act of personal commitment. And none of these things are necessary or mostly even relevant for the entrepreneurial spirit of sex work. Its almost impossible to put a price on these things.

And that’s exactly what artists often feel. Its what Gervais sums up in his third and fourth points: The value of art often seem something intangible. Worth and value seem to meet in this nebulous context at the heart of these issues.

The question, then, is whether we lose something important by simply trading on the economic potential of certain activities. Do we lose something by treating art merely as a product to be manipulated in a marketplace? Are we as confused about it if we were talking about sex? Sex tangles quite freely with such other issues as love and desire, and that means it is sometimes unwelcome as a purely commercial good. Sex can be bought and sold, but love? Art tangles quite freely with the ideals of creativity and imagination, and that too makes it an odd bedfellow for purely entrepreneurial activity. Selling the products of creativity has a place, but is our imagination itself for sale?

How to make sense of this? The fact that you can make a commodity of just about anything doesn’t answer the question. The truth of art entrepreneurial activity doesn’t answer the question. The issue seems both bigger and smaller than these things.

Maybe the point that needs to be made is that sometimes art is a product, and there are then some few issues with treating it as such, but that at other times art (sometimes the same art) is something different that has a hard time being pinned down as merely ‘this sellable commodity’. There is something about being an artist that is simply bigger than being professional at it. There is something about art that defies the intention to universally reduce it to a product. Also, art can sometimes seem too small for the economic importance of a marketplace. Art isn’t all grand performance and marketable product. The sweat and tears of art and the humble offerings of imagination flit by in an ephemeral blur that entrepreneurial attention can’t quite get a hold of. Its only when you look at art as a product, as an object, that it seems to conform to the uses of a ‘job’ and other entrepreneurial activity.

Art means more than one thing, and being an artist isn’t always simple either.

Any of that make sense?

Peace all!

Make beauty real!

.

 

About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
This entry was posted in Art, Arts advocacy, Arts education, Creative industry, Creativity, Ephemera, Imagination, metacognition. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to What makes art entrepreneurial and what doesn’t

  1. lindaessig says:

    The analogy to sex is creative, but doesn’t hold. People who are really good at sex (however that talent might be determined) don’t spend time in college and graduate school honing their art and their craft so that they can make sex their profession as well as their vocation. Yes, there is something about being an artist that is bigger than being professional at it — but so too there is something about being a pediatric cardiologist that is bigger than being professional at it. Such work is driven by passion and talent, and the heart surgeon expects to be paid for her work.

    Thanks, as always, for linking back to my blog.

    – Linda

    PS. I think of the Ouroboros as a serpent – strong and beautiful — not a worm. :)

    • I wasn’t trying too hard to make the analogy that art is LIKE sex in any specific ways, but I do think you can make some interesting claims in that regard. I had written two pieces that explore this some few years ago:

      http://cartergilliespottery.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/slow-hand-the-story-of-michael-simon-pottery-unofficial-of-course/

      and

      http://cartergilliespottery.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/fast-and-hard-confessions-of-a-pottery-gigolo/

      I’m not sure why training would necessarily have anything to do with it. Of course if some sex professionals did get training somewhere would you be forced to conclude that sex therefor WAS actually like art? I suppose many novice lovers are coached by more experienced partners. Would that count? Its not always how we get there that is interesting as much as its what we do with it when we arrive. Is art like dentistry just because you can go to school and study them both? The education may or may not have similarities, but this has no specific relevance for the similarity between the things studied. That seems worth remembering.

      The real point of making this comparison is that people often FEEL similarly about their creative endeavors as they do about their sexual exploits: They are not always for sale, and they are often intimate and personal expressions. And it is THIS connection to our sense of being and identity that informs a sometimes similar attitude about giving it up for money. And you will notice that paying for it is a whole other issue. I’m not simply talking about art as some kind of sex, I’m suggesting that the people who express these things in their lives have an emotional bond to that expression which for some of them fits oddly with a commercial stance. Not for everyone, of course! Damien Hirst has no problem giving it up in any number of colors.

      So I’m not saying that everyone necessarily has this issue, I’m just describing why some of us perhaps do. The trouble I see is that this is so casually ignored, and every honestly stressed out struggling artist is treated as if they were somehow deficient in commercial savvy. The fact that we can do things for money does not mean that everyone in a position to do so is well equipped for it. Its sometimes more than the simple mechanics of entrepreneurial practice. THAT”S MY OVERALL POINT. Creativity is often something more personal to us than many other job skills we can learn. It can be as intimate a self expression as a romantic cuddle…..

      One last though on this: Maybe one of the reasons this becomes an issue for some of us is that these are things that can be considered as somehow fundamental to our being. We are fundamentally sexual creatures and we are fundamentally creative creatures. And just because you can put a price on something doesn’t alter the intimate necessity of our human condition. (And notice once again that it is different in the position of being paid for it and in paying for it. The difference being that getting paid exchanges cash for some part of you and that paying for it exchanges cash for part of someone else. And that has to mean something, right? The psychology implied in the two orientations makes this a fraught issue. Doesn’t it?)

      Sorry about calling it a “worm”! I was playing on the old Germanic poetic use of Wurme as meaning serpent or dragon. In fantasy literature its also sometimes used in this way. Sorry if that diminished what you had in mind!

  2. Stephen says:

    For many the reasoning behind becoming an art entrepreneurial may be as simple as being able to devote more time to the work beyond a few hours here and there around another job.

    The work itself may become more meaningful because the approach is more intense or perhaps the body of work may become larger, but the need to make money regularly and in large enough sums to allow more time to be devoted I would think is the chief motivator for those that actually do it. The need to then tailor the work to make money becomes a trade off and to some a sell out.

    Now for those who simply want to, or those that have and are awful at it, I would imagine the discussion becomes more profound.

    • I am not sure I understand exactly what your last sentence is referring to. Are you making a point about selling out or about being commercially viable? The “it” seems ambiguous. So I’m not really sure whether you are aiming a barb at ‘unsuccessful’ potters or just making a general statement. Its interesting reading what you said in both ways.

      You seem to be in much agreement with Linda in this discussion, and I don’t want to say there is anything wrong with putting it like that. If your art begins and ends with being a business, well that’s the choice you make. Can we at least agree that other people may approach it differently? The interesting thing is that there is this notion of “selling out” you refer to. Selling out of what, I wonder? If we can reduce all our art practice to a commercial activity we can’t be selling out anything that matters personally. The bottom line should stand for any potential value to what we do. The idea of selling out is the acknowledgent that commerce sometimes stands at odds with our personal interest in doing these things. As a vegetarian I could never work at the chicken processing plant down the road. See what I mean?

      And its really only this ambivalence and the tension of putting our ‘goods’ for sale that I was trying to highlight. Does that make sense? I was just trying to tease out why some artists may get queasy having to dress the part of the professional. The line in the sand that counts as ‘selling out’ may be different for different artists. Art isn’t always about the pragmatic drive toward a financial bottom line, is it? Maybe occasionally it is, but always? Some artists actually spend significant effort doing the commercially riskiest things imaginable. Some artists don’t have their eye on a paycheck at all, every motion of their hands guided by the translation into earned income. Can you imagine that? Can you see that for some people doing creative work it may be like that? Sometimes at least?

      I just think that if we take the commercial example as the default we often tend to miss these subtle things. What I’m attempting to point out is that having a poor entrepreneurial practice doesn’t mean we are deficient necessarily, just that for the person in question they may be trying to do things that for them are mutually incompatible or at least problematic. Which is why the example of selling our kisses was so interesting. Does that make sense?

      Thanks for chiming in!

      • lindaessig says:

        Carter: to be clear, I do not think it is a good thing for art to “begin and end with being a business.” The Ourobos metaphor implies exactly the opposite — ART is the beginning and the end — the business stuff just happens in the middle to keep it all going.

        • Yeah, agreed. I was just stretching the point a bit to show that the less inclusively we treat what we do the more prone we are to lack sympathy for folks who make art with other agendas. Gotta overstate the case sometimes in order to make the distinctions a bit clearer. ;)

          The prejudice against non-entrepreneurial artists is sometimes alarming, as if they were defective in some way.. “Poor deluded rainbow chasing fairy dust snorting Bohemians!” How often is that the outsider’s view of the starving artist? “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you make money doing this?” Its the lack of comprehension that I am waging war against. That’s why the comparison to sex was a useful shot in a direction that even the non-starving artist types could potentially understand and relate to. Why would art always be a commercial activity? Sex isn’t, though commercialized sex IS huge business.

          The idea of the post was that some artists feel the same way about their art as many people do about sex, that its something so personal as to resist being put up for auction. As soon as we understand that more clearly the better we will be able to see the complications that face people who want to make art and see the entrepreneurial outlet as the best opportunity for it. Its not just an issue of economic engagement but of deeply held psychological preferences.

          What if the best way to keep having sex were to get paid for it? How would we feel about that? Would the idea of the Ouroboros help us here? The analogy of the post wasn’t between sex and art but between how we FEEL about these things…… And I would hope that any art entrepreneurial program would be sensitive to that. I think we talked about that a few months back in some emails.

          By showing that its not just about the money we can perhaps understand more easily that our actions are guided by a variety of other influences. The line between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation gets crossed back and forth so often in most artists’ lives that to treat what we do as simply an economic endeavor severely misses the point of why many artists do what they do.

          In order to understand subtlety and nuance it is sometimes necessary to make a parody of simplicity……… I never meant to suggest that this “begin and end with” idea was your view or the idea behind the Ouroboros metaphor. That’s why I hedged it with saying Stephen seemed “in much agreement” rather than total agreement. That’s me trying to be subtle again! (No wonder it backfires so often :) )

          Glad we are having this conversation, Linda! I am so looking forward to the blogathon on Barry’s blog next week. I hope that you guys will address some of the ideas I have put into play. Entrepreneurship that doesn’t account for the psychology of its actors is a bit hamstrung by its lack of sensitivity. No wonder the field of Behavioral Economics is such a huge deal these days!

      • Stephen says:

        I do understand everyone approaches this differently. I pulled ‘sell out’ from your post (at least I think it was in your post early on) and was attempting to frame it in a different, less abrasive light as a trade-off (obviously did it rather lamely ;-) No barb though. Could not imagine picking on a failed business venture of any kind, good for anyone for trying and if you really want it, save up and try again.

        Entrepreneurship is certainly not for everyone and you certainly do not have to be one to be an artist. For many artist though entrepreneurship is a very attractive way to devote 100 percent of their time and energy to making and selling their work if someone else is not doing that for them

        I guess I think using art to pay the bills can add to the life of an artist and it does not cheapen the effort by definition, unless making a 100 mugs for an upcoming fair is considered so. I would argue that most full time potters do this because mugs sell well and from a business standpoint it’s a smart move to have plenty of mugs on hand when they do a show. Obviously there could be potters out there that make a 100 mugs from simply an artistic point of view, but probably most do it to make money from the show and cover their cost.

        This whole discussion can easily become a red herring argument of nobility of art for arts sake versus art for the almighty dollar together with all the corrupting influences that brings to the table. The two by definition do not have to compete and can very easily co-exist and I would argue must coexist in order to have a successful art business and still be the artist you want to be.

        Your statement “If your art begins and ends with being a business, well that’s the choice you make.” is just not a fair statement to an artist on any level. What it says is that I define you as an artist differently because you sell your work and work hard to do that well. I doubt that art is defined that way by hardly any artist no matter how they go about the business sides if things.

        At the end of the day we all try our best to balance all of these things to reach a certain harmony in our life’s both within ourselves and others :-)

        Hey thanks for a great post, its a tough subject for everyone and as usual you make it fun to kick around and explore this topic from numerous perspectives, not just our own.

        • Thanks Stephen!

          And agreed! With pretty much everything you said. i guess i was feeling a bit cranky after having a few articles with Damien Hirst shoved in my face. He’s definitely the tiny minority, but he does serve as an example of how things end up in some corners of the art world. I actually did meet a potter who admitted to being in it just for the money. He had this faux folk potter shtick and was able to convince some wealthy patrons that what he was making deserved their support. But he didn’t actually like making pots. Not anymore, at least. He once told me that in a good year he made around 63 pots. And that includes small bowls and such. Maybe only a few larger ‘show’ pieces. I guess it just takes all kinds…..

          I couldn’t be more sympathetic with what you say about mugs! Thankfully I love making them, especially when I’m trying to figure out a new handle or some such exploration. I made around 250 mugs in the last two months, which is a lot of mugs for me and will probably sit on my shelves for ages before they find homes. But yes, mugs do eventually sell! Unlike teapots and pitchers which none of my customers seem interested in. The downside of paying attention to the market is that it also creates a disincentive to make things that won’t sell, and I hate that! I had plans to make some new teapots and that window has unfortunately come and gone for this making cycle…… Boo! I count THAT as selling out. I’m so weak some times…..

          In the end intrinsic and extrinsic motivations seem to intertwine and change places. Its hard to be uniformly principled about why we are doing things. But maybe we should at least be able to pretend that we know. Its one of the many stories we tell ourselves, the narratives and mythologies of our lives. And where would we be without them?

          Thanks for keeping me on my toes and for your insights!

          Happy potting!

        • Scott Cooper says:

          I like the idea of NOT making something, because you know it won’t sell well, as the real “selling out”. So much so that I think it could use it’s own term. Selling in? Nah, that’s not quite it. Hmm…

        • Yeah, that’s the real bastard concession to the marketplace. The worst restriction of creativity (and so much more) is being told (or telling ourselves) that we can’t do something. And you’re right, it is something different from following the marketplace, the ‘out there’. No idea what to call it either. The “in” part is right because its an inhibition, but that’s all I got with these few braincells strung together.

  3. Here is where the confusion exists- the Arts are not entrepreneurial. They involve business at times but doing or making art is not the same thing as doing business. And, I believe, this confusion stems from a manipulation by policy makers. They want the the Arts to be thought of as a business just like any other business. They want the success or failure or art to be measurable just like a profit or loss spread sheet. They want artist to be self supporting while requiring them to provide a “product” that people say they want. But that is not how art works.

    • Richard, if you’d like to respond to this you can contact me privately. We’ve been around this sort of topic enough in public that I’d prefer the rest of our misunderstandings to be conducted out of view and behind closed doors. My comment here is for the benefit of anyone else who feels that your statements require a response.

      Richard says “doing or making art is not the same thing as doing business” and that is true, but how this can be stretched to saying “the arts are not entrepreneurial” is a bit less clear. Doing and making “X” is never necessarily the same thing as doing business, after all. You could be making widgets. Making widgets is making widgets. You can draw a line around that. But ‘making and doing’ are not things that often happen in a vacuum. What makes things entrepreneurial is that they can be taken from the context of simply “doing or making” and be made to serve some other cause, a commercial cause in this case. What makes something entrepreneurial is not so much a feature of how it was made or in what way it was done. Art may not be the same thing as business, but business has a huge say in what gets done with and for art. That’s the point of entrepreneurship. Anything can be turned into a commodity. If we can sell kisses what can’t we sell?

      Take gallerists, for instance. Gallerists’ business is art. They take art and turn it into a profit. There is nothing essentially non-entrepreneurial about the art itself that prevents this, right? Its not as if the art objects themselves were so resistant to commerce that what gallerists do should be impossible. The “doing and making” of art is just one step on the path to art becoming a product for the marketplace. As far as gallerists are concerned artists are not unlike the mechanics in an auto factory: They produce the goods. And romantic notions we may have about the ‘specialness’ of what we are doing and making is irrelevant to its entrepreneurial activity. That’s the thing about commerce: It doesn’t care what you did or made so long as it can be sold for a profit. Right? Some artists simply recognize that what they ‘do and make’ counts as goods, and that gives them the incentive to be entrepreneurial about it.

      The funny thing about “How art works” is that it doesn’t just get done or made always in this pure untainted realm where Angels are singing and sacred creative Manna is flowing. Its simply not the case that “the way art works” is always uncontaminated by the grungy filth of commerce. Every artist who has done a commission knows this. Its a romantic fairytale to think that real flesh and blood artists are not sometimes ‘doing and making’ art already with an eye on the marketplace. Of course some do! Commissions and patronage almost insure this. Just trying to make a living sometimes means that we want to know what will sell best, and then we ‘do and make’ those things. Not always of course. But enough that simply saying “that’s not the way art works” sounds a bit too insistent and blind to the nuance of the situation. Any artist that has a brand or trades on their reputation has made entrepreneurship a significant part of their art practice. Any artist that develops a signature style with the idea that this is the only way they can express themselves has probably been listening to outside voices more than their own creative potential. That’s just the way it goes…..

      In the end I’d say that art has as much to do with politics as it does with commerce. Which is to say that sometimes it doesn’t, but then sometimes it does. Its sort of interesting that this is the way art works…….

      • Webster defines an ‘entrepreneur’ as “a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money”. To be “entrepreneurial’ is “characterized by the taking of financial risks in the hope of profit”.
        If we follow the definition to be entrepreneurial is to do some activity which has as it’s primary goal the making of money. That is, I contend, NOT what good art is about.

        Art is an activity which doesn’t have as it’s goal the making of money. Oh sure there are business decisions and realities that every artist and craftsperson need to deal with everyday but In most cases the idea of money doesn’t even factor into the aesthetic decisions made during the process of art making. Historically, if it has, we usually call that Kitsch.
        I’m not talking about what a “gallerist” does. That is a form of being an entrepreneur.
        And even if an artist is dealing with a commission the act of art making is a different type of act as the business dealings that might have led up to a commission.
        Why is this distinction important?
        There seems to be this vague drift that happens when policy makers and arts advocates talk about the new arts entrepreneurialism. On one hand they are talking simply about offering artists instructional business skills on everything from doing your taxes to advertising. I think all artists need that type of information. But I wonder why we don’t just call it the teaching of business skills to artists? Too often when I see the words ‘arts’ and ‘entrepreneur’ combined the talk shifts from business skills to engaging the customer better and fitting into to their expectations and tastes. That’s not how art is made. It’s a different, and I contend rather dangerous, emphasis to shift from teaching artists business skills to teaching them how to better give the customer what they want.

  4. stephen says:

    Lets not forget the ‘customer’ in this discussion. They are living, breathing wonderful people that have an appreciation for what has been created by the artist and wants to own and enjoy the work. They are not buying a ham sandwich that is consumed and requires little if any real consideration beyond the next few minutes.

    They are making a choice to devote a part of their lives to this piece of art. Their world is just for them, finite in size and reflects their ‘style’. They choose to buy this piece to occupy a part of that space. They usually, not always, but usually pay a fairly heft premium to chose this over a more mundane, mass produced similar piece.

    This is what puts the dignity and pride into the business of art. Striving to please these wonderful people is not a compromise but an opportunity for the artist to grow and to do more than just amuse themselves with what they like and appreciate. Please both yourself and them and you’ve nailed it.

    Business is inherently a good part of the equation. We have dollars to barter amongst ourselves and therefore be able to do more than just what we need to do to exist. Dollars are why we do not have to spend from the time we rise until the time we sleep, gathering food and doing all of the other things being alive would require if we had to do each and everything ourselves.

    • Well said! Its always a tension for real artists who are in the position of needing to make money from what they make. Which makes things so interesting when the customers don’t like what we are doing. How we feel about our work can sometimes depend on how outsiders receive it. Almost like asking for a date and getting turned down, we can feel unworthy and discouraged. Its a risk we take (unless we don’t think of it as a risk, and that too is interesting!) Or, we can feel that the customers don’t know what they are looking at and you are really alright anyway. The difficult situations are where things get interesting. When its all smooth sailing we tend not to worry about it. Some people making art can even react poorly to the praise they get. Sometimes I do. We don’t always like what we make and others can see things we are not able to and appreciate these things differently. And this can make us uncomfortable…… This is why I was interested in focusing on the psychology behind making and selling. Its not always straightforward. The further interesting thing is to ask why that is.

      Thanks for the conversation!

  5. The making of Art is never straight forward but saying that “Striving to please these wonderful people is not a compromise but an opportunity for the artist to grow and to do more than just amuse themselves with what they like and appreciate.” is a very derogatory statement. Being a unique artist or a craftsperson interested in pushing their craft to new heights isn’t simply amusement. It’s not a game to pass the time. It is a lot of hard work!
    Joseph Campbell once said that the relationship between artists and the public is one where the artist leads with their idea and the public responds to that idea. Sometimes that reaction happens instantly; the movie StarWars was an instant hit. Sometimes that reaction happens over time; Abstract Expressionism was a small localized phenomena before the general public began to appreciate the form. New fashion statements look odd to most people before they become integrated in people’s everyday wardrobes.
    When Stephen suggests that artists strive to please their patrons what is he actually asking artists to do? Should artists ask the public what to paint? Should a band or a concert pianist walk on stage and asked the audience what they want to hear? Should a potter make a handle the way most shoppers think it should be made or the way he or she believes is better?

    • Maybe you are not taking me seriously because there is no obvious consequence to you not respecting my wishes. Maybe I seem insincere by responding to you in public and not simply removing everything you pile on. I’m a bit amazed that on the four separate times I have now asked you to desist you only once let things lie and on the others completely disregarded the request. The rules from your point of view seem to be open to interpretation and my words easily glossed over. Maybe its my fault….

      If this were an actual conversation I would have no objection to you participating, but you never seem to hear what other people are saying except as an excuse to flog your own opinions at us. You seem to see the world is such stark contrast that there are no shades of gray and no nuance to the way things work. You have such extreme confidence in your own values and the truth you see that it never occurs to you that the world is home to many truths, some of which actually stand in contradiction to others. So while much of what you say has a certain appeal and speaks to a truth that some people do recognize as part of the puzzle you seem to end all discussion there. As if the world stopped evolving when you made up your mind about it. Every attempt I have made to address the lack of simplicity in these complex situations gets shoved aside by your obsessive drive to inflict your own sense of truth on the rest of us…… You should look at the idea of confirmation bias to see where things so often seem headed. I’m not immune, but then neither are you…..

      Don’t get me wrong, I am sympathetic to many of the values you hold dear, but I simply can’t allow this blog to become a forum for you to repeat yourself ad nauseum and not actually add to the conversation. The difference between a discussion with a give and take of ideas and a soapbox where you get to pontificate is maybe a bit hard to distinguish. One of the great lessons of art SHOULD BE that truth is never simply one thing, and that keeping an open mind is important, especially if we are on the edge of seeing new possibility. Those are lessons we all could strive to be better at adopting…….

      Thoughts to leave you with: Name 20 distinct ways that artists can be motivated that do not all require some pure lofty austere isolation from public concerns, e.g. love, joy, sadness, beauty, respect, social justice, social commentary, personal history, subjectivity, function, tradition, technique, style, reputation and branding…….. The truth is that many of these motivations coexist in creative acts all the time. How on earth do you suppose that an artist is ever motivated in simple ways?

      You seem to confuse the difference between ‘is’ and ‘ought’ here. Your prescription is that artists SHOULDN’T pay attention to the public, when quite obviously they do, and in so many ways. Your previous suggestion that there is a simple ‘primary motivation’ for all artists doing good work is simply ludicrous. There are as many ways of being an artist as there are artists. And what they should be doing and paying attention to is nobody’s business but their own. Artists don’t owe anything to what Richard Kooyman thinks they should be doing. That’s another tyrant just waiting to stamp his values on the rest of us. Its even more an issue since there is this confusion about what artists are actually doing, forget what they should be doing!

      If you are serious about ever having an actual conversation about art maybe you can answer this question in some depth: If commerce and good art are incompatible and even mutually exclusive how do you make sense of artists adopting signature styles and conforming to a branded output? These are not NECESSARY from an artistic standpoint but have a huge value from a commercial one. Isn’t it true that as soon as an artist starts paying attention to their style and brand they have already committed to an exterior condition (perhaps the marketplace) in some respect? If artists are truly free, as you suggest, shouldn’t they also be free from branding? Shouldn’t they also be free to do whatever they want regardless of how it conforms to their previous work? So many artists stay branded because this is expected of them. A brand is playing it safe in so many ways, and not an example of the pure creative exploration that you like to hold up as the holy artistic aspiration. And yet despite this somewhat obvious concession to the marketplace and other contingencies of the world artists are still able to do good work. How can you reconcile this if your position is that good art should have nothing to do with what the public wants?

      Isn’t it true that as much as artists lead the public it is often a two way street and that the public also sets the tone for great art to be made? That great art can also be a sign of the times and respond to actual things that are being done and thought about? Symbolist painting started from the inspiration of a symbolist philosophy. Right? How can you look at the history of art and see anything but complexity and variation? How is motivation ever a simple thing for something as diverse and evolving as art? If artists today are only motivated EXACTLY as artists were throughout the ages you have some explaining to do.

      I don’t have great hopes that you will actually read these words more than as targets to launch your inflexible opinions at, but let me repeat once again: RESPOND IN PRIVATE OR NOT AT ALL. If it takes deleting your comments without reading them I guess I will have to go to that length. This should be an interesting conversation. I need for you to prove to me that after 50 or so exchanges and failing you actually can make your ideas part of a real conversation. Its not a conversation if you ignore the points that are made outside your own opinions.

  6. Pingback: The cost conundrums, pricing pickles, and value variables of selling your art | CARTER GILLIES POTTERY

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