How we talk about things makes a difference. By identifying two things that supposedly go together we are taught how to behave and what to think. They are the connections that map things out for us. We are led down roads we might otherwise not have traveled. But there are surprises when ‘A’ gets connected to ‘B’. Its not always the trip we signed up for. We didn’t see all the potholes and seedy neighborhoods it sometimes leads us through……
I can’t tell how often I’ve heard the concern from working artists contemplating the ‘cost’ of their creative vision, whether it balances out to cut corners or to go whole hog. Usually this comes out as “Time is money” and that they simply can’t afford to do all the things they would like to. Its as if the only significant value for their creative efforts was how much they can get paid for doing it. The ends justify the means. “Sure, make it the best you can, but make certain you get paid your going rate.” The getting paid is what seems to justify the efforts, ends to means, not the other way around.
And not, it seems, the work itself. The intrinsic value of doing a thing for the sake of doing it no longer enters the equation. Looking at it through the lens of a balance sheet its not the art that justifies the effort….
Tony Clennell asked these very same questions just the other day:
“What I have figured out over 35 years of making pots is that no one cares except you. They don’t care whether it is fired in oxidation, salt fired, wood fired or fired in a microwave. If it matches the kitchen or the sofa you are in good hands. You are the one that cares!
Every little mark you make in a pot takes time. Each little mark is lost money! Straight forward cylinder mugs are easy to make and you can actually make a profit on them. Each time you add a whoopie in the bottom of the cup, a pinch of the rim or shoulder, a trimmed foot and a wedgie to let water drain from the foot ring you are loosing money. Add to that a pulled handle and then decide should I add that wedge in the crotch of the handle or not? Remember no one cares but you!”
This is Tony playing devil’s advocate. Obviously he is not intimidated by anything as pedestrian as whether what he makes can sell (much of it does, anyway). He is constantly inventing, constantly shifting the sands of his audience’s expectations. He makes what he wants to make, not what will best fit the couch in prospective customer’s homes…… This is not his problem: He’s setting it out as a general issue for our contemplation. Perhaps many artisans think this way. Occasionally I think this way too, if I’m not careful. We sometimes need reminders to stay on course…..
Is it more important to get paid or that we do what we want to be doing? Are we business people before we are artists? Did we decide to become artists to make money, or did we decide to make money because we already were artists? Making money from what we do is sometimes (often) necessary, but not the only concern. Not even the first concern for many of us. Its not irrelevant, but its not always directly related to why we choose to lead the creative life….
What you do with your time isn’t an equation for how much money you can make: ITS YOUR LIFE. What you do with your time is what you do with your life.
We don’t, for instance, calculate out the cash bonuses for having kids. Monetary value is not a thing in their favor. The financial payback will only ever be slim pickings. If time truly were money, we’d never have kids. The gains never balance out with the investment we make. We know this. Kids are not profitable.
But that’s it, isn’t it? The things we love have intrinsic value for us. When we turn them into things that are profit oriented we sometimes begin to confuse very important issues: These things are worth the effort despite the financial and logistical burdens. They are often the rewards of our lives. And being an artist has to be like that too. Making our art is how we live. Its what we do to be alive. Its what we add to the world, a gift, not something purely calculated for its take away value.
But life is never pure sweetness, unicorns, and cotton candy. We face difficult roads to make ends meet. If you care about things besides money it will always be a question whether the intrinsic values are sustainable or compatible with the other choices you’ve made. Sometimes we do have to cut corners. Its not what we want to do. Sometimes this is the cost of keeping ourselves afloat. There is no other way…..
So, the question is, do we make art to make money, or do we make money to make art? As Tony Clennell reminds us, “each little mark is lost money” when looked at a certain way. Somewhere there’s a balance sheet. Are we doing it for ourselves or for the paying customers? But consider this also, the cost in time and effort goes profoundly beyond the duration it takes to make the actual creative marks. There is a whole history of creative evolution that preceded and eventually gave birth to those artistic expressions. Our growth as artists is linked to our growth as human beings. Our art is so much more than just the things we are working on now. It reaches back into our past and forward into our future. It is the flowers that bloom and the roots from which we came. ‘Time is money’ can’t usually fit that into an easy equation…..
As Jane Sparkowski puts it: “I always pause when people ask me,” how long did it take you to make that?”…because the answer is, “my lifetime thus far”.”
Things to think about….
Make beauty real!