Saturday, October 10, 2009
On career advice for young painters, beginning well enough, but ending badly
The video above gives an idea that many people have about the life of an artist. I think many kids enter art school with those ideas too. Art school may attract students who are like that, but the artists I know are extremely hardworking. They work like any one who has a small business, because that's what being an artist is, small business.
A working artist has all the functions of any other business,such as accounting and management of inventory, communication with suppliers on one end, and vendors (dealers) on the other. They have thick income tax forms that have to be done by an accountant. They have to track their costs so as to turn a profit at the end of the process.
I think it is very rare that a love of running a business and painting occur in the same individual. I am sure it happens, but for most artists I know the business end is the part they like least. I have owned galleries and done a lot of self promotion and advertising.I did it because it was necessary, and I would still be waiting for some one else to do it if I hadn't.
I sometimes hear "would be" artists say that they want an agent. I don't know anybody who has an agent. It doesn't work that way. I guess you could say a gallery is your agent, but they expect to deal with you, they are certainly not interested in cutting a third party into every transaction. So you can't wait for an agent to discover you.If you want to be in the art business you have to do business.
I wrote a series of posts some time ago on the art business waltz, you may want to go back into my archives and read them if you have any curiosity on how the artist does business.For some reason Blogger has given me two separate archives marked art business. I can't seem to amalgamate the two so there they remain. Twins. One for each eye.
I get e-mails rather frequently from art students asking my advice on their training. I always tell them if they would be willing to teach, or do graphic art they should. Artist should be the career of last resort. If you have the ability to be anything else, I think you should. Here is a story of Ives Gammell telling me that.
After I had studied with Ives for a while my parents came to visit me in Boston. They lived in Minnesota, so I hadn't seen them since I got to the Fenway studios. I arranged for them to meet Gammell. He gave a time for me to bring them to his apartment on Beacon street. My elegant mother arrived in a mink and a nice wool suit from Bonwit Teller or somewhere and carried herself, as always, like the queen of England, as played by Scarlett O'Hara. When we got there he asked me to wait in the small living room and he took my parents into another room to speak to them. I sat and admired a lovely little Alfred Stevens of a woman in a beautiful gown that was impossibly well painted, that he had hung in the room. After a few moments the door flew open and my mother briskly floated out, and said to me , "Come we me must be going", she was obviously angry.I said goodbye to Ives hurriedly and followed my parents out the door. When we got down to the street below my mother said that Ives had told her that he saw nothing that led him to believe I had the makings of a painter. He said I was a bright young man and reminded her of Calvin Coolidge (?)or maybe Woodrow Wilson I don't remember which, and that they should send me to law school so I might have a future. I am certain my mother tore into him verbally, she was not a woman you would want to trifle with.
I am sure Ives really felt I had zero potential, but he later said something that led me to see how he thought about advising young men on painting careers ( he advised young women,not at all). He said that if he discouraged a young person from trying to be a painter he would spare them a life of disappointment, endless work and failure, because they didn't have IT.If they did have IT, nothing he could say or do would discourage them from becoming a painter.
I can't imagine being so blunt or perhaps even remorselessly nasty to a student but Ives felt that it was a reasonable act, and he was justified in his treatment of me, He said nothing to me up front that he was going to unload that on my parents, he deliberately sprang it on us, with out any warning or foreshadowing. Since my father was helping me financially so I could eat while I studied, it was an act that was at best inconsiderate. But I showed up and studied with him again the next day, and never mentioned it. Because I had IT. I have now told hundreds of you the story. Serves him right.