Sunday, June 24, 2012

Changing Art, Changing Times: Part Two: Facing the Obstacles

For the last six years I have focused on shifting my life to making a living through a creative career.  I have built this career from the ground up, with no prior experience or formal education.  It required a lot of trial and error.  I read books and magazines, I talked to other artists, I checked out websites, galleries, and just tried things.  Some things worked, others didn't.  In the process I learned a lot about myself as an artist.  Six years later, however, I find myself asking:

How does one make art and sustain a living from art in a consumer market? 

Hare: Fear, Creativity & Rebirth (detail)
For many independent artists making a living means getting their art noticed as much as possible and having it made available anywhere possible.  In addition to shows and having prints made, calendars, greeting cards, coffee mugs, electronic product skins, promotional materials, tote bags, T-shirts, are some of the other ways to get artwork visible.  I tried having some of the products made featuring my art, but not for long.  I couldn't help feeling it cheapened my art.  I see my art as more than a decorative detail, I am not a designer or decorator.  Additionally, I didn't like how it contributed to more "stuff" in the world.  I felt bad enough that in order to create my paintings I have to purchase and utilize many materials, many of which are not renewable or environmentally sustainable  I have worked hard to minimize the environmental footprint of my two dimensional art, but in order to produce high quality work, choices are limited.   For the prints of my work, I chose a Print-On-Demand (POD) service, which allows only the art that people select to be printed. I found this a much better option. Rather than print several hundred copies of an image and store them until the quantity is gone.  I have a hard time determining which of my paintings might sell over another. POD saves in overhead, while diminishing waste of materials.

I have tried selling my work in galleries.

At the start, it seemed to help in getting my work visible and widen my audience, but it never satisfied me.  For many artists, the Gallery-Artist partnership works very well.  Often the gallery will determine, based on the art the artist presents, what art they will sell.  That usually requires a consistent body of work, or work that can be created based on a kind of demand.  My paintings emerge in such a way that it is difficult to present a cohesive looking body of work that most galleries want. Galleries take a large portion out of the sale usually 30-75%, which means I had to artificially inflate the price to make enough to cover my expenses.  Selling through a gallery means I have little or no contact with the people who buy my art.  I like knowing the people who buy my work.  So, shifting away from gallery sales, meant I had to rely on myself.  Having a public studio was the next best solution, but the cost of rent and utilities was another burden on making a living.  Selling my paintings online seemed the best way for me to get my work noticed and sold.  And for much of the last six years it has been.

The caveat in promoting work in an online venue is dealing with image piracy.

Today's online culture has an issue with entitlement, copyrights and fair use laws.  Currently, as an artist, I own any image I make.  But, more recently, it has become common practice for people to take and use images found on the internet for their own use without ever asking the artist.  Most of this use is done without ill intent, or any sense of profit on the violator's part.  It is a byproduct of a rising trend of entitlement which allows an individual to take what is seen without consideration of the maker of the image.  In addition to the lack of initial financial remuneration, there is a snowball effect when one image is taken without consent or compensation. These images, posted on other websites-- almost always without credit to the artist--get lifted by other people, and so on.  Eventually, this image may be picked up by someone with more selfish, self-serving intentions.  I know of artists who learned that their images were used to make prints, products, even promotional materials for a whole conference without credit or compensation to the original artist.

One argument posed to me is that this disregard for copyright is actually a complement.

It is suggested that using my artwork on other websites or products can be a way for people to find my website and purchase the original work.  This argument doesn't work for me.  When images of my art are used without permission, they rarely give my name, website or any way of an individual to find my website.  If I were a hobby artist, perhaps I would find this use of my work a complement.  I am not, however, a hobby artist.  This is a life pursuit and a way of making living.  Sales of my work goes directly toward surviving in this world.  It pays for my supplies, my groceries, my health care, etc.  For every image used without my permission, goes potential loss of income and an added strain on my ability to make a living.

Occasionally I am asked for permission to use my artwork for publications and promotional materials.

I am grateful for being asked, even though it is the legal thing to do.  However, I rarely allow my work to be used this way. One reason is because about 98% of the time there is no compensation offered for use of my work.  And often, in addition to no compensation, the inquiry is paired with requests for altering the image to suit the individual's needs.  Again the argument of free advertising and increasing my visibility is posed. This may be true, but often I have never heard of these publications or organizations.  I have no idea of the extent of their reach.  It doesn't seem worth giving my work away on the chance that one or two new people may visit my site.  With the entitlement culture we are in, how could I be certain that my image isn't taken and used by another?  I like to maintain some integrity in regard to the use of my image. While I appreciate being able to support myself through my art, I am not okay with my images being used for just anything or in a disrespectful way.  To me, much of my art possesses a spirit, and anything with spirit deserves respect and proper care, that respect should carry over to the image representing the original artwork.

As a result of this disrespect and unlawful use of my artwork, I found myself working harder and harder.

Each year I sell more work, yet I had to double and triple my efforts each year to maintain the same level of sustainability.  Part of the added effort went into searching the internet for uncredited use of my images and contacting the violators, often repeatedly to get the image removed from the site. This often took several days out of month, going through images, contacting the owner of the site, quoting copyright laws, asking for the image to be removed, often these steps are repeated several times before the image is taken off the site. And that would be just for the images I found.  Not only was it time consuming. It was disheartening and disempowering. Many people removed the image immediately, some apologized, while others grew nasty and responded with hurtful comments.  All this meant less time working on my art, which added to the pressure of producing work.  With the exception of small percentage of people who appreciate and respect the arts, the majority see the work of artists on the internet as a free-for-all, ripe for the grabbing and uninterested or ignorant in the amount of time and effort went into creating the artwork.  It makes the solitary work of an artist, like me, feel all the more lonely and difficult. 

This brings me to the unease that began affecting me last summer. 

I didn't want to continue to participate in a culture that continues to promote the disempowerment of the artist. Especially when that disempowerment is by turning the artist into a mass-producer for a consumer culture.  I knew it was time to step out of this environment and find a new way of being an artist that can make a living in the world, but how do I do this?

Is it possible to be a new voice in the din of the present culture, and still be heard?  I think so. Afterall, I have met other people, artists and otherwise, who feel the same as I do.  There is a need for a different way of doing business, of providing services and artwork, and making a living in this world.

The problem is knowing how to tread a path for this new way.  How is this done?

I'll continue with my observations of this exploration in the next post...

DoAn
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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Changing Art, Changing Times: Part One: Getting at the Root

This post is long overdue.  There is a lot to share, so much so that it will take several blog posts to get it all out or else I'll overwhelm with an intimidatingly long blog post.  So bear with me as I try to be as clear as I can, with what is very difficult but important for me to express.

Sometime last summer I began to feel a shift in how I related to my artwork.  I think this shift started sometime earlier, but as often with deep, internal changes, the effects take longer to reach the surface.  When I realized that something was occurring, I tried to find some quiet time and solitude to read the messages coming to me, but this proved harder than I thought.  Not only was I experiencing a disconnect regarding the direction my art was going, but I also began experiencing strange physical and spiritual symptoms.  It was as though I was being rewired, but I didn't know into what or for what purpose.  Then, just as I was about to tackle this unsettling situation with more focus, my grandmother grew gravely ill.

Antony Galbraith DoAn Art copyright 2012 www.doanart.com
Root Chakra (detail)
Suddenly I found myself moving from Vermont back to New York state to live with my grandmother and care for her as she entered dying.  The next six months were devoted primarily to her care.  I spent a little time--when I had some free moments--contemplating the internal and external shift I was going through, but I was hardly enough to reach an insight. Despite the challenge of being a care giver, it was a rewarding experience and I am glad I made the move. After my grandmother's passing, I spent some time addressing the physical symptoms I had, but that was only one piece of the issue.  

I now had to get back to understanding the artistic and spiritual crisis that went along with all this. 

Prior to all this, I was  beginning to feel unsatisfied with the way I was creating my art.  I began to feel part of a production line, where work was being churned out one after the other.  The pressure to prove my validity as an artist by continually producing new work began to weigh heavily on me.  

One reason for this heaviness, was that, as an artist, I work slowly, which is unlike how I do most everything else.  Yet, this time, when I slowed down, I found it difficult to listen to that inner, guiding voice that I had grown used to.  I strained and sat and grew uncertain about the art I was making. With either approach, I was working in a way that was not conducive to producing my best work. 

The other reason had to do with my dissatisfaction with consumer culture and its relationship to art.  Without my realizing it, I had shifted my art making into a consumer business, where product was beginning to become more important that any other aspect.  This focus on making something began to strain quality, process, spiritual connection and expression.

I didn't want to just make things, yet, the pressures of being noticed as an artist, to make a living, were leading me down a road I didn't feel comfortable traversing. 

Juglans Nigra (detail)
With today's lack of attention span, I am required to keep producing, post my work and make sure my work stays visible and present in the minds of the public or else my work risks fading from consciousness and become lost in the turbulent and fickle online sea.  Maintaining this pace began to interfere with my ability to connect to my own artwork.  My work rises from a deep inner source and a connection to nature and spirit.  This communication is difficult to keep clear and constant in a society rife with distraction.  During my stay at OAC, I experienced how powerful this connection and communication can be when external distractions are reduced.  Such focus is draining. But when I was surrounded by stillness and didn't have the obligations of regular daily living, I could take time to recover.  Outside of the artist residency environment, maintaining this kind of focus, producing a constant flow of work and finding time to recover, without losing my audience, becomes nearly impossible.  I was forced to ask myself some big and rather difficult questions:
  • How do I sustain a living from art in a consumer market when the art I make is not easily made into a commodity?   (In fact, the very attempt to turn my art into a type of product that must be bought by more and more people, was straining my ability to create the art itself.)
  • How do I utilize my creative talents that honors the spiritual connection, without falling into a kind spiritual materialism, and still support an adequate living?  (In other words, is there a way to create art that serves a wider, more far-reaching good, that doesn't just serve the ego AND make a decent income? Or are these two notions mutually exclusive?)
  • Can I continue to make a living from my art without succumbing to the negative aspects associated with consumerism? 
  • Can I avoid the pitfalls of image piracy and a culture of entitlement that devalues and misunderstands the role art can and should play in a healthy society?
 I will explore these questions and others in the following posts...

DoAn
Help in the creation of art, please consider donating! Just click on the link below:
Donate now!  
DoAn Art is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the purposes of DoAn Art must be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
 
All artwork, photos and text © Copyright 2005-2012 DoAn Art (Antony Galbraith) unless indicated otherwise. All Rights Reserved. Any downloading, copying or use of images on this website is strictly prohibited without express written consent by Antony Galbraith.

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