2.01.2010

Marketing Mondays. Out of Work. And Invisible

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Desiree Palmen, from the Internet


A recent article for MSMBC discussed the 9 Professions That Saw Most Job Losses in 2009.

Here's the list:
1. Architects
2. Carpenters
3. Production supervisors and assembly workers
4. Pilots
5. Computer software engineers
6. Mechanical engineers
7. Construction workers
8. Bank tellers
9. Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks

Notice anything missing?
How about this for #10: Artists

Not that this is a list anyone would want to be on, but how is it that a group struggling more than usual (and, as usual, more than most) to earn a living is not mentioned? Where’s the information that would have allowed the reporter, Eve Tahmincioglu, to acknowledge us?


The visual arts have seen countless artists lose what little paid employment they had. I’m not picking on the writer of the article; she’s simply the most visible indicator of how invisible the creative community is.
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The number of bank tellers without employment is greater than the number of artists without jobs, only because most artists never had a countable job to begin with.
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. An artist whose commissions dry up in this economy has an invisible job loss
. An artist who sees sales at Open Studios dwindle to nothing has an invisible job loss
. An artist who has been teaching privately and has no more students has an invisible job loss
. An artist who has no sales because her dealer closed the gallery has an invisible job loss
. The dealer who closes her gallery has an invisible job loss that impacts many other invisible jobs, not just for artists but for administrative staff, part-time installers, bartenders for the openings, and yes, #9, bookkeepers.

I wrote about this latter issue of collateral damage in
Where’s the Bailout for the Arts? just after the banks got all those billions, while artists saw grant money dwindle, museums cut back, and galleries close. Think about the impact to our community in this economy: artists without dealers, dealers without galleries, galleries without collectors; curators without museums (or vice versa); and all the folks who are out of a job due to cutbacks and plain lack of work: art handlers, art critics, PR firms that focus on the arts, assistants, secretaries and all the backroom and behind-the-desk support that’s so essential to the running of these businesses.

The bottom line: Aside from a handful of famous names, 99% of artists—my figure, and it’s probably too low—and the art professionals with whom we work most closely are not given a second thought.

But I’m not posting this just to complain. My question to all of you: What do we, as individual artists and as a community, do to be more visible? And equally important, what can we do to stay off the list no one thinks to put us on?

13 comments:

Lady Xoc said...

Joanne, I am one of those "out-of-work-invisibles" and even my day jobs have dried up. I am waiting on payment for invoices from last June. And get this: PAY TO GET PAID (it applies to graphic artists as well as writers). I first heard about it over on Freelancers Union to which, thankfully, I belong, if only for access to a health plan (which I can't really afford). I'm not complaining so much as bewildered.

As always, thank you for your blog, this series in particular. You always get straight to the point.

Philip Koch said...

The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. recently closed their exhibition "1934." It displayed art purchased by the government in its brief WPA art program. It was a stunning exhibition with amazingly high quality work.

It was the single best argument I've seen in favor of a new WPA program for visual artists.

Susan Buret said...

It's hard enough to convince the guy in the street that going to my studio each day IS going to work let alone to try discussing the possibility of earning a living.
But I buy art materials, computers, cameras, stationery, I use courier services, photographers, a tax agent ... the list goes on.
All I can do is tell people that I have a full time job with my arts practice, which is a small business, but that I cannot make a living from it and my earnings do go down when the economy does.

Leslie said...

Terrific post. I think artists need to spend more time advocating for themselves and educating people about the fact that we are business people and that our earnings are a significant part of the economy. I respond to your post in some more depth on my blog http://lesliesobel.blogspot.com/2010/02/monday-linkage.html

Thanks for raising this issue - it's crucial!

SUSAN METZGER said...

Architecture is my day job...still here but hanging by a thread..thanks for posting.

jami said...

Susan is right, art practice is a business and should be treated as such.
If you live in South Florida, check out “Artist as Entrepreneur Institute”
Sponsored by the Broward Cultural Division. The best 4 Saturdays you can spend. look for one in your area.

http://www.artists-doing-business-as.com/DBA2/aei.html

Larry said...

As a modest collector, I do sympathize with the plight of artists who are unable to make a living from their work. I still try to budget 10% of my take-home pay towards my art collection. But frankly though, since I had no choice but to buy a new car recently and at my age I must fund my IRA more aggressively, I'll almost certainly have to scale back after this year.

We all know the arts have been historically undervalued in our American capitalist economy, and that's not going to change anytime soon. However nostalgic we may feel for a new edition of the WPA, it just ain't going to happen. So what can an artist or gallerist do? Two things, in my opinion:

1) Be as flexible as you reasonably can with the people to whom you are trying to sell. For a middle-class collector, $2500 is a lot to part with for a painting. But if you allow 6-8 installments, it could be doable. There are several galleries I know that do allow such flexibility, and I can still buy from them. But if a gallery accepts 2-3 payments maximum, I'm closed out. Or an artist can produce works in an edition or smaller works at a lower price point. When Jen Bekman's 20x200 site put up two editions of 500 from the Starns Twins selling for $50 each, they sold out in minutes. But this may not be the time to produce and try to sell your $25,000 4'x8' magnum opus.

2) Train yourself for a more marketable position you can use to pay the pills. The world does not owes you a living, and it is no disgrace to earn money in a better-paying profession and create art on your own time as you can. Two of America's greatest creative minds - Wallace Stevens in poetry and Charles Ives in music - were both successful insurance salesmen.

Anonymous said...

how about recent graduates entering the work force trying to build a profession in freelance (illustration), looking for day jobs which also don't exist..

But on the bright side the only way is up?...yeah

Gail Sauter said...

Hi Joanne,

One thing that we as artists can do is NOT HIDE OUT! I know we all need solitude to work, but...

My studio is in a store front in a blue collar town (Kittery). I have lots of great conversations with the local shipyard workers, and they notice that I put in long hours at the easel.

We can't really blame the public for thinking we're invisible if we mostly have our studios hidden away in mill buildings or in our house - we need to become more visible as workers in the community... hang out a sign, invite the public in to studio events, open our doors, put out a welcome flag, work outside on location etc.

The more the public sees us actually working and producing, the more viable the profession becomes in their eyes. Yes, the artwork has to 'do it's thing' but so do we in order to take the magic and mystery out of the long hours we put in.

Debunking the 'talent' myth would also help... but that's another soapbox!

Gail Sauter,
www.GailSauter.com

joy said...

Oh gosh joanne...amen.

Mead McLean said...

It's a time to breathe in, so to speak. Reevaluate. Read more theory. Think. Look. Spend more time per piece. Network. Hand out business cards. Get to all that stuff we've been meaning to do for years.

A lot of artists I know are anti-capitalists--aka suckers, if you ask a capitalist. In a poor economic climate, it's important to make people feel like they are getting something valuable and, at the same time, to not give too large of a discount.

It seems like most people are either working harder than ever or are withdrawing to plan, research, or sketch.

Mead McLean said...

It's a time to breathe in, so to speak. Reevaluate. Read more theory. Think. Look. Spend more time per piece. Network. Hand out business cards. Get to all that stuff we've been meaning to do for years.

A lot of artists I know are anti-capitalists--aka suckers, if you ask a capitalist. In a poor economic climate, it's important to make people feel like they are getting something valuable and, at the same time, to not give too large of a discount.

It seems like most people are either working harder than ever or are withdrawing to plan, research, or sketch.

Ellen said...

I am one of the lucky ones who has a full-time day job, allowing me to work part-time as an artist. I put in as many studio hours as I can and find that I have more ideas now than ever for projects.
My husband lost his job 18 months ago and we have 2 kids in college. It's a struggle but we've scaled down and are surviving, happily.
I hand my business card out to anyone who seems remotely interested and always introduce myself as a professional artist.
I have had many conversations with people who congratulate me on my "hobby." I try gently to disabuse this stereotype by giving them information about my commitment to my work. I tell them about scheduled time in the studio as well as the time and cost of running a small business, not to mention planning for shows.
I also put in plugs whenever I can for art show openings and museum visits as forms of entertainment that don't cost an arm an a leg.
Thank you, as always, for posting art relevant issues.