Marketing Mondays: What Would You Tell This Young Man?


Here's a snippet of conversation that Loren Munk, the artist, had with his wife, Kate, which he posted on Facebook recently and which I repost with his permission.
 "A young family friend, estranged from his  mom, talked with me for hours. I told Kate, "I think his problem is, he wants to come  out..."

Kate says, " That's great. I'm so glad."

I finish, "... as an artist".

She says, "Oh dear God, not that."

Joking (I think) Munk adds, "An intervention might be the only way to save this youngster from a life of tragic desperation."

It's like one of those New Yorker jokes that cuts to the bone. Funny. And then you realize you're bleeding.

When I was lecturing in the early aughts, mostly to senior-year B.F.A. candidates or grad students, I used to say, "You're going to start out at the bottom of the pile, but this is a robust economy and you have nowhere to go but up." Indeed, the art fairs were going great guns, galleries were selling well, and even artists selling out of Open Studios were pulling more than enough to pay the rent. 
Of course all that changed in October 2008 when the economy came crashing down. Art sales disappeared overnight. So did many galleries. While blue-chip artists and galleries are back to doing OK, they are the one percent. Most of us--artists and dealers--have our shoulder to the wheel. "Breaking even" is the new "profit" these days.

(The image that opens the post is from, surprisingly, a campaign for the College of Creative Studies in Detroit. There's more of the campaign here.)

So here's my question to you:
Knowing what you know about rejection, about the difficulty of earning a living, about working endless hours for small wages. And knowing what you know about the economy now, what would you tell this young man? Go for it? Find another line of work? Do it but have "something to fall back on"? Marry rich? Make your peace with poverty?

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jimserrettstudio said...

Flat out you support any young mind in any creative pursuit. Anything and everything is possible.

But there is no reason not to educated them to the business side of art making and those economic realities in a supportive way. Informed they will make their own decision.

David A. Clark said...

I would say, "Do it if this is what you are most passionate about and you can think of nothing else that will feed your spirit the way art does. Learn another skill that can help you get by and pay your bills, keep a roof over your head and support your need to make and show art. And know that many times you will have to choose between comfort, security and opportunity and that there may also be times when your friendships and relationships will suffer because of your devotion to your work. There is no clear path to being a successful artist because success comes in many forms, financial, artistic and otherwise so you have to know first what makes you happy. Then you have to put art above all else. If you can do that, then you should devote your life to being an artist."

Zoë said...

I would tell him: if you're going to spend the better part of your life doing something, it ought to be something you actually want to do. Obviously what works for me might not be right for everyone, but I have a part-time job to supplement my income.

Christopher Pelley said...

Ah yes, Joanne, this blog post was both funny and painful.... Years ago when I was told my very young nephew was showing an interest in drawing, I remarked that they should remove his crayons and say "No", "Bad", "These will hurt you".

The changing economy has proven across the board that there are no longer any economic guarantees, whether it be the Postal Service or being an artist. And if you are "in" art for the money, you are in it for the wrong reason. Last semester I had a student that showed a great amount of talent and promise. But he kept switching his major to find something he thought he could do for a living. My response was that life is too long to be unhappy. I know several people in their 50's who are frustrated because they see their lives slipping away and never took the chance to pursue a dream.

Advice? Make peace with yourself.

Nancy Natale said...

Well said, David! I embarked on my art career later in life and luckily I had some office skills to fall back on and pay my bills. It was a real economic downturn for me when I switched from a full-time business career to juggling part-time work and making art. I was only able to make it because of my partner sharing expenses with me.

Being an artist is not an easy life, but if you have the passion and determination to keep going, keep learning and keep thinking, it's worth accepting the lower standard of living. The majority of us will never make the big time, but we are invested in the struggle. We have to find our own standard of success because it will probably not be one recognized by the world.

I would say that he should give it a shot, but he should know that he will probably have to work twice as hard as someone with a regular career. On the other hand, he might have twice the satisfaction.

Rossana Taormina said...

Ero un'impiegata, non avevo tanti soldi, ho lasciato il lavoro e mi sono ripresa i miei sogni:ora mi dedico alla mia arte.
Ho sempre pochi soldi, ma sono felice ...

Bernard Klevickas said...

I would tell him:
Success is probably overrated and often does not last. Fail beautifully.

Oriane Stender said...

My advice: come from a wealthy family.

Jhina Alvarado said...

I would tell them the same thing that I tell anyone who shows any interest in making a living as an artist: It's hard work. You can't half-ass it. You need to create daily, not when you feel like it or on a whim. It's a full-time job and if you want to make a life out of it, you need to treat it like a full-time job. In addition, you are the only boss which means you have to be self-motivated and organized. No one is going to pick up the slack for you if you are not. In addition, you need to constantly market yourself AND be inspired to create good work on a regular basis. If you can do all of that, and handle criticism, then you can probably survive as a working artist.

Unknown said...

learn as much as you can. always be a student. A student of the actual craft, of art history and of the business. Look to those who are doing what you want to do and see what you can learn from them. You need to something about everything.

Allen C. Smith said...

I’m sure there are those who will disagree, but my feeling is that there are so many more opportunities for artists now, that I would not hold back. In fact, that is exactly what I say to each young artist I meet, “Don’t hold back! Push it to the limit.”

I am fortunate to have been born into a family that befriended and supported artists. When I showed art interest, it was encouraged. I followed that desire to art school. My grandfather was an industrial entrepreneur and he instilled a strong work/sales ethic in me.

Instead of following the “artist” path, I took a safer sideline in arts management. My art education helped me to get a job as a museum curator. Then I operated a gallery and framing business. After a couple decades, I joined a company and developed a fine art transportation and storage business. Of course, none of that paid off in the form of a retirement package, so finally I am truly following my passion as an artist.

I have lived through several financial depressions. These ebbs and flows will continue well beyond our lifetimes. Art is forever. Don’t hold back. Go for everything you want.

Donna Kallner said...

1. Go for it. No career comes with a guarantee. You'll work harder at this than 9 out of 10 jobs, but that's OK if you make a life you love.

2. Use very good birth control, drive defensively, and save for a rainy day.

3. Learn to love beans and rice. Cook from scratch. Make do and mend.

4. Be open to opportunities, even when they look like something else.

Cat Rocketship said...

Art is NOT just making paintings. I was selling well 2005-2008, and did flounder when things changed. However, now I am writing for a living -- something I never thought I'd do -- and still making art, too. All without having gotten a Real Job.

Anonymous said...

I would have to evaluate The kid's work. The first thing I would tell him is not to spend 100K on a university education unless it is in Science or Engineering. Treat art as a hobby like playing guitar . Seek private instructtion from the best people possible and watch the kids progress. It takes 10,000 hours to become competent at something.

Joanne Mattera said...

Rossana said: "I was was a clerk (or employed) but I didn't have much money. I left the job and acted on my dream: I am now dedicated to my art. I don't have a lot of money, but I am happy.

Grazie, Rossana, per le tue parole.

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, all, for your great comments. If I may comment on just a couple of points:

. Anon: THe LAST thing I would suggest is treating art as a hobby. IF you want to be serious about a career, treat it seriously. As Jhina says, "It's hard work. You can't half-ass it."

. Donna makes great points about the non-art part of being an artist: taking care of ourselves, whether it's cooking, or making do, or taking precautions. I'd add that one of the best things we can do for ourselves, especially when we're young, is live right.
. Stop smoking
. Don't drink too much
. Stop taking drugs (OK, except for the recreational toke)
. Get enough sleep
. Stop eating junk food
. Practice safe studio

This is stuff we realize when we hit 40, but it would be great if young artists could get a 20 year jump of healthy living. While we're not singers who depend on the finely tuned instrument of thevoice, or dancers for whom a perfectly tuned body is essential--and we're fortunate that it's not de rigueur to have pastic surgery at 35 to be an artist into middle age and beyond as it is for actors--we do need our bodies to function well if we're going to keep at it in the studio.

And, of course in a perfect world, Oriane's advice is essential.

Hylla Evans said...

YES to what most have already said, especially Jhina. Add to that:
establish a supportive team for brainstorming career issues,
find people who will trade their skills for yours,
proofread everything you send out, and
network, network, network.
See other artists as your colleagues, not competition!

Philip Koch said...

The world badly need more creativity, not less. I'm always inclined to encourage a young artist to pursue her or his dream.

AND I am quick to add be prepared to have two careers, as the chances of being able live off one's art alone, even once you have become quite accomplished, is remote.

There is no shame in having to work at something else. Heck, Romare Bearden worked his entire life for the NY Dept. of Social Services and did his famous collages on his kitchen table at night after work. He wasn't ashamed of this path. He made the best of it.

Philip Koch said...

One other thing, and I'm showing my age along with Joanne, but I second her advice to take care of yourself. Museums hire curators to take care of their Permanent Collection. Well, artists have to be curators of themselves, as they are the only place their work come from. Remember the hare and the tortoise story- artsit are the ones who pass the finish line with our protective shells still on our backs. The better you get as an artist, the more you owe it to the world (and to yourself) to take care of yourself and survive.

scarlett decker said...

I think that any student who goes into an art career with the idea of supporting themselves as an artist should go into a Commercial Art field. Fine art is not a likely prospect for a job unless you get an MFA and then, maybe, you can get a job teaching (making as much as a waitress - almost). Do it for the love of art and make money elsewhere - or marry into it. If you make money with your art someday, that's wonderful but it's an entirely wrong reason to become a fine artist. My identity has been that of an artist since I was about 12 so I never had a choice and I've never been discouraged. I've also not supported myself 100% by my art but I'm still trying. Really, it's not a factor. Artist is who I am, there has never been an alternate choice, ever.

Fleta Monaghan, WOAO said...

There are lots of societies out there for artists: The OPA, the PSA, The AWA... In our arts studio we are starting a new society that expemplifies our lifestyle as working artists - the WOAO - Working Our Asses Off, we welcome new members
Fleta Monaghan, WOAO

Michelle Arnold Paine said...

Fleta - a proud member of WOAO :). I like it.

I had a painter teacher/mentor tell me many times "Do anything else if you can", and so I did, and realized they did not quench the thirst I had for art-making (not gallery-managing, art-writing etc.). I am glad he said that to me. I have thought about it many times -- only passion can carry you forward in the lean times.

I still think about it all the time, every time I want more money but none of the jobs except the one I've got as an artist. I know because I've tried them.

darko said...

should be a genuine and persistent in your job, go ahead, giving no time and with perseverance comes success