Marketing Mondays: Bogus Advice and One-Percent Thinking

 Total and utter bullshit. Artists are professionally trained. Art is a profession, not a religion
 Image from Trust Me, I'm a Designer page on Facebook

In addition to questions from Marketing Mondays readers, Facebook has been a marvelous resource for ideas. Take this "page" from Kurt Vonnegut's notebook, which I pulled from Facebook. Now I've posted Bad Advice before, but this is particularly insidious because Mr. Vonnegut, a successful novelist, seems to be telling others that making a living at their art isn't important, or shouldn't be a priority. Here are a few comments:
Kevin F:   "Particularly offensive coming from artists who had successful Pop culture careers. My soul is fully grown, Mr. Vonnegut. What remains problematic is managing a world that crushes that soul every day.
Kim M:  "If only Citibank would understand that I can't pay my mortgage anymore because it's compromising my soul."
Oriane S:  "Making a living and growing your soul: apples and oranges."
Sean C: "As artists we're always being cornered into apologizing for wanting the same things everybody wants. This is because we're supposed to be the guardians of those expectations of purity that art embodies in the minds of people who don't have to make it."
I realize that not all artists make a living exclusively from the sale of their art, or even from art-related jobs. Even some well-known artists still teach, or have family money, or receive rental money on real-estate that they bought in the 70s. But my point in commenting on Vonnegut's "advice" is that it's bad advice. Vonnegut, who earned  a living from his writing, is doing what my professors did in art school--what many professors did to many of us in art school, and some still do--which was to say that it's not important to even aim to support yourself from the sale of your work. That does a disservice to artists everywhere.
The practice of art embraces the whole package--the making, the thinking about, the growing from, and the sale --in exactly the same way a doctor develops her career and gets paid for her services or a scientist for his. Vonnegut's statement is simplistic. And what's worse, it has the potential to misdirect legions of artists, just as those art school professors did to generations of art school students with pronouncements like, "Selling well is selling out." Artists need to go out into the world with the idea that it is at least possible to earn a living from what they have been trained to do. Vonnegut's statement throws all of that under the bus.
And the hits just keep on coming.
Here's The Busy Trap an Op Ed piece from The New York Times, whose author lives like a One Percenter. ("On the best ordinary days of my life, I write in the morning, go for a long bike ride and run errands in the afternoon, and in the evening I see friends, read or watch a movie. This, it seems to me, is a sane and pleasant pace for a day.") It is a sane and pleasant pace for a day. Bravo for him, but artists have to find sanity in a 12- or 18-hour workday.

This is a screen grab of the online piece. Click here to access the entire article

Clearly this guy is not self employed and doing the work of three people because that's the only way he can stay in business. He is not an artist who works a full-time job so that he can then go into the studio to work *another* full-time job. He's not someone who juggles three part-time jobs, each without benefits, to be able to pay the studio rent, hoping for enough energy to make art after that. 

Non-artists often say to us: "How nice that you can  make your own hours."

Yes, indeed, I reply. I can work any 18 hours of the day I choose.

Your comments, as always are welcome.

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Anonymous said...

You are a slave to the NY gallery world, correct? Those galleries are FOR the 1%. You do realize that art school students, pumped by Occupy, are starting to call NY artists "scabs"? They want nothing to do with that "playground" for the rich. They can make a living without being entertainment for the 1%.

kathy loomis said...

I guess it's crabby Monday. Cheap shot against both Vonnegut and Kreider.

Perhaps it's reverse snobbery -- in protest against artists (writers) who say art is about something more important than just earning a living, some artists take pleasure in complaining about how art is such a difficult and thankless way to earn a living.

If art is just a business, then maybe those who find it so difficult and thankless should look for another business.

C'mon, admit it, we all make art because we want to. It may not be a religion, but there's a self-actualization component to art that is absent in many other jobs. And we could all get a little less busy if we really wanted to take a bike ride.

There's advice to be given on how to get a little less busy, but crapping on two guys who are also self-employed artists seems like shooting at the wrong target.

Nancy Natale said...

Wow, guess two of your commenters got up on the wrong side of the bed while accusing you of taking too hard a line.

Personally, I never read any of those "advice" pieces in FB. They are all a bunch of crap. Most of them are passive aggressive (or aggressive aggressive) ploys to get you to change your profile picture to something. If I wanted to look like a piece of meaningless text, I would already have done that.

The point about working hard as an artist is indisputable. We have to work hard because most of us don't make enough from selling our work to even consider ourselves "scabs for the 1%." We should be so lucky! We are working jobs to pay the rent and buy art supplies while struggling to find time in the studio and get those creative juices flowing on command.

At the same time, if we didn't believe in the value of making art, we wouldn't keep doing it. The number of people who graduate from art school but don't have enough determination or stamina or stubbornness to keep going is legion. Call us foolish, but don't call us lazy. Yes, I feed my soul but I also have to feed my dogs.

As far as the "busy" thing goes, I don't know anyone who is making up stuff to be busy about. I don't work 18 hour days, but I usually work hard and there is always some damned thing that I have put off doing in favor of watching America's Next Top Model. The guy who wrote that piece did sound like he was living quite a life and could afford to sound off to everyone else. He should have just posted something on FB and asked people to change their profile picture to "Busy As I Want To Be."

Kesha Bruce said...

As someone who came from modest means, I get especially offended when anyone even hints at the belief that I should suffer and struggle for my art. Being poor and hungry sucks, but if they want to go that route, fine by me. They’re welcome to it. But at no point do I plan on joining them.

“The Busy Trap” I took that article a different way: I have a handful of friends who are so busy it borders on hysteria. Of these people, none are busy because their livelihood or their family’s health/safety/comfort depends on it.

Just trying to catch up with them is exhausting for me. Like the writer---I gave up too.

It makes me sad. It should be noted that NONE of the people I'm talking about are artists.

“I can work any 18 hours of the day I choose.” Brilliant! I am SO stealing this.

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, Kathy, Nancy and Kesha, for commenting.

Kathy: Of course the business of being an artist is complicated, but you see the hypocrisy in a financially successful artist telling other artists that they shouldn't be concerned with making a living? That's the issue.

Anonymous: I don't normally let anonymous negative comments in because I want naysayers to have the courage to say it in their own names instead of behind a convenient curtain of anonymity.

But I let it in to say this to you: With a few blue-chip exceptions, most dealers are ekeing out a living like most artists. These smaller galleries do not sell to the one percent, but to serious collectors for whom collecting is a passion. I collect art, and I often buy from galleries, and I can tell you that I am definitely in the 99 percent. There are many like me.

I'd be happy to continue this discussion if you wish to post under your own name as the rest of these folks did.

Tamar said...

Gosh. Where to begin.
I agree that the options posed by Vonnegut are terribly simplistic and do artists a disservice. A bit more subtlety would have been in order. And many of us who try to combine the creative with earning a living do indeed struggle to find time for simple pleasures. So being less busy is not an option.

For so many of us, the self-imposed urgency to pursue our creative impulses remains present whether or not there is money to be made. We do it because we cannot not be engaged in the process--and perhaps it can be seen as nourishing our souls. (Would most lawyers routinely offer up their services without payment? Not likely.)

But we must all put food on the table. Some of us do that in part by selling our work (yes, largely to the 1% who have the means to purchase it). Many more of us keep body and soul(!) together by juggling a variety of income-producing activities outside of the arts, often only allowing a modest number of hours for creative pursuits. But we keep at it, generally too busy for those afternoon bike rides.

Perhaps some think it is a choice we are forced into because the arts are so undervalued by society. But really, it is a choice we make because we find the creative impulse so very nourishing.

So when someone says--oh, you are so lucky--you get to JUST paint, it must be so much FUN --it's not like you really have a full time job. . . . I gently explain that actually, I have several jobs that aren't at all fun, but I am lucky because I choose to spend time doing something that gives my life meaning. And I work hard to fit in at least a little time to smell the flowers.

annell4 said...

This is a big complicated subject. Thank goodness more are schools are addressing the need to make a living as a professional.

John Ryan John Ryan said...

My initial response to this post was all head shaking and 'you are so full of *@$^!' spouting indignity.

Maybe not that extreme, but I at least disagreed with what you said and attempted to come up with ways to prove that I was right and you were woefully misguided.

Then I paused and reflected on my intentions. I considered why I reacted so strongly.

I suppose it's because I want to believe what Vonnegut and Kreider are saying is true. I have issues with our culture and all the (internet/corporation/politics/social media/hobgoblins rant goes here - i'll spare you).

It's nice to be reminded that there is more to life than busy busy career money rent busy work credit card recognition look at me busy work work debt loans stress stress are you stressed yet because you are going to be if you think about the future have fun being imprisoned in this debt saddled life you are setting yourself up for sucker...

And I like being reminded of this by other artists who have somehow managed to find a career in art making. I call that hope.

I have to water my soul. Otherwise... no thanks.

Good post Joanne. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and time and all that jazz.

smellofpaint said...

Hi, Joanne!
This could become a very serious discussion on the place of the artist in this society of ours. I'm sure you've already had those galore.
Still, my position, from the decades of observing it from the inside and dealing with people outside is this:
there is not -- and has never been -- a profession of Artist in the US. There is simly no slot for that in our society. With under 1% of artists making their living solely from their art, and with no guarantee or even expectation of the continuity of income, the economic status of Artist is what it is. We all live with this reality, every day.
At some point in our professional lives we realize that we do not have to be depressed about it, or to not strive to sell work, make careers in it, derive happiness from the process of art making, put all of our souls into it, enjoy tremendously contact with other artists and immersion in Art itself, etc.
But it is truly useful to know reality -- and arrange one's expectations accordingly... . ;-)

Julian Jackson said...

Kurt Vonnegut was writing at a time when artists (and everyone else) no matter how successful were questioning the materialistic nature of the social/cultural machinery (and everything else, remember “question authority”). He was an iconoclast who probably didn’t give a fig for the trappings of success. I imagine him living simply and doing his work. I’m not sure that doodle of his was intended to be career advice to struggling artists but rather as a tiny manifesto and perhaps a reminder, even to himself, of why we all got involved in the arts in the first place. Surely it wasn’t because we thought artmaking would bring in a stable “living”.

We dove in because we had ideas that we wanted to contribute to the long running conversation. We are in fact lucky to be among a generation that has seen a huge expansion of the art world (and art buying public) making it possible at times for our voice to be heard, and our work purchased. Even at my luckiest though, I have never imagined that I was doing other than chasing rainbows and found other ways to support myself while doing so. Making a living and growing one’s soul have never been mutually exclusive, but a work of art, the work of art, should never be mistaken for a dollar bill or guarantee of support.

Betty Carroll Fuller said...

Wow, this is sounding like the Mommy wars! I am a also a working artist, modest sales, adjunct professor, gallery curator etc. to pay bills. I'd love to be more financially successful-- I also believe what I do matters and know that I am blessed to have a passion for my work. I am grateful to have a life as an artist and be part of a community. I don't work for free--I do not donate to auctions. Art is not just a business but if you want to be a serious artist it behooves you to be professional and business like in your dealings and presentation. Galleries can not survive without sales after all.

kim matthews said...

Smell o'paint: there most certainly is a precedent for the profession of artist in the US. Ever heard of the New Deal--the WPA and the PWA? Stuart Davis, Berenice Abbott, Romare Bearden, Thomas Hart Benton, and many others would beg to differ.

Christine said...

Wow. Anonymous: "You are a slave to the NY Gallery World." There are over 500 art galleries in NYC alone, forget Brooklyn etc. The range of art shown is astounding...and not directed only to the "1%. Get real. And Kathy, no one is saying art making is "difficult and thankless." I have to wonder why artists feel the need to see their "calling" as noble and therefore something that is of a higher level that needs no other monetary compensation. Would you expect dancers, architects, musicians, composers, actors, do what they do for no compensation? To "donate" their services the way most visual artists are asked to? Moreover, I don't agree with those posting who would suggest that somehow art is different or elevated above other careers as being more virtuous...I have friends who are teachers who feel passionately about working with the kids with whom they work, lawyers who actually believe in preserving and furthering justice, gallerists who believe in supporting their artists' vision, speech therapists who change people's lives. No one would ask them to not receive compensation for their "work." Why are so many artists so uncomfortable asking for the same??
Re the Busyness thing. I do see this a lot and agree when he says: "Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day." I do think it is a tide to swim against. However his contention.." but I also feel that four or five hours is enough to earn my stay on the planet for one more day. On the best ordinary days of my life, I write in the morning, go for a long bike ride and run errands in the afternoon, and in the evening I see friends, read or watch a movie. This, it seems to me, is a sane and pleasant pace for a day" ...seems unrealistic. The vast majority of people can not sustain themselves working "4-5" hours a day. Can you picture the kindergarten teacher checking out for a bike ride? Calling people to look at themselves and ask the questions of what "busyness" is self imposed is one thing. Implying that we all have the ability to work only 4-5 hours a day is arrogant. Makes me wonder really, what his income is and where it comes from.
Of course art is "not just a business." Neither are teaching, dancing, or many other professions. etc. @ Kathy Loomis.."C'mon, admit it, we all make art because we want to." Does that mean if we want to do what we do we shouldn't get paid for it? Trying to earn a living or partial living from art is no less admirable than seeking to earn an income from many other pursuits.

Eva said...

“So what that I have money? So what that you are poor. I don’t care about money. Screw your landlord – screw the banks – what does that matter in light of your art making?”

This argument came years ago from a colorful character who wanted me to quit my job and get into major debt for art. He ridiculed my “spiritual aims” and seriousness when I did not.

Something he didn’t know was that I did not even have the rent yet for that month - but that would be just a petty detail, non?

All these years later, I have found that there are certain things I need to have in order for my work to survive. And that's not just cash and health insurance. That is also surrounding myself with people who understand and don't expect me to operate differently than they do - just because I am an artist. We have human needs, not just spiritual ones.

Elena Maslova-Levin said...

I believe Vonnegut's quote is taken out of context (and actually modified quite a bit).

Here is a broader context:

“The arts are not a way of making a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

So the statement is actually not directed to professionals, but rather intended to encourage amateurs to try.

india flint said...

As one who makes a living [albeit modest] from a combination of teaching, writing, commissions,exhibiting and the dreaded "consignment selling" I am from time to time asked to "demonstrate my technique" to some group or other for the reason that it is "the best way you have of educating people about your work".
does anybody ever think of asking doctors, lawyers or car mechanics to share their skills in such a manner?
no, i thought not.
perhaps it is because i work in textiles and they are so familiar [because we wear them]. but it still doesn't make sense to me. but showing people my dye techniques, even in passing, doesn't result in more sales. it results in people going home and dyeing the nearest thing they can find in exactly the same way because the technique is so deliciously simple.
i'd be happy if they bought my books at the same time, but usually a demo is quickly recorded with a digital camera and off they go!
i work hard, haven't taken a vacation in years, have no health insurance or pension plan...but am supposed to be pleased for opportunities to show my skills for nothing.
it doesn't make sense [and - along with the other professions mentioned - you don't see male painters being asked to do this either!]
nonetheless i am grateful to make my living in this way.

Jeanie Thorn said...

Well Joanne I guess I’ll be in the minority by saying I totally agree with you. It’s a topic I’ve discussed with other artists with pretty much the same results. Then to find out they’re the same ones who have a significant other supporting them…hypocrisy indeed.

Kesha put it so well, “Being poor and hungry sucks, but if they want to go that route, fine by me. They’re welcome to it. But at no point do I plan on joining them.”

Oh and I hope there aren’t too many collectors reading this because it really hurts us all to put it out there that artists don’t care about making a living selling what they make. We might as well just give it away.

Joanne Mattera said...

The quote Lena has provided (and thank you for that, Lena) is more poetic. But as a successful novelist Vonnegut is still telling people, "The arts are not a way of making a living."

Well, they mostly are not a way of making a living, as most artists find out. But there IS a Catch 22: If you are told or taught that it's not possible, you will so believe it's not possible that it won't be. This is the issue faced by artists who went to art school in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Many of us were faced additionally with professors who spouted "advice" like, "The dealer is your enemy" and "Selling well is selling outl." So decades of artists were trained to hate the very people they needed to work with to show their work, and to hope for the very thing they were told they should not want. Crazy!

Things started to change in the 90s. Now students get Professional Practices courses as undergrads and in Grad School. Maybe it has gone too far in the other direction, with new artists being prepared without yet having the chops or the art to actually move the process along.

Thanks, everyone, for contributing. I think there's a grain of truth in what everyone has said, because our truths are as varied as our circumstances. But I will say that starving in a garret doesn't get you closer to god, truth or better art; it just leaves you hungry and frustrated a few floors above the street.

smellofpaint said...

@kim matthews said...
"Smell o'paint: there most certainly is a precedent for the profession of artist in the US. Ever heard of the New Deal--the WPA and the PWA?"
Dear Kim!.. you may have just proved the point I was making (=that there is no history of Artist as profession in our country).
Everyone who loves AbEx should know about WPA! It however, existed just for a few bried years years in the 30's, and then... ENDED... . Our government created and funded it for several years, and then dropped it like hot potato.
It is very instructive to compare the history of how the artists have been treated here vs in Europe.

Allen C. Smith said...

Scarcity creates fear. I lived with that concept most of my life. A while back I changed my opinion of how the world works. There is enough to go around. There is plenty. I believe that I have now, and will have, as much as I want. I believe that the whole 99% vs 1% argument is negative flow.

If we all want to wallow in a pity pot about what we don’t have, then we’ll probably never have it. Make your art and quit complaining. The joke I sent to last week’s MM post was just that: a joke.

As far as making money with your art, I have one suggestion: If you want to sell art, don’t make art that is so ugly and angry. No matter how much conceptual spin you put on a piece of cardboard smeared with poop, it still stinks. Most art buyers don’t want it on their living room walls, let alone in climate-controlled art museums.

Joanne Mattera said...

Responding to just a few comments:

. Allen: Actually shit does sell. Piero Manzoni famously exhibited cans of his own feces. Andres Serrano showed large scale color photographs of animal and human excrement. Wim Delvoye famously made his shit machine (New Museum staff fed it gourmet meals via a garbage disposal, where it passed through glass tanks with digestive chemicals, and a small log exited at the other end), and an artist named Keith Boadwee expelled liquid paint out of his rectum to make paintings. I have seen all of these.

. Philip: I agree that art has not typically been treated as a profession, but others in the art world have jobs that are considered professions: dealers, curators, critics. When artists treat themselves, their work and their peers professionally, we all raise the expectation for what we do. This is something younger artists are learning through their Professional Practices classes in art school.

. Tamar notes that the arts are undervalued by society. INdeed. Music and acting are well recognized and rewarded, writing and visual art less so. I am reminded often of an event I experience in Cuba in 2001. A small group of us went to visit a small town on the outskirts of Havana. The people were excruciatingly poor, so much so that we brought them supplies like Advil, tampons, condoms, bandaids and other stuff that we knew they needed.

When we visited their small community center it was filled with paintings, colorful scenes of contemporary Cuban life. They introduced a young man to us: "This is our artist," they said with pride. Collectively they provided him with a place to work and supplies to work with. I get farklempt every time I think of it.

grovecanada said...

This Sunday, my husband & I walked briskly through the giant juried Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition at Nathan Phillips Square...It is so well attended that competition is fierce to get a booth...Which means that what you see is slick...Everyone has credit card taking ability...The product is sized right for your home...Style is well defined...Materials are solid...So...It felt like a giant store...A commodity factory...A commercial...These were people who do art for money...None of that Vonnegut soul grabbing stuff in view...
In the middle of the well thought out, well marketed "art", was a field of flowers...It was a booth, with a field of flowers actually...The flowers were individually held up by string...In fact the entire field was a barely visible crochet of string holding up these frail flowers...It was very pretty...An installation...Not at all sellable...Not something you could carry away...It was a pure moment & the only thing we saw in the entire show that wasn't done to earn a living...It was also the only thing we remembered...It was good...& that is what Vonnegut was talking about...

Peg Grady said...

arybaruI'd cut Vonnegut a break. He was addressing the joy that art/dance/music/poetry can bring to people even if they're lousy at it and could never imagine anyone paying them to do it.

The other dude is all "let them eat cake." Four to five hours a day of work is not realistic for the vast majority of people. Average wage in the U.S. is somewhere around $23.00 an hour. Five hours a day not only would not be enough to live on, but a part time job like that would mean no benefits. He's just a rich snob who hasn't a clue. Kind of what I believe Romney is...just sell some of your stock to pay for college, etc. Right. Why didn't I think of that.

Philip Koch said...

SmellofPaint mentions the WPA program of the federal government buying art directly from artists in the 1930's. I believe the program only lasted just one year rather than running through much of the depression years. The Smithsonian American Art Museum in DC did a marvelous show titled simply "1934" that was full of remarkably high quality paintings by mostly little known artists. Opponents of government support for arts often claim it guarantees only mediocre art would be supported. The actual experience of the far too brief WPA shows this doesn't have to be true.

We could use a new WPA right now. said...

This is to address " Anonymous" and the 1% claim: people buy my paintings enough to keep me painting. Thank you. And guess what? These generous people are very hard working people in academia, non- profits, the arts, retired on pensions etc. and some have been unemployed when they have bought art. Why? because art means something to them and they make it a priority. They work hard making a living and I work hard making a living. They buy art. Then I turn it around and buy art. That is how it is in my world.

Kim Matthews said...

No, PWA/WPA didn't last long and I suppose I should have gone on with more examples. My point is, art is a profession in the United States with a history. There are professional muralists. There are decorative painters. There are commercial artists (of which I am one). Now I suppose we can argue about what constitutes art and what's design or illustration...