Monday, June 13, 2005

Commercial creativity/ Creative commercialism

Well, this is a subject that I've been contemplating for most of my artistic life, and I thought a blog would be the perfect format for discussing it, since I haven't arrived at a solution. At issue is the complex relationship between the creative side of art- the pure act of making a piece, struggling with a medium and subject, and finally giving birth to something unique; and the business side of art- namely, the fact that artists must usually sell their work to survive.
Aside from the lucky (?) few who have rich patrons or trust funds, most professional artists struggle to survive economically and often are professional something-elses as well as artists. While this notion of the starving artist is historically romanticized, as someone who's been one paycheck away from starvation for several years, I can say that it certainly gets old after a while. Now, I'm not complaining- this is the life I've chosen and the tradeoffs are worth it. But everyone wants financial stability. I've watched the married couple I blow glass for- in their sixties- struggle through 3 very difficult years, when the sales which had been reliable for decades suddenly dried up with the limping economy. The last few years have been hard for a lot of artists, actually. We are in a very fickle career. Like an actor who finds themselves in the gutter after several blockbusters, artists rely on the whims and tastes of the public.
So what is an artist to do- especially one just starting on a career path? I was at a critical decision point last year. I knew I could- with loans- open up a glass studio. I could make a stable income for the rest of my life churning out Christmas balls and other production ware- or, I could go back to school. The latter would by no means guarantee financial stability. And the former would be boring, but not intolerable. So, my decision is now obvious, but my career path is still open. Will I become a studio painter? Or will economics force me to supplement this income with another source?
All artists are faced with this dilemma eventually. They all solve it in various ways; some by teaching, or mass-producing pieces, or any number of other things. Often young students consider these things as "selling out." This is absolutely incorrect (Thomas Kinkade notwithstanding.) In the world we inhabit, everyone must make money for a living, or rely on the kindness of others. No amount of money will taint an artist's soul if that soul is cherished and respected by its host. It is a fine balance between pure creation of art and production for survival. But it can be done. The question remains, how?

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