“I painted picture upon picture in keeping with the impression made on my eye in a moment of heightened emotion – painted the lines and colours that remained fastened to my inner eye… By painting the colours and lines and shapes I had seen in an emotional state – I wished to recapture the quivering quality of the emotional atmosphere like a phonograph.”
– Edvard Munch
This. A painting I make is based upon an impression made upon me by the experience of an emotional state. It is to be seen as if listening to a song.
A question I received from a fellow artist:
“I want to sell my images; I have portfolio books, am a shameless self promoter; gallery experience; trade show experience – all I want to do is paint. Who should I introduce myself to? What advice can you give me please?”
We toil away over our work, hemming and hawing, getting it wrong until, finally, we get it right. Eventually, there’s a moment when we’re pleased (or as pleased as we will ever reasonably be) with it. And, at some point, we call it finished. We get it photographed. Framed, maybe. Hang it on our wall. Or maybe we put it in the closet with all the others that didn’t quite make the cut for the wall because there’s only so many walls. Then we begin a new one and the cycle plays out all over again.
We post it to our website, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr (maybe? Do people use Tumblr?), and probably some other social media platform I know nothing about because technology moves faster than I do. We tell people it’s for sale. We make prints. We do all the things right that people tell us we are supposed to do in order to market our product, our art.
And yet, and yet: more often than not, people aren’t banging down the door for it – even if we feel we made the god almighty ever lasting this is it right now VISION of our lifetimes.
What to do? The truth is: I don’t have any advice that you haven’t heard or read elsewhere.
Personally, I come back to the same thing every time: zero in on what the art is and go from there.
What I mean by that is: first and foremost, you have to focus on the making. It has to go beyond ‘making content for the sake of content’ and into ‘expression of experience’ or ‘journey of discovery’ or something like that. Even if it’s ‘I’m making this for my sister’ – we have to tap into a deeper place that gives it a sense of meaning. What is it about? What is its reason for being? What brings the sister joy? Can we imagine her thrilled face? What about the love we might feel in creating something for someone? And so on. And, somewhere in there, we sink or rise to the deeper or higher level where we’re just doing. But it’s those motivations and intentions that can get us there and help us bring our work to a place where it really shrines.
I think that a work of art thrives when it resides in that nameless faceless something that is the creative force. There’s a dissolution of self that drives great art. That spark that arises, the joy, the real life and verve of a work comes from that dissolution into the flow of the creative act.
So we start there. We HAVE to start there – with the creation of the work. One can’t think about marketing a thing until the thing is made. Only when you’re done can you think about how to sell it. Only when a piece is finished do I start thinking: How can I frame the idea? How does this fit into the dialogue of art and artists and life around me?
When we are finished, only then do we have a product, some content, something to really build a meal around. See, it’s an artist’s job to not just create ‘content’ – after all, anyone can write another click bait article about ten ways you can make better art (I couldn’t believe reason #5 was so simple!) – but to really create something that sings from one’s soul to another in a real authentic sort of way requires a different approach.
But back to our finished work. What then? Well, it’s different for everyone. For instance, where I see my work, how I want to reproduce it and market it, may be different than what you want to do with your own work. The note you’re playing, the song your singing, etc – it’s all unique to each of us and, in our hearts, what we feel is a sound use of it is different for everyone. It’s hard for me to say “Well, next you go print it on X thing and then sell them in Y outlet” or something. It doesn’t work like that.
Instead, what I can say is this:
Think about who you are painting for. What do they want? What can they afford? What’s the highest price? What’s the lowest? Maybe there’s multiple tiers to that group you might call your target market. What turns them off? What turns them on?
From there, you start targeting those areas. Is it pillowcases? Cool. Go figure that one out. Is it festivals? Ok. Explore that one.
Here’s the thing thought: you have to be able to sleep well with your choices. What I mean is: everything we do has an impact. Every product, every piece, every reproduction. To me, the means of production is just as important as the product. I sit with different things and think: can I stomach that? Does it feel good? When I wake up at 4:30 am will it churn around in my mind like a grain of sand stuck in my craw? How will I feel working with this person? Producing that product? I find that navigating through all the myriad possibilities with that sort of “sensation guide” as my compass, helps me hone in on exactly what I want to make and create.
This isn’t to be confused with some moral compass that deems others wrong and you right. This is simply learning to steer our own ship in a way that engages not just that excited mind of ours ready to leap at the next great opportunity but also our own more idealistically guided self. I think that it’s safe to say that we want to guide ourselves towards things that really feel good for ourselves and others.
But some caution: there’s so many times I got super excited about someone’s big project, some new idea, some awesomely-exciting-it-needs-to-happen-right-now-opportunity. Then it didn’t come to pass. So a lot of energy goes into DOING without results. The key here is to focus our goals with our needs with our creative drives so that there’s less running away on the heels of a shiny new offer. I look at it as if they are these ever expanding circles.
Those circles work like this:
First there’s us. We identify ourselves as ARTIST. That’s it. Own it. You’re an artist.
Then the next circle is our work. It’s the extension of ourselves. And it goes in every direction.
This circle has a sub-tier (in fact, the sub tiers, extensions, and so on, expand in every direction) and we have to always take it into our considerations. This sub-tier is our expenses. How long did that painting take? What was your rent? Your mortgage? Your water or electric bill? So there’s the ‘amount going into sustaining this machine so I can create’. This is something to always keep in mind because the following tiers all relate to this as much as the work itself. (Think about this sub-tier as the foundation that is holding up the ‘art’ tier).
In our ever widening rings, our next ring is our online presence, vital in this day and age, which we have to think about before we even start trying to sell anything. Who we are, how we frame ourselves, how we shape our identity in the world. Only once we’ve established that have we created a groundwork from which to traverse into the next ring.
So now we get into the selling. There’s maybe some kind of prints. Great. Maybe we mass produce some product and they are sold through some chain store. Cool. Maybe this. Maybe that. But it’s what you’re doing and your website and your facebook reflect you in a way that speaks to that market. Maybe you found a good flow going to festivals through the summer. Nice. Maybe you have a consistent gallery presence. Awesome. One way or another, you have to think about your own rhetoric: how you color the world that frames your work is as important as the work itself.
Now, maybe none of those outlets ever will truly pay the bills. This is the culture and world we live in. And we, as artists, have to learn to live with that. But you know what it takes for each piece (like I mentioned earlier in regards the foundation under the art creation teir) so take that into account as you sell your work.
Now, I am as stubborn as they come about my resistance to doing anything other than art making. It’s a choice I’ve made and sometimes it pays off. Other times, I’m wondering how it’s all going to work out.
Then some new stroke of luck. Some other thread, long dormant, bears fruit or an ongoing discussion finally turns into a paycheck. The older I get, the more of these proverbial irons in the fire I have because those seeds have been getting planted for years and years. And, in the meantime, I just keep doing my work.
And that, in the end, is the truth: You just have to keep at it and keep making and nurturing your work as much as you keep making and nurturing those connections.
Just like you, I worry, I fret, I stress. I go back to art making. I go back to my garden. Even when I worry and fret. But every day, regardless of the ups and downs, I make, I create, I go back to the studio.
Admittedly, my self today is different than the seat-of-my-pants 24-year-old self. That self had no idea about nurturing connections. It was day to day, minute to minute, even tho I was going to live forever. Funny how that works, eh?
So here we are today, plugging along, continuing to weave together ideas, threads of relationships, creative fire, building something that sustains.
Who should you introduce yourself to? No one you probably haven’t already met. And the others… well, you just have to keep putting yourself in front of people because sometimes there’s that one person… And that one person makes all the difference.
What advice can I give you? Don’t be afraid to be creative. As we are creative in our work, try to be creative in business, in life. Take pride in what you do. OWN it. BE it. LIVE it. BREATHE IT. BELIEVE it. And keep at it.
The more you keep at it, the better you get and the better you get, the more you will believe in it and the more you believe in it, the more others will as well.
This painting is made in collaboration with Layla Love, a photographer and human rights activist. The painting is part of a show in NYC titled ‘Rise of the Butterfly‘.The show aims to raise money and awareness for issues around and the ending of sex slavery and human trafficking.I have a small blurb accompanying the piece. It reads:
There’s no pretty way to say this; no way to look away or ignore it. This: a painting born from the sweetness of my studio, speaking to and of unfathomable human despair. But here it is. Here it is. And that despair cuts through it like an absence of light in a clear sky. Yet without casting light into those dark spaces we can never heal our culture, transforming that absence, awakening each other again to the dance of interconnectivity, creating beauty. And I believe that, in the end, there will be – and always be – beauty.
It was a hard painting to make: the reasons for its existence are disturbing, to say the least. So where does one find inspiration for such a piece? I think it starts with finding gratitude and beauty in one’s present moment and then turning that gaze to where there the light is absent.
I'd love to hear from you. Send me a message here and
I'll do my best to get back to you as soon as I can.
Thank you for your interest in my work.
Please send me a note here, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.