Art is the only job I’m aware of where the worker is more often than not encouraged to justify making a living by his/her craft as a basic principle. Art is a choice and a dalliance. A luxury pastime spent by wistful dilettantes passing long lonesome days on the estate…. not actual work. It’s a warped and puritanical basis of seeing and restricting what work is, and obviously absurd and ridiculous, but it persists. I hear it myself all the time. We’re largely encouraged to think of a art as a noble expression by children, or as a past time later after work. A hobby. I think we all come across this snap notion a lot: A real artist is noble enough not to put a price on their work. Worse yet is the inner voice that conspires to hum this selfsame terrible tune. It’s this internalizing of our lack of value as artists that make us take bad gigs, sign bad contracts and agree to feel lucky to see renumeration at all. How dare we?
The teaching of this lesson come subtly and early. We are celebrated as children for making our art, and then encouraged to dispense with it at a certain age in our childhoods, for it being, well, childish. When I was coming of age in Texas in the 1970’s and 80’s there were few places to look and see others making a life in art. All the artists were dead and their work only made vaunted and valuable in that long ago dusty boned passing as it stares back at us in museums and rarified gallery spaces. Art is presented to us as remains, unlike remnants of an act of expression. You can’t eat it or gain shelter from it, so what’s its value? And then… what value do you have in presuming after such an extraneous act? Art should be pure and money corrupts it. But we don’t bring money corruption into any other profession and only when there’s sins of greed or hubris resulting from it. It’s not wrong that the inventor rakes in millions but only when he indulges in hedonism or extravagance form those riches. The riches are only brought to blame when they show up at all in artists, and even when the scale of these so-called riches are affording rent for a month. Or groceries.
YES, money can actually be a corrupting element in art. In fact I’d say it is is inherently, but not in an evil insidious way… It can change how you choose work, and what you decide to paint. I don’t love it as a leading edge in going into any project, and have found when that’s the main cause and focus the project just never rises to a level of quality for any aspect of it because this is the wrong thrust to be the main engine of making work. I’ve taken on jobs for the paycheck alone that have been awful but others that have been miraculously creative and forward pushing experiences. Monestizing your creativity is a tricky road to walk and I’ve brought this subject up in a. few previous articles, BUT that shouldn’t be misinterpreted to mean that earning a living in art is inherently a sin, or bad for art.
YES, I sincerely believe that in order to make ongoing and progressive work, a sense of play and childlike perspective can and is essential to an artist. The limberness and open minded perspective of young eyes, the immediate valuation of play as opposed to some puritanical sneering at it, all contribute to work that can delight. If you can’t be alive while you make a piece your piece won’t live. I maintain in every conference or speech I give that trying to remain in some part a 12-year old for as long as possible is the best advice for being good at your art. BUT this is not to say there is something critical about this from a creative point of view of because your joy in your work is somehow less valuable because it might grow from a place that isn’t stodgy and rock-ribbed grownup. (We could spend a whole article unravelling the value of play as a creative person and the culture we live in that scorns it as a basic idea, but that’s for another day. But play is seen in similar form under the critique that is you enjoy your work, the pay should be irrelevant. it isn’t).
YES struggle and trials can be absolutely a place from which good work comes. There are lessons in fighting through illegitimacy and presumption that forges your art sword to be stronger and sharper. BUT poverty is not a value, and struggle is not always a necessary ingredient to making work. Being made to feel guilty for earning a living in your art is ridiculous when it is in fact the rarest of achievements. In fact I’ve found it gets more in the way of good work than not. Being broke ass broke requires demands on your time and a scramble with your work to make ends meet, to cut corners and adopt reflective ways of working that are more bankable. Poverty can build character but sustain poverty crushes spirits.
YES being swift can be confused with being hasty or thew work being easy, BUT it ignores that most speed in art making comes from years of experience, rather than something less founded in quality. Most people work under an hourly wage structure and most of them on committees in publishing houses do too. I think this informs an outsized expectation of this as it applies to the artist in a way that punishes swiftness rather than celebrates it- even though being fast is a deep and true value in most areas of publishing- especially in the medium of comics. Nevertheless, it is often the case if you turn in too much too quickly, you will be expected to suffer having to do this multiple more times than someone who takes that same week to turn in one sheet of work that you managed in a day. The price of every one of your pieces should reflect the years of training and hard work that inform it, rather than be cast aside as inadvertently useful playtime.
YES, pricing your work is a terrible and often awkward dance with one’s own ego and value. Art is the artist, more than regular work is the worker. BUT, pricing one’s own work is a stone soup of a dozen different ingredients, all ever changing and actually better if you can remove yourself from the mix wherever possible. For years I have only managed to price my work before a convention by sitting down with my manager and longtime friend, Allen Spiegel while I act as scribe to his commands about pricing. A lot of artists devalue our work and sometimes to the point of self harm later. How could it be worth this or that ion we don’t feel ourselves worthy of this or that. The inner critic becomes a scold in this dynamic, and while that critic belongs as a value to the process of making work, it’s important not to let it get out of hand when declaring your worth in pricing for a show, a gallery sale or a contract with a client. It helps to have someone outside of your bag of cats to make these declarations on your behalf. I will happily vouch and sell and cheer my art friends with joy and ease in a way that is not remotely similar to the turmoil I experience when doing this for myself. I find it only works when I see the work as separate from my person- easy too cheer for your kids than for your reflection.But it doesn’t come naturally and I hear the tones of those devalued whispers in every pricing.
A buyer declaring the work is too expensive does so with the implication that the mistake is the artists, when really what it means is simply that buyer cannot afford it. I’ve been told my own work is priced too high and too cheaply within the span of the same hour… so which one is right? Are either of them? Why are we blessed to make a living or called “lucky” when we can? It’s almost as if our ability to earn a life in our work can’t possible come from our labors, but only as a gift from angels or a trick of fate like getting hit with a meteor or winning a lottery.
YES exposure is a value and should be factored in as a coin of worth in a possible project, BUT it is not a leading point of purchase in any artistic enterprise and should never ever never be substituted for a proper wage or fee. I have done work that had tremendous exposure and I made sure always to also get paid for the effort. Exposure and success in that arena is not just a benefit to the artist but is by design, one for the client and the project you’re there to celebrate. However good exposure is for you who paints a poster for a movie, it’s success and a means to market that movie, generate more ticket sales, interest and attention, is by epic orders higher a value to your client. Simply put, exposure benefits them more than you, and it’s not your place to pay their bill. You’re already doing that by doing your best work and making it succeed. Art is not a game where winning requires others to lose.
It does get easier, and the sense of value that money inherently has, as tied to one’s own self worth and it does get clearer the more you are required to do it. But the burly fear of the initial need to do this remains. I’ve been doing this since I sold my very first painting in Highschool and it’s been there ever since all these eons later. And I’ve come to find pricing is not always an upward arc. There are certain instances where money is not a welcome presence in a particular work. My current 52 Weeks Project ERASED is one such event, and even the licensing fees received from the various magazines that have republished the pieces has been donated to legal defense funds to support the cause the subjects inspire. But I could never do such a thing were it not for the work I get paid for to carve out time for such a rarified indulgence, regardless of the merits of the subject. Ironically, it’s being paid properly for my work that allows me to sometimes get paid less or not at all for some of the other exercises. But neither are less significant or noble or pedestrian from that reality, nor should they ever be.
We can choose to set our own value and not shrink from the judgement of others. It’s an easy thing to say, and mountainously hard to do, but we can do it. And you know what? We should. No one else will do it. And even if they did, and artists and creatives became the celebrity gods of highest achievement on the earth, I don’t think that would be a helpful out come. Value given is not value, praise is the icing bit never the cake. We can’t get a grip on ourselves and our own personal worth if it isn’t a river that flows from us individually. This is one of the reasons I find praise suspicious and take a deep swallow of self checking overtime I see a grand review of my work or hear about from other, that the stories and art I make are worth chasing. I want it too much I desire it because it’s natural to find affirmation outside of yourself. But that’s not the value I’m speaking to here. The one that supports our work even when no one likes it, or we cannot scratch a dime out of it no matter how hard we try… the non-arrogant belief in ourselves through our work is a wholly different thing. Get straight with it and the rest follows. The sense of deciding not to believe your lack of worth when someone thinks you over charge doesn’t require dealing with when you know deep in your heart you are worthy of price. They become gnats against your windshield as you plow forward. Turns out if you just set yourself straight the other stuff I said was harder to do and say, isn’t anymore. It takes care of itself. And marry that with a persistent critical eye and self checking, and you will be unstoppable.