Thursday, April 7, 2016

What is it good for?

A college painting professor of mine was once talking about sometimes feeling a lack of meaning or purpose in being an artist. Coming from a very successful, passionate painter, this surprised me and apparently struck close to home, as I still remember his musings 15 years later.  I imagine that this is a common thought cycle for artists - is what we do extravagant, navel gazing, and at worst, useless? I admittedly sometimes find myself critical of my life's work - am I just creating more STUFF in a world where humans already create too much stuff? It is ironic to me that I am both a dedicated purger of personal belongings and a creator of things.

Since having a daughter in February, these thoughts have been creeping in a little more seriously. Now time spent in the studio means time away from my quickly growing and changing baby, so it better be worthwhile and meaningful and make her world better somehow.

In his discussion of purpose as an artist, my professor mentioned that his brother was an eye surgeon. He said that he looked at his brother's work, how his skills and actions directly improved his patients' lives, and was envious. Someone who could not see when he came into his office left with sight.

This morning though I woke up with that story in my head, and had this thought - if it is honorable to help someone see, if that gift changes their lives, then isn't it just as honorable to create beautiful things for people to use that gift for? What is full health and capacities of the senses for if not to enjoy the beauty in this world?

The photo above of Mairead at 7 weeks old depicts her turning her head to the left, her non-preferred side, to gaze up at a painting hanging over the bed. She loves to look at this painting, particularly the snow and dirt-striped hillside on the bottom left. As she looks, she gurgles and squeaks and flails her arms and legs in delight. And I think, if even just this little baby of mine gets so much pleasure from the images I paint, it is worthwhile work.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Art. Business.

Befriending Time & Place, November 2014  
Gallery five18, Boise

In Lynn Basa's book, The Artist's Guide to Public Art, the author interviews a group of successful public artists, asking each a series of questions. The most fascinating answers to me were to the question, "What percentage of your time is spend exclusively on art-making, versus tending to business needs?" (Basa p.203). Here is a summary of the 9 artists' answers:

100% to both (no delineation between art-making and business) - one artist
50% art-making, 50% business - one artist
20% art-making, 80% business - one artist
15% art-making, 85% business - one artist
10% art-making, 90% business - two artists
5% art-making, 95% business - one artist
All weekend hours art-making, all weekday hours business - one artist

If you are an artist, especially one who specializes in public art, these results are probably not surprising to you. Reading this chapter, I became curious about the way I spend my time as a professional artist. Mostly for my own benefit, I'm going to break down a typical week of activity in the studio:

Sunday -
2 hours writing email to mailing list (monthly or bi-weekly)
2 hours taking reference images

Monday -
2 hours errands (picking up prints, exchanging work at the gallery, trip to the hardware store etc etc)
1 hour photo organization (preparing reference images, etc)
1 hour - work up mock-up and quote for new client
3 hours art-making in the afternoon
2 hours answering emails, miscellaneous computer projects (could include creating marketing material for upcoming shows, posting on social media, ordering prints, updating price sheets and look-book, planning client events, researching new business opportunities).

Tuesday -
1 hour prep for client meeting
1 hour - meet client at studio or gallery to discuss or show work
2 hours deliver artwork to another client
1-2 hours art-making in afternoon
1 hour answering emails, miscellaneous computer projects

Studio day! My creative limit is about 3 hours at a time, so a studio day is often spending about 5 hours in the morning prepping new canvases, organizing my studio, finding reference images, etc - and then a 3-4 hour painting session in the afternoon.
1 hour answering emails, miscellaneous computer projects

Thursday - (today!)
3 hours in the morning - monthly accounting and blog
1 hour answering emails, miscellaneous computer projects
1-2 hours art-making in the afternoon (hopefully)
4 hours in the evening First Thursday at the gallery (monthly) or attending other artists' events

Friday -
3-4 hours art-making
2 hours packaging and shipping artwork
3 hours updating website/Etsy shop and running inventory (imaging new work, updating all available work folders and image library)
1 hour answering emails, miscellaneous computer projects

Saturday -
2-3 hours art-making
2 hours attending other artists' events

art-making time: 18-23 hours
other activities: 32 hours
I spend 32-41% of my working hours actively art-making

This is not to say that every week is the same - some weeks I might hardly paint at all because I am so busy with other tasks. Other weeks I put the brakes on this business work and gift myself a few blissful, full days painting with music playing. And, I must offer the disclaimer that the art-making times listed are fairly optimistic - unfortunately often these are the hours that get sacrificed if a client wants to see a piece in the gallery or I get stuck on some computer issue.

Honestly I'm not sure where I'm going with this blog post - in part I simply like to stay aware of how I am using my time. I often find myself feeling guilty no matter what I am doing - if I am painting, I should be updating my website and finding new clients. If I am updating my website or running to town to approve new prints, I feel guilty for not being in my studio. I'd imagine (and am soon to find out) that this push and pull is rather like juggling a work schedule and parenting commitments. (Still childless for another month, my artwork is still my sole offspring).

But perhaps those who have been interested to read this post who are not artists have gained a little insight into the backside of the business, and my fellow art-makers feel some company in their own struggles to find a satisfying balance between the time-consuming nuts and bolts of being an artist and the substantial amount of creative time it takes to create a work of art.

Not just for artists, but for all those who do what they love for a living - this seemingly "lucky" circumstance is created by a whole lot of discipline and hard work (not to mention massive financial re-investment...about 50% for me) - basically a whole extra job that yields the opportunity to do the fun part. And yes, it's worth it.