So I went and got a better quality print of another picture someone wanted me to sell them ages ago. Just kept bugging my conscience that the one I had was not crisp enough! Clearly I am guilty of perfectionism (or is it procrastination?) when it comes to the thing I love most (might be something to do with fear but anyway). It was from a series of collages I did as New Years cards a couple of years ago. So whilst on the subject of commissioned art I felt to share some of my experiences that have led me to be at first naive then reticent and now determined in my approach to life art and remuneration. So what follows are some things I sometimes think about "finding the right balance between not-being-done-over and knowing your worth (whilst not pushing it too far)." A fine art in itself...
I find commissions difficult because usually it is someone you know either directly or indirectly and I tended to go on trust (in the past) - that they'll actually pay you at least for the hours if not the skill, but a few times this has not been the case! Even people quite close to me have not understood how destructive it is for an artist to do a commission (ie not always what you might choose to do otherwise) and then to not get paid. Usually it was because I didn't agree a price before starting the work which is a school girl error! But this is how we learn, I was warned about being professional about my art when I was 18 but of course did not listen! In the heat of the moment I would be flattered and pleased they wanted me to do something but then I'd forget to pin it down, to fight my corner. Well not these days I am older and wiser with the lessons of experience which make me at ease demanding my basic rights. Business is business whatever you are selling. Maybe it is because of the type of artist I am, there aren't many painters about these days and so it is not like my work is in a wider professional context.
Even in my year at Camberwell Art College I did not find the 'working' artists there had any useful advice about commissions or living as an artist - there was a mysterious silence on the subject. They all seemed to rely on 'funding' or teaching (being moody and cagey about the whole - how do you live on it issue) rather than actually being artists who openly do work for other people to own. It was disturbing to me. It was all meditations on shoe prints or collections of ephemera, needless to say I did not stay on. They actively rejected traditional artistic skill in favour of conceptual and procedural approaches to art that to me had very little to say despite that being its supposed USP. Oh yes and they did not believe art was about expression. Yeah. Sadly a huge number of the people that buy art in galleries for large amounts of money are 'investors' not appreciators. There is a gap. O dear. Today I am remembering why I did not go down this road earlier. But this is the road for me. I have always known it and for all its trials I have no choice. You have to choose a life with heart or its not worth being alive, you might as well be unconscious, be a robot (a card-board cut out as my friend Lucy and I say). Not everyone can do what they dream but you can still try and in the end do what ever you do with integrity. We only have ourselves to answer to and for!
Problem t with remuneration is particularly pertinent in creative work because that tendency, not expecting to pay someone, is the thoughtless manifestation of an attitude that reaffirms the melieu that undervalues creative expression more generally. Hence the expression starving artist. Is it fair to pay someone to tell a machine to print all day but not to pay someone who captures more than a machine ever can? (Printers are a lovely bunch too that's not my point.) It is this culture that is very connected in my mind to the tendency of artists to undervalue their own skills. People who couldn't do it themselves but still think its ok to pay you less than the minimum wage for your time are all engaging while they want something but strangely significantly less so once they have what they wanted in their possession. On one occasion I actually had to go and reclaim two paintings (that had taken me many hours over months to paint) because the guy kept saying he'd pay me later and later never arrived. Still happy to hang them though. He was an ever lingering ex-boyfriend though so that might have had something to do with it. Humm. But as someone said to me recently, lots of people never want to pay anyone, Lawyers, Plumbers we all have the same problem. Some people just do not respect others full stop. Secret is to be up front, in this case about the cost, take a down payment if necessary and get a contract if its a big job, if they are serious they will understand.
Anyway I am sure what I have been advised is true that when starting to try and generate a living from art getting the publicity you need, that you can get from say the poster job, can offset the amount you are being paid. It's not about the money, its about people knowing what you do and sending work your way, but more than that it is about feeling that what you do is worth something to someone other than you. Never simple is it!? Having said all that seeing the look on someone's face when they like what you have done is a bit like giving a present at Christmas, and there is nothing like seeing someone fall in love with one of your pictures. So all in all I'd say its worth it. Rant over. =)
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