Monday, September 19, 2011

Full Time Art

"Privacy."  Oil on canvas,  24 x 30 inches.  ©Karine Swenson 2011
 What does an artist do all day, anyway?  I mean, it's a life of leisure, isn't it?  You work for yourself, so you don't really have to work if you don't want to, right?  Right.  Riiiiiiiiggghhhhht.  I wish it were like that.  An artist doesn't have a boss to oversee daily activities, or to tell you what the priorities are.  Which has both benefits and drawbacks.  Sometimes, I think it would be helpful if there was an authority figure to tell me,  "this is the most important thing you should be working on right now."  Or maybe if there was an accountant to do my books for me, that would be helpful.  Even if I had a marketing director to design my website, blog, postcard, mailings.  That would be helpful, too.  I could hire people to do all of those things, but I can't afford that right now.  No, this is a real business, where I have to keep an eye on profits, expenses, time management, productivity, and all of those boring, real-world words that you hear in any other business.  Those responsibilities are mine and mine alone.

An artist usually doesn't get paid sick leave.  Paid vacations.  Health benefits.  Workman's comp.  No.  If I take a day off, that day is one more day I am not producing art, or marketing my art, or looking for a gallery, or updating my website.  There isn't another person there, in the "office," finishing that one painting for me.  Or framing that last pastel.  I find it really hard to take days off.  I think anyone who is self-employed will tell you the same thing.  Especially the first years, when the business is just getting going - those are the crucial years of any new business.   I consider the time in my studio to be the most important part of my business, but if I just paint, and ignore all of the other responsibilities, I will never sell art, and consequently, never make money.  So I must get out of the studio, as much as it pains me, and take care of the business end of my work.  Being an artist is no different from any other job, since it embodies both the things I love to do and some of the things I detest.  (Bookkeeping, for one!) 

Why am I telling you all of this?  Well, because I hope to dispel some of the misconceptions about what artists do.  I once overheard someone at an art festival say, "I think I would like to be an artist, because they only have to work on the weekends."  Oh, really?  Really?  She thinks that the day before an art festival, I simply pull about 20 paintings out of my left ear, wave my magic wand to load them into the van, and then work the weekend and go home.  Sleep all week long.  Repeat.  Well, if it were that easy, that would be pretty cool.  Anyone would want a job like that!  But I don't think anything in life is as easy or effortless as we would like it to be.  I often wonder where these ideas about being an artist come from.  Why does the word artist conjure up mythological ideas about a lifestyle that could only exist in a fairy tale?  I will never understand.  If any of you can shed light on this for me, I will be grateful.  

I am not writing about this to complain, or to make anyone feel sorry for me.  I love being an artist.  I love those days when I know I need to go in the studio and spread paint on a surface.  It is a remarkable way to spend my time.  I wouldn't trade my life for another life, even if it meant paid sick leave.  Even if I have to get another job, to help me pay for my life as an artist, I will always consider myself an artist first and foremost.  But it is not a fairy tale, and, try as I might, I still haven't figured out how to pull paintings out of my left ear.  Now, I have to go and take care of some of that "business" stuff.

Have a fantastic week, you dear things! 

13 comments:

Cynthia Schelzig said...

ooo soooo true so true....but I really thought you did have atleast a magic wand. You must have waved it over this latest piece cause it sure looks like "magic" to me.......

Roberto Morris said...

What are you trying to do, Karine?--be successful or something? You mean you actually want people to BUY your art? With that attitude and your flagrant and shameful work ethic, you are going to put the rest of us lazy bums to shame. While we sit around in cafes all day sipping absinthe and philosophizing, you are going to be selling paintings!

Karine said...

Well, Robert"o", you are probably right - I might be better off with some absinthe. But doesn't that make people cut off their ears???

Roberto Morris said...

Yes, poor van Gogh not only cut off his ear, but apparently only sold one painting during his lifetime. So I imagine you are already well ahead of him. I'd rather see you stay off the absinthe, keep both ears, and continue to sell your wonderful artwork. I'm not sure why people think the artist's life is so easy, except that it is so often romanticized in literature and film. The only reason I can pursue it now is that I worked 22 years at something very non-artistic in return for a small pension. Your dedication is admirable; I really hate the "business" aspect of art, which is probably why I don't sell a lot. You seem to be able to balance the creative part and the business part, and I wish you great success!

Studio Sylvia said...

If you find a way to pull work out of your ears, could you share the method? I like you colour palette in this painting, Karine.

Prabha Narayanan said...

Love the Roadrunner! Will check out your other works too. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

I think this post is a reflection of what i see around me too. Brilliantly put. This creative life is what i will always want, magic or not.

Deb Ammerman said...

I love your abstract art. I recently found your blog and have been looking around. I think it is great that you blog your feelings so openly. I love a good rant, and have been known to indulge in them from time to time. ;)

I've only recently gotten back into the fine arts after spending too much time attached to my computer. I find myself drawn to abstract art because my "day-job" as a graphic designer, although creative and rewarding in itself, can be restrictive. My son will be going away to college in a couple of years, and I am struggling with what I call "fear-of-the-empty-nest-syndrome-to-come"... so I have turned to my love of art to get me through... and I am having a blast! Thank you for stopping bye my blog. I look forward to seeing more of your work.

Annie said...

Karine, While I totally agree with you and I still have to work part time (but sold two paintings yesterday, YAY!)and would give anything to paint full time, I do think that down time is important to our creative lives, for me I must read, take walks and watch movies and relax, see friends, on a regular basis or I become very cranky :-).Lovely new work. Happy painting! xoxo

Patty said...

Love this blog Karine!! I have often thought these things, but you shared it so thoughtfully and charmingly. Nice going.
PS, I'm going to try the left ear thing ...

Krista said...

I think the "myth" ideas come from the fact that you are doing what you love and are passionate about -not everyone is able to say that. I would LOVE to be able to devote my time to my art, and I would gladly do the business side of it, but once you get established in a career other than art it is very hard to walk away from the salary (and yes, benefits). I know you were not complaining, but be sure to say thanks every day that you are doing what you truly want to do. I tell my children (one who is a senior in high school) to be sure that whatever career you choose, be sure it is something you love to do and you will never have to work a day in your life. Someday I will be there! I am so very happy for you that you are doing what you love to do.

Karine said...

Hi Everyone, and thank you for the great comments.

Krista, I know how hard it is to leave a career that isn't art (and that has a nice paycheck) because I already did it. I have to ask, if you would "love" to do what I am doing, then why aren't you? I made the leap, and it is terrifying. If the grass looks so good to you on my side of the fence, then I welcome you over here to it.

Anke Martin said...

Yes Yes Yes yes.... I hear you. I am still building up and a lot of times also managing with 3 kids is quite a challenge.

Smiles, Anke ;)

ArtPropelled said...

Well said and a most enjoyable post, comments and all. I hate the business side of art and wish it would all happen without me. Lovely painting!