There is a safety I feel in my studio. I am sheltered from the world, living in a bubble where only me and my artwork exist. I can create, I don’t have to share if I don’t want to, and I can be present and ever mindful of my moment: painting, drawing, creating.
I reach a point, however, where creating without sharing feels like something is missing. I begin to see I’m holding back from sharing the best part of who I am with others. It can feel scary to share my art. What if they don’t like it? What if I’m not a good judge of my own skill and I’m actually bad at it? What if my painting is rejected by the curators in the competition I enter? What if I try to sell my work and no one buys it?
Sharing Our Art and Fear
Sometimes these fears can hold me back from sharing my work at all. Or, I’ll share the progress of an artwork and never finish it, because to finish the piece could lead to realizing those fears I mention. I feel an ache inside me when I make this choice, that I am holding back from myself, my loved ones and from the good that could come from sharing my art with others.
I don’t recall any professors or teachers in my life addressing this issue of fear and growth. It was understood that to grow and learn we produce, we get feedback and we reiterate. I value the attitude that it is a non issue, that we work anyway because we know doing the work is valuable and important. I still wish I could go back and ask them how they navigate personal doubts about their artwork. Sometimes my fear would tell me I was failing and instead of keeping at my creativity I’d think about giving up.
I often wonder if these fears lead to further confusion about how to value an artwork.
Is an artwork only valuable if we sell it?
If someone wishes to sell their art as a side project or as a full time profession that is a great thing; if someone wishes to play and enjoy their art and not sell it, does that make the work less valuable or important?
Are people saying their work is a hobby without intention of selling because they are scared “no one will buy?”
At face value, people would easily answer of course art is valuable even if we don’t attach a price. The artwork I saw recently on the Berlin Wall is important despite the fact artists were not paid to create iconic images like the one above. And yet, how do we as a society measure success as an artist? One key ingredient is selling our artwork.
This cultural expectation holds many artists back from doing their best work.
If we are not selling, either because we are still learning about marketing or because we choose not to list artwork for purchase, this subtle message permeates decisions people make about art.
I’m visiting loved ones right now. It’s so great to have quality time. When I talk about Artist Strong or my art, they don’t entirely get it because it’s not their world. This is completely fine. But it can often lead to advice that doesn’t help me or my art; it’s another reflection of cultural expectations defining artistic success.
Cultural Notions of Artistic Success
It’s often suggested I need to go “more commercial” with my art. To be honest, I’m not even sure what that means. It is clear to me, however, that the style and topics I’m choosing must not fit the category of “more commercial” since I continue to receive this advice. Loved ones have the best of intentions but remember when you receive unasked for advice, especially about your art, you need to consider two things:
Are they your potential clients and collectors?
Do they have a background or knowledge about the arts?
Remember who knows best about your work, the kind of art you create, and even things like pricing: you.
You create the work, put the time into your art, and continue to create because it’s important to you. Ultimately that is what makes art valuable.
When I had a serious surgery in my 20s I was told I could die on the operating table and if I survived that, I could wake up blind. I wasn’t worried about how much my paintings should cost or even who to share them with, the days before the surgery I painted because I love to paint.
Doing the Work Anyway
We can choose to retreat from the world and situations like unasked for advice, but if we are true creators, we will feel unfulfilled. My must choose to be brave and continue to create despite these fears, then we will remember the true value of art making. It’s by sharing our art, which can help make this world a better place, that we contribute, grow and learn.
There may be times we try to price artwork, or attempt to learn about marketing where we feel overwhelmed or that we are clueless. That’s OKAY. Really, what does it matter if we price it “too high?” or “too low?” What’s the worst thing that can possibly happen? We don’t get sales. Okay. So, reiterate and try again until it works! Life is a one giant experiment and so is how we choose to share our art.
We take selling or sharing our art personally because our creations are personal. When we share our artwork, it stops being just about us the creator. It becomes a tool for dialogue, an opportunity to engage with the viewers who discover your art. Potential business transactions are not a personal rejection, it’s not about you at all, it’s about a person’s connection to your artwork.
By choosing to share our art and talk about the stories behind our art, we create an opportunity for viewers to truly connect with the creation. It is in these moments of personal connection that a potential collector is created. And ultimately, isn’t that what we all want: our art to be loved and appreciated?
Historically every time I get advice from well-meaning loved ones in my life I have retreated from my art. I must not be “good enough” if I’m still getting advice I didn’t ask to have in the first place! I take some time away, wondering “what I’m missing” in my art until I can’t stand not creating and I return to the studio.
Monetizing our art doesn’t add value to our art, because our art is inherently valuable. It does allow for an exchange of value. As artists we give of our most private and personal self when we create, and as it is with any exchange, there is giving and receiving.
This trip to see loved ones is a bit different. I can feel my old fears resurfacing but I also now understand I have a choice.
I went to the RISD store in Providence this past week and bought some beautiful Arches watercolor paper. When I’m on our family cruise, you bet that paper will be out. I choose my art. And me.
“What makes art valuable? Join the dialogue on @ArtistStrong.” (Click to Tweet)
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: How do you feel art is valued in our society? How does that impact your art? I want to know! Talk about it in the comments below.
I don’t think about the monetary value when I create either, I just create. Pricing comes later. Even if I would never sell another work again, I would still create. I’m not going to change my art to be more sellable either. The journey is much more important to me than the financial goal.
I must draw and paint. It is who I am. I have sold my work for years but I would continue to paint even if it never sold. I believe art is a recording of the times. If we didn’t have cave drawings and art throughout the years, we would not know the history we know today. I do think the true creative artist (not the Sunday afternoon painter) has a responsibility to share their work for the future of mankind.
Hi Betty, I think every single person who has a desire to be creative needs to share it with the world. Their creations, even if they are a Sunday afternoon painter, could help someone smile, or lead another artist or person to come up with some big idea that could change the world! I love that you describe it as a “responsibility” of the artist to share their work, especially since so many creatives feel the act of creation is a selfish one. Thank you for reading, and for sharing!
Linda I’m glad to hear you know where you stand. A lot of artists don’t know what they want for themselves and that ambiguity creates confusion and sometimes fear.
I am always thinking about how it feels to create art and sell it. I also feel that I should not be caught up in the latter thoughts and just appreciate the process until I feel that my work can be sold. I think value comes into play when I feel that what I have done is fulfilling and balanced. I have recently been asked to sell my work that is being done in watercolor pencils, so even though the work is not finished there is already an external value. The person wants to get the work tattooed on their body and once again its not finished. I personally feel the work is not satisfying because I am not sure how to complete it, watercolor is new to me; I feel its a compliment that the person wants to buy the work already, but I am not contempt with the work. I feel I have to do the work again and make more of an effort understanding the medium I am working with. Value is a hard one to determine because art is inspirational and we as artist cannot say there is no value because someone else might enjoy the work.
Benn, Value is an important word to consider. There is the value in the act of creation for the artist, then the value the art can bring to the world. Selling is an exchange of value. If we create something of value, why wouldn’t we as artists be open to receiving value in return? Again, though, an artist should really consider what works for them as an individual creative. I appreciate you recognizing value in the act of finishing an artwork to your standards. But as you say, someone else can find value in your work even when you don’t. We are our own worst critics.