The Delusional Freedom of an Artist

The only limits artists have is their imagination (right?)

Let’s face it, part of the fun of being an artist/writer/musician is being able to do whatever the hell you want.  After all, if we wanted people telling us what to do, we would have become an accountant or a manager at Taco Bell.

But what if this freedom as an artist really nothing more than an illusion?

I mean of course we have the freedom to paint, write, or record whatever we want; but if our art is too personal, then it becomes meaningless to anyone other than ourself.  The piece is no longer an expression of artistic freedom, but simply an exercise in self-gratification.

But isn’t art all about freedom?

In our society, we seem to have this image of the artist as some counter-cultural rebel.  The artist is seen as this person who lives outside of society and is therefore not subject to it’s restrictive rules.  As artists we are expected to stretch the boundaries, push the envelope, and break the rules.  

The obverse of this freedom is that your work is so meaningless, so fully for yourself alone, and so worthless to the world, that no one except you cares whether you do it well, or ever. ~Annie Dillard

 It is our job to undermine the establishment and “stick it to the man”.  But then again if we’re sticking it to the man. . . who exactly is going to be buying our art?

The irony here, of course, is that it’s “the man” who has usually got the money to buy your art.

So perhaps we need to revise the above statement and say that artists have the freedom to do whatever they want as long as they aren’t expecting to get paid for it.

It’s the mainstream that supports the fringe

If you think about it, it is the millions of  “normal people” who make Lady Gaga a star. In order to be commercially successful (i.e. sell your stuff for actual money) you need to appeal, at least to some degree, to the mainstream.  Not only that, but once we create a public image for ourselves as an artist, we need to maintain that image or risk alienating our audience.

We see this all the time with musicians and authors with the so-called sophomore slump.  Either their newest release is too much like their previous work and it’s seen as the same-old-same-old, or they end up alienating their fans by putting out something that is completely different from what their fans expect. 

An audience is never wrong.  An individual member of it may be an imbecile, but a thousand imbeciles together in dark—that is critical genius. ~Billy Wilder

As cultural consumers, we naturally crave the comfort and familiarity of our favorite artists/authors/musicians and we have this tendency to resist when they attempt to grow and evolve as artists.  Some of you might recall that Bob Dylan got booed off stage the first time he showed up with electric guitars in his band.  In other words, as an audience we want the comfort of getting more of the same, while as artists, we are constantly trying to reinvent ourselves and our work.

It’s of course a no-win situation because if we appear to be catering our work to our audience, we are seen as “selling out”; but if we dare to follow our work where our inspiration takes us, we risk losing our audience completely.  This has happened countless times with artists, authors, and musicians who have strayed too far from their chosen genre and watched as their sales dropped dramatically.

So where do we draw the line?

How do we know when we have crossed that fine line between following where our inspiration leads, and going to that place where no one else cares about? Where exactly do we draw that line between following our personal path and creating what others actually want to read, hear, and see?  When does our Art stop being an act of creation and turn more into an act of production?

If you want to make money writing, write for those people who move their lips when they read ~Don Marquis

In other words, do we really want to do what it takes to become a commercially successful artist?

What if we don’t want to become the next James Patterson, Nora Roberts, or Thomas Kinkade?  What if we don’t want to follow a successful “paint-by-numbers” formula, even if it could potentially mean wealth and fame for us as an artist?

Who exactly are we creating our art for?

Sooner or later, we have to ask ourselves who we are creating our art for?  Are we creating our work in order to sell it, or are we using our art as a tool to develop and evolve as an artist? Is it even possible to do both at the same time?

In the end, what good is perfecting our craft if no one else cares about it?

How many loaves of bread can we buy with our “self-respect” as an artist?

Is there a difference between giving your audience what they want and “selling out”

Finally, is “selling out” better than not selling anything at all?

Tell us what you think . . .


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  1. Amanda says

    I think there can be a happy medium between what the artist is inspired to paint and what the audience likes. In the beginning not selling might not be about the artist’s subjects as much as it is gaining exposure. It takes time to familiarize yourself with the audience.

    • Drew says

      Thanks for stopping by Amanda and sharing your thoughts with us!

      I think you’re right that there has to be a happy medium out there, but I guess the real difficulty is in trying to find that delicate balance between what you want to do and what your audience wants from you.

      Now of course if you’re just starting off, you certainly have more leeway in determining what direction you are heading, but then again, who really knows what they want at that stage of their career?

      It seems that everyone out there is telling us to specialize and find our unique niche, but then eventually we are pigeon-holed into that niche and we become frustrated because we feel trapped.

      Of course this is all just speculation because I certainly haven’t reached that point in my career where anyone cares what I write . . .

  2. says

    How different are we from the rest of the world? Do we have more in common with most people or more thigs different.? I think that being human beings we have a hell of a lot in common with most other human beings. All this to say that being personal in your art does not necessarily mean being incomprehensible to others. There’s a huge pile of things we share with others that can come out in our art without alienating the rest of the world.

    This said your questions are excellent questions, and as with many important questions they should be kept as questions (without answers) , to keep asking frequently.

    • Drew says

      It’s always a pleasure to hear from you Pete! You’re absolutely right that we are far more alike than different and trying to extract ourselves and our personality from our art is not only incredibly stupid, but impossible as well. This discussion reminds me of a quote I posted recently on our Facebook page the other day. . .

      “You connect yourself to the viewer by sharing something that is inside of you that connects with something inside of him. All you have as your guide is that you know what moves you.” ~Steven Brust

      You are right that as human beings we are all intrinsically connected and share these universal emotions and perceptions. We couldn’t escape them if we tried.

      One of the questions that I was trying to examine with this post was — How far down this emotional rabbit hole can we really go, before people decide to stop following us?

      In other words, how far is too far? How weird is too weird? When do we end up painting ourselves and a career into a corner from which we cannot escape?

      Just more questions I know. . . still no answers

  3. Gwylym Owen says

    A compromise must be found

    Is it a sellout for one to pander to a collector or gallery? No it isn’t! It is a sellout to shun the very people who invest/ believe in you. It is a sellout to produce artwork and not try and get the widest possible audience to view it. It is a sellout to not be able to fund the art that you produce or don’t produce due to lack of funds. It is a sellout to give up on ones dreams of spreading a message that the World needs to hear. It is a sellout to not sellout.

    It is not art if the artist doesn’t leave a trace of themselves in the artwork, in these circumstances the work, in my opinion, becomes a lie, a fraud. So, as with all things harmonious, the scales of compromise must be weighed in accordance with the message of the artist and the believer whether they be viewer, collector, gallerist, critique. The question is not how can an artist further their career without selling out, it is, how can one contribute to the enjoyment of investors/ believers in you, in return for believing in you and how can that artist work-in justification of the artists message. A concept within a concept, a subtle hint, a mixing of complimentary messages thus bringing harmony, enjoyment and respect into the interaction between all involved parties. Sell, sell, sell in order to produce, produce, produce. I personally don’t enjoy selling art as it is like selling a part of me, so I would only sell art to people who would like to be friends with me on a personal level, in an ideal World. But this is the real World and the message that my art gives is far more important than my ego. Many people have fast paced lives and don’t have time or feel the need to know about the artist’s life, they sometimes don’t care, they are interested in the aesthetics of a piece of art only, which is fine, in fact any reason to believe in me is fine by me. It allows me to create more art and learn more techniques, to grow as an artist and as a human being. Compromise doesn’t have to be painful, like anything else, it is all subjective.

    • Drew says

      First of all, thank you for a beautifully well-thought out response Gwylym :) There’s a lot here that really made me think about this issue in a new way.

      I think you’re right that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with selling out. I’m not sure exactly where that whole negative ‘selling out’ thing came from, but I suspect it was from either jealous less-successful artists or from those who were too afraid to either create or expose their work to the marketplace.

      Maybe it’s from back in the days when all of us creative folks were essentially hired hands so we never had to “market” our work because it was already bought and paid for by our patrons. Why are we as artists held to this higher standard from every other self-employed business person in the world?

      You nailed it when you said, “It is a sellout to shun the very people who invest/ believe in you. It is a sellout to produce artwork and not try and get the widest possible audience to view it. It is a sellout to not be able to fund the art that you produce or don’t produce due to lack of funds. It is a sellout to give up on ones dreams of spreading a message that the World needs to hear. It is a sellout to not sellout.”

      As you mentioned, if you don’t market and sell your work, you won’t be able to afford to continue producing your art. Sooner or later, the repo man is going to come for your brushes, laptop, or guitar.

      In an ideal world we would love to have people really understand our work and it’s meaning to us, but as you said so beautifully, in the “Real world and the message that my art gives is far more important than my ego. Many people have fast paced lives and don’t have time or feel the need to know about the artist’s life, they sometimes don’t care, they are interested in the aesthetics of a piece of art only, which is fine, in fact any reason to believe in me is fine by me. It allows me to create more art and learn more techniques, to grow as an artist and as a human being.”


  4. Amanda says

    Hi Drew, I like what you are writing. It is helpful information. Helpfulness is a direction I want my art to go in . I want my art ot be helpful in life. Helpful by bringing peace. Helpful by stating truth. Helpful by inspiring. Maybe even helpful in ways that I don’t even know about yet. That is what I feel the inspiration to do. . Since I have a broad scope I think I have less a chance being pigeon holed but I might be wrong . Like if something I paint becomes popular and then I have to just keep repeating it in variations. That sounds good to me though. :) I think once an artist gets popular they can branch out and still make it work .

    • Drew says

      Hi Amanda!

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with us :)

      Your words are those of a beautiful artistic soul. As artists and writers we all strive to bring joy, meaning, and inspiration to our audience. Some do it with words, some with pictures, and some with music. I love the fact that you are still open to many different forms and have the willingness to follow that inspiration where it leads. I hope you always remember this and never let go of your dreams!

  5. says

    There’s a question I got asked by one of my early mentors: What do you want, and what are you willing to do for it? In the art ‘world’, like in any other, much depends on coincidence, luck, connections… I believe the famous-infamous ‘stroke of fate’ has helped as many artists as it has doomed, and I doubt it had a lot to do with ‘personal’ or ‘sellable’. Any audience is a capricious thing, and every artist is also an audience to other artists…

    Some of my artist friends are ‘keeping’ a quality audience no matter what they do. They’re just being on their journey, and their viewers and readers are grateful companions. They can afford it, or they can’t, and a few of them don’t care who cares and live in constant financial ignorance.

    I agree with Peter, your questions are in some sense eternal, with ever changing answers; I keep asking them again and again. But I don’t think it’s about freedom, ultimately. I really think it’s about what you want, and if you have a mission or a message and want it to be heard by as many people as possible and want to make money too, well, then perhaps your (paying) audience is your master. That doesn’t need to mean you’re selling out or give up yourself.

    In my experience, an audience can as well help you finding and reinventing yourself as an artist. And let’s face it, how many artists do actually make a good living with their art only? In the end, I think freedom is a blissful illusion but it’s an important one, even if you’re not doing art for art’s sake.

    • Drew says

      It’s always an honor and pleasure to hear from you! I think that most of us would do well to remember your mentor’s words on a daily basis: “What do you want, and what are you willing to do for it?” I think simply reminding ourselves everyday what we are really working towards and why it matters to us, would keep us focused on our true goals. I believe it was the Buddha who once said, “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think.”

      You’re absolutely right when you say that an “audience is a capricious thing”. Which is why trying to predict or cater to what you think your audience wants is often an exercise in futility. Nobody (except maybe Nicholas Sparks) can accurately predict in advance what is really going to connect with their audience.

      Just like your mentor’s questions above, I think that the questions in this post are simply questions to reflect upon and come back to from time to time. Just like saying “What do you want?” there is no single answer to any of these questions because I think that depends solely on the individual asking them.

      I think you’re right when you say that “freedom is a blissful illusion but it’s an important one.” The best things in life like truth, inspiration, love, and beauty all contain this ephemeral quality that we cannot always capture and define, but we can recognize them when cross our path.

      Thanks again Jonahh for some great stuff as always!

  6. says

    Hi Drew- I enjoyed your post, and the site in general, which I stumbled upon today.

    Others have thoughtfullycommented about “the middle ground-” I think we all know the way is in there somewhere.

    After art school, it took a while for me to break out of evey piece of work being a new experiemnt, and starting to really develop ideas through series.

    I truly believe the compromise between producing consistent work for your customers and not being bored out of your mind is in this process. I have a distinct style- it is still developing along with my skills- but it is recognisable. If I decide to do a series on animals as saints, I may paint 10 paintings in that vein and then want to try something else. But that next series- it will probably be connected- perhaps some sculpted relics with taxidermy parts have been brewing in my brain. When they emerge- my customer base (at this point, my imaginary customer base) will hopefully get a sense of authentic connection to my major themes and still be interested.

    Also- in regard to “selling out:” I think that whole concept is based on the artistic genius archetype that expects creative types to run around in some rarefied haze of madness bleeding out poetry and cutting off their ears and eating cardboard and locusts.

    You know if you have really sold out- you feel dissapointed in yourself. Everything else is just selling, period. No one shames a car salesman for doing his job well. No one needs to shame artists for it either.

    And I agree heartily with the other comments- your audience is your purpose for making art- to connect and communicate. It would be as perilous to base your work only on your own impulses as it is to base yoru work only on the demands of others. Our freedom as artists exists in navigating the infinite shades between these two extremes.

    • Drew says

      Welcome Tara! We are so glad you discovered our little artistic hovel on the web :)

      I was just reading through your magnificent blog “Magical Realism” and something really struck me from your latest post about Creative Energy. It was where you said, “You pour out your creativity, but until you reach out with it somehow, it is just a big puddle of creative goodness on the floor.”

      I think this is exactly what we’re talking about here. . . Art is not just about pulling something out of this “big puddle of creative goodness” and making something with it — You then have to “reach out with it somehow” — You have to put yourself and work out there before it truly becomes real.

      Just as you don’t really become an adult until you are out there in the world living on your own. I believe you don’t really become a true artist until you put your work out there to sell. I think that is the moment where you cross over from being a person who paints/writes/plays music to being an Artist. That to me is the line that separates those who “want” from those who “do”.

      Thanks again Tara, I look forward to hearing more from you!

  7. says

    I think the role of an artist is very important. Artist’s remind the general collective of the parts of themselves that they forget about. Artist’s are here to remind everyone of our humanity.

    • Drew says

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with us Monique!

      I think you’re right that one of the roles of the artist is to remind humanity of those “parts of themselves that they forget about.” To step back and reconnect with those emotions that can get pushed aside in our day-to-day life. Ideas like beauty, spirit, inspiration, and contented joy that are too often overshadowed by our hectic daily schedules. What could possibly be more important?

  8. Amy says

    At a certain point, it no longer becomes a question to a person internally. You either do what you must and create what you must, or you live a lie. Some people are lucky enough or talented enough to have their art discovered, and some are gifted to transcend the medium and pull their vision through it for others to see. Some, just do…and create…because they must or their souls will dry up and whimper…money or crowd of approval or not. I really think it is about reaching a certain stage of your development as a person and a creative soul.

    • Drew says

      I agree that sooner or later you must become who you are or live a lie, but I would also have to think that the number of “lie livers” far outnumber those lucky self-reflective souls who have found their path. I mean have you seen all of the bitter baristas at Starbucks lately?!?

      I think you’re right that some are lucky/talented/persistent enough to be discovered by Jonahh’s “capricious audience”, but the vast majority of us “just do…and create…because they must or their souls will dry up and whimper…money or crowd of approval or not.” We do it simply because that’s who we are. It doesn’t always make sense, which is probably why everyone else thinks we’re crazy!

    • Drew says

      Actually, I like your little green winged avatar because it looks like it just got hit by a flying walnut. Most people don’t know this, but these avatars are actually drawn by automatically accessing your webcam, so you must have been wearing a green shirt that day. . . with some sort of wings 😉

  9. says

    i will respond to this as a post and link it back here.

    this topic is very close to my heart and i believe it is time i finally addressed it.

    many thanks for inspiring and thought provoking questions.



    • Drew says

      It’s always a pleasure to hear from you Annie :)

      I look forward to reading your thoughts on this subject. Please stop back by to let us know when it’s ready and give us a link!

  10. says

    This is an excellent discussion, I love the fact that these questions are raised here. I have strong views about this because I have thought on it for decades and now know what works for me. That is not to say that it would work for everyone – we all have different needs and different driving forces. All I know is that I can finally fully trust my own artistic judgement and – whilst I welcome mentoring and advice from artists whom I respect – I will only paint what I want to paint. For me there is no compromise for the sake of sale-ability. This works for me. When I disassociate my art from any potential market I simply make better art. Yes, art is about reaching out and communicating honestly and creatively with people, but I do that best when I am not concerned about the reception my work may have. When I have been overly concerned about the audience then my work ends up being shallow and forced and derivative. When I trust myself and keep my eye on the goal of becoming a better artist then I give myself the freedom to take risks. And I believe that risk-taking is critical for creative success.
    Well, that’s my two bob’s worth anyway!

    • Drew says

      It’s great to see you here Deb, and thank you again for letting Karin know that we’re here!

      I think you nailed it when you said that because you have thought about these questions for a long time, you know what works for you, but that’s not to say that it would work for everyone.

      I think that’s exactly it.

      The point of asking these kinds of questions is not necessarily to come to some kind of general agreement, but to look inside ourselves for the answer that’s right for us.

      I completely agree with you when you said, “When I disassociate my art from any potential market I simply make better art. Yes, art is about reaching out and communicating honestly and creatively with people, but I do that best when I am not concerned about the reception my work may have.”

      As I’ve said before, trying to please your audience is a fool’s game because there’s simply too many of us to please, and most of us don’t really know what we want/like anyway. Either way, I’m a big believer in just doing what you do and eventually your true audience will find you.

      I’m not sure if I get one or two bob’s worth for that . . . 😉

  11. Gwylym Owen says

    Very interesting discussion. I think you all have great ideas. I am sure that we all have different reasons for making art, so there are many possible answers to these questions. My point was that there are a lot of people usually involved in selling your art and their is a great responsibility that we have in maintaining our reputations throughout our careers. For me, the need to sell comes out of the need to produce. If you don’t sell your work, then at some point you will run out of space to put it all. If you aren’t lucky enough to have an endowment or get by on grants, then the need to sell becomes even more apparent.

    I have wrestled these ideas too. If you are lucky enough that your art is marketable, then it is not an issue. I think the best thing people can do is be honest with themselves, Enjoy life, make yourself and other people happy, draw positives from negatives(Excuse pun) and you won’t disappoint yourself and more importantly people will believe in you and your art.

    I’ll leave you with a quote from Socrates ” This I know – that I know nothing”.

    Brilliant site, discussion and community. Like someone said on another post ” it’s as if all my thoughts were gathered up and put on this website”.

    • Drew says

      Thanks again Gwylym for your kind words :) I also wanted to let you know that your Socrates quote will either be going up on my wall or tattooed on my forehead. . .

      “This I know – that I know nothing” ~Socrates

      Talk soon!

  12. Drew says

    I am extremely proud and humbled at the number of comments to this post. The Skinny Artist community continues to grow into this incredibly passionate group of artists/writers/musicians who continually amaze me everyday with your thoughts and insights into the creative mind. Thank you so much for being a part of it 😀

  13. Gwylym Owen says

    Thanks Drew, I always feel I should shut up when I get some praise, my ego trying to protect its weak fabric from total destruction.

    Oh well here it goes. . . .

    Look at it like this, if there is a gallery that shows your work and it enables you to do what you do. What happens when that gallery changes its direction. A curator is trying to put together a coherent collection that has a general or specific theme. They do this so that they can market it to an audience. They have to work out what target audience they want to pitch it towards. If the target audience shifts its attention to something different than the gallery is showing to them, the gallery will go out of business, if it doesn’t adapt. So they have to shift their focus to where the audiences attention is. If you are one of their artists and you refuse to adapt and your work is totally off theme, then there is a good chance that you will get dropped from that gallery. I think the further you go with your career, the less choices you have. If you want to have the widest possible audiences, then you need stay current and that is decided by the market. If the goal is to be successful, then we can’t ignore that it is a market driven World because the people who back you have to eat as well, they have to return a profit in financial terms as well as in societal terms.

    And of course, I sign off using Drew’s new Fod Tattoo.

    • Drew says

      I think that’s part of the problem with this whole “niche-y” thing. Eventually you’ll find a nice comfortable and accepting audience, but your incentive to grow/expand/explore is lessened because you know that you can always fall back on your “regulars”.

      You’re absolutely right, you do have to continually adapt and expand your repertoire if you want to reach the widest possible audience. It’s not about abandoning your original audience (because they already love you) as much as it is continually building and expanding your audience.

      That’s interesting, I hadn’t thought about it from the gallery/publisher perspective.

      Great stuff, keep in coming!

  14. Drew says

    As I was re-reading the article, and several of your comments, I began to wonder if it makes a difference whether you’re a author/musician versus a visual artist. The reason I ask is that it seems that authors and musicians naturally need to cater more towards mass-consumption whereas a visual artist may only have to please one person in order to make a sale.

    In other words, nobody’s going to publish a book or CD if it’s only likely to appeal to one or two people, but a visual artist/photographer really only needs one person to approve of a particular piece of work in order to make the sale.

    Does this make any sense, or am I completely off base here?

    Do authors and musicians have to be more concerned with changing popular taste and trends, or do you think this need to adapt applies equally to all types of creative folks?

  15. says

    Terrific piece, Drew. :)

    This sort of seems like an inverted line of questioning to me. Another initial line of inquiry might be: what is it we’d like to create? With no clarity about this (love it or hate it, this is the reason people are often advised to refine pitches until they are comprehensible to a five year-old), we can’t begin to formulate ideas about whom we’d like to serve with our creations, it’s problematic as a proposition. In my experience, if we can’t answer this question, there is likely more work to be done somewhere, something we haven’t quite put our finger on just yet (and that’s ok. Finding the answer is a doable thing).

    One thing all of the people you’ve mentioned had in common, all the way from Dylan to Gaga, is that they did know *exactly* what they wanted to create. It’s worth noting that Dylan went on to achieve more notoriety, fame, wealth, and I’d be willing to wager, creative satisfaction after he pulled that stunt than he likely ever would have if he’d shackled himself to the idea of being a protest folkie. This is something a lot of people missed about what he was doing at the time, though–his work was done in service to his ideas and ideals first and foremost, not the form of music he expressed them through, and not one group of people, who incidentally, had latched themselves onto him and not vice versa. It’s worth noting as well that these are all instances of artists putting their best out there and meeting their audiences in the middle as they acted on their own behalf, mostly because they were passionate about what they were doing (which more often than not leads to choices that support it).

    Fame is fleeting, and I’m not recommending willful disregard for people who love what we do. But when we are actively growing ourselves, actively evolving, and when we *include* our audiences in this conversation through our work and our presence in the world, we embolden them to do the same, right along with us (see:, and any others in an endless number that have created and developed their audiences to the point that they no longer require the majors’/publishers’/galleries’ support). In this way, we actually create trends, we ourselves create the market and in my experience, that’s universal (take a peek at Apple Inc. turning the entire entertainment industry on its head in a scant few years for that one. Prior to that, there was no audience for micropayment based services, a new business model was suddenly solidified), and though it may appear to the contrary, never transpires accidentally.

    Surely, there are many things to consider and many choices to be made in a creative life, but all that matters before we begin is whatever it is we’d actually like to create, in whatever walk of life. That’s a solid foundation we can trust, one way or another, all the way to the bank if we are open to the adventure of it. :)

    • Drew says

      Thanks Jamie for stopping by and joining in on the conversation! :)

      The more I think about this issue, the more I realize that you’re right and it’s really about the questions that we are asking ourselves. Like when you ask, “What is it we’d like to create?” or Jonahh’s question “What do you want, and what are you willing to do for it?”

      In the end it comes down to knowing exactly “what” you want and “why” you want it. It’s about knowing yourself as an artist and a human being and not trying to become what your audience wants you to become.

      I agree with you that one of the things that really elevates artists like Dylan, is their willingness to “fight” their audience when it prevents them from evolving as an artists. In retrospect, it’s fairly easy to see that whatever “protest folkie” audience members he might have driven away, were replaced by an entirely new “folk rock” audience.

      Of course he had no way of knowing this at the time and I’m sure if he would have sat there and weighed the pros and cons of adding electric guitars to his band and the effect it might have on his audience, he probably wouldn’t have done it — but he did it anyway because he knew that was the direction he was heading as an artist.

      In the end, I think you’re right that “fame is fleeting” and trying to chase it is a losing battle. If you keep asking yourself these tough questions throughout your career, however, and are willing to follow that path where it leads, I do believe your audience will eventually find you.

      Great stuff as always Jamie! :)

  16. says

    I believe creative tension between artist and viewer are necessary for fruitful engagement. When we have a conversation with the deepest part of ourselves in our work we can’t help but connect with others. However, will they want these pieces on their walls? In their galleries? That is a harder question to answer. I think the solution is someplace between a both/and approach. We need to both paint the work we are inspired to paint and make a living.

    I say create the pieces that we “must!” Then worry about marketing, selling and finding a home for our work. Find your market rather than create art that will sell.

    • Drew says

      Hi Terrill! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with us :)

      I love this “conversation with the deepest part of ourself” aspect. It is as if my subconscious is somehow communicating to your subconscious through a particular piece of art/writing/music.

      It’s like a sacred symbolic totem that unlocks something inside it’s viewer. Perhaps whether or not they like it or want it hanging on their walls is an indication if they are ready to hear/accept it’s message.

      Or maybe I just need to lay off the coffee and realize that sometimes a painting is just a painting (thank you Dr. Freud)

      Whatever it is, you’re exactly right when you say that we need to “create the pieces we ‘must’!” and then worry about finding its proper audience.

    • Drew says

      Thanks Gwylym for sharing the link. You gotta love Dylan’s cryptic non-answers to the reporters’ questions when they try to have him explain his work. He turns it around to them and has them answer their own questions 😉

  17. says

    Great article!

    I think part of the solution is finding a genre that you like. You can expand into others, but you may want to rethink your brand. This happens all the time in visual art. You may start out in the horror genre, then later find you want to do children’s books. It might be disconcerting to see them on the same site and even Google might betray you. If a children’s book publisher Googles your name and gets all your horror art, they may not want to work with you. Solution? Creating a pen name for each type of genre you want to work in works well for most artists (except musicians for some reason… not sure why that is).

    In the visual art realm at least, if you like a certain genre, you are bound to have a better time producing work than if you just try to cater to everyone. In my situation, I love fantasy art and even though I can’t just come up with my own pieces and sell millions of prints of each one of my artworks, I enjoy creating fantasy themed pieces for companies and individuals anyway. It’s win win, really.

    One last note- each piece you produce doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, but you can find something interesting in any project you are working on. For visual art, maybe you want to do something interesting with the lighting, focus on anatomy or perspective- there’s a lot you can do within each piece to make it interesting and challenging for yourself without completely changing what the clientele wants and likes about your art.

    • Drew says

      Hi Char, it’s great to see you here 😀

      I really like the idea of creating a pen name for different genres. Writers have been doing this forever and it not only gives you the freedom to try out a different genre, but it also allows you to interact with an entirely new audience. The only downside I can see to creating multiple “personalities” as an artist, is that you are then required to network and interact with several different groups in order to continue building your audience.

      There also appears to be a continuing thread throughout these comments about the advantages of creating a series and then doing variations on a particular theme. I think that this would be helpful to virtually any type of creative artist because a series not only creates continuity throughout a set of work, but it also creates enough variety to help keep things interesting as the artist.

      Great stuff Char!

    • Drew says

      Thanks Deb for your kind words :) One of the highest compliments that I could possibly get on this site is that its content got our creative community “talking and thinking”. So thank you for taking the time to share that!

  18. Amanda says

    I stumbled across this blog.. I am by nature a painter. I have to say though that since school when I knew thats all I wanted to be, I have consistently tried every other path than this, with the fear that it would be too hard a path and as a tutor warned me no matter how could you are you’re likely to end up washing dishes. The irony being that it has proven a lot harder and more problematic for me to ignore being what I am, a painter. The minute I started painting it all came naturally from the heart and a gallery wanted my work – but it has still not been sold. So again I tried to pursue another path – graphic design – to find some kind of compromise. Now of course I miss painting again and feel I am wasting my time when I’m not doing it and worry that I wont be left with any time to do painting and I’ll end up a mediocre graphic designer, when perhaps I could crack it as a painter and follow my true vocation. The best work I think has to come from the heart, people recognise emotion in painting, and this i think can be conveyed in a commercial way.

    • Drew says

      Hi Amanda!

      I think most of us have taken unexpected detours along our creative path, however, I also think that life has a way of eventually circling us back to our art.

      Sometimes I think that I’m on the ADHD life plan, where I see some shiny object and get distracted for awhile, but sooner or later some serendipitous opportunity always seems to present itself and I find myself returning to my writing.

      It sounds like you are still finding your own path (as most of us are) which means that there will always be detours like this along the way and there will always be jobs that you may have to do in order to live the life you imagined.

      The important thing to remember is to always find a way to live your art in some small way. Keep in touch with that creative spark within you and try to feed it something new every single day. Eventually it will become strong enough to support you on it’s own. . .

      Awesome avatar by the way, kind of like Godzilla meets a Cylon!

  19. John says

    Just found your site and your posting here. I think you’re right. If people want to choose to be artists (I’m talking particularly visual artists here) as their CAREER, they cannot just do things that nobody cares, understands or likes. But at the same time, a good artist is supposed to create works that can COMMUNICATING with people, so I don’t think it is a question whether an artist should purposely trying to create something that cater to the taste of the art market (although of course there are many known artists arguably are doing that), cause I don’t think you can actually make “art” that way. That’s why one shouldn’t choose to be an artist if s/he wants to have a comfortable, secure or “easy” life. Despite all that, there are so many other factors like what kind of connection an artist has, how much the artist is willing to go out there to “sell” oneself etc that can determine whether one can be successful as a working artist. So really many times, arguably sadly; it’s really not just about how great your works are or how talented you are.

    I’ve to stress that there are so many “famous” artists out there (I won’t name names), are creating absoulutely shits but they are commercially successful because they understood how to play the “game” in this “art world”

    So again, it’s a dilema that many artists are struggling with. And it is really depending on what the artist is aiming, how much luck one has, and yes how much one is willing to “sell” yourself.

    • Drew says

      Thanks for stopping by John and sharing your thoughts with us. You’re absolutely right when you say that there are far easier ways of making a living than being a working artist. In fact, when you think about all of the issues that most of us have to deal with on a regular basis, it’s a bit surprising that we continue to do it at all.

      We want to be commercially successful and not have to worry about our financial security. We want to be able to create whatever inspires us and not have to worry about the fickle preferences of our audience. We want to be able to sell our work without having to feel like we are somehow selling out. Despite all of this, I think very few of us would ever willingly give it up–because in the end we don’t create art for our audience, it is always for ourselves.

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