Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dispelling the Myth of the Flaky Artist

Recently a friend told me I need to "make peace" with the art scene in Asheville. He's right, but ultimately I need to make peace with my role as an artist in the U.S. This is a country that gives virtually no funding to arts education, public art, and art institutions. To declare oneself an "artist" is often met with a smile and the question "Okay, but what do you really do to support yourself?" On top of that there is the whole idea that artists are flaky, wishy-washy, dreamers riddled with angst and self-consciousness.
Actually to make a living as an artist requires some serious business savvy and marketing know-how. The successful artists I know are some of the most driven and focused people I've met. There is no such thing as an unanswered phone call or missed appointment when your vying for an up and coming NYC gallery's attention. Keeping slides, websites and mailing lists updated is serious work. Not to mention, maintaining records of business transactions, figuring out pricing issues..the list goes on and on. In today's world, the career artist wears many hats.
I think the artist's success hinges upon these two simple things: The quality and integrity of her work versus her marketing savvy. I would say for myself I probably spend about one third of my time actually painting, the rest is used for networking and research.
I used to factor Lady Luck into the success equation, but these days I'm not so sure. Yes, it would have been lucky for me to have been the daughter of Julian Schnabel , but what a girl does with that role is her own doing. Certainly, a daughter of a famous artist has a lot going for her right out of the starting gate. And maybe it's "lucky" to discover that one possesses a creative skill to make money on, but there are a lot of talented people in the world. What they do with it is their own making.
In my 6 years as a professional artist, I have come to learn that the "lucky" things that have happened to me were generally the result of some relationship or act that I proactively invited into my life a few steps back.
An example of this: About a year ago and a half ago found myself at a Hanukkah party, and there I was hanging out with Jonathan LeVine , an esteemed NYC gallerist. I got his card. I wrote to him. He sent me a lengthy email back suggesting galleries for me to pursue. One could say that the luck of this scenario was that Jonathan Levine was at the same party as I was. However, I was at that party because an old friend invited me to it, and I was in NYC because I have found it essential to maintain my connection with that city and my friends there. I could make the argument that it was a long time in the making that I crossed paths with Mr. LeVine, and maybe I should have crossed paths with him even sooner.
I'm not saying that fate and luck aren't real, but I do think it's empowering to realize you actually have a lot of control over certain elements in your life and the paths which you embark upon. When we all realize this, that whole flaky artist thing will become a thing of the past. It's just a matter of knowing what you want. This is sometimes the hardest part.

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