I’d Make More Art IF…
As an artist, I know that I should be making more art. The creative drive within me keeps guilt-tripping me when I don’t spend enough time in the studio. Of course there are excuses that I throw into the mix. In this article, I will attempt to identify my biggest excuses for my failure to make more art as well as what I see as some solutions to these tried-yet not always-true excuses.
I’d make more art IF: Making art weren’t so expensive.
Art supplies cost money. But the good thing about artists is that we are creative (and handy) enough to get around a lot of those costs. While some artists use only the finest materials available, others (myself included) make do with what they can afford. Rather than buying pre-made stretcher frames for painting, I build my own using wood from the hardware store. A few cuts from a miter saw, a little wood glue, staples, and some canvas and I’m all set. Although Vermeer might roll over in his grave, I use house paint instead of gesso. I’m sure it’s not officially as great as the real thing, but it serves my purposes just fine. Even Jackson Pollock used cheap enamel paints on his works. Although they served his purposes well, some reports claim that the paint is crumbling from some of his large drip-based paintings.
Solution: Consider your materials an investment
I suppose the best way to look at buying art supplies is as an investment. The painting you are making for $40 in supplies (not including framing here) may be able to bring at least ten times that amount when sold. I suppose the “better” supplies last longer, but I’m not at a stage in my career where I feel the need to worry about the condition of my work in one hundred years.
I’d make more art IF: I had a place to store it all.
This is the biggest hang-up that I have preventing me from making the art I truly feel I need to make, both in terms of size and quantity. When young impressionable artists are in college, they are encouraged to make lots of work: lots and lots of BIG work. “The bigger the better” seems to be a common theme. This all makes perfect sense when the artist has the entire art facilities building in which to store their work, but once they move back home, or worse yet an apartment – they find that the larger-than- life work they made to fit massive gallery walls takes up even more space within their new living quarters. I recall wrapping up my senior show back in 2001 and being surprised at how much the work seemed to grow once I tried to cram it back into my car.
Honestly, I think I still have a few pieces tucked away in my parents’ closets and garage that I can’t seem to find room for in my house – over a decade later. If I had unlimited space to store my work, I know that I would make a lot more art. I’d experiment more and make even bigger stuff. I have a particular variation of 3D sculpture made of scrunched and suspended roofing tin that looks more like storm damage left over from a tornado than anything else. I can only make these particular works by commission or request because the only option for storing them would be to tuck them into a barn somewhere.
Only two or three of them would fill the floor space of any room in my house. When I see openings for artist-in-residence venues, I imagine that they might better serve the artist as a store-your-crap-here space. Most artists don’t have a hard time finding a place to do their work – the tricky part is what to do with it when you are done. With the amount of big-box stores that we see upsizing and abandoning their old facilities (littering the landscape with abandoned strip malls) – I always hope that we’ll someday see an aspiring business model of a storehouse where artists can park their finished work.
Solution: Make art that stores more easily
Although “bigger is better” can certainly be the rallying cry of contemporary artists – it doesn’t always have to be that way. If not having storage space for your work is hampering your creativity, consider working more often – but smaller. Not every piece has to be a gigantic, sofa-sized monstrosity. You can often get a lot of ideas out of your head and into the real world (without risking a lot of space) by working on a smaller scale. Instead of work that is four feet by six feet, consider doing studies that are four inches by six inches. Later, you can turn the most successful studies into larger works.
I’d make more art IF: My art sold better
When flipping through art magazines or books, I often find myself overcome with jealousy of the freedom that the featured artist seems to enjoy. It appears to me (although it probably isn’t necessarily so) that every piece the artist has made either has a collector or museum waiting to scoop it up upon its completion. To my amateur mind, this seems to be quite a glamorous proposition. In reality, I’m sure there is nothing worse than the long list of deadlines and demands imposed by some of the world’s most wealthy individuals and institutions. Regardless, you have to admit that having a public demand for your work would certainly increase productivity. While selling every piece you made would give you a good reason for creating artwork, there is no guarantee that financial security would keep your passion of art-making into just another job.
Solution: Get smart about promoting your work
If making money is your primary goal as an artist, you can walk a fine line between making art that is more accessible to broader audiences and “selling out” by only making art that you know will sell.
If your ultimate goal is to, “make what you want and have people pay you for it,” you have to be smart in how you go about it. You have to be prepared to do what it takes to get your art into the hands of those who most want it. Many artists are turning to selling reproductions of their works at much lower price points in order to make their work more affordable and available to a larger audience. While some investment may be required to get the works photographed and printed, you can sell small editions of the prints without having to sacrifice the price point on your original works.
While a lot of artists are starting to make digitally reproduced giclees of their most popular works, I know of at least one artist – Mark Wilhelm, who implements the opposite approach. Mark will begin a work of art digitally by drawing it on his tablet. He’ll post the drawing online to social media and get feedback on it. The ones with the most positive feedback and internet buzz get turned into large scale four-feet square paintings and the rest only take up a few bytes of memory online. This unorthodox approach guarantees that the work will be received positively before the brush even touches the canvas.
I’d make more art IF: I had more time.
Time is absolutely essential to the artist that wants to create great work. Many hours, even days or weeks can go into making a single work of art. I’ll admit, I play the “I don’t have time,” card far too often when it comes to making excuses for my lack of productivity as an artist. I’m an artist that likes to see quick results. I’m a happy man if I can finish a work of art in a single sitting. Sometimes I don’t tackle art projects that may require multiple sessions because I am afraid that I won’t return to the studio with the same fire and passion that led to the initial design.
If I don’t feel like I have enough time to complete an entire work of art, I tend to shrug off smaller blocks of time (say thirty minutes or an hour) that could be spent making solid progress toward my goal. That is a big mistake on my part. Another time-killing mistake that would-be artists tend to make is waiting to be “inspired.” Waiting for inspiration is a waste of time. In my Collage-A-Day project that I’ve started this year, I’ve focused on making a small collage every day. Some of my best results have come from the days where I have simply plowed through the task – going through the motions just to get it finished – while some of my most boring/lackluster collages have been done under the cheerful optimism of what I considered to be the bright rays of inspiration. It doesn’t matter if you are inspired or not, making art (just like working out at the gym) is a matter of putting in the time to get the results you desire.
Solution: Use your time wisely.
Trying to finish an entire work of art in a single sitting is a noble goal, but it can be like trying to eat an elephant in one bite. Instead, use smaller blocks of time to inch yourself closer to completion. Also, try to think of things that you can do outside the studio. You can update your artist’s page or browse the internet for new subject matter from your laptop while watching TV.
So there you have it. You CAN make more art. What are your excuses for not making more art and how do you overcome the temptation to skimp on studio time? I’d love to know. Shoot me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.