Perry, Dot; 40 x 40” / 101.6 x 101.6 cm, Acrylic on Canvas, 2019
You are what you are and there’s no denying that, really. I mean you know how people are so hung up on authenticity these days. I think that’s twice as crucial when you’re an artist.
This post was brought on by two things, I think. First, I read somewhere recently that to make a business out of art, i.e. to sell, you have to find out what people like, and then paint that.
That reminded me of what a business coach said, that you have to come from a place of ‘what can I do for people’ rather than ‘what can I do for me’ when you make a business out of something.
The second thing was when this good friend of mine (who is also an artist), asked me whether I’ve ever thought about trying different styles, i.e. non-representational (what a lot of people refer to as ‘abstract’).
That reminded me of when someone had once asked me to take sculpture classes, and then exhibit what I made in class.
In any case, I told my friend, non-rep and sculpture just aren’t my thing—I said I didn’t feel right about taking a class once (although I did have to endure four semesters of Materials, lol) and then exhibiting what I’d made there like I was really a sculptor, you know what I mean?
This is a rather personal thing for me…
Horsefest Reveller, 30 x 42.75" / 76.2 x 108.585 cm, Acrylic and Oil Pastel on Paper, 2017
…like this is (only) what I think and feel about this, and I’m no expert or anything, right? So you may not agree with me but I hope you’ll hear me out anyway. ^_^;
See, for me, it’s essential for artists to be true to themselves when they create. I don’t know if this is an entirely separate thing, but for me you have to be able to see the artist in the work—and I think that only happens when you’re true to yourself.
I think this might have something to do with the fear of being a sell-out? Like, you’ll only make something or do something purely or solely because it’ll sell.
I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before somewhere, but I’m not going to judge the artists that do this because we all need to make a living especially if we have people to feed (and clothe and put through school). Heck, Amorsolo painted for ads and Dali made the Chupa Chups logo, right? And I’d be lying if I said I’ve never worked on certain projects I’d gotten paid for, too.
Now I don’t mean to say Fernando and Salvador did those things purely for the money or that they weren’t being true to themselves when they did those things. Nor am I saying that you can’t get paid for work ‘where you were being true to yourself’, because you should be.
I guess what I’m really trying to say is, don’t try to be someone you’re not, artistically. Like if the reason you’re trying something different is because you’re trying to be accepted or fit into a certain category or group of artists (such as the group that sells? Lol), maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.
Like, say for instance you’re into anime or superflat (I’m pretty sure I’ve written about this before), like that classmate of mine back in art school who was? He struggled with classical oil painting, because that wasn’t him, that wasn’t who he was. Well, now he’s a huge success working for one of the biggest anime production studios—because he stayed true to himself.
Okay, here’s what I’m not saying.
Amy (Voodoo Lily / Amorphophallus dactylifer), Detail, 9 x 12" / 22.86 x 30.48 cm, Watercolour on Paper, 2021
I’m not saying that the business coach I mentioned was wrong (in fact I still watch her videos and stuff ^_^ ). Coming from a place of ‘what can I do for people’ rather than ‘what can I do for me’ when you make something a business is 200% correct. My Bruce Wayne persona as a copywriter totally gets that.
But see for me, artists would do better to focus on staying true to themselves, then figuring out how what they’re doing can help people, rather than changing what you’re doing to suit people and what they like.
I think what that business coach may have missed is the fact that marketing for art isn’t exactly like marketing for other things—at least, for me, anyway.
I know I’m not alone in thinking this because that’s just what the guy in charge at the art classes I took last year said—and I’m inclined to agree. To paraphrase Jerry Mulligan, ‘We’re not manufacturing paper cups.’ ^__^
Now again, I’m not saying that super productive artists (you know, those who can finish like a whole lot of stuff in no time flat) are ‘paper cup factories’. I mean, don’t I refer to my own practice as a painting factory sometimes?
I’m just saying there’s a, dimension to the production of art that sets it apart from, well, paper cups. It’s easy, of course to regard art pieces in any form as commodities, which I reckon is just what happens in the, you know, ‘art world’ or ‘industry’. But I hope you’ll understand if I can’t quite look at selling a painting or a sculpture the same as selling most anything else.
I’m also not saying that you should be a Johnny One Note.
Selfish!, Detail, 17.5 x 21.5" / 44.45 x 54.61 cm, Acrylic on Paper, 2014
Staying true to yourself, for me, also doesn’t mean limiting your repertoire. For me, it’s good to explore and find ways in which you might be able to work in different genres, let’s say, or create new and different things that are still true to you.
An example that comes to mind is like when I do religious paintings or illustrations. I paint monsters, right? So religious themes aren’t something I normally do, so, offhand one might say there might be a disconnect there, somewhere.
But I like to think I’m able to work around, or work with this, like for group exhibits, where you have to follow a theme. What I do is I try to find something within or related to ‘what I really do’ that matches the theme. And I think it’s worked out pretty well for me, like I don’t feel like I’ve sold out or anything, and I think what I’ve made for those still fits into my body of work as a whole.
Be true to yourself—your whole self.
Crossberry Shake, 12 x 12" / 30.48 x 30.48 cm, Watercolour on Paper, ca 2009
I don’t think anybody is just one or two-dimensional, really: people have many different sides to themselves, and if you’re an artist, I think it’s okay, necessary, even—to be true to all those sides.
I was recently advised, for instance, by another artist (who meant well, I’m sure) to choose acrylic or oil over watercolour, and large canvases over smaller works on paper. (The artist says it’s because otherwise, people will ‘think I’m just a hobbyist’—not that there’s anything wrong with that, I might add.) The artist also said I had to choose between my ‘serious work’ and ‘illustration’.
In any case, we know what to do with advice (particularly when it’s unsolicited). And while I am grateful (really) that this artist took the time to visit my website (which, most embarrassingly, was mid-revamp at the time) and advise me at all, I’m compelled to say I don’t agree with this advice.
You see, everything I make, whether I do it with a brush or a knife, whether they’re ‘blobs’ or ‘potatoes’ or ‘a bit more serious’... is me. And I can’t, deny the ‘bits’ of me that generate these things, and all those bits are parts of a single whole, which is me. To deny even one bit of me in that sense would make me feel incomplete. Something would be missing.
And if you wanted to put it in a ‘business sense’—that’s like McDonald’s serving up just burgers without fries or soda, or Unilever selling just shampoo and not soap. Nobody blames Nike for selling more than just shoes, or Apple for selling other things than computers.
To bring it back to our original context, Picasso did collage as well as painting, Matisse did paper cut-outs on top of his canvases, Michelangelo did sculpture as well as the Sistine Chapel ceiling—and wrote poetry, too. (Oh, and don’t let’s get started on his buddy Leonardo. ^o^;)
So, no—I don’t think I have to ‘choose’ anything. It’s my choice to stay true to me as a whole.
Jillamoth, 9 x 12" / 22.86 x 30.48 cm, Watercolour on Paper, 2008
Now that I’ve entered a new phase in my practice I’m going to try to find my niche, or my own little spot in the art market. One of things I’ve come to realise over my ‘years of practise’ (as Mr Bueller might put it, lol) is that there’s room for everybody—it’s not like a podium where’s there only room for a few winners.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned for sure is that my niche, my spot? Has to be jill-shaped—whether I find it that way or I shape it for myself. ^_^
In any event, I’m afraid I can’t shape myself any other way, anyway. ^_^; Call it the old dog, new tricks thing or what you will, but I really do think (or hope, at least) that my work can only get better because of it.
If you’re struggling to find your own niche and think it might help to talk it over with someone, try sharing your thoughts with me.
* Interested in any of the pieces in this post?
Drop me a line to let me know
and I'll let you know if it's still available,
or how soon I can make something similar just for you.