Does Money Change Art?

This topic is another that has come out of a Creative Coffee session with Jamie Ridler & friends. Speaking of coffee, this is a longish post, so maybe you should get a cup… anyhoo, this post grew out of a discussion about creating art for art’s sake – something I’ve never really been able to do and barely have a grasp on understanding the concept.

I mean, I have been a professional artist my whole life, so whenever my thoughts would turn to making art for “fun” I would think “What’s the point in that?”  Yet….part of me yearned to understand it, to DO it.  But, because I spend most of my days creating art on demand for clients or dreaming up ideas for art or products to pitch to clients, the last thing I think about in my down time is, well, making art.

Does that mean I don’t enjoy making art?  No, not at all.  I love being an artist and wake up thankful every single day that I have the talent (and business brain too) to make a good living at it.  My favorite days are those spent in my right brain, getting lost in the process, whether I am sketching ideas, creating patterns on the computer or slinging paint in the studio.  I love it all.  But.  It is different than creating art for art’s sake.  My mind is constantly thinking about salability, are the colors appealing, who should I pitch this to (if I am not specifically designing for somebody), is this on trend?  These thoughts do direct the work to a degree.  They have to.

So several years ago, I decided I really, really needed to get out of this cycle of creation-on-demand.  My original thought was that I had to freshen up my creative well, TRY to create for the sake of creating, not selling.  So I took workshops.  And, after a couple, I even managed to loosen up a little, just create for fun….but it wasn’t long before I was taking what I’d learned, the inspiration I’d gained…and fed it into my commercial work.  ::sigh::  While this in itself really wasn’t a bad thing, I thought, “I am just not capable of creating for fun.”

And then, a few years ago I chose to take a painting workshop that scared the hell out of me.  And it changed everything.  I had never ever thought of myself as a painter.  Paint brushes scared me.  Way too out of control!  Yipes!  And work big?  No,no….not me.  So, creating two 30×30 paintings in one day that I actually love – Just for What They Are— and not to sell – was an amazing creative-life-changing experience for me.  It opened up my head in ways I hadn’t imagined.

I went home, bought an easel, an extravagant amount of paint, a literal shipment of canvas – and I got busy.   I loved every minute of it, not caring if anybody would want them.  But, of course, that could only last so long before I did (care)….I created a collection of paintings with licensing in mind.  And they’ve been very popular and done well.  And sucked the life and joy right out of painting in the process.  

This disheartened me a great deal.  I kind of walked away from painting for licensing…went more abstract…and the joy returned. Yay!   So I just went with it.  In fact, I rented a painting studio a few years ago and my painting process just exploded.  I became more prolific overall in the last few months than I had been in the last several years.  I’ve experimented with styles, colors, subjects, abstracts, you name it.

At first I did get myself a little wound up in the idea that “Oh gosh, now I’ve got rent to pay…I’ve got to sell this stuff, I’ve got to make this into a BUSINESS!”  After a few self-induced stressful months, I took step back and remembered what I really wanted a studio for in the first place – to play, to experiment, to explore, to paint, to create….for me.  I took a deep breath and got back to doing just that.  And what has come out of that has been an revelation for me.

I now consider myself a painter.  I paint as much as I can and only what I want to paint.  Interestingly, I have unintentionally developed a couple series where I realized there was licensing potential.  I showed the paintings to a few clients during the recent Atlanta GiftShow and have gotten a terrific reaction.  More so than I had expected.

So.  Food for thought here in the studio… Yes, creating with selling in mind does greatly influence one’s work…but creating for one’s self brings the heart out.  What are your thoughts on this?