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A New Paradigm: the Creative Entrepreneur

Monday, 18. April 2016 1:40

In his article The Death of the Artist and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur” in The Atlantic, William Deresiewicz makes a statement that echoes one in the last post: “Everybody understands by now that nobody can count on a job.” That established, he goes on to say that the new paradigm for those in the arts is the “creative entrepreneur.”

Deresiewicz  details the previous paradigms for art:

  1. Artisans who were master makers and who were financed by patrons. This paradigm existed in one form or another until the late 18th/early 19th
  2. The solitary genius became the paradigm for artists during the Romantic period. This view of the artist also brought us “Art for art’s sake” and Gesamtkunstwerk. The artist was a cultural aristocrat, a rock star of the period, not bound by rules that governed other mortals. It’s an idea that that still has some currency.
  3. The artist as professional appeared in the mid-20th By that time, art had become something of a religion and “in America especially, art, like all religions as they age, became institutionalized.” This, of course, led to museums, opera, ballet, and theatre companies, arts councils, funding bodies, educational programs. Artists acquired the trappings of professionalism: professional degrees, professional positions (usually in higher education), awards, fellowships, credentials.

Deresiewicz says something that artists are loathe to admit: the paradigm of the artist is based on the market of the period. And the market has changed considerably since the middle of the 20th century. In the early 21st century the most successful marketing is done by entrepreneurs using the internet and the cell phone—bypassing 20th century institutions and marketing directly to consumers. It has happened with commodity merchandise, music, video, gaming, and now art. “Audience” has become “customer base. “

There are a number of implications to this model which Deresiewicz points out. I find that I cannot agree with all of his conclusions, particularly the most dismal, but I appreciate his bringing them to our attention (and will discuss them in the next post).

The real problem is the artist’s application of this information. If he/she is no longer institutionalized and can no longer can count on a job, entrepreneurship is the best available alternative. Each artist must do what Hazel Dooney was advocating several years ago: bypass gatekeeping institutions and market directly to his/her audience.

The push toward entrepreneurship demands that artist know something about marketing, thus the “proliferation of dual M.B.A./M.F.A programs.” Coupled with the idea that we, in our careers, will have five or six jobs perhaps in multiple fields, artistic entrepreneurship strongly suggests that the artist must be literate in multiple platforms. And this is just within the art world. (The always-suspect “day job” is not considered here.)

This sort of thing is already going on, of course. An Equity actor I know, in addition to acting, is an author and a poet, and teaches—mostly workshops, some connected with cultural arts organizations and some self-booked. He also does anime voice acting and has done set construction from time to time. He works primarily in the arts, but in very different aspects of the arts.

Likewise, photographers often expand their practices to include not only weddings, but also senior photography, infant photography, portraits, boudoir, industrial, headshots, even pet portraiture, all of which used to be strict specializations.

Artists of all stripes are marketing and selling on the internet, either through their own web sites of through one of the hundreds of arts market websites such as Etsy, RedBubble, and FineArtsAmerica.

While I’m not sure that I like the term “creative entrepreneur,” the idea does seem to be appropriate to the world in which we live. We don’t have to like it, but we do have to deal with it. And in dealing with it, we can either fight the paradigm or embrace it. I rather suspect that our survival as artists depends on our embracing it. Just how we interact with this new way of doing things, however, can be just as individual as our art.

 

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Buddha Got It Wrong

Sunday, 24. August 2014 23:18

Well, he got it wrong with regard to creating art, at least in my estimation. Two of the basic tenants of Buddhism are non-attachment and the middle way. Non-attachment is normally presented as essentially “holding the world at arms length slightly and looking askance at it.” This applies to pleasures as well as pain. The middle way is “a balanced approach to life and the regulation of one’s impulses and behavior” between “self-denial and self-indulgence.”

The last post suggested that passion is a requisite for making art. If that is true, then the artist could not be detached or distant. Rather, the artist must be invested in the act of creation or the results, even though technically perfect, are likely to be mediocre or worse.

For example, not long ago at notes for a play rehearsal in a production utilizing very young actors, I heard myself tell one of those young actors that he needed to “own” the cross that he took in a particular scene (We had already had the motivated/unmotivated cross discussion). His mental and emotional detachment from his movement made his work unbelievable. Actors must own, or at least appear to own, not only their movement, but their words and gestures as well.

And “own it” is what other artists must do too. No matter what our medium, we must invest ourselves in our art. We must connect with it and nurture it and love it and hate it and expend our passion on it. Otherwise, it is likely to be bland or mechanical and certainly less than it could be

So while the notion of non-attachment may be an excellent principle to live by and while it is very, very useful for an artist when the creative process is over—in the critique, showing, and selling stages, during the process of creation, it is a distinct liability. It keeps us from engaging with, investing in, and owning our work.

The middle way, avoiding extremes, is also a very useful way to approach life. And it is also useful after the creative process has come to an end. The middle way coupled with non-attachment can be a great help to us in withstanding criticism and rejection, which, unfortunately, seem to come with life as an artist.

However, while the artist embraces creativity and the artistic process, he/she may be lead into behaviors that are anything but balanced. Obsession or creative frenzy is necessary—at least for some artists. Many have commented on it. George Sand said, “The trade of authorship is a violent, and indestructible obsession.” Barbara Streisand said, “I’ve been called many names like perfectionist, difficult and obsessive. I think it takes obsession for any artist to be good.” Obsession is the opposite of the middle way; rather it is an extreme single-minded self-immersion in the process of creation. Hazel Dooney has summarized, “Art can never be part of a balanced life. It only works if it’s a complete obsession.

So Buddha got it wrong? Certainly not with regard to life, but it does seem to be so with regard to creating art. Perhaps I do not fully understand the concepts of the middle way and non-attachment, or maybe I don’t fully understand creating art. But the more I think about it, the more difficulty I have in reconciling these notions with the intense attachment and extreme focus that it takes to make good art. Your thoughts?

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Give It Away

Monday, 5. May 2014 0:31

Almost all artists come to the point in their artistic development when they feel that they should no longer work for free. Yes, it’s all about the process, but we begin to want a tangible return on our investment of time and materials. But then we have another issue: how to find a paying audience for our work. Since artists seldom have neither the training nor the inclination to be good salespersons, it becomes a problem.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, Austin Kleon in his new book Show Your Work, suggests that solution to getting our work out and ultimately selling it is not only to share it, but to do so freely and tell whoever will listen how we made it. His rationale is that if we can engage potential collectors through the story of how we create what we create and provide examples, there is a higher likelihood of selling it.

Hazel Dooney has said much the same thing. She publishes much of her work on the internet to generate conversation and, instead of copyrighting it, releasing it with a Creative Commons license. She too has written about the idea of giving work away. She will even go so far as to release high-res images of her work and agree to sign them if collectors will print them and send them to her (paying postage both ways, of course).

At the other end of the spectrum is an artist I know who will not even store his images on a cloud drive for fear that someone will steal them. He would not dream of establishing a web site showing his work. Because he has no media presence, very few people have ever heard of him, and, although his work is quite good, he sells very little—no one knows that he exists.

If we are concerned about the image itself or the idea, perhaps we don’t want to give it away. If, however, what we sell are original pieces, then sharing a copy may not be such a bad idea, particularly a low-res version. How else will potential collectors decide whether they want this or that piece? It’s not like anyone will be able to take that low-res internet image, blow it up to display size, and print it at a level of quality that could compete with our originals. And there are other advantages to sharing our work. We can create a tribe, a following, a group of people who like what we do an who are anxious to buy our next book, painting, original signed photograph, sculpture, those who will want to see our next movie or play or listen to our latest piece of music. That can’t happen unless they have a way to know about it in the first place.

And then there is this thing about sharing working procedures. Even the most secretive of us can have our work reverse-engineered. Once an idea escapes into the universe, anyone can give it a try. If we withhold process and procedure, it won’t stop those who want to copy; it will just slow them down a little. Why not explain what we’ve done and encourage others to try it out as well? Even using the same methodology, no one will be able to reproduce our work—simply because it’s our work and sprang from our brains. Even using our techniques, others will have to create what springs from their own brains. And knowing our secrets does not necessarily make the implementation easy. Some techniques, as we know, require years of practice before they can be mastered.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about sharing our work is overcoming our fear that our work will be “out there” and out of our control. There are ways that we can protect ourselves, but that is a topic for another time. The potential upside far outweighs the downside. Sure, someone might turn our art into a screensaver, but whoever then sees it may want an original for the living room or to give to a friend, and he/she would never have known about our art unless we had given a little of it away.

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Stuck? Adopt a New Model

Monday, 7. October 2013 0:30

Among the many recent articles about John Boehner was one saying that Speaker Boehner’s problem was that he was using an old model that really didn’t work anymore.  This, of course, caused me to think about all those we shake our heads over because they too are using outdated models: the teachers who don’t understand why the techniques they used 10 years ago don’t work anymore, or the business man who is perplexed because his 20-year-old methodology doesn’t attract customers the way they used to.

And this, in turn, got me thinking about artists who are doing exactly the same thing: relying on old models when what we need are new ones—if we really want to succeed. This is not a suggestion to chase the most recent fad, but to evaluate and embrace what is new, fresh, exhibits potential, and will allow us to better speak to our audience.

Artists who depend on ticket sales do this. A friend who is a stage director was just this week lamenting the fact that there are number of good shows that can no longer be successfully produced—except as period pieces—because the plot hinges on a device that is no longer recognizable to the audience or because the subject matter no longer speaks to us. This same idea is also reflected in the gross structure of plays: nobody writes five-act plays anymore because audiences reject them—for a variety of reasons, and those that exist usually have to be modified to appeal to today’s theatre-goer. So theatre people who want to keep producing are forced to let go of the old and find new models.

Some artists don’t want to give up the old, so they attempt to combine it with and the new. For example, contemporary productions of Shakespeare are often set in a time and place different from those suggested in the script. Or they are given a twist to make them more appealing to today’s audience. The same thing happens with the holiday classic, The Nutcracker. And the same is true of visual arts: a photographer may use an obsolete technique to comment on an aspect of modern society, or a painter may use an antiquated methodology as part of his/her statement.

Several artists, Hazel Dooney and Marie Kazala among them, tell us to sidestep the old model for distributing art work; they advocate selling directly using every electronic and social networking means available. Although slow to learn, the music industry and now perhaps, even the movie industry are realizing that the only way to cling to old models is through the courts, and that perhaps a more productive approach would be to adopt new models for the distribution of the art they represent.

And it’s not just about distribution. Sometimes embracing the new leads to better work. A friend who is a painter recently attended a workshop where she learned not only some new techniques, but also learned of a brand new medium—a new kind of paint that allowed her to do things on paper and canvas that she had never been able to do before. Since she embraced the new material and the model that went with it, the quality of her work has soared.

Some, of course, will argue that the old ways are better. Perhaps, but if they cannot help us connect with our audience, no matter what kind of art we make, then we really are making art only for ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with that unless we want to share our artistic vision with others.

This is hardly a new idea. Each successive artistic movement has been a reaction to what that generation of artists thought was lacking in the previous generation, or was about the development of new ways of presenting what the artist envisioned. Each generation has adopted new models. And now it’s our turn. The world has, in the words of Roland Deschain, “moved on,” and we would do well to move along with it.

 

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Obsessiveness: a Necessity for Artists

Sunday, 2. December 2012 23:13

One of the highlights of the Chinati Foundation‘s full collection tour is the “100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminum” created by minimalist Donald Judd. After having walked through the exhibit, a woman in my tour group, commenting on what she perceived as Judd’s obvious obsessiveness, said, “I come from a long line of obsessive-compulsives, so it just jumps out at me.” She went on to say that at least in this instance the obsessive-compulsive impulse was used for good.

She had a point. It would be exceedingly difficult to create 100 aluminum pieces of that scale without some measure of obsession.  But isn’t obsessiveness a requisite for all artists, not just those concerned with making 100 variations of something?  I have read some writers who say that no, you don’t have to be obsessed to produce art. And I think, who are you kidding? Of course, you do, at least if you want to produce art on any sort of consistent basis.

Assuming that there are no other factors forcing you to do your work, where else are you going to find the stamina, discipline, and courage to produce, particularly if you are not one of the fortunate few whose works are in constant demand?  The impulse is internal and personal. We all know stories of writers who will write on napkins or matchbook covers rather than not write at all, or painters who will paint the walls of their rooms if they run out of canvases. What else but obsessed are such people? And that obsessiveness extends to all the arts.

Obsession may take different forms in different artists, and they may be compelled in a variety of directions. Some, as in the above examples, find they need to make multiple variations of a piece. Some must produce in volume. Some may have to create in great variety. Some may need to work on a given piece slowly and meticulously for an excessively long time. Some demand perfection in their work; others imperfection. Some may hallucinate concepts for months before ever picking up a brush or chisel or pen. Obsessive behaviors are as varied as artists, but make no mistake, these people are obsessed

And that’s a good thing, because (I am convinced) without obsession there would be very little art. If you have the opportunity to observe young artists, it is easier than you might think to determine which of them has the best chance of success in his/her chosen art. They are the ones who live, breathe, eat, and sleep their art; they are the ones who concentrate on their art almost to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. Many may have talent, and even ego; what they do may come very naturally to them, and they may really enjoy the work. But no matter how much they love what they do, those without the drive, the compulsion to create are not likely to succeed—at least in making art.

Real artists are not well-rounded individuals; these are people like Hazel Dooney who said, “Art can never be part of a balanced life. It only works if it’s a complete obsession.

For most people, making art isn’t easy; it’s something they must do. They may experiment; they may play; they may change media.  But finally they have to make something that says what they need to say. They can’t not produce art. And without that obsession, no matter what form it takes or how it expresses itself, there would be no art.

Not even artists themselves understand it. They just recognize that they have to create. Well, you know.

 

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Make or Market?

Sunday, 25. November 2012 23:42

“At first I was just looking for a place to show my work—mostly at the insistence of friends. Now it seems that there is a show every other weekend, and I don’t have time to make my art.” This was a complaint that I overheard recently at the Houston ArtCrawl.  And it’s true. If you live in Houston, there is an art show at least every other weekend— if you know where to look. I suspect it is the same for other metropolitan areas as well.

If you are an artist in the Houston area, you not only can find places to show your work, you can find an overabundance of places—so many, in fact, that if you take advantage of all of them, you may find it difficult to find time to actually make your work.  Over the ArtCrawl weekend, I heard this complaint from more than a few artists. Admittedly, a number of these people are students, or have day jobs, but still, the artist with limited time—and who doesn’t have limited time?—is faced with a choice: make or market. Although some claim otherwise, these are two very different activities, both requiring large commitments of time and energy. The artist must make the choice. Some choose to be in shows, but not be present. That’s fine, if there is someone present who can manage your sales for you. But often such remote sales are costly in terms of percentages, sales lost due to the inability of the surrogate to answer questions about the work, or inattention to the sales process.

If you are like most artists I know, you cannot outsource the making of your work. You can certainly get prints made or have others frame your work (I was asked three times during ArtCrawl if I framed my own work.), but you cannot outsource the creative part. You do, in fact, have to make your art. And that takes time, and if you’re making you can’t be showing or selling—at least directly.

This leads artists to often seek gallery representation, which many will tell you is a less than desirable situation in that you have no control over the sales and you will give up a significant percentage of the revenue (often 50%). For some this seems to work well. Others, such as Hazel Dooney and Marie Kazalia, counsel artists to take their sales into their own hands and to move them out of the galleries and onto the internet or utilize some other form of direct selling that cuts out the middle man, and allows the artist to keep all proceeds.

How to make the arts marketing choices that are best for you can be a daunting task. It’s easy to pick one or perhaps two because they are easy and comfortable, but each method has its weaknesses as well as its upside. There are a number of factors that go into making such decisions: what level of success do you want to achieve? How do you want your work represented? Do you want to keep your work within a certain price range? What percentage of the sales price are you comfortable turning over to an agent or gallery? How much time do you want to spend on marketing and sales? How involved do you want to be in dealing with your collectors? How is your work best shown to potential collectors?

These are factors that require thought, and perhaps a bit of experience. The trick is to find the technique or combination of techniques that will maximize you sales effort. But whatever methods you choose, be sure that your decision also maximizes your time for creating your art. If you don’t make it, you can’t market it.

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Truth: A Necessity for Good Art

Sunday, 7. October 2012 23:40

Not long ago, a friend sent me a link to a YouTube video entitled “Why I Do Theatre,” which is a brief talk by Patsy Rodenburg. It is a must-see for anyone involved in theatre. Actually, it is a must-see for anyone who makes any kind of art. Rodenburg has packed so many ideas into this six and three-quarter minute video that it will likely become a source for several other posts. But her main point is that she does theatre because theatre allows actors (and playwrights) to tell the truth, whether the audience likes it or not, and that is worth doing.

Not only do actors and playwrights get to tell the truth, but so do painters, and poets, and photographers, and dancers, and sculptors, and writers. So do we all in the arts, if we are brave enough to not care whether the audience likes us or not, and actually put the truth as we know it on the paper, into the sculpting medium, on the stage, on the dance floor, into the film, on the canvas, into the music.

This seems obvious for photojournalists— at least the good ones—as any display of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs will attest. This is also true of their counterparts who work with words. But what about the rest of us who deal in works of drama, or fiction, or non-realism? How do we present the truth? The answer, of course, is that we wrap it up inside our fiction or whatever it is that we create and present it to our audience and hope that they see it.

This is the case with the actress that Rodenburg discusses who “made a sound” that was bitterly truthful and impactful—in a production of a fictional 2400-year-old tragedy. It does not matter that a play (or any art work) is fictional; it matters that the emotions and feeling and ideas that it contains are truthful and portrayed in a way that communicates that truth.

This idea of presenting the truth inside a fiction has been put forward by all sorts of artists from Stephen King to Pablo Picasso. King said Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” Picasso’s statement is a little more complex: “We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.

Aside from the problem of developing the techniques to persuade others of the truthfulness of our work, there are two problems in putting truth into what we do as artists. One has already been mentioned; it is the knowledge that if we are truthful, some in our audience may not like us. Many artists equate being liked with sales and so will do nearly anything to make that happen. Perhaps they have forgotten why they got into art in the first place. Or, as I have said before, perhaps they just have not found their tribes yet. It seems to me that for the serious artist, being appreciated is far superior to being liked.

The second problem is that in order to put the truth into our work, we have to recognize the truth, and that can be very uncomfortable. Sometimes, we have to recognize the truth in ourselves, and to integrate that into our work we may have to expose ourselves. That can be even more uncomfortable. It can cause a disquiet that many of us would rather do without. But then again, I can’t think of anyone I know who became a serious artist because he/she thought it would be comfortable.

Art does not have to embody the truth, but probably all meaningful art does in one way or another. Some think that truth is one of the things that makes good art good. But incorporating truth in our work may not be the easiest thing we ever do. As Hazel Dooney points out, “Art is not truth. But it is more powerful when it is based on truth, especially the truths we find most discomforting.

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The Downside of Discipline

Monday, 17. September 2012 0:01

We all know that inspiration is fickle; it comes and goes, and appears when you least expect it and deserts you when you most need it. There are a variety of ways that successful artists have developed deal with this situation.

One of the ways to deal with this situation of uncertainty is discipline. Artists as diverse as Elizabeth Gilbert, Khaled Hosseini, Julia Cameron, William Safire, Chuck Close, and Gabriel García Márquez, have all discussed the necessity for discipline as a requisite for success in art. These are not the only ones; web page after web page is devoted to the topic. It’s something I have written about before. Hazel Dooney has said, “It’s when I don’t feel like talking, writing or drawing that I need to most. Waiting for inspiration is actually procrastination.”

So you adopt working in a disciplined manner, and all goes well. Then one day you sit down at the easel, the potter’s wheel, the piano, the computer, the rehearsal table, wherever it is that you work, and nothing comes. You are dry. Ideas, images seem to have deserted you.  And you sit there and sit there and sit there, doing what you are supposed to be doing, and still nothing comes. What do you do then?

One of the things that you cannot do is command fresh ideas and inspiration to appear. This is the downside of discipline; it doesn’t guarantee that you will get what you need. You have allotted the time and the time is not, at the moment, being fruitful. It feels like a waste. It isn’t.

And what you should not do is give in to the temptation to get up and go do something else. That is also procrastination. This is the time to work, and if you choose to do something else, it is certain that you will produce nothing. While exercising discipline cannot guarantee ideas and insight, it can maximize the possibilities. What you produce during this time might not be great—particularly when ideas are not flowing—but it may well lead you somewhere great. Give yourself the time to develop, to experiment, to explore, to create.

And that’s what you can do: use the time that you have set aside for work to work. Perhaps you need to explore in a different direction. Almost all of us have notes on ideas and images that we do not have the time to immediately explore. This is the time for that. Perhaps, you need to try approaching your work in a different way or from a different direction. This is an opportunity to experiment with a directional shift. You might use the time to explore a new medium for your ideas. You might want to use this period for research that will further your work. There are also a number of other ideas to be found in Daniel Grant’s excellent essay called “What Artists Do While Waiting for the Next Inspiration.”

Put those alternatives in the back of your mind and continue to exercise your discipline so next time—and there will be a next time—you will know how to use your work time time to deal with uncertainty of inspiration. Again, to quote Dooney:

The truly creative not only adapt and evolve in response to uncertainty, they relish it. They might be disciplined in their work habits but inspiration is often unruly and unreliable. Attempts to control it, to corral it, make dull art. An ability to collaborate with uncertainty has always been the mark of a great artist.

 

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The Art of Presentation

Sunday, 26. August 2012 23:34

The problem is not the art, but the presentation. “Context Matters,” posted earlier this year, discusses the impact of the environment on how we perceive art. But a series of recent experiences has suggested that the problem might be even more immediate than the room in which the piece is being shown or the temperature of the theatre in which we view the performance.

A very good friend of mine who teaches art at a university has said that the one skill that is lacking from almost every art curriculum is that of presentation. He teaches, among other things, printmaking.  While paper selection is a part of the art work proper, whether to frame or not is a question of presentation. Once that decision is made, the question becomes what frame. Then there is the issue of matting: to mat or not to mat? If so, how wide, what color, what shade of that color, what material, what spacing and proportion?

While the questions may be different, these sorts of decisions are not exclusive to printmakers. It is a problem that is encountered by almost everyone in the arts. What sort of pedestal do you want for that sculpture? What sort of border do you want around the digital art on the web? How can you best display your set or costume designs? And still it is ignored in almost every kind of arts class.

The artist/teacher mentioned above goes to great lengths to incorporate presentational considerations into his courses. In his classes he always brings up the question of how the students will present their work to the world. Others of us do a similar thing in other arts skills classes. But, unfortunately, we are in the minority. And there exist very few courses devoted exclusively to developing presentational skills. For example, many colleges and universities who train actors offer no courses in auditioning, the primary way actors present their abilities to directors. In a quick search, I could find only one that had a course exclusively in auditioning. I’m sure that there are others; I hope that there are others, since auditioning is so fundamental to the profession and requires a completely different set of skills from acting.

There are many approaches to solving the presentation problem, almost all of them trial and error. An acquaintance of mine, a photographer, has decided to print all of his images on canvas wraps, which represents to him a clean, easy way to present his images. Whether this will work for him I don’t know; we will have to wait and see. While it is easier and less worrisome to find one way to present and then forget it, I cannot imagine a single method of presentation working for all images—unless, of course all the images are very similar.

Many experienced artists continue to experiment and explore different methods of presentation. What worked last year, or even last week, may not work today, or for this body of work. The goal, of course, is to present their work in the best light possible, knowing that audience acceptance is what engenders success in the arts. And why wouldn’t you want to take the time and effort to present your work in the way that would make it most appealing?

“The work should be able to stand on its own without worrying about how it’s presented,” is a wonderfully idealistic and somewhat naïve view. The fact is that presentation does matter. Experienced artists take this into account and spend a great deal of time making decisions about the best method of presenting the work that they have created.

So, whether you are a school-trained artist or self-taught, or some combination of those, finding the best methods for presentation of your particular artistic vision, of your particular talents and skills may require a fairly significant investment of time and energy. The results may well be worth it in terms of developing your audience. As Hazel Dooney says, “It’s not enough just to create. Professional artists need to figure out how to show people their work. Without an audience, art is a hobby.

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Why Art Really Matters

Monday, 20. August 2012 0:14

Last week’s post dwelt upon the need for artists to work within a very imperfect system. As I thought about it further, I realized not only that art should matter, but that art does matter, perhaps not the way Hazel Dooney wants it to, or as much as we think it should, but it does matter right now, even in our very imperfect world—in lots of ways.

The arts are good for business. For example, the arts bring consumers to downtown areas. Just google “art helps downtowns” and you can read article after article about how this event or that production boosted downtown businesses. The arts are significant for other businesses as well. The National Governors Association in a 2012 study entitled “New Engines of Growth” has recognized the impact of the arts and culture on economic development and has suggested ways to incorporate the arts, culture, and creative businesses into economic development plans.

Those plans take into account that employers are interested in talented people with creative abilities, particularly for higher-level positions, and creativity is something one learns most easily by being associated with the arts. Moreover, a creative, cultural environment helps attract and retain those people, which opens the door for even more creative employment.

And arts employment is significant. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, as of 2009, 2.1 million people in the United States were artists. By anybody’s standards, that is a lot. You should also be aware that that number includes only actors, announcers, architects, fine artists, art directors, animators, dancers, choreographers, designers, other entertainers, musicians, photographers, producers, directors, writers, authors. The list does not include a number of other occupations which depend upon the arts and artists for survival: agents, gallerists, curators, box-office staff, press agents, publicists, auction-house employees, and technicians, just to name a few.

Another aspect of the business-art partnership is that companies purchase art. “Commercial art,” you say. “That’s not real art.” It is real, and it is art. Just ask the artists who made it.  Yes, there is some factory-manufactured stuff hanging on walls and decorating reception areas, but the more successful and high-end the business, the better the art that they display. And it’s not just prints and knock-offs. Much of it is real, artist-made one-of-a-kind or limited edition art.

And those are just some of the economic reasons why art really matters. There are other reasons as well, just as important as economics. Some would say more important.

Studies link arts instruction with higher IQ scores and higher intelligence in children. Research “shows tight correlations between artistic endeavors and cognitive abilities.” Essentially, “performance or practice of any of the art forms” can “influence cognition, including attention and IQ.” And this finding is confirmed by a number of studies.

Art not only improves cognition in children, but can improve adult brains as well. It can often do this by presenting us with problems in ethics, philosophy, or design to consider.

But perhaps the biggest reason that art really matters is in its ability to enrich our lives by fostering empathy and understanding, helping us see connections, and putting us in touch with ourselves and the rest of the world. As the late Robert Hughes said, “The basic project of art is always to make the world whole and comprehensible, to restore it to us in all its glory and its occasional nastiness, not through argument but through feeling, and then to close the gap between you and everything that is not you, and in this way pass from feeling to meaning.”

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