Art will never be about the money

Making Money Selling Art: Who Cares?

by Lee Grantham

How do you Like My Hair, by Lee Grantham
Who cares may sound a little harsh, but I have never painted for money. I am an artist. I paint for me and create art based upon my inspirations at the moment. I paint for fun, the challenge of the composition and color choices, and the sheer enjoyment of the process. Being an artist is an undeniable part of who I am, generating a drive, an urge, a “need” to make more art for the sake of art. This is what I think of when I think of a “real” artist. At times, the artist is fortunate enough to be able to show their creations so that others may appreciate the art, receiving feedback from other artists as well as the admiration of those who love art. On rarer occasions, the artist may actually sell a work of art to someone whose appreciation can be backed up with a wallet. I believe a real artist will not choose subject material or alter a work of art with the intent of making the art retail friendly. It is never my intention to create a piece of art for the sole purpose of a sale. The sale of the art is a fringe benefit that one cannot anticipate, unless of course, your work is featured in Art Forum or you are managed by a prestigious gallery.

I have been fortunate in my art career to have experienced shows, patrons who were willing to pay for my works of art, and even to be represented by a gallery. At one point, I had two sold out shows, and with the continued sales that followed, I had people waiting for the next painting. During that time, about 1986, I did nothing but my art and I would love to do that again. But, that was less than two years of my life and art is a luxury item. When collectors slow or stop collecting, sales come to a grinding halt. Depending upon the economy and other factors, such as less than effective representation at a gallery, sales may be few and far between. If my purpose was to sell art without the drive or the need to create art, I might just stop doing art altogether. Depending upon a person’s situation and need for regular income, the artist may need to find a job that pays the bills and be satisfied pursuing art in their free time. After my brief span of time as a full-time artist, I chose to support my


family with a job unrelated to art and pursue my art career part-time. This allows me to be the real artist doing art that makes me happy. If the art gets shown in a show-Great! And I don’t care if it sells or not because I have created a piece of art that is a part of me and that I love.

Last year, I was made an offer by a gallery I had worked with for several years. During the time I showed there the gallery had changed hands several times. At this time they were concentrating on “commercial” nondescript, muted color paintings, that had subject material that was non-offensive and barely recognizable. Anyone who has ever seen any of my paintings knows that my art work doesn’t fit that definition. The gallery director suggested that I could paint a certain way and that she would test market new pieces to see if the works would suit her clientele. I create my art based upon what inspires me and I am happy with making the art; compromising my work for a potential sale was not acceptable. I never did the paintings and I never looked back.

Recently at several WP&S meetings the subject of making money from the sale of art has come up in discussion. Someone is upset over the fact that they are having a hard time selling their artwork. At the April meeting, someone brought up the fact that Sam’s Club is now selling paintings for $49.95. There was a debate for about ten minutes on how this was going to impact the sales of artwork made by artists. The crux of the debate was if a person could by a painting for $49.95 from Sam’s Club, who is going to pay $200-300 for paintings done by artists. I was sitting there thinking “who cares”. And the obvious thought is that people who buy art from Sam’s Club probably don’t go to art galleries or collect art for the sake of art, they just want something nice to go with their sofa. These people who are going to buy these factory paintings are not going to buy art from a “real” artist. I don’t care if my paintings sell.

I realize that some people try to make a living at selling their art. This lifestyle is a choice and this is what all artists hope for at some point in their lives. If you are worried about these junk paintings selling for more than what they are worth or threatening your income, then you need to take a hard look at what you are doing and why. The real question is, are you a business person who sells art as a commodity or are you an artist who creates works of art as a part of who they are, for the sake of art. If you are happy doing your art, and you are able to make a living while doing it, that’s wonderful. But, for me, making art will never be about the money. It is about making the art.