I’m An Artist, So Pay Me, Maybe?

Adam Byatt recently posted a piece about artists getting paid (or not), in response to a piece written by an artist named Amanda, who was responding to a letter that was sent to her by an artist named Amy.

Adam, Amanda, Amy… All artists. I’m thinking of changing my name to Arus (and it shall be pronounced A-roos, with a roll on the “r” if you can manage it) — at least for the purposes of writing this post.

I’ve been chatting off and on for several years about this topic with another artist, Cara. We both believe that giving abundantly provides abundant returns.

The question is: Where should artists stand when it comes to being paid for their work?

Before I even begin to answer that question, let me throw out a few particularly random, but relevant, thoughts.

The boom of the internet and the technology explosion have collectively oversaturated the market with good works at little to no cost. Nearly everybody with a smartphone can take a better-than-decent photo. Pretty it up on Instagram, Hipstamatic, or even iPhoto, and you can put together a great virtual album of photos worthy of their share of oohs and aahs, all of which will happen in a matter of seconds before friends and followers flip through their newsfeeds and move on to the next batch of artistic creations.

Never before have we been able to read so much, so immediately, and so efficiently. There’s a lot of good writing out there in the blogosphere, and virtually all of it is for free.

We are getting our “fix” of great art stuff — both making it and receiving it — and we don’t have to pay a dime for it. In fact, even when we want to purchase local artists’ works, we often have too many choices, and we simply cannot buy everybody’s books and photos that we would like to.

So where does that leave the artists who are trying to make a living through their creations?

We are being forced to rethink how we market our work (if at all), and to whom.

We cannot stop creating our photos, our sketches, our stories. It is a part of who we are; it is what we do, what we know, and what defines us.

We can choose other professions that sustain an income while we “dabble” with our art, but that’s not who we are. Our work suffers, and our contributions are never as significant as they should be. And, when we do invest a great deal of energy into a specific project, the returns are negligible, at best.

I have likened it in the past to CPR compressions. It’s getting harder and harder to create a product that isn’t on constant marketing life support. The minute we stop pumping energy into that product, it expires within a few days.

Very sad.

On Adam’s post, one commenter wrote that she has found a way around the “friends network” problem; she bypasses her local audience completely and sells her work in markets that are looking to buy high quality art.

This makes sense, and I think it’s worth a try to make that work if you are serious about making a living from your work. But it also saddens me to think that we need to go outside of our general community to have our work taken seriously. (For the record, I am ever grateful for the tight-knit group of supporters who has always purchased my stories and my photos.)

For me, I’m returning to some traditional means of publishing — sharing a little less online and through self-publishing, and submitting more work to reputable pubs and journals for consideration. It doesn’t mean that I won’t be blogging or posting through my social networks, but I will work harder on finding traditional markets to “accept” my work and build my credentials and clips.

Like Adam says, artists need to find their own path and walk it genuinely. For some, that’s the full-blown, make-a-living path. For others, it means giving, sharing, and submitting a little more generously while making some money in other ways.

I’m refining my own path, and it’s working for me. But I am, and always will be, an artist.

2011/365/028: Friday Focus on Brian Truax and the TAC

(photos courtesy of Brian Truax)

A long-time friend of mine, Becky, told me about Brian years ago. She had nothing but great things to say about him and his work as president with the Towson Art Collective (TAC). Brian and the TAC show up on my newsfeed all the time on Facebook, and every time I see his name, he’s doing great things for artists in and around the Towson area.

I thought that Brian would be a good person to interview for my Friday Focus feature, especially with a Silent Auction event coming up on February 10th to celebrate the arts in Towson, as well as raise some money for the TAC and for the artists who lost their artwork in a robbery last October.

Very recently (January 27), Brian and the TAC were featured in the Baltimore Sun for the Collective, his own Framing Gallery, and the break-in. You can find that article here.

Brian is the co-owner of the Towson Framing Gallery at 410 York Road. They are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. It’s a little hard to find; in fact, Brian mentions on the TAC Facebook page: “If you can find The Green Turtle restaurant you’re getting warm. We’re the next door down, tucked away in the alcove. Keep searching and you will find us.”

Here are the questions I sent to Brian a few days ago. His responses are in italics. Stop by and see Brian and support him and the Arts throughout Towson. He’s really doing some great things for all of us.

rvw: I have always believed that Towson is missing that great opportunity to be the best art-centric town in Baltimore County. So, when I read your statement from the founders and the board on your website, I was thrilled with how aligned we seem to be in the essential role of the arts in a community: The letter states: “We feel gratitude and validation as a group to build and maintain that vehicle which aids in reinvigorating the soul of a society, nourishes the intellect of individuals and cradles the hearts of all those that believe that creativity is the source of innovation that drives all humankind forward.”  Can you elaborate on the founding of TAC in relation to the state of the Arts in Towson, and if you perceive a constant threat to the arts in our community (or in any community in America, for that matter), what else needs to happen for a cultural shift in the Towson area?

bt: People view Towson as a suburban city and a college town. During the day, office workers, lawyers and professionals occupy the downtown district. There is a little happy hour or dinner crowd. And, then the college students come out to eat and drink.

As for the cultural landscape of Towson ten years ago, the Recher Theater has been an amazing destination for music. Also, there has been a Towson University gallery in the commons. There has been a slight shift since then. I opened Towson Framing Gallery about nine years ago. Daniella Troia opened Zia’s, a juice bar/cafe that features awesome “slow food” and displays local artists. Towson Arts Collective started over three years ago. And, in the past couple years, French Press Cafe/ Bread and Circuses has emerged to be a great spot for local art, music and fresh culinary pleasures. So, I’m seeing a lot more demand from people for arts which is reflected by the growth of businesses that started from a “hep” seed. This has happened all over the country. It’s slowly become more mainstream to listen to local musicians versus the local pop station. Or, people writing poetry, or painting, or whatever creative outlet people have has become less peripheral.

So, I’m actually quite positive about the state of the arts in America. I think people are becoming more aware that they need to do something that is more enriching than watching TV. Arts employ abstract reasoning in people. Math does, too. So, one should not be diminished by the type of talent or skills that they have been gifted. So, as people strive to improve mentally and emotionally, that segment of humankind evolves. I’m not saying that you have to be a TV bashing, artist hipster, but I think that the more people appreciate and accept a creative class, then the more accessible it will be and the more it will improve peoples’ lives.

rvw: Many times, Alliances and Creative Councils like TAC feel like they are “preaching to the choir,” where they hold events for existing artists who are grateful for an avenue or a place to display their work; unfortunately, the events are not necessarily having a significant impact on the community beyond the choir. How is TAC reaching out to the previously untapped group of up-and-coming artists, and what differences have you seen in Towson/Baltimore County toward the arts since TAC’s inception?

bt: I love that you want to address this, because the art world can become a little insular. I see Baltimore as being a little cliquey, anyways. But, that is why bringing art to people is so important. TAC does a lot of outreach into the community. Chris Casamassima runs the “Cruellest Month Poetry Reading Series” every April at the Towson Library. He’s got a new project with Doug Mowbury that will plant poems in local establishments–a poem could be sitting on a table or mounted above a urinal, and  people will have to read it. There is a spring and fall arts festival at Cromwell Valley Park that has poetry, art and fine craft, as well as local food and wine. There’s an open mic at French Press/ Bread and Circus every second Tuesday of the month. So, it’s almost inevitable that someone takes a friend to an event and they say,” Huh, that IS pretty cool.” Slowly, people start to see that not all art folks are stuffy or their art esoteric. If someone has a bad experience, then they need to move on without letting it color their next experience.

TAC also works with as many groups as possible. We just had a show for the art education students at Towson University. We have a show coming up with the Optimist Club and one composed of art from the security guards at the BMA. The theory is to bring different people in and diversify.  There can be a lot of choirs of any size and type as long as everyone is singing.

Actually, the Creative Alliance is a pretty amazing story of gentrification and new growth. Baltimore owes a lot to Megan Hamilton and those that started it. That neighborhood has grown increasingly popular and the blight is starting to diminish.

rvw: Tell me YOUR philosophy on what you are doing for the arts in Towson and beyond. How does framing relate, possibly, metaphorically? When you were living out in CA, did you grow up in an Arts-intensive community that you might be using as a model for Towson? If you could elaborate either way, that would be great….

bt: I don’t think I’m doing anything more than help cultivate and nurture a creative environment. The artists are already here.

During my last year at Humboldt State University, I lived at the Ist Dentistry Institute for Performance Therapy with a bunch of writers, musicians, actors and visual artists. It was in an old dentist’s office off the square in Arcata, CA. Behind the receptionists sliding glass was a drum kit and recording studio. So, if we weren’t studying, then we were playing music, doing improv games or something fun like that. There was massive love and support for each other. Everyone I’m in touch with from the Dentistry is doing something in the arts. It was an extreme creative environment.

I took a train out here in the winter of 1998 after living at my mom’s condo in Los Angeles en route to Prague to teach English, play music and write theater. I stayed here for family reasons and picked up a framing job at Towson Arts Supply. I was looking for a coffee shop open mic like they have in California and couldn’t find any. I had been going to one every night of the week in the beach towns; Redondo, Hermosa, Manhattan, San Pedro . . . Then, I was freezing on the street, busking in Fells Point, when I walked into an open mic at a bar. I hung up my coffee cup for a beer mug and started hitting up bars for entertainment. I have not stopped since I got here to be active in the arts. Of course, it has morphed in many directions, but it’s a reason to wake up every morning.

~~Friday Focus is a new weekly feature on my blog that showcases individuals or organizations that are doing some pretty awesome things for their community. If you know of someone that would be a good fit for a Friday Focus, let me know!