There’s fear in making art. I feel it, I know other people feel it. We live in a society that makes money a necessity to survive—where economic exchange is the backbone of how we live and work. The scary thing is the way the internet has changed art and artistic creation— how can we survive as artists in a society where everybody is an artist and everybody makes art, while images are increasingly free and easily accessed? I decided that I was going to write this piece after completing a simple task:
“GO ON YOUTUBE AND SEARCH HOW TO MAKE IT AS AN ARTIST”
The first video will be discussed because of its opposition to the rest of the search results; it acts as a counterargument and rejection of the solutions the rest of the videos list. You may have already seen it too- “Sam Hyde @ Rutgers -- How to “Make It” As an an “Artist” -- :) :) :) -- *FREE PANERA*” Sam Hyde is an internet provocateur, comedian, and performance artist who is well known for his trolling, offensive, ‘alternative’ style. After attending the CMU School of Design for a year, he transferred to RISD as a fine artist and graduated with that degree. At around the 51 minute mark, Hyde begins playing Wagner’s Pilgrim Chorus and tells the fine artists out there watching to collectively, give up— all the good art has already been made. He shows images of various European woodcuts and paintings, and the Empire State building as examples of art. Art, to Hyde, ‘speaks to tradition and culture, elevates our existence, provides a meaning...we don’t own this, we get to look at it and we get to enjoy it… but we don’t get to disrespect it...” There’s so much to this statement alone that I could write a whole separate article about it, but I’ll leave it at that for now. He contrasts his definitions of successful art with images by James Jean, web design, and packaging design, which he directly lambasts. He follows this up by suggesting artists, actors, cultural creators stop what they’re doing, and become blue collar workers, cops or soldiers.
Boris Groys, philosopher, media theorist, and art critic, states in his essay “Arts, Technology, and Humanism” that in the modern era, “art returns to its origin, to the time when the artist was a ‘normal human being’— handiworker or an entertainer. At the same time, on the internet every normal human being becomes an artist— producing and sending selfies and other images and texts. Today the practice of self-aestheticization involves hundreds or millions of people.” Today, in our connected world, we know artists are not superhumans. Rather, the artist returns to their position as craftsman or entertainer for the masses— a direct influencer of culture and our values. Sam Hyde, regardless of your opinions on him as a person, is still an artist according to Groys’ definition because of his effect on the cultural values of hundreds of thousands of subscribers and viewers.
I can’t pretend to be unafraid by all these notions, and I needed something to try and justify my existence as an artist today. I decided, using the same search term, to find what other practicing artists do to survive, justify their own existence as artists, and create work that interests them.
The first search result is How To Make Money as an Artist by user Life After Art School. He first claims that in art school, the premiere thing you are taught is about how all the great artists are already dead. Why is there a lack of focus on current, living artists making work? He then asks you:
WHAT IS YOUR NICHE?
Who are you catering to? According to him, you need to figure out who you are catering your art towards. Get in the client’s heads and make what they want, but also what you want. That’s the important part— don’t do somebody else’s niche, do your niche. He also claims there are platforms to make your art and make it well known. Yet the distinction he makes when referring to client rather than an audience made me question the validity of this statement. Referring to who you make art for as a client makes the relationship appear superficial— intended for monetary purposes only. Life After Art School ignores those whom he did not make the piece for- his larger audience that are not paying him, but rather contemplating the work. Life After Art School gives sound business advice, but I found his theory of artmaking to ignore the way art functions in the minds of those outside his target.
He turns the camera around and shows the current piece he’s working on. It’s a 50 foot wide mural with various company logos on. He says “this isn’t just what I do… but it’s one of those things that… I happen to have a really high tolerance for pain.”
The next video I was suggested was WTF: How to make money as a freelance artist by Every Day I Draw. The artist begins by saying that you should start by joining an office job— for her, she started by working at an advertising company. She says that working at a company can give you the illusion of safety, but the reality is that because job security is impossible to predict, it’s better to do something you enjoy because risks of losing finances are present everywhere. When she decided to go full time as a freelance artist, she started by thinking of several sources of income to help her feel safe.. Her other advice is to teach art as another way to make a stable income, as well as a good way to learn things from fellow art teachers and connect with fellow artists. She also mentions online options like skillShare, a social network that connects teachers of subjects with online students.
The next video I found was 5 Mistakes Artists Make by chescaleigh which was a pretty good runthrough of how to sell work, like writing up contracts to get paid and NOT working for free (whether that be for “exposure” or to satisfy a loved one’s desires). She also mentions the importance of
HAVING A WEBSITE
The online presence is key to the successful artist today. Being able to easily locate your works and your life will, by chescaleigh’s logic, get you a larger amount of interested clients and build, tying back to Life After Art School’s Point, your niche.
The next video suggested to me was Matthew Lesko’s video How An Artist Can Make Money In NYC. Lesko focuses on crowdfunding in his shorter video. His examples are Patreon, a website that connects users to creators. Users pay small amounts of money to the creator, sometimes in exchange for exclusive content or “personalized thank you notes”, which collectively amount to a monthly salary for the artist. He claims that Kickstarter, a social network that connects users who want projects funded to massive amounts of willing collaborators, gives more money to artists than the National Endowment for the Arts. Here’s an article corroborating this. Rather than relying on government or institutional grants to fund projects, artists have a choice to approach their audience directly- who pay not for the work, but for the production of the work and the future of the artist’s career.
Hopefully this gave you an interesting perspective on how the internet may be changing things for artists. Hopefully this made you start thinking about your practice and what you find fulfilling to make as an artist. The suggestions have their faults, and watching the videos I found that the new markets offered to artists have real problems with them, not unlike the markets art utilizes outside of the internet. Though, once we pin down the problems, and come up with ways to work with them or solve them, then we can proceed to make art and be able to be successful as an artist- on our terms. I’m not at ease with it yet, but it’s something I’m forcing myself to investigate, and share with you, readers. To get rid of the fear clouding my artmaking, I need to dig deeper. Future articles will explore the fear of artmaking further, with my interest being a critical, realistic analysis of the various late-capitalist, networked marketplaces we, as artists, buy, sell, market, and fund art in.