I’ve been thinking a lot about the value of art inside and outside of a business. If my creations do not earn sufficient income and I thus fail from the business perspective does that mean I wasted my time? Am I the type of person that can be satisfied knowing my work and vision are high quality even if this knowledge is not supported by adequate compensation?
Several weeks ago I shared some of my bead work necklaces with a woman. Her first reaction was amazement – impressed with the design and detail of the work. It felt good. But her second reaction, which came quickly, was to calculate what I’d earned per hour as she asked me the time and materials invested and my take on the piece’s sale. In this case I’d earned 20 an hour. Sometimes I earn more but usually it is less. We’d previously talked about our salaries and what I’d earned in my technical field a few short months before. After just a moment of thought she made the comment “so your work is still in the realm of ‘hobby’… you have a very supportive husband.”
While I immediately thought her comments were out of line they had this lasting effect on me that I’m just now getting my head around and seeing clearly.
By hobby I presume she met not economically strong enough for business. There are many hobbyist that are profoundly talented after all and she’d clearly appreciated my work. It shouldn’t have been insulting. She was talking from a business perspective and yes – my ‘business’ is infantile at best. But coming from her it felt like a kick to the gut.
This woman had surveyed metalsmithing, found PMC, had a niche market suggested to her and after only a couple years was coming close to replacing her old teaching salary working far fewer hours. While her story felt a bit like dumb luck artistically she did have a good business head on her shoulders and had taken smart chances. She saw herself as a business owner – and she was – though I’m not sure she thought of herself as an artist.
She didn’t have the qualities I respect in hobbyist, craftsmen, artists and makers. Earlier, when describing steps she’d taken to get into her business she told me metal workers didn’t like or rejected PMC because it was so easy compared to traditional metal work. She’d completely missed the art of metal work and the value in the craft and required skill. She made it sound like a wonder anyone was still doing traditional metal work after PMC came onto the scene.
Looking back I should have took this woman’s comment on my work and business as a statement about her own understanding of art and values but instead I wondered about my ability to have a business in art if this woman was doing it and suggesting I was far from it.
It angered me a little bit that she was making money in my field when there were so many talented individuals that could have used the business. And I guess I was a little jealous. I’d been searching for a side artistic niche that would help me earn (in case my mainline interests as an artist weren’t as fruitful as I’d hoped). I saw her as an impostor.
Was I wasting time in my studio? In the highly probable scenario that I never earn as an artist what I’d earned in my technical field will I feel successful?
I value the craft of art. I dip into Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay for inspiration. I learn new things in my field every day either from a growing personal library of instructional art books, ebooks, webcasts and other web resources, communication and feedback from fellow artists and raw first hand experiences at my bench. I am an apprentice and feel so fortunate for this time to learn and grow. I have always been an artist and maker and it feels really incredible to be able to focus on this.
My journey may be lost on some and that is okay. But after much thought I’ve concluded the best defense against these individuals is to have a personal understanding of success in this field. Without success defined and steps and goals mapped out there is no means to measure progress.