Selling Snowballs in Winter

Sometimes I am invited to speak about art to groups of people. After I finish I usually get asked questions, which to be fair is my favorite part. I enjoy very much being forced to explain myself to a group. A room full of strangers asking me to clarify my points, to stand behind completely outlandish statements, complete doubt from dozens of faces, that's my favorite part. I imagine Perry Mason trying to convince a jury, not of his client's innocence, but instead convince them of the guilt of a totally separate thing.

During the most recent question and answer sequence, a very nice fella raises his hand and asks, "How does someone make money doing art like this?" I proceeded to give him an overly elaborate and extensive persuasively framed answer. Explaining about the market structures for various commodity based works, like oil painting and representational bronze sculpture, I drew delicate lines through the value systems of granting organizations, demonstrating all the precedents in place for innovative post optical work. My words were like a tap dancer, gliding around the room stomping out a rhythm knocking down doubt like dust from the chandeliers. And when I was done I felt completely sound, I felt like the master my degree says I am. In the bath this morning I realized my mistake. I could see it on my toes. My inquisitor asked me how my art could generate money, as if that was the goal of my art, and I had taken the bait and told him.

I failed to say the most obvious and accurate thing. I don't do art to make money. I make money to make art. If the world ran on peanut shells I would dig peanut shells if that would allow me to make my art. Money has nothing to do with it. As if I am standing up in front of these people showing them images of make believe time that I have created because I think that's the best way to generate a living. If I wanted a lot of money I might come up with a product a little more accessible than experimental sculpture. I might try to invent a smartphone app or a pet rock. I hope that my lecture did not lead them to believe that I am so dull in the mind as to believe that I am going to get rich making giant hammocks or by getting twenty performers to pretend to be fortune tellers in business suits. Department of Future Fortunes

I stood there and defended myself to him as if his question made sense. As if he had asked a question I was still trying to answer. But I am not, this is no way to make money, I see people making money everyday, I've lived that life. I don't do any part of this to make money, I can't. It doesn't work like that, the creative daemon inside doesn't come running out of my mind when you dangle a dollar in the air. He comes bounding from his cubby only when an audience comes sniffing around for something interesting to do. I build and create because I am bored with most of this wonderful globe and I am anxious to create the wonder in life that I feel when I see something magical brought forward by another person.

How can I make money by being interesting? That just aint my my bag, man. I have been trying to perfect the cooking of eggs for years. I want to get all forms down. I have scrambled pretty good, I can fry one over easy, over medium, over stiff, over the moon, over under, and over my head, I am still working out poached. My boiled in the shell work is getting better as well. But I am not trying to get better at eggs so I can get a job as morning fry cook at a diner, I am trying to perfect my eggs, so that when someone comes for breakfast they will say, "My god on heaven and earth, their has never been a breakfast egg better than the one I am eating. You are an egg master of the highest order, I will eat no other eggs but your eggs." When that happens I will set my beloved egg pan in the sink and start perfecting hash browns. The point is for nine years I drove to my grandparents house and made breakfast once a week at least. I hated missing that chance to improve my egg making, even though that old man probably would have been happy with me burning them every time. He enjoyed feeding his dog Cajun sausage. We all have our motives. But I wasn't trying to find a way to make money by making good eggs every week, I was trying to increase the meaningfulness of my life. I was trying to make all of this "struggle" have more worth. Society, left on its own, or allowed to make decisions via crowd sourcing or most common denominators, will create gray Hondas. Bland forgettable unoffensive nothingness of cars. Cars which will never be in a parade of classic cars. Imagine that, 4th of July, the jets fly over, and the marching band leads the parade down the street, and the Cub-scouts come down the middle of the street holding a banner, which says Classic Car Club and behind them are thirty gray Honda Civics from the mid 90's to 2000 somethings. Did a little bit of my soul just die from imagining that, I think it did. Hey car company, fins are aerodynamic too, stop with all the rounded off edges, its killing our souls. Does this look like the Jetson's to you? No! Hanna-Barbera was a hack at car design that's why he made cartoons, his other major car design was the foot braked Flintstones, what more evidence could I present to his not being the example of car designer premiere. Stop following his lead, he was wrong. We want sleek and sexy not bland and bubbly. Sorry, that's been stuck in my craw for awhile.

I make art because its ridiculous to do it and its even more ridiculous for me to do anything else. I don't do it because it's really the only thing I could come up with to make it through life. Please don't confuse my personal frustration with how I answered the question and my respect for the gentleman who asked it. He was smart and engaged and I owe him a lot for listening to me and even more for his generosity in asking a question. Like I wrote before, I cherish the opportunity to take the floor and field questions. So if you see him tell him I respect him more now then I did even then.

Art was a job, art was a method for making money so you could then have a nice house and lots of friends and vacations to islands. But that was then, I don't want to serve at the Pope's knee, I don't want an exchange, I don't want to make something so that I can relax and have a vacation. Two weeks ago I stood bleeding from the knuckles, thoroughly tired, arms aching sawdust and sweat in every fiber of me, and growing a pretty good bruise on my arm, staring at a project in the middle of the night. I was on the hunt, I had the scent and it was driving me like a hound through the woods, trailing a myth. Money doesn't matter, sleep doesn't matter, food is simply there to keep me upright, I might even forget to breath if my body didn't do it for me. When you are soul deep into a project and your deadline is creeping like a predator hunting the hunter, you just work, you build and cut and lift and load and haul, you don't debate why you are doing it. You don't wonder about motivation or incentive. You know the motivation and incentive, they both exist as part of the artists operating system. The artist makes, if the artist doesn't make, then the artist becomes a "Was" rather than an "Is" we define ourselves by the last thing we made. If you disagree with this, feel free to swing by my studio, I will give you a drink, I will listen to your argument and then we will debate, and at the end we will both know something more. What more could you want?


Popular Posts