A real question I have posed myself for many years.
In a world where artist do not only compete with other contemporary artists, but also with deeply established dead artists, very few are those that actually manage to live a somehow decent life with the sales of their art.
This is sad but it is a reality.
So why should an artist be poor?
In my case, this question was in dire need of answering after I graduated from art school. I started to wonder: " Well, now I can paint, draw, sculpt, but euhm, how will I pay my rent? How will I feed myself".
At the age of 16 I was already living on my own, and had the luck to benefit from help from the government in order to finish my school. But after graduating from art school, I was left with a choice going for further education or to 'be an artist'. So I wondered what additional skills I would gain from continuing with my artistic education.
I literally didn't know how to truly provide for myself with my art work. And the problem is quite deep. Through trial and error, and after many years of mistakes, I decided to go to university, get professional experience, and in the meantime continue with my artistic work. This would help me to understand how the world works.
This is in very brief my personal path.
However, the issue with why artists are often poor comes from an evolution of historical motivations about artistry and who paid for their work and thus livelihoods, coupled with very romantic beliefs about what an artist ought to be. I will not go into the specifics, but will detail very briefly what I have learnt and observed.
Art schools have this very 'noble' and ethical stance, where the question of money isn't discussed. Because art is not seen as part of a trade, but as a outsiders discipline, where concerns about money are lowly to the cause. You simply hardly discuss money matters during your artistic education.
Questions as "How to price your work", "How to manage your money", "How to market your art work" are frowned upon. If you come from a wealthy family, willing to support you, indeed you may have the choice to disregard these questions, and believe that you have an almost 'godly mission' to stand above material necessities of daily life. Sorry to burst your bubble, but yes my dear, we unfortunately need some money to survive in our current societies.
And having a maecenas, meaning a generous patron that supports an artist financially is very rare, and has become mostly a fantasy of the past.
So how to pay your rent and support yourself if you are an artist?
First of all, I believe in reforming art schools. Teaching art students about the material reality of life as well. Getting over that idea that an artist is some kind of fantasy fairy that has descended from heaven to bring their holy, and often misunderstood truth. Artists are people. Artists are part of society. No more, and no less than other citizens. And they create things that they would like to propose to other people, and perhaps live from it. And if they do not want to live from the proceeds of their work, then of course, that is possible, but then other ways of providing for themselves should be found. Many art schools make the notions of money a dirty word. I remember the words of my mentor in painting: " You are an artist, you are not a mere artisan."
At the beginning, I drank his words, and I started to believe that being an artisan is a lower degree of artistic expression, void of real creativity and vision. Oh what an arrogant way of seeing the world I had.
So what I have learnt to do:
Learning how to evaluate your artwork materially.
How much will you price your work?
Do you know how much time you spent on it?
How much would you like to be paid per hour?
How much does the material cost that you have put into it?
Do you pay rent for your artist studio?
What about electricity?
Financial and business literacy is so underestimated,and contributes to the material impoverishment of artists. Providing your artwork in exchange of money IS doing business. It is a trade. No matter how romantic you try to express it in your mind.
Do you know how to manage money?
How to negotiate your prices with art galleries or shops?
Do you know how to manage your accountancy?
Do you know about the taxes you will need to pay on your sales?
How much money do you actually have left after deduction of all the costs and taxes?
And of course, how will people get to know and appreciate your work (read: marketing and communication !)
Are there other derivative ways you can earn money?
Maybe by teaching your skills to other people that would like to learn your craft for leisure. Or maybe there are less time consuming productions of your work that could benefit people, that do not have the capital for your more expensive work. So this would contribute to make art accessible to a broader spectrum of society, if possible.
Of course each individual has their own way of conceiving their reality.
Choosing to be an artist is not the simple road. But with a little education, discipline, and perseverance, I believe artists do not have to be starving. They just have to have one foot in the material reality. Because in the realm of ideas and creation, they are very rich.
I have decided for myself that I needed to attain a certain degree of financial freedom, in order to be free in my artwork, and not depend on the alms of generous and kindred spirits.
I have set out to develop my company, Atelier Sabra, so in a future, I would have more leeway and means to promote and disseminate my artwork. Everyone should have their own way and vision, but I will not be a starving, ear cutting artist any longer !
I want my cake and eat it too.