Deep Thought Thursday: Ego or income?

This week’s Deep Thought comes from Patricia Oblack.

Should we as artists, care if our work is sold in galleries, and think it will upgrade our standing in the art community, recognition, etc., since we are contemporary artists? Or, is it better to have reps selling our work corporately, and just take the money? As a full time artist, after the 50%, & other costs are taken, I still must pay an additional 40% to the IRS, leaving me with very little capital. . . .

I have made a good deal of money in other directions with art, but the work I am now producing is the best I have ever done.

So, which is more important??? Ego, or income?

Well, what do you all think? (I’ll weigh in in the comments.)

Image (c)
          Patricia Oblack, Wall at Piazza della Caviglia-Cortona

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17 thoughts on “Deep Thought Thursday: Ego or income?”

  1. I think it depends on whether you’re covering your basic needs or not. I’d go for money until I had my rent,food,insurance covered. Then I could worry about ego. But I’ve always been rather a pragmatist.

  2. It depends. (Doesn’t it always?) Some work isn’t “good enough” to be in a gallery, but sells just fine on the street. Some work isn’t easily sold but is “important” enough to merit a gallery or museum show. If you have a choice, rejoice! You get to pick whatever works best for you. Do you need the money to eat? Or are you well-fed but crave prestige? Everyone has to make their own choices. Barbara

  3. money lets me make more art… But, isn’t the question predicated on the idea that our evaluation of the merit of the artwork is superior to a “clients”? I mean, sure I value certain peoples judgement over others, but to deny someone enjoyment of the art work because that may limit the exposure of the art work to critical evaluation, means we are expecting the work to be hung in a closet. Ive seen the Mona Lisa once in person, many times in uncontrolled exposure – selling the services of the company I work for through the day (clue, I am not dependant on one source of income here) . But my point is, if the work is good enough, often it does become seen and “critiqued” by our peers. The Mona Lisa hangs on an in-accessible wall for me. Its value as an art piece has not diminished as a consequence. I hesitate to say the artwork should only be seen in a gallery in a particular city because it has more cachet there. (which is essentially the question, let the artwork go where it is most desired, or where it may be more widely admired?) I too have a current series of works that I am pondering where they go, this exhibit, that museum, or this competition. The question has many ramifications where in it really shouldn’t. and then why do we need critical acclaim? to sell more or to enhance our art from our perspective? Maybe it is like eating. Do you eat for the pleasure, or for the nutrition, or the compulsion, or some sampling of those and other reasons? Seem to be rambling on here. So to hang on that special wall, or to hang somewhere else but with money for the privilege. Could not some arrangement or condition be set to allow the usage of the art work for post sale viewing? Or is the cost for hanging it on that special wall with the condition that it be for sale from that wall? Seems to be one case of this special wall for maybe that money, or the second case of this money for maybe that unknown wall. Does our art come down to what wall it hangs upon? – the money seems to be there in both cases, just a question of timing. rats, I haven’t a conclusion. But being artist, I would tend toward viewing that quandry in terms not of ego or money, but of art appreciation versus art dialoque. Does the art work go to the art lover, or to the buzz of the art crowd? Both are valid “conclusions” to the art “dialogue” And the two choices seem to mirror each other over time. gallery = exposure/acclaim = future sales or the mirror choice: sale = appreciation = future gallery shows /acclaim So maybe both choices end up with similar results, which do you need more right now, the money or the acclaim? because you’ll receive both either way. I think the implication in the question that they are two different results is not necessarily the case. gotta have a coffee and consider this more 🙂

  4. Why not pursue both? Many artists are represented in galleries and also do corporate work for art consultants. I don’t see how having your work in corporate environments is inferior to having your work in a gallery. If you find the commission work enjoyable I would think that is preferred, because you know you will be compensated for it when it is complete. In a gallery there is no such guarantee. The idea that artists need to starve and that we’re selling out by attempting to make a decent income from our work needs to go.

  5. Hmmm… “ego” leads to reputation which can lead to more consistent sales long term. (I don’t see it as ego personally, I see it as confidence in your work and promoting your business.) I don’t see any problem with following several routes. Have gallery shows and an agent. Show your work online, do fairs, approach institutions too. Diversification is important in earning a living income. The agent (or galleries!) could disappear for various reasons. If you are somewhat “known” though because others have seen your work in shows and saw your sales then you have a better chance at securing a new gallery or agent.

  6. I’m confused by the question. Seems to me ego is involved in both choices presented. To me it’s a question of career direction. Something we all have to answer for ourselves based on our own values – no wrong or right answer. Just different directions. I’m also unclear as to where the money for the art consultant/rep comes from as described here. I believe this is implying we can sell our work at retail prices through a rep and take the full 100%. Is this realistic? Am I missing something because when I’ve worked with art consultants I sell to the rep at wholesale prices – so same as with a gallery. My understanding when asking around was this was standard procedure in this environment.

  7. the art speaks …if the art is selling well in a certain direction, it is because it is suited to that direction…If you need to change tack, you have to change the work…

  8. There is no one answer. Every artist needs to establish their own goals, then establish a business plan that lets them achieve them. The hard part is sticking to your own plan, since it is too easy to get distracted by the paths you chose not to follow.

  9. Michael Lynn Adams

    A great marketer focuses on the customer not her/his self. If your income depends on sales, two questions come to mind. Where are your collectors/buyers? Does the venue effect the price? If your work attracts high end collectors and those high end collectors buy their art at high end galleries, then your art needs to be in those galleries. Whether that boosts your ego or not is not has nothing to do with a collectors decision to buy. The same is true for any customer. If you are not ready or not interested in the high end market your work will probably not end up in those venues anyhow. You need to have your art where your customers are. Not where it feels good for you. Does the venue effect price? Absolutely! But, this has much more to do with the buyers ego than the artist’s. Some collector want quality art at a reasonable price to decorate their home or office. An art fair might be a great place for that buyer to go. If your art fits that need, that is where you work should be. And priced accordingly. If collectors with deep pockets are looking for great art, they are going to go to high end galleries where the perception is that all the work is high quality and priced accordingly. The perception there is the higher the price the better the work. If your name is known enough and your art is the quality and type that it can carry a hefty price tag then your work should be where those collectors go. It always seems to comes down to simply knowing your customer. Where they are, what they love about your work, and why they buy, whatever the venue or price. Simple but never easy.

  10. That’s easy! Paint all you want and take the money. Use agents, not galleries. I’ve been painting for 10 years, and have been self-supporting the whole time. I am a bit more discerning now than I was in the beginning, but occasionally I still accept commissions for things I don’t particularly like. That’s a small percentage of sales, however. I find that my most popular series are ones that I love doing. On the plus side is that I have also accepted commissions for things I’ve never done before and learned a new skill.

  11. As a self-supporting artist I have to say the first thing my eye went to was “40% to the IRS.” If you’re payin40% to the IRS you’re in a pretty hefty income bracket, and I can see why this question might come up. Me? I’m with the “cover your expenses however you can” group. Sell where you sell. I also agree that is a business decision: what are you willing to do yourself in exchange for the gallery showing? And where, by the way, do you find those corporate agents? And what does your style have to be to interest them? Is it any different than selling to the couch matching folks? And that’s great if it makes your heart sing. Mostly my clients fall in love with my work, and they tend to be a fairly narrow niche – but passionate. I’m just not sure I have enough lifetime left to find them (Daughter says “don’t worry, Ma. I’ll take it over after you’re gone” – she means the sales and collecting money part. =])

  12. I’d like to approach this from the gallery side. I have a degree from an art school where “fine art” was instructed, but more emphasis was given to producing commercial art, i.e. art used in media markets like advertising. I had planned on making my income from being an artist, producing “fine art”, but making my living as a commercial artist. Fellow art students felt similarly. A lot of our critiques were about how successful we thought our pieces were – with success being determined by such concepts as: 1)Does it sell the product? 2)Does it satisfy your personal artistic drive? I translate these ideas in conversations with my artists. What is most important to you? 1) Creating work that fulfills your artistic drive. 2) Creating work that sells – no matter what personal aesthetic sacrifices you must make. I then strive to work with the artist to make the two concepts meet in the middle – for he or she to create work that fulfills the soul and is sellable. Also letting them know that it takes a while to find the right fit, with both the style of the created work and with representation (self, gallery or agent). In my opinion ego should have very little to do with income. The artist continues to create, trying to work out ideas, technique, etc. And should do so with a critical eye – it is fine to look back at work and not love it. That work brought you to where you are now. It is process. It is growth. Personal growth leads to professional growth. Something that plays into the ego vs. income discussion which I struggle with as a dealer is accessibility – both financial and intellectual. I’d like people of all income and intellectual levels to be able to live with art. They can collect or create. But everyone should be inspired daily with original visual art, performance, written word, music and handmade food. I could go on and on about this topic, as I see creative programming being stripped from education. Creativity feeds the soul of ALL people, not just creative people – it could be inspired by creating an outstanding grilled burger, a bronze sculpture, a movie with brilliant special effects, or the perfect melody – hummed. It just needs to happen everyday to everybody.

  13. I think the question should be–“Do I need to limit my exposure by choosing one outlet over another?(galleries vs reps)” And I would say in today’s market, with more and more options to choose from—you don’t need to limit your choices. We are blessed to be in a situation that gives artists more power than ever before to direct their own careers. Where the Ego comes in is within your own personal belief system concerning yourself and your work. You might ask yourself–what do I want from my art? What is it that makes me feel good about my art career and myself? What are my dreams? Expectations? Financial needs? I believe that there are as many different ways to thrive as an artist, as there are kinds of art.

  14. Alyson B. Stanfield

    Wow! Some fantastic comments here. Lisa and Daniel: You’re right. It depends on the artist’s goals. Michael wrote “A great marketer focuses on the customer not her/his self.” But what does the great artist focus on? Christine, you’re right. You don’t have to limit yourself these days to galleries only. To me, ego isn’t necessarily the right word here. It’s goals and it’s values. What do you value as an artist? That will take you on the path you should walk.

  15. I thank you all for your comments. Fine art is by far the most mysterious of directions in art. I learn more everyday as I travel its path. My goals are to be the best & most successful artist I can be, to produce work that continues to evolve & grow in excellence without giving up my true self. Thank you Alyson, for placing me & my work in your blog.

  16. Income, Who cares if you’re called a sell out? You’ll have what you need and be able to create more art freely.

  17. Ego or Art Screw the Art. Take the money. Your Ego and your stomach will thank you for it. I’m not one of the anointed. My work sells for 200 to 1000 dollars and I crank out about 150 plus pieces per year. There are dozens, maybe even hundreds that do it better. My ego cannot be raised above my betters. I am an Art whore. I do commissions I don’t like—sometimes wearing a low cut red dress, though that causes problems with saw dust and wood chips collecting in my chest hair. Do I get tired of it? Damn right, I do. Sometimes I take a day off and I sculpt something for me, something that will gather dust and crack in the far reaches of my studio corners. Something that will make my heart grin. Yesterday it was sculpture of an eagle, its wings wrapped around a screaming skull shameless copied from Edvard Munch while flames leaped from a base inscribed with the word IRAQ. It won’t sell, but it satisfied me. It will be ridiculed, but it satisfied me. It was political and artistic and plagiarized and lonely, but it satisfied me. Feed your belly with your art and your soul will express itself—but do not expect to sell your soul—at least not to mortals.

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