As with many interesting moments in life, this past week I had a happy coincidence that lead me to think quite deeply about my creative journey and how I want to live my life. If you follow me on instagram (if you don’t, then you should hint hint), then you will know that I recently posted about all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes in the creative process and why it is so special to support handmade and small businesses. That very same evening I began reading “How to sell your art online” by Cory Huff. This was my happy coincidence, and it has inspired me to write my thoughts about how artists can be wrongly perceived and how this risks their creative output.
In the opening chapter Cory tells all about the myth of the “starving artist” and the history of bohemian creative’s. Bohemian communities typically consisted of writers, painters, and musicians, in the 1800’s who created their art without commerce-instead leading lives of non-material wealth. The mistake is to believe that bohemians were purposefully avoiding wealth, in reality they were considered second-class citizens and were frequently denied access to job opportunities.
The bohemian subculture was highlighted by infamous writer Henri Murger, who reflected on the creative endeavours of bohemians in such a way that transcended the subculture from second-class people of poverty to artistic renaissance. By doing so, Murger redefined bohemians from their obscure place in society to an icon of culture, that their suffering for their art was something to aspire to and admire. His romanticized writings of the bohemian position inspired an influx of people to Paris to witness the alternative creative lifestyle, further enhancing the romanticized view that creativity and poor financial circumstance was something to be admired. This has even influenced fashion styling. “The Bohemian look” or “boho chic” encompasses iconic free flowing fabrics that in reality came from poorly kept yet indispensable garments of the poor rather than a statement of fashion.
Whilst I was reading about bohemians it got me thinking about how I was called a “Hipster” at a craft fair last month. Initially I found it funny because I don’t really understand labels and just associated hipster with excellent beards and questionable vegan food (of which I partake in neither). So I did some reading, and found that in a way, I could liken hipsters to bohemians in that they predominantly work within the creative industries of visual arts, music, and fashion whilst seemingly rejecting the material assets of mainstream consumers. I can see why I would be called a thrift-savvy hipster. I am a visual artist, I live off hand-me down clothing (I have bought a grand total of three items in my wardrobe-two from ebay and one from a charity shop). My car is second-hand, my dog was adopted, and even my sofa (which I am very proud of) cost me £5 on ebay. I lead what most people consider to be an alternative lifestyle by rejecting consumer trends. But does this mean I pay less than anyone else to live? What do you think?? Of course not. I have to pay the same as you for my petrol, rent in the South East is criminal extortion (in my humble opinion), and I have to eat like the rest of you. I live my creative life the way I do because I choose to avoid being constrained by material possessions not because I want to work for free.
My point is this. Whilst there is absolutely nothing wrong with actively rejecting main-stream consumerism, like hipsters, it does not mean that creative’s should expect to financially struggle for their art, as was assumed of bohemians. Murger himself clearly stated that the bohemian lifestyle was a temporary stage in life, and it was never meant to be romanticized to the extreme that in 2017 (for goodness sake!) the myth of the starving artist persists.
I have no interest in fashion trends or big financial aspirations. I do however want to be able to afford a holiday next year, I do want to work five days a week instead of 6-7, I want to stop working at 5pm rather than gone midnight. I want to spend more time creating my artwork, and less time finding ways to sell it. I want to be paid fairly for my work just the same as someone with a “normal” 9-5 job. Right now I am working through the “Bohemian phase” that Murger wrote of, I am building my artistic name so I can comfortably support myself financially from my art. Yet this is frequently lost on my audience (including my friends and family) because of my lifestyle and my way of thinking. I’m often assumed to be a free thinking alternative progressive creative. If it were 1840 I’d be called a bohemian but as it’s 2017 I’m called a hipster, and it’s not as romantic as you might think.
What people don’t see from my creative process involves so much more than drawing. In creating my artwork I drive to various locations in the South East to source timber that has interesting grain, shapes and depth of colour. I hand select, pay for, and transport the timber to my workshop where I spend between 2-5 hours each day for a week sanding the timber ready for burning. I then burn one dot at a time into the timber to eventually create large pointillism wildlife art. My large pieces have maybe 10, 000-100, 000 dots (maybe more, who knows) and it can take me anywhere from one to five months to complete a single piece. Next I photograph my art so I can list it for sale. For my large works I pay a professional photographer because I don’t have the space or equipment to do it myself; though I do photograph my small works on my own . My own photography and photo editing can take up to two full working days for less than ten photographed products. I then have to upload my art onto various online platforms. My artwork is sold via ArtFinder, Etsy, and jeshooper.com. I also have products on forthemanIlove and for a time I also sold through ThingsBritish. Not only does this take time to upload to multiple sites (each site takes different picture ratios and requires different formatting of information); but I also pay to have my work online in fees or commissions, or both. On average I lose between 10-40% of the sale price (unless you buy from my website which I hope you do). I also attend events all across the country to meet potential clients face to face and to network with other creative businesses. Art fairs can cost upwards of £1000 and most of the time you don’t get a physical stand so my partner and I have to design and build it ourselves, as well as fund our transport, food, and accommodation. I also partake in VIP goody bags, so will make up to 50 products per event by hand to give away for free in order to drum up promotion of my work and my website. I manage my own social media (facebook, twitter, instagram, pinterest) which I update every day. I blog each week from my website (which I built and manage myself), and I send out a newsletter to my mailing list once a week with exclusive offers to my followers.
I do all of these things before I ever see a penny from selling something and I truly love my creative life. Yes I work long hours and no I won’t be going on holiday this year, but my artwork sales have enabled me to move out of my parents house and into my own place. My art has allowed me to grow and develop as a person, and as an artist. None of this would be possible to do without people like you who support me. This is why buying from small creative businesses is so special because you are sharing in someone’s skill, time, and vision of beauty. Every artist appreciates every sale so much. It’s thanks to your support that we can live our creative lives the way that we do. This is why I give all my mailing list subscribers an exclusive subscribers discount on ALL my artwork. It is my way of saying thank you for allowing me to live the life that I do, to let me share with you my artwork and my progress.
We may have never met, but you have just read a rather long blog post detailing my thoughts about creating art in the modern world. We can break down the perception of the starving artist together. Simply put, we have to, because if people don’t expect to pay artists fairly for their work then we will lose our creative communities. Let’s stop devaluing artists by romanticising their financial struggles. Let’s go out on a limb and accept that many creative’s are not your average material-obsessed consumers, and instead pay them fairly anyway (I know, revelation right?). Let;s pay our artists fairly so they can live comfortably and continue producing the work that you love. People choose to be artists because it’s within them to bring beauty to the world, not because they woke up one day and decided to make a bad financial life choice.
I am not a starving artist.
I am an artist.
I am a creative.
I am a business woman,
and I am an entrepreneur.