value the work, value the process

Artists are makers of objects and creators of experience. And as for the rest of it – who really knows.


I’ve talked to many artists about sales and selling art. Lately, the conversation comes up more and more. How does one make a living in the arts? How does one sell work? What about pricing? How do you find collectors? It’s natural to want sales. It’s valuable to have them. Though I think there are other things that get my attention more.

I think it’s work (verb) and Work (noun). Work through ideas. Draw, paint, sculpt, make art. Organize experience and share it. And if someone is drawn to something, wants to own it and live with it – great! I believe if you continue to work, and pay attention to your craft, you can trust some things will sell. But I’m just not certain that should ever be the reason you make art.

Artist Robert Irwin, in the book Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, comments – from early on selling a work of art was never a thought in his mind as he created. The considerations were/are idea, experience and process. Think about that for a minute.

Irwin values and follows his curiosity. For him – questions lead to experience, which lead to more questions – and on it goes – that’s his work. The process is organic. Some things pan out to his satisfaction, others do not. He moves on to new experience/new work. He teaches at various points in time, and questions that process as well.

Back to selling…
There are practical things to consider about the sale of art. There are books and workshops on the subject. Nowadays we have many tools at our disposal. As I talk to artists about the subject I usually note one unique idea they consider doing. It’s different for everyone.

Figure out who you are, what purpose you serve, what you are willing to do (and not do), who is your audience (who are you serving) – and move out from there. Do it yourself or let someone else do it for you. I suspect most art reps and spaces deal with the same thing.

In my experience, I wish for things to flow natural. I want opportunity and space to show my art. I want a certain quality of experience for the viewer. I don’t necessarily want sales, but if I have them – I am certainly pleased and appreciative. It’s complicated for artists – this idea of selling their art. I don’t like to talk about it, and yet I do.

I told my husband years ago that his occupation was easy. There was a set path he could rely on and markers of success were steady. But that’s not so for artists, I said. There is no set up. He responded by agreeing with the markers – things like salaries, raises and promotions. But the trail I thought was laid out before him, was only in my imagination. He was figuring it out every day, and all these years later, it’s still true.

I pulled the quote below from Facebook.  My friend Mark posted it. He’s not an artist. This is simple and applies to anything you want to do and be good at.

Success. It is everything that it sounds like. But to achieve it you must do something outstanding, regularly. Outstanding comes from many sources. Of course it comes from super talent but few have that. For the rest of us it comes from wanting to do what you are doing, spending time on it, thinking about it even when you aren’t doing it. And there is nothing like spending time on it. Fantastic ideas don’t come often and the problem is when they don’t come at all, or they aren’t followed through. Have you had a great idea lately and pursued it? The rewards will come. It never comes from short cuts, cutting out early or arriving late.

Aghhh…I hated writing this. And yet, I enjoyed it.

2 thoughts on “value the work, value the process

  1. thank you for this- I agree- the most important thing is to think of oneself as a creator of experience- both for oneself and perhaps a viewer down the road. The best thing I did this year was rid myself of all the “art-biz’ crappola that was cluttering my mind and just return to the essence of the experience of making the work. Turning down the volume/hype/”shoulds”. Do I occasionally sell the items I have painted? yes, is that the reason I do the work? no

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