Art is not “about the money,” but it definitely is about selling my paintings.

Making Money Selling Art: Who Cares? A Response

by Richard W. Patt

If you read Lee Grantham’s article in the last issue of AIW you probably didn’t toss it off without a second thought—especially if you are an artist. Frankly, its purview was just narrow enough to make me feel a little guilty. Maybe a lot of the contentions (and tension) of the article could be partially relieved by focusing on the term “artist.”
What is an artist? Admittedly the field for defining that term is broad and wide open. My six grandchildren, who range in age from ten to eighteen years old, were magnificent artists when they were all around, say, three to seven years old. As they have all grown “older” they seem to have lost the spontaneity and creative use of design, color, and individuality that came so easily for them as true artists in their “younger” years ! Now they are more interested in portraying the accuracy of their images as opposed to the truth of them (the kind that sets you free). There are six of these kids. I would be eternally grateful if in future years even one of them, as an adult, recovers the pre-school artistic “gifts” s/he demonstrated back then. My point? There are very, very few children who grow up to become gifted artists, that is, adults who give devotion and risk to the same “spontaneity and creative use of design, color, and individuality” (my phrase from above) that they practiced in the innocence of their early childhood.
From this point I would like to proceed and say that artists are a rare breed (no snide comments, please!). What I mean is that the “real” artist (to use one of Grantham’s terms) is a person who senses, and then knows, that s/he possesses this gift of “spontaneity and the creative use of design, color, and individuality” that portray the truth of a subject (or non-subject!). In the barest of terms I’ll put it this way: artists know they are “on” to something—they know they’re good. To discern this, and to admit it, and to say it (at least to yourself) can be very tricky. Some people simply say it: I know I am of a special breed; I know I am an artist. Many of such go on to successful careers as “self-taught” artists. For others, ta da: enter art school! Their convictions drive many “real” artists to art school. There they learn for sure—and may have responsible art teachers tell them—that they do have the gifts and calling to affirm that they are artists. Other students also enter art schools, but they are not “real” artists. The trick for them concerns how long it takes them to realize this (and tragically, some never do but continue to banter about the art world anyway).
Now let’s digress for a moment to the world of other arts beyond visual arts. For instance, how about music? Here’s a singer who has it all—gifted as we would say. The singer dreams of being on the concert stage or appearing as a star in the opera houses around the world. Through a long, competitive process the singer diligently prepares for such a career and finally attains the dream. At that point the singer automatically will be paid for being so gifted and for exercising his/her stewardship so faithfully! The singer probably didn’t go through all this only because s/he “enjoys” singing. Top quality opera singers need an audience to complete the equation of their chosen art. In the process they also get paid for their unique services. Is it any different with a “real” visual artist?
Therefore I paint for the patron who will value my art and hopefully purchase it. Yes, I paint for the market—for those persons who value the gifts of “spontaneity and the creative use of color, design, and individuality” which I claim for myself. And I choose to make this my profession. When you look at a Tom Uttech landscape, it is worth paying for. When you look at one of Janet Robert’s or Katie Musloff’s figurative paintings, it is worth paying for and deserves the wider audience which is brought about by a commercial exhibition and/or sale of the work. I personally enjoy painting so much that I want others to enjoy my paintings. For me, art is not “about the money,” to use Grantham’s phrase, but it definitely is about selling my paintings.

Richard W. Patt, WP&S Professional Member,
Wauwatosa, WI July 25, 2007