The other night, a painter who has taken a long hiatus from the practice of art said to me something along the lines of, “Either you’re making $500,000 a year as an artist or you might as well be making nothing.” That struck me as kind of outrageous. I know successful artists, and I’m quite sure none of them make anything near $500,000 a year — not off their artwork, at least. Not that many people doing anything pull in that kind of bread these days, unless you’re a banker receiving a bailout.
I countered my friend’s statement by suggesting that it was really a matter of perspective, and most importantly, of one’s own needs and vision of success. He disagreed. Basically, his view was that if you’re not making that kind of money, you and your work might not as well exist. (At all? Or only as far as the art world is concerned? I wasn’t sure.)
This brings up a couple of issues. One is the value of art (and that’s a big one–a hot topic these days since the market tanked and Brandeis announced it’s intention to close the Rose Museum and sell its entire collection), another is the definition of success and who owns the right to it: society or the individual? By my friend’s assessment, an artist like Thomas Kinkade is an important artist. I’m not discounting the importance of making a living, but the power of money and its use as a ruler to measure success are sticky points. I think of Tom Daschle, certainly a very wealthy, intelligent and successful man, but then his desire to hold onto all his dough by avoiding taxes ruins it all and leaves him looking like a chump. The latest unhappily called-out chump on a mountain of greedy, corrupt, and very wealthy chumps.
I recently examined my own criteria for personal success. Financial goals are part of the picture, but for me, there are several more critical pieces to the puzzle — especially artistic growth, and even including peer recognition — so I won’t be stressing too much if I don’t bank that $500G this year. I wonder, are you climbing a ladder or following a path or just trying to focus on finding something out?
“O painter, take care lest the greed for gain prove stronger incentive than renown in art, for to gain in this renown is a far greater thing than the renown of riches” ~Leonardo da Vinci
“It is not uncommon to commiserate with a stranger’s misfortune, but it takes a really fine nature to appreciate a friend’s success.” ~Oscar Wilde
[image: Andy Warhol Dollar Sign 1981, Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, 2290 x 1780 mm. Photo courtesy Anthony d’Offay Ltd., © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/ARS, NY and DACS, London 2008. Via: Tate Collections.]