One of the biggest challenges I faced in working in art and design was the student/artist debate of art for art’s sake and making a living at making art. The designer types in some ways were already set – they knew they would be designing for a specific industry and company. They were already in sync with the idea that their skills and work would be monetized automatically.
But fine artists, in many cases have a real problem with this idea. I’ve heard so many complain that an artist’s life is difficult, and there should be patrons who support them because of their talents. Others vilify those famous artists such as Thomas Kinkade for “selling out,” while secretly being jealous of their success. The prevailing attitude is that all of the most famous and best artists never had to actually sell their art for a living. That, somehow, these artists became famous and their works were exhibited in museums the world over without money ever exchanging hands.
Maybe that is true for some; however, if an artist wants to produce “art for art’s sake” today, that person must be independently wealthy or have a job that supports the work. A third option that I often tout to students and artists alike is to think about commercializing their work. It is possible, and artists have been doing this successfully for a very long time.
One of my favorite artists, Maxfield Parrish, is a case in point. He is very famous for his cobalt-hued and light-splashed paintings of neoclassical scenes, many of which ended up on candy boxes. Usually, my artistic career consulting clients give a not so subtle snort at this fact. But they are also brought up short by another fact – Maxfield Parrish had a very successful 50-year career as an artist.
Yet, he too struggled with commercializing his art, turning away from a celebrated career in engraving and illustration to paint landscapes. But the money still came rolling in as royalties from these paintings that graced calendars, posters and prints. Perhaps Parrish was a genius at monetizing his talents. What I do know is that he lived to grand age of 91 while continuously producing his art and influencing many other talented artists.
It is possible to make a living today as a fine artist. There are more avenues for monetizing artistic skills today than were available to Maxfield Parrish. Computers and digitization have made lucrative fine arts careers possible. Fine artists have to decide are they willing to learn other skills to get their art in front of the faces of the interested public? Are they willing to network and be entrepreneurs to create that interest? The alternative is to produce art in their spare time while working a full-time survival job. This is a viable alternative; however, producing art in this capacity ends up becoming a hobby, not a central life focus. The most basic career question becomes, as an artist, are you willing to accept your art as your life’s work or as your hobby?