Lily Necklace by Michelle Pajak-Reynolds
As I prepare my yearly records for my accountant, the expenses vs income $$'s are always lopsided. While I'm very frugal, I spend WAY more than what comes back. I hope it's not too personal a question to ask, but have your $$'s ever turned out this way as well. Sometimes I feel like my art habit is pulling too much out of my household income. While it's really only a small percentage of our total, it's still several thousand each year. How do you stay motivated year after year?
Worried about negative cash flow
Dear At a Loss,
You've really hit on a couple of fundamental issues. One, Can I make a living out of my art? And two, How do I stay motivated? Many, if not all, artists have been confronted by these issues.
Let's separate these topics because I think of them as entirely different. In this post, I will address the money issue and the importance of using Short Term and Long Term Goals for your professional development and motivation. Then, continue with a few suggestions to stay motivated and inspired about your work.
IS MONEY MOTIVATION FOR CREATING
Personally, I have never made much money from my artwork despite the fact that I do more every year to generate income. To make ends meet, I have a part-time job (leading exercise) and do silver repair work. I give lectures, workshops and speak at schools and conferences. Each year a couple of major pieces do sell and some smaller items sell more often. The art sales alone are not enough to cover my expenses, sometimes close but not enough.
Making a living from your art. The reality for most artists and craftspeople is that they need additional sources of income outside of their artwork to pay the rent and support themselves. To put it bluntly, don't give up your day job.
This may not be the answer you wanted to hear, but making a living from art is not a practical motivator. It is irregular and outside of your control.
Revenue from my work is not my sole source of motivation. Really it is only a small part of the big picture.
So how can an artist/maker stay motivated? First and most important, you need to decide your Goals for Success, then break this down into Short Term and Long Term Goals.
Be honest with yourself? Is making a living from your work your most important goal? Then your production methods need to align with this goal along with the type of items you produce.
I am more motivated by making the best, original, innovative work that I can and finding exhibition opportunities. Displaying my work in great exhibitions, included in books and magazines, and purchased for museum collections are my goals. As an artist, I work at aligning my work methods and designs toward these goals.
WRITE DOWN YOUR SHORT TERM AND LONG TERM GOALS
Seek your validation from your short and long-term goals. Examples include:
- producing one AMAZING piece per year
- producing smaller or less involved work that costs less
- having your work published in books and magazines,
- having your work included in shows,
- learning how to update your own website,
- developing your Photoshop skills,
- participating in a show,
- organizing a show of your fellow artists,
- making new opportunities for yourself and others (like a Critique Group),
- generating money,
- generating sales.
PARTICIPATE IN A Critique by Downloading Critique Group Guidelines
This is very important. Use the Critique Group to:
- Stimulate your work,
- Create deadlines for yourself to get work done for the next Critique Group
- Give and receive honest feedback.
- Meet monthly to motivate each other.
- Potentially, the group can create group show opportunities.
Vague and gratuitous compliments serve no purpose here. Be clear and on target. An "I like it" or "that is interesting" is not useful. Be specific about what works visually and what doesn't. Give a detailed interpretation and identify what elements caused or triggered your perception. Draw on your knowledge of each artist's objectives and target your comments toward their objectives. Are the fabrication techniques aligned with their goals. Focus on constructive criticism. Avoid talking about children, dogs, cats, and personal problems.
A link to my Critique Group Guidelines is provided here. I recommend that a group have between three and ten people to maintain a core group familiar with the work, previous progress, and the short and long-term goals of each member.
DIG DEEP, BE UNIQUE
For me, the path to success is to make the best, most interesting, deep, esoteric, off the beaten path, unique, "_________(fill in the blank here)" in the whole world. It has to reflect your inner core, your passion, your inner being, your singular artistic voice, and a personal vocabulary of fabrication methods that you have developed over time. The more unique, the more unusual the work, the more likely you will reach your goals. Copycat designs will quickly hit the "glass ceiling" of the art and craft world.
Write down the goals for your work, and then study your approach to design and production. Are your work methods, approach to production, promotion, networking, and dedicated focus all aligned like the stars? Are you working in a straight line?
Your goals for your art or craft may be different than mine, the most important thing to realize is that you will never reach your goals if you aren't clear and honest with yourself.
Harriete Estel Berman
This post was updated on December 20, 2021