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L’art pour l’art doesn’t pay the rent

🕐 4 min read

Art for art’s sake certainly sounds nobly self-sacrificing – unless an artist needs to make a car payment or catch up on a lagging mortgage. Or pay a child’s college tuition bill.

Like most of us, professional artists need to make a living because they, too, are in business. Trouble is, the art frequently becomes a sideline while a time clock has to be punched on a “real job” to finance a more sustainable life.

Every artist, of course, would love to be remembered someday with the kind of admiration given to Rembrandt, El Greco, Bach, Monet, Emily Dickinson, Oscar Wilde or Edgar Allan Poe, with one notable painful exception: All of those ended their lives essentially penniless, and that’s just the short-short list of the artistically impoverished.

Despite their fame and works that can sell for millions in modern-day auctions, in their time they just weren’t successful with the buck-earning side of art.

While achieving fame and a livelihood as an artist will never be easy, there are better tools around now for self-promotion and for marketing artists and artisans than have ever been available before.

Consider three Arlington artists as examples: Cathy Stein – a semi-famed light-waves manipulating creator of digitally altered one-of-a-kind photographic art. Or Susan Ashley — an internationally known creator of baskets and bowls shaped from esoteric materials. Or highly regarded pottery artist/teacher Cynthia Brinson — a self-professed “lover of mud” since childhood.

Despite their recognition as artists, none of them were economically able to quit their day jobs for most of their working lives.

Stein taught high school physics and these days also is an elected Dalworthington Gardens alderman. Before finally retiring to become a full-time artist, Ashley toiled four decades in the IT industry as a software support analyst. Brinson spent a quarter-century in the insurance industry before finally retiring from that gig to become a full-time potter two years ago.

“Fortunately, there are more tools now for artists to expand their presence and incomes,” says Stein, the creator of one such tool – 817ArtsAlliance. It’s a collaborative of artists and craftspeople in the 817 area code that promotes itself through a Pinterest site, a blog and occasional short-lived pop-up art exhibitions.

Pop-ups take place in temporarily available spaces for brief periods, typically two weeks or less.

It helps that Downtown Arlington Management Corp. encourages such events as part of its strategy to attract more people downtown.

For example, more than a dozen artisans of the 817 group – including Stein, Ashley and Brinson – will be showing off their best work at the Happy Holidays Pop-Up Market in downtown Arlington Dec. 8-23, at 500 E. Front St. (check times and artists at http://bit.ly/817ArtArl)

“Difficulties of being an artist include promoting yourself, getting your creations to market and being paid a fair price,” Stein noted. “Most artists start out being insecure in their work. It can be very difficult putting yourself out there because the very real possibility of rejection can feel like a personal attack.

“Finding venues to sell at are also a challenge. It’s become important to me to bring about opportunities for artists to get their work before the public that gives the artist reasonable compensation by attracting customers who understand made by hand in the U.S.A. versus made in a production line,” Stein said.

A big part of the answer to the business of being an artist, Stein says, is taking advantage of social media and the various marketing possibilities – to use amenities like PayPal, eBay, Facebook and Pinterest groups, web sites, blogs, guild memberships and virtual galleries.

Many 817ArtAlliance members, for example, participate in Etsy.com, a site that also offers a plethora of marketing and strategy advice. Other well-regarded sites for arts as commerce include Artbreak.com, Artquest.com, ArtsyHome.com and Zatista.com.

Earning a full-time living in the artist business will never be easy – but there are more tools than ever to help along the way.

O.K. Carter is a former editor and publisher of the Arlington Citizen-Journal and was also Arlington publisher and columnist for the Star-Telegram and founding editor of Arlington Today Magazine. He’s the author of the definitive book on Arlington’s colorful history, Caddos, Cotton and Cowboys: Essays on Arlington.

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