I was recently invited to take part in an interview for the moon from my attic
, a wonderful blog on art licensing. I'm actually beginning to transition from licensing to other arenas that are less commercial, and in trying to explain that response to the blog host, Alex Columbo I realized what I was really doing was writing an essay about my thoughts about art and life, about commercial art vs. fine art and how things have changed over the lifetime of my career thus far. Funny how life sometimes nudges you to get your thoughts in order. I ended up not sending the long email, but did decide to post some of it here. I'll let you know when our interview is posted on her site. My thanks again to Alex for her interest.
I was educated at the University of Kansas in the late 70's. The year I was a freshman they hired Richard Branham, to be the head of our design department. He was a well known industrial designer who'd just gotten done redesigning all of JC Penney's stores, everything, the stores themselves, the products, the logo, the advertising, you name it. He told us, "The public is visually illiterate, and it is up to you to educate them". I was young, I believed that, I still believe it, not in a condescending way, but in a hopeful "let's make the world more beautiful" way. After several years as an illustrator for advertising, design firms and publishing I decided I wanted to make more beautiful imagery, and licensing seemed like a more authentic way to express myself while also still carrying on the visual service doctrine put to me in college.
I believe that using something-a toothbrush, a mug, a journal-consistently in your daily life that is beautiful, that is considered, that is intelligent, elevates your mind and your soul. For me personally, using and being surrounded by an environment of intelligent beautiful things also brings clarity and peace to my life.
When I started licensing there were more manufacturers who were concerned with supporting artists in a long term way, interested in partnering with them in their careers. They wanted creativity and collaboration, they were proud of making beautiful work. I don't find that to be the case so much anymore, though there are exceptions. Through the rise of the internet a pushed hurriedness is inherent now in our society. Trends come and go more and more quickly. The bottom line looms larger. Everyone is chasing the same imagery, the same trends, the same customers. It has become very homogenized. And while I know licensing is commercial by nature, there were wider margins to exist in back then for folks like myself who had a different agenda. Now those margins are much narrower.
But that narrowing has forced me to quit compromising and go back to making work that is more authentic for me. Now the challenge is finding an audience that will align with what I create, rather than make work tailored for a specific one, and a mass one at that. There's a big difference there.
Just as an aside, the same thing is happening in the music industry. I currently live in Nashville and I hear all the time from seasoned songwriters and industry veterans, that their industry is under the same hurried production and financial bottom line that reduces artistic standards and panders to what they believe a mass audience wants, no longer challenging them intellectually.
BUT on the positive side, the internet has made much more possible the selling of independent authentic creative work to a very wide and consequently more diverse audience, one that shops now on etsy, and less at Bed Bath and Beyond. You may not be making the big bucks of old, but you can make a living.
So I've opened an etsy
shop. I'm starting to make imagery I love again, making paintings again for galleries, and joyously challenging myself to make work that is based on art history, and poetry, and dreams rather than what trend a marketing guru has genuflected in front of.
Don't get me wrong I admire people who've been able to make a nice living in this industry. I'm honored to claim several as good friends. They make imagery that inspires people, makes them happy, that's not always an easy thing to do, especially as well as they do it.
In the end we all have different paths, and different priorities that inform our choices. For me, diversity is what makes the world expand and grow. My creative freedom is probably my top priority, more important to me than most. I don't think that's good or bad, just the way I'm wired. I don't have children, and I keep my lifestyle quite simple to afford that freedom. They were choices I made a long while back, for my sanity really.
I hope that by saying this that I give other people permission to be themselves authentically in whatever way that looks to them, and just them, not anyone else.
I've posted this art college graduation speech by Neil Gaiman on my facebook page. Here's the link
. His honest speech is very empowering. "Just make good art". He states it over and over again like a mantra, "Just make good art".
So I've decided to change lanes so I can continue doing just that. The old lane wasn't bad, but for me I needed to move over, to slow down a bit and reconnect to what's most important for me. I want to experience the richness of my life in a contemplative way, and make work from a deeper part of myself, that's where the joy lives for me, it always has.
Thanks for reading : ) I hope to share more soon.