My neighbor offered me $5 to draw her cat. I said no. My sister ripped into me for it because I should’ve been grateful for the opportunity. “I don’t want to draw her cat and $5 isn’t enough!” Sis stomped off muttering, swearing about my uppity nature. I was a teenager then, but I can’t say how many times I’ve lived moments like that since then. I recognize exploitation.
I’ve been thinking about the way artists market themselves these days, and I don’t like any of it. Somebody always makes more money than me when all is said and done – studios, businesses, galleries, websites, framers, art supply stores, whoever. They all get a piece of me and I feel prostituted by a gang of abusive pimps.
I see people selling things on Etsy and other websites. I also read the fees that go along with that, and read about how to push further up in line when customers search sites. I got tired just reading about it. I really just want to paint pretty pictures instead of selling all the time, and I strongly suspect that most of the artists selling have another source of income.
The median household income is $53,046 nationally. That means if I only aspired to average, I should net $1,000+/week every week after paying off my pimps. If I spent a couple of months on a painting, I’d have to net that $1,000+/week x the number of weeks I worked on that painting. I’d have to include time spent gathering reference, buying art supplies, cleaning my palette, getting it framed, etc. Keep in mind that if I didn’t have a “real job”, I’d have to pay for my health insurance out of pocket too, so factor that in too.
Then, think about the in between time of paintings. What if I had a dry spell without ideas? I’d have to figure out how much recuperation time I need and divide that into the weeks of the year and add that into the price of a painting as well, plus remember all that time I’d have to spend selling paintings too.
I’m really glad the internet lets us all post our work for free and lets us talk to each other about what we’re doing creatively. People can buy cheap prints of a painting and feel happy. On the other hand, there are so many people online that I don’t know if anything really looks that special to art buyers any more, or if they understand the difference between a print and an original. How many people are out there who can afford a $25,000 painting?
I've been poor often enough that I can make do when funds are tight, but why are artists expected to live so poor? We have skills that other people don't have, and why shouldn't those skills be compensated sufficiently to keep us sheltered and fed?
I would really like to know if anybody out there is actually painting what they want to paint AND earning enough with their art to live comfortably? Please tell me how you’re doing it. In the meantime, I’m keeping my day job.