Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Something to Fall Back On

I must be getting old and cranky. I don't mind (yet) if you, or even your kids wander into my yard, but I'll have to be hog-tied if I’m expected to sit by and take another shot to the legitimacy of my profession without speaking up about it.

An Artist's Brain
There he stood, in the middle of my studio, this man who had just finished telling me how he has always wanted to be an artist, in fact has always been an artist, his whole life, and wished he had had the guts years ago to make the jump and create the drawings, paintings and sculptures that have weighed upon his heart since childhood, who, having just learned that we have been in this business for nearly thirty years, and in the same location for more than a decade, had the unmitigated blindness to utter what (admittedly) everybody else says, because they haven’t thought about it ether, and have no idea how insulting it is, to wit:

“I tell my kids that Art is okay, I guess, as long as you have a real job first… you know - something to fall back on…”

Something to fall back on? Are you kidding? Hmmph. 

I wanted to tell him that I have the same thing to fall back on that I had the day I went into business – the same thing that every other  entrepreneur has to fall back on whenever they have the guts to step out and try something that nobody else has done before – and that would be their kiester.

Listen folks, Art is a business, just like any other.  There's no room for crybabies when you go into business for yourself. Or naysayers, eitherIf you do it right – pick the right people, get the right training, use the right tools, funnel your energy and imagination in the right direction, you just might pull it off. Chances are you won't, but there’s no guarantee that the butcher, baker, or computer programmer will do any better.

And that’s what sticks in my craw – the assumption that because I am an Artist, I am somehow doomed to a higher degree of failure than an accountant or a florist or a mechanic starting up in business.

My grandmother told me this the day she found out I was seriously considering a career shift. “Slow down a minute, Honey,” she said. “Art is something that people do for enjoyment, not to make a living. You make art after you have the bills paid.”

I was sorely tempted to believe her, her being my grandma and all, but her argument didn't make sense then, and doesn't now - especially since most other professions traditionally have higher overhead costs than I do, and far more competition. They need employees, and inventory, and significantly more physical accouterments to run their businesses than I do to run mine. For the most part, my inventory is in my head. I am paid to create things out of thin air.  You don't need a supply chain for that. (Okay, maybe I and the accountant come out close to even on that front.)

At the DS Art Studio, we take minimal raw materials, add ideas, and come up with tangible products that simply didn’t exist yesterday. We’re a factory of ideas and products, and those products are unique. You simply can't go down the street and get the same thing from another shop.

Like every other independent businessperson, we have an incredible incentive to find a market for our goods: We like to eat. And that means we take that same creative energy that we use to make our art, and put it to use to dream up markets for our products and services.

We have to. It’s our living.

Were we prepared to jump into this business way back thirty years ago when my wife and I, independently, took the plunge into the art business? The answer is yes - as much as anyone is prepared to open any business. (My opinions and observations on this subject are chronicled in another blog post, which you are welcome to view here.) We’ve made it this far, and we don't have any plans to “fall back” onto a “real job” any time soon.

So the next time you are tempted to advise an artist of the need to do so, take a minute to think if it would be appropriate to offer the same advice to a grocer, or an engineer, or a chef, or a police officer.

They would look at you like you were being intentionally discourteous, or mean, or just plain crazy.

For my part I will try, once again, not to believe that is your intent.

But it sure sounds like it.

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