If an artist is creating art for art’s sake, without a focus on who is going to appreciate it, want to support it and ultimately buy or consume it, who is one creating for? Is the work of art for a potential audience or is it therapy for the artist? Is one focused on making a living from their art and craft or are they creating just for the pleasure it gives them, personally?
I never offer any guarantees of success with educational offerings. To do so, would be dishonest. Avoid those arts institutions that do promise such results. Art is highly subjective and the interest of the market in any particular form is only to be known from entering the market.
Most students of theatre will look around at their classmates and make assumptions about who will work after graduation and who will not. I have found that, almost without exception, the market ends up valuing something different than the collective thinking of the artist classmates. From personal experience and from considerable observation, I have found that you never really KNOW what the market is going to want and how they are going to respond to what you offer.
Our goal then becomes to increase our chances of market success, to do everything we can to support our odds and make educated, informed decisions that are based in logic.
One thing for sure…if you want your audience to expand, you must adjust what you create to their interests. In doing so, your act of creating becomes a dialog with your audience and you can make the argument that you are serving them. Then, as an artist, you are using your skills in a way that produces value, rather than just the value of your own interest. By tweaking our work, shifting our focus and responding to market demands, needs and gaps, we increase our odds.
There are those artists who create in a bubble and their work has lasting impact. Ex. Emily Dickinson’s work was found posthumously. Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting during his life and it was to his brother.
One could argue that these artistic figures were visionaries and helped shape how we perceive art today.
One could also say, however, that there are tons more artists who have excelled and realized their potential via purposeful and thoughtful pursuit (and with money in mind). Picasso understood the value of his paintings and no doubt felt motivated by those tags. Dali understood the value of his work. It is widely believed, that he may have duplicated series numbers, so as to be able to sell more prints for more money. Are Picasso and Dali sellouts? Meryl Streep is widely considered one of the greatest actresses of our era. If she opts to negotiate the terms of her contract (having profit motivation behind the practice), is Meryl a sell out? Are they somehow not artists? Ridiculous thought, right?
I think that, more often than not, it is not the audience who is viewing the artist as a sell out or not, but the other artists. Next time you hear talk of selling out, ask yourself if the person talking about selling out is currently working. I think that, more often than not, it is the unemployed that speak of selling out.
Attending to a particular audience’s needs (or niche) and creating work to serve those needs increases the artists chances of making a living. That is not selling out. Rather, it is buying in. The artist that commits to serving other’s needs by offering value (with a price tag), is investing in their financial health. That way makes a heck of a lot more sense than the starving path.
For the starving artist, who romanticizes their starvation by buying in to ideas about “selling out”, I ask this: “Are you necessary”? Does your community value and need your contribution? The starving artist may at this point say that their work will likely be valued when they are dead. To that, I say, “Serve the living”.
Jim Hart is the founder of Austin Conservatory of Professional Arts (ACPA), The Hart Technique, The International Theatre Academy Norway and Sleeping Hero Productions, LLC.
Austin Conservatory of Professional Arts is accepting applications Now for the 2011 inaugural class. Applications may be found at http://www.austinconservatory.com