Friday, February 18, 2011

Selling Out or Selling Smart?

Are visual artists "type-cast" like actors?  I wonder.  If we become successful at something or known for working in a certain style, is that all people want to see from us?  What if we want to try something new - will it be accepted?

This is on my mind after a presentation by an artist at a local art organization. The artist is very successful, has work in galleries throughout the world  and has been known for 30 years for her florals. Her work is in demand and sells for thousands of dollars.  She has been drawn to a more abstract style, yet feels some barriers in getting this work accepted into galleries.  Because her florals are so successful, that is what the galleries want.  She exhibits her abstract work under a different name.

There are so many ways I can process this information. Is she selling out by continuing to do florals?  I guess if she likes doing them she isn't selling out. But if she prefers painting abstracts, painting florals takes time that she could be spending on the abstracts.  On the other hand, if she can get $5,000-$9,000 for one floral, she doesn't have to make as many, which would free up time for working on abstracts.

And there is also the emotional issue.  How does that feel if the work you prefer to create is not valued in the marketplace? It can take a thick skin to deal with that.

I suppose there really are no answers to a lot of my questions. Each of us has to make that decision for ourselves.  This does tie in with recurring thoughts I have had about my style. I don't feel that I could work in the same style or the same theme for 30 years. This isn't a negative judgment of those who do, because others may have more focus and be able to explore a concept more deeply than I.  But I struggle with how to keep things fresh, and also maintain a recognizable style. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.


  1. Lisa, I think we all ponder this question from time to time. I know I don't do my best work if I am tired of the subject matter. But usually after a break, I see with fresh eyes. Some breaks are longer than others....

  2. Very pertinent thoughts. Perhaps this is why artist journaling is so important as an artist can continue to explore new subjects, new ways of working. I, for one, want to keep trying new things and hope there will be some new things in my work as I go along my artistic path!

  3. Ah, great post. 20 years ago I opened a little store and sold/taught bead work, trying to aim higher than what was then available. About 5 years ago I began sewing. Sold the store last year and am still selling my jewelry.

    I think as long as I'm putting my best creative
    effort into my jewelry I'm not selling out.
    I use that money to fuel the excitement in exploring fabric, dyeing and weaving. Maybe not the same as the artist you mentioned but again,
    maybe not so far off.

    Galleries can be controlling but they also have
    rent and salaries to pay. Having a small business I know how expensive it can be. We all
    must find that line where we feel creepy about
    why we make things. That line isn't the same for each of us.

    Sorry to be so long winded. Fabric artists already seem to have several strikes against them...not being considered as 'real' artists.
    Just look closely at reviews of textile exhibition. A little down-the-nose comment here
    and there usually.

    There's a line between selling out and shooting oneself in the foot. My two cents. Again, excellent blog.

  4. Ah, this is such a good post, Lisa. Food for thought. This very subject was a topic last week during our design series annual gathering. Perhaps there is no absolute answer, but there are certainly a lot of questions raised. I wonder how often artists are faced with this dilemma. Galleries, and patrons of the artist, often become attached to a specific "era" of the work. How to move on? It is an interesting conundrum.

  5. I'm thinking that most changes in our life happen in increments. Like an hourglass, the sand is located in both globes. At any given point in time the volume of the sand is greater in one place or another. When I step into another world of style, I often do it gradually, standing spread eagle between two worlds. If sales (and my interest) picks up on the other side, it is a natural step to shift my weight to the other side. Usually, the sales and buyer support comes along.

  6. Perennial questions asked here, as the comments underline. In one way it comes down to whether or not you need the money from your art to live by, then compromise is necessary. (And this is not a personal gripe - I so rarely sell anything that it is irrelevant!)

  7. Are Artists typecast? No not entirely although like with a signature their personal style shows through.
    I found it interesting that this woman felt she had to adopt a pseudonym to sell her work. I would have kept painting in both styles and hope to reach more diverse tastes as well as satisfy an audience I was already reaching.

    Any artist with a historic body of work will evolve and change their approach. This is evident when studying the masters, like Matisse for example.

    Stay true to your vision and the rest will come.


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