The Business of Visual Art

Some patrons who purchased prints at an artshow of mine a few years ago.

Some patrons who purchased prints at an artshow of mine a few years ago.

Lately I’ve been asking myself what am I? A business woman or an artist? I feel like people try to make you feel like you need to pick between those things. I ask why not be both?
As an artist I feel like others try to make you feel ashamed when trying to monetize your work. “Art is for everyone”, “it should be pure”, “art is everywhere for free”, these are all things that have been said to me after I’ve passionately explain my business plan to others. Art, or more specifically, illustration, is a skill set I’ve been developing since I was 14 years old. I’ve let others use and abuse that skill so much by drawing things for free, or letting my time be used for others instead of myself. No one else who has a skill is expected to do that for free. I think some people view the ability to do art as something their entitled to. “Oh well it’s nothing for you to draw this up quickly for me, I can’t do it.” They could not be more wrong. It’s a skill that is honed over years and years, and it’s a person’s perspective. So much thinking goes on in the background of everything that’s ever been drawn or designed. Literally every other art form has been monetized, and you consume it all the time. Music, video, comics, movies, the logo on your coffee you paid for. There is nothing wrong with asking for compensation for your skill and your time.

Sitting at my artist desk last year with Ruben the snake working on Be Subtle Pins

Sitting at my artist desk last year with Ruben the snake working on Be Subtle Pins

I could go into this whole thing about how money isn’t technically real, and it’s an unnatural order of power balance we created to make order in our social society...but in my opinion wile that’s fun to ponder, it literally gets you nowhere. It is also my opinion that people who argue money is garbage will never have any. It’s ok they argue that because they’re right, but, what game do you want to be playing? The fact of the matter is that money runs everything. Everyone is compensated for everything in some way they value. Why should art, or your perspective, be any different?
That’s a question I started to ask myself about 3 years ago. Art is very complicated in the idea that it’s viewed as an entertainment/philosophical item. At least in the United States. Back in the day before photos, artists such as painters, architects, etc, were documenting their life and history, and creating propaganda for the church and the monarchs to further their agendas, and they all made a great living off of it. Today art is something the rich and famous buy, art is something we see in galleries and go ‘huh, I see myself in this’ or ‘huh, I don't get this at all that guy’s an idiot’, art is a kid spraying a message on a wall that commentates about their life in the streets, or their experience with our government, art is also something visual that we post on Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for free. It’s an analog thing we consume digitally. So where does art fit in our world? How does one monetize something that is consumable online for free?

I’m not too sure to be honest.

What I’ve been exploring goes back to what money and value means in our society. Money is power, everyone gets compensated in some way they value. Artist’s also trade with each other. It’s one of the last sort of skills available where trading amongst each other is fun. My perspective for yours. For example I am a graphic designer. I worked for companies and with in a scope of work ranging from production to marketing advertising and I build tool kits, and banners and other digital assets most likely to sell something to you. The time I spend doing that I am compensated in US Dollars. I pay my rent with that, I save my money with that, I eat off that. But illustration and tattoo designs, are all personal to me, with no outside prompts. I trade drawings for other artist’s drawings, or for their shirts or pins. I also sell prints, take the occasional commission, I have an etsy store, I have patches and pins I send out to get manufactured, etc. This is a personal choice that I am sharing my ‘fine art’ with you. No one asked for it, no one is making me sell it, I am making it available to you.  I spend time commentating and drawing and I don’t really make enough to even claim it on my taxes. For artist Lauren, that doesn’t really bother me, but as a business Lauren I can’t figure out how to be successful in this way that I see other designers and illustrators being and seeing them setting up small shops. At times it’s very frustrating.

I post everything I make to Instagram - which is free. You can follow me for free, you can see my process for free, you can read these blogs for free. Maybe that’s a piece of this puzzle.

But as artist Lauren I just can’t justify making you pay for any of this. It’s the internet and I’m not on Patreon. Maybe I should be. All I hope to do is to connect to you and get you to like me enough to care about my stories and hope you buy a print to hang on your wall to support me making more because we see each other in what I make. But the truth is, and business Lauren will hate me for telling you, whether you buy my stuff or not, I’m going to keep making it. That really messes with the whole Supply vs Demand thing in business.

I may stop making clothing lines if no one buys, I may stop making certain pin designs if no one buys, etc, etc, but I’ll never stop illustrating or working for companies who need my design skill set.

Being in the business of visual art is not always logical or straightforward. It takes a ton of discipline and a lot of faith in knowing yourself. It takes mountains of confidence too. Blind confidence most of the time.
It’s a lot of work to run the social media, to make the images for my store, build my web pages, and actually draw all the time. I do this every single day all day. But it’s the business of art. Maybe it’ll kick off, maybe it won’t. I just love to do it.

I love to be both be a business woman and an artists.

The business of art is just liking it enough to go, go, go.
And who knows if it’ll even add up to anything. If I ever find “The Secret” I’ll be sure to write about it.

Lauren VersinoComment