top of page

Success as an Artist:

In the United States, and possibly the world, the measure of success is money. If you get paid a lot, you are a success. Everyday I see very good art all around me. What is it that makes one artist a success and another poor? Chance plays a role. If an artist has an influential collector or an art critic who promotes him or her, the chances are greater that the artist will become a success. If the curator of a prestigious museum also takes an interest, then an artist is virtually assured of success. One certain path to "failure" is if the "wrong" venue is chosen in which an art work is presented. If a piece is presented in an upscale gallery, the buyer will expect to pay a lot. If the same piece is presented in a grocery store, the buyer will expect to pay little.

What else can an artist do to become a success? I believe there is nothing an artist can do, if one is to stay true to one's own voice. There is the chance factor of "taste". If an artist happens to be painting in the current "taste", chances are improved. However, to choose such a route dooms an artist to mediocrity. It does help to have a pedigree. Art historians and curators like to relate current artists to their place in history. It is useful to have a mentor and to have been trained at a particular school of art. I fall into the category of "Outsider".

Oddly enough, there is one advantage to lack of "success"; there is no pressure to make multiple variations of a "successful" image. One outstanding example of a successful artist who continued reinvent himself is Piccaso. Some artists strive for an identifiable technique. From a commercial point of view this makes sense; it becomes a product that people can identify. From an artistic point of view, it is a trap. A successful technique can result in the repetition of ideas so that the images become little more than stylized symbols. However, when one paints, an identifiable style is nearly unavoidable. On the other hand, when recognized, style can be a force to be used for growth and change. It provides a foundation to push away from. This re-invention does not always result in an improvement, but it does keep a person’s art alive and vigorous.



How to Price Art:

I asked a friend of mine, who was a banker, how the value of something is determined. He told me that the value of something is determined by how much someone is willing to pay. It makes practical sense but I find it to be disconcerting. An example is Van Gogh's "Irises" which sold for 53 million dollars in 1987, or de Kooning's "Interchange" which sold for 300 million dollars. These are very nice paintings but are they really worth that much more than some very fine paintings I've seen which are selling for $1,000? Clearly there is a distortion. However, using the guideline that an item is worth whatever is paid for it means that only the fabulously wealthy can determine the monetary value of a piece of art. That leaves most of us out of the equation. However, this assumes one wants to sell one’s art. Not wanting to sell one's art for what the market will pay is typical of Outsiders whose art is worth more to themselves than the market will bear. A prime example is Drossos P. Skyllas who priced his art so highly that he never sold a painting.

Can one price a piece of art based on how much time it took to produce it? In the late nineteenth century, there was an important debate in which the art critic John Ruskin took James Whistler to court. Ruskin's belief was that Whistler was charging too much for his paintings because they did not require as much effort or time as more "establishment-endorsed" paintings did. Ruskin lost. It was decided in a court that the value of a painting does not depend on how much time was spent on it. Oddly enough, not only has this been established in the court of law, it is actually true.

I find it almost impossible to sell my art. I have had offers, but I believe people are not willing to pay the amount they are worth to me. Typical Outsider. As my painting has become "finer", not necessarily better, it has required increasing amounts of time to complete a single painting. It is not unusual for me to spend 60 to 100 hours on a painting. At the current minimal wage, that would mean $500 to $800 per painting. Some would even balk at this price because I have no pedigree, track record or influential supporters. If I parted with a painting for this amount, I would be concerned that the art would not be cared for. People care for an object in proportion to how much they've paid for it. If one is particularly good at promotion, such as Andy Warhol, or is fortunate enough to be backed by an influential collector, or important museum curator, or even have a showing at a prestigious gallery, then one could charge more and would in all probability succeed in obtaining the increased fee, which is the ultimate determination of what something is worth. In this case one would not have to be concerned about how well the piece is cared for. If they paid a lot, they'll take care of it.

One fable is that success in art follows death. Although there have been exceptions, most successful artists are successful during their lifetime. Successful means they get paid handsomely for their work and receive recognition in the form of fame. For the most part, artists who do not succeed during their lifetime have similar success after death. However, it is a pleasant fantasy and one that can be used to sustain oneself during period of low productivity.

Profession or Avocation:

Humans need to categorize. It must be an ancient survival mechanism that is hardwired into us. So, I have thought about how I would categorize myself, if I were forced to. I have decided that I do indeed fit into a venerable line, that of "Naive" painters, who are also frequently "Outsiders", with no pedigree. I am not talking about folk art, although I imagine folk art is a cousin of Naive art. It is my belief that most artists, who are classified as "Naive" artists, are not naive at all in the dictionary definition of the word. They may have had no formal training, but anyone who looks at thousands of paintings cannot help but be influenced and perhaps, in a way, be trained. I am an Outsider because I have no formal training, no mentor, and no lineage. I am self-taught. If I consider myself a Naive Outsider, of the two terms, Outsider is the stronger. I find characteristics in myself found in other Outsiders. They frequently value their work more than they perceive others will and do not sell their work, even if they could. This is a problem because if one does not sell one's work, one does not earn money. If one does not earn money, then one cannot be considered a professional. If one is not a professional, then one must be an amateur. If one is judged to be an amateur, then painting is not a life long pursuit and a passion; it is characterized by others as a hobby. One example of a "Naive" artist is Henri Rousseau. He is sometimes characterized as a "Post-impressionist", but that is a mistake. An example of an Outsider has already been mentioned, the venerable Drossos P. Skyllas.

bottom of page