I never thought to be doing this…coming out of the closet, but finally I have decided to confess my secret. So, here on the blog, and witnessed by my fellow NMPCA members, I am going to reveal my story: I don’t sell much clay work. And, I don’t feel this lessens my work or my stature as an artist. I have been thinking about how and why I find myself in these circumstances for quite a while and have decided to set down what has led me to this state.
For several years now, I haven’t had regular gallery representation, just a few pieces here and there. I used to be in a few galleries and had good success. I also used to do temporary shows/sales events and had success there, as well. Despite these previous circumstances, a confluence of events over the last several years has led me to a place where I don’t sell much of my clay work. I hope that by telling my story I will help other artists who don’t sell much, either.
So how did this happen and what is the effect on my art?
Of course, since I don’t sell art, I have to make money in other ways. I haven’t yet found a method of not bringing in money and still eat, dress, and have a warm, safe place to live. I have chosen to make money through computer software work, and I am fortunate to have been able to do so for over 45 years to fuel my passion for the clay. I used to feel like a divided person, devoting considerable energy and time to business and at the same time, considerable energy and passion to the clay work. Increasing age has blunted the feeling of divisiveness, and I now feel a nurturing relationship between parts of my life, and I credit my art with bringing about this integration.
We refer to different “worlds” … The art world, business world, civilized world, natural world, everyday reality. We fragment and compartmentalize our lives. My art is an expression of my dreams and visions as I attempt to balance and integrate these separate frames of reference.
I feel I am flying in the face of cultural stereotypes and conventional measures of the successful artist. I have encountered people who think you are not a “real” artist unless you work at it all the time (to the exclusion of other money-making endeavors). To that idea, I simply say hooey. I am also going against the desires of marketing/gallery thinking by NOT making a cohesive “body of work.” Instead, I make different kinds of things, sometimes widely different, when I feel moved to do so.
When I was selling work on a regular basis, I felt pressure. I would try to analyze what it is that people wanted to buy and what price they would pay for it and try to make something to meet these expectations, and still feel good about what I was making. I was always getting strange requests…make me another one like that only in pink. I would also get strange feedback about the work, like “Your work is too colorful” “not colorful enough” “Too painterly” “Not painterly enough” “Looks like the work of the devil.” When receiving some feedback, I would either say I don’t DO pink, or I would dutifully struggle to make something in pink. I never tried to get the devil out, though…actually I try to cultivate that aspect of my work. I even incorporated into one of my artist statements these sentences: “Pieces … are like “demons” of change. Joseph Campbell talks about how “demonic” originally meant the dynamic aspects of life… “
With the falling away of commercial sales, I don’t have to worry about other people’s perceptions of my work. I can focus on my best voice and inner demonic, and concentrate on making the work that I was put on this earth to create. OK, so that makes its own kind of pressure and struggle, but it feels like this is the right kind of imperative.
Conventional thought would say that an artist who doesn’t sell must not be making art that is any “good.” After thinking about this, I reject it as an absolute valuation of my work. By external measures, I get positive reinforcement of my art: I have won several awards for my pieces and I continually get positive feedback about my work. By internal measures, I find my work now more meaningful and a fulfillment of my best self. Certainly, the work that I make by my own and other’s evaluations is just as “good” as work by artists who are making more conventional sales.
I have always been somewhat of a rebel against what I am “supposed” to do. I was “supposed” to have children…well, I decided not. I was supposed to keep pursuing promotions in the business world until I rose to the highest level…well, despite success in the direction proscribed by society, I dropped out of corporate life to become an independent software consultant. So, I guess it should come as no surprise that I am unwilling to do the kind of things, make the kind of work, promote myself and the art in the ways that would lead toward more conventional artist success.
This doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t be happy to sell my work. I would like to find “happy homes” for my pieces. If a buyer or gallery approached me to say that they want to buy/represent my work as it is, I would be happy to see that my communication to the world reached sympathetic viewers. And it is true that I would like my art work to be better known…so that it is not like a tree falling in the forest with no one else around to witness. Also, I would like to relieve the pressure on my heirs so dispose of so much work after I die.
I applaud other artists who successfully sell their work…I even buy it as much as I can. However, for myself, I have come to a sense of peace about my current lack of conventional artistic success and bask in the mental richness of possibilities in making the art…so much clay, so many ideas!
Judy Nelson-Moore, Santa Fe, email@example.com, 2008/2011