Ignore the crassness of the title of this blog for a second and stay open for just a bit. I work with a lot of artists. I help them manage their finances and often times I’m helping them deal with the lack of funds and the unpredictability of cash flow. I work with artists at varying stages of their careers and varying degrees of success. But most of them have one thing in common: they reject that which is easy or that which has been freely given to them. They believe by embracing that thing that they are selling out.
In the art world negative connotations have always revolved around the idea of compromise aka selling out or giving in. But why is that? When I look at my young daughter and see her making compromises with other kids on the playground, I see it as a good thing, a sign of maturity, a sign of putting others’ needs before her own but still managing to get a little bit of what she wants too. Two happy people are better than one.
So why in the art world is it bad to compromise? Why are making concessions considered negative? One artist told me it’s because we associate compromise with handing over our unique, singular vision. Okay that may be true, but maybe this way of thinking is preventing artists from seeing an opportunity buried in those confines and limitations.
Let’s take for example an artist named April. She wants to have a gallery but has decided she can’t wait around. She does sales out of her studio, but it’s not nearly enough to pay the rent and cover her cost of materials. She has had a long-time connection with a major sports fashion brand and is often hired as an art director on photo shoots and asked to consult on product design. These side projects help her sustain her art practice, but she dislikes being subjected to budget constraints and marketability oversight.
We’ve been working together for the last few years and my biggest advice to her has been: embrace your connections, embrace this relationship, and embrace the limits. As an artist so often you are working with nothing to ram up against and that can be exhausting. These opportunities present a way to practice your art in a different environment and structure. Limitations can lead to growth, problem solving can lead to development, parameters can set you free. This opportunity may be her ticket to getting her work the exposure she desires to an even larger audience than those that just read Artforum.
Another artist I work with is Brian. He had a day job working at a billboard company. He was doing graphic design work and not the glamorous kind. He was hired to do grueling and labor intensive Photoshop retouching work. Seemingly meaningless and backbreaking work, but it paid the rent. He toiled for a good year there and eventually made friends with the owners. He finally approached them to sponsor an art project. He saw an opportunity; he embraced his relationships and leveraged it to mount a large billboard project all over the city of his work. This is the kind of exposure he would never have gotten by exhibiting his work in a gallery alone.
I do believe that opportunities and relationships are not random. I think that the universe answers us in ways we cannot really comprehend at the time they present themselves. But if we stay open, embrace things that come our way and figure out a creative way to incorporate and leverage those things, the results can be startling. My advice in this blog is: stay open. Stay alert to the opportunities that you may have dismissed. Look around you and see if you have neglected someone or something that might be offering a new and interesting challenge. It might be right behind you.