Your Art Career | Posterity versus Prosperity

In this article Barney Davey joins the perennial debate whether it’s possible to be a commercial success and create “true art” at the same time. Davey also wrote “Finding Your Sweet Spot,” an article in The Artist’s Magazine’s July August 2014 issue.

By Barney Davey

Attacking the Starving Artist Syndrome

For a number of years, I was a guest blogger for AbsoluteArts.com, one of the premier worldwide online art vendors. One of my most popular articles was “Posterity versus Prosperity.” which attacked the starving artist syndrome. There is an unrelenting sentiment among some artists, collectors, and critics that making money from making art robs the “artiste” of the purity of making art for art’s sake. Those who think this way seem to think it’s not possible to create art that is aesthetically pleasing, if not perfect, while also making art that sells. They assign such thoughts to the silly notion of “selling out.”

Redwings & Yellowthroat (triptych; oil, each panel 24x24)

Canadian artist Robert Bateman satisfies his love of the natural world, as well as his environmentalist spirit, by painting wildlife subjects of broad and varied appeal in oil and acrylic. Redwings & Yellowthroat (triptych; oil, each panel 24×24) is one of his many bird paintings, but he also paints wild animals, marine life, rural life, and natural habitats.

It seems this ludicrous thought pattern only affects visual artists. There’s no backlash against filmmakers, musicians, authors, or playwrights for creating enormously successful work. Perhaps we should blame Vincent van Gogh. Sure, suffering for one’s art can cause deep anguish that results in expressive art; however, it’s not the only way to make fabulous art. I believe well-fed artists can muster creativity and interpret feelings and hardships without having to live through them.

Artist Yuroz: A Commercial Success

In my “Posterity versus Prosperity” guest post, I wrote about an artist named Yuroz, who has made millions of dollars painting in a style influenced by Pablo Picasso. Because of his success at venues such as ArtExpo New York, where he sold expensive limited-edition giclée reproductions of his work, many curators considered his work too commercial for museum collections. In the post, I referenced a voluminous 4,000-word article from the L.A. Times Sunday Magazine. The article used Yuroz as an example of how artists could be talented but have too much success commercially in the wrong venues, which would result in never seeing their work shown in museums.

Yuroz had read both the magazine article and my post. He wrote to me to express his displeasure at what he saw as unfair characterization. I replied that it wasn’t my opinion, but rather my observation that this was how the art world works in general. I further explained to him that I believed, then as now, that artists can enjoy prosperity and still live on to have their work honored in posterity. It’s my conviction that your work can be both profitable and long-lived if you do it right.

Yuroz: Paintings Hanging in Museums

As it turns out, Yuroz eventually had the last word as he professionally thumbed his nose at the editors of the magazine article and other detractors of his work. He went on to see his paintings hanging in numerous museums, including the Vatican’s.

Author Barney Davey

Since 1988, through his blogs, books, workshops and consulting, Barney Davey has helped thousands of visual artists improve the business side of their art careers. Barney has personally advised top-selling independent artists, photographers, and art publishers on how to leverage their art business, marketing, and advertising strategies.

This article is adapted from Davey’s book Guerilla Marketing for Artists (2013). Learn more about his services and products on his website, www.barneydavey.com, and his blog, www.artbusinessblog.com.

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Check out this article about selling giclées.

Learn about another practical, information-packed career resource, this one from Paul Dorrell, and listen to his radio interview.

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