Advice for Aspiring Artists

If you want to sell what you create, you must tailor your creativity to the marketplace or have a creative sensibility that, fortuitously, hews closely to the “average” person’s, someone who, thanks to his “average” outlook is probably not an artist.

Given the tastes and expectations of most consumers, it’s impossible for David Foster Wallace to have the #1 Book in America. It’s impossible for Todd Solondz to have the #1 Movie in America. It’s impossible for Rhiannon to have the #1 Record in America. No matter how passionately they’re celebrated by aficionados, what these folks create isn’t of much interest to the vast majority of consumers, at least not in the cross-demographical way that Harry Potter, the Batman franchise, and Mariah Carey are. If uncompromised versions of Rhiannon’s improvised chants, Solondz’s wickedly dark films, and DFW’s incomprehensible druggie epics were to become fabulously popular, the apocalypse would be nigh, and popular culture as we know it will have been effectively obliterated.

 Until then, artists will be artists, craftsmen will be craftsmen, and the tension between art and commerce, old as Sumeria, will vex every creative soul with a conscience.

Those lucky devils who aspire to failure, who admit from the start that what they make has absolutely no value, worth, or credentials in the marketplace, are the only artists who are truly free to make whatever they want, with a permanent waiver of consumer approval. This doesn’t mean the art lacks meaning or that it cannot inspire profound feelings. Though few of us would sell the messy scrawls our children bring home from school, we’re delighted (and often proud) to display them on the refrigerator door, or maybe even frame them for hanging in the guest bathroom. These are genuine works of art, made not with a sales price in mind but the pleasure and challenge of creating something from nothing.

Understand before you begin what you are attempting to do: create or sell. It’s challenging to do both.

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