I have been thinking a lot recently on the qualities of artist and business-person and to what extent they can really exist within one human. Much of what we write about on AMS is about the marriage of the two concepts to create stunning art and successfully market and sell it to the world. But is that realistic or are we just drinking artistic coolaid?
Lets start with a premise that I hold true.
True art comes from somewhere. It is the result of an experience where the artist explored the worlds of beauty, spirit, terror, humanity, or the psyche – and brought back the experience for us to share. When you look at a painting or a sculpture created with that consciousness it has an impact and you can’t help but notice it.
When I saw one of Van Gogh’s self portraits (the green one!) in the Musee D’Orsay in 1996 I gasped after wandering through the rest of that art museum half asleep. I had similar experiences with a Rodin Sculpture in Amsterdam, several portraits by El Greco at a MET exhibition, and an original Georgia O’keeffe painting at a house I visited in Woodside, California. (Yes – someone actually had an original O’Keeffe in their house!)
I have similar experiences when I look at more recent work, like that of Rick Clarence, Ken Marshall, Zeph Farmby, or Latifah Shay. These artists are all explorers of experience and consciousness and it shows in their work. To me, that is the artistic consciousness and you can’t be an artist without it.
A great artist has that together with the technical skill and craftsmanship to execute the creation of the work. But the technical skill alone does not make an artist. I see this regularly at art fairs and exhibitions – technically excellent work that has nothing behind it. As such it is decoration and that is OK – but it is not art, at least in my personal universe.
Combining the artistic consciousness and technical skill is actually a lot of talent all wrapped into one human being. So then, is it realistic that this same human can also be a good business person?
The answer is: It depends on the person.
Van Gogh was immersed in his worlds of experience, so much so that he often spent all the money his brother Theo sent him on paints and canvasses when common sense would have suggested that some food might be a good idea! So Vincent probably wasn’t the ideal business person. My guess is that he may have lost some of his artistic intensity in becoming one!
My understanding of Michelangelo (which I admit is entirely based on a reading of Irving Stone’s “The Agony & The Ecstasy”) is that he was very much the great artist and the great business person. In the course of his life he had to manage budgets, difficult family and political situations, and a number of popes, all of whom seemed determined to undermine his success. And yet he did succeed and all those challenges impacted his work in a powerful way. You only have to glance sideways at the magnificent “Pieta” in St Peters Basilica to know what I mean.
Picasso was a consummate Marketer, Jackson Pollock wasn’t. Both were great artists. Andy Warhol was a business person and advocated the business of art. But honestly, I’ve seen a whole bunch of his original work in several museums and I have never been moved. It is certainly iconic work though. Basquiat’s work, on the other hand, grabs me by the throat, but my guess is that he explored the worlds of the psyche in his work and was less interested in business. (Just a guess).
Where does this all lead to? The answer I believe lies simply in the old saying:
If you know that you can happily bridge the worlds of art and business, especially if you want to or even enjoy the challenge, then that is your path and you will be successful.
On the other hand, if you know, deep down, that you need to focus on the exploration and creation of your art at the expense of business, then do that. You then have choices:
You can choose to pursue your art as a hobby where you can put all your love and creative energy without the guilt of feeling that you have to sell to justify calling yourself an artist. (Hey – how much did Van Gogh sell while he was alive?)
Or, you can choose to look for family, friends and friendly business people to help you with the business aspects of your career. You can also outsource a lot of the repetitive marketing work at very low cost by being a little creative.
Can you be an artist and a business person? If you want to. But you don’t have to be. Build on your strengths and enlist help in the areas you need support. This is actually a principle all good businesses use!