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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Who Am I Working For?

One of the problems every artist faces again and again is the question, "Who am I working for?"  It's a problem that has plagued artists probably ever since they started selling their work.  There are basically four audiences for whom an artist might work.  The first is themself.  Strangely enough, this is a rather new audience.  In ancient times, artists worked for others, often during their entire careers.  It's conceivable that, for many of them, it never even occurred to them that their art might be for their own personal gratification.  Yet today, many artists consider this audience first.  The terms, "Personal fulfillment" or "self-expressionm" have come to be so common, in fact, that they have become almost trite.

Another audience is other artists.  If one creates primarily to enter juried competitions, then first and foremost in their mind as they work is the thought, what will other artists think of my work.  The positive side of this is that such work often rises to very high standards because the artists knows his or her peers are most demanding of strong creative and technical qualities.  On the minus side, the artist often feels bound by current "trends" as seen in previous shows in which he or she may or may not have found acceptance.

A third audience, of course, is that of the well-informed buyer, the man or woman with the fat checkbook who knows art, who shops the big galleries, sometimes for investment purposes, but usually for the den or the dining room, something eye-catching yet not overpowering. Such a buyer wants something that appeals to them on more than merely an intellectual level.  Strange as it may seem, this is often the easiest audience to please because often their likes and those of the artist coincide.  After all, they are both basically art-educated connoisseurs with fairly sophisticated tastes.

And finally, one of the more difficult audiences for many artists is that of what we loosely term "the general public."  Many artists never work for this audience.  They wouldn't stoop so low.  It is this attitude that gives rise to the incredible gulf that has varied in width and depth to some degree over the years, yet still manages to alienate a vast number of individuals who like art but don't know art--hence the old saying, they don't know what they like, they merely like what they know.  To make matters worse, many artists also consider it beneath them to try to in any way educate this element of the art buying public as to what they are trying to do and say in their work.  The result is a sort of artistic snobbery, sometimes (but not always) inadvertent on the artist's part, yet nonetheless, a real barrier to the greater art appreciation of those for whom art is not a primary element in their lives.  (I have not mentioned the artist fulfilling a commission because, obviously, this could fall into any of the four categories.)

Ideally, an artist should endeavor to create for more than one of these audiences.  In fact catering to only one audience could well be an avenue to an early burnout.  Most artists, whether they are conscious of it or not, usually do consider more than one audience, perhaps not in the same piece, but in their work in general. Some are for self, some for peers, some for sophisticated tastes, and hopefully, something for the masses.  If the artist can appeal to more than one audience in the same work, so much the better.  To my way of thinking, a successful painting (my being a painter) is that which appeals to at least three of these audiences.  Four is great, but rare, and in fact, may succumb to "least-common-denominatorism" unless the artist is acutely aware of such a pitfall. 

Deciding what to paint can often be an excruciating process for an artist.  But the task can sometimes be less painful if he or she analyzes each project under consideration by first asking, "Who am I working for?"

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