The modern, successful artist provides entertainment.
“From today, painting is dead’ is allegedly a quote from French painter Delaroche after observing the first photographic process.
Of course, photography hasn’t taken the place of painting completely, but it has had its effect on the old 17th century profession of portrait painting. We may see photography now as an art form that can easily live side-by-side with fine art painters, but I am noticing an interesting overall shift in the art world from static art to entertainment.
What art do we really spend money on?
I don’t think any artform is dead or is going to be soon, but let’s face it, how many of us spend money on original art?
There are art collectors who buy original paintings and sculptures, but in my experience, most people who come to art shows are quite happy to spend a small amount of money on a nice art print. Places like Ikea, Pottery Barn and World Market also have a good collection of inexpensive prints, so you don’t even need to go to an art show. That has an impact on the value of artwork and the ability to be a professional visual artist. It’s tough to live on $30-$60 art prints.
I’m sure that also includes photographers, who probably feel the hit from the amazing camera apps and increasingly better phone cameras. You can take a half decent picture on your Iphone, use an app to enhance it and print it for $30 on canvas at Walmart. Who needs an artist? The photographer will tell you it’s not as good as a professional photo and a quality print and they’re probably right, but if you just want something colorful on the wall it’ll do and it may even come with good memories from the time the picture was taken.
If I think about what visual art I spend my money on, I must admit I’m more likely to buy a print at a Comic Con than original art. I think the last piece of original art I’ve bought was 16 years ago! I’ve bought plenty of cool art prints though.
I also buy concert tickets, Kindle books, go to the movies and occasionally I’ll pay for a music download from Itunes and I sometimes buy theater tickets. All of those have one thing in common, they’re a form of entertainment to pass the time. That’s also the one thing a piece of static art, like a painting or even airbrush art on a motorcycle doesn’t do. It’s cool and may make you stop to look at, but it doesn’t entertain for an hour or more. In fact, I will argue that riding a motorcycle with or without airbrush art is equally entertaining.
But I’m a dinosaur, I know that younger generations don’t typically buy music, but stream it or download it for free from Youtube. If you dig hard enough on the internet you don’t need to pay for an ebook either (sorry writers). Movies can be watched on various streaming services or Youtube. Although going to the movies, going to a concert and going to the theater are tough to replace, because it’s an event. It’s also a moment to lose yourself and if anything, something to brag about on social media.
Entertainment is key
If we are only willing to pay for artists to entertain us, then especially us artists of static, visual art, need to rethink what we’re doing if we want to live of the proceeds of our art.
I think we’ve come to a point where the artist with professional aspirations needs to be part of a medium that people do spend money on. That means providing entertainment. But I also think the successful artist needs to work harder than ever. Look at any successful musician. With money from music album sales dwindling and streaming services paying pennies, musicians are forced to hit the road more often and longer in addition to composing and recording new material.
Youtubers seem like a bunch of young men and women who just play games with the camera on, but these men and women work hard! Many hours go into creating all that online content. If they miss a beat, they lose many subscribers. Some of them are even touring now, going from online to live entertainment. I’m going to see Markiplier in January in a theater in Denver. Many podcasters, such as Mark Brickey from Adventures in Design and The Minimalists, tour the country many months of the year.
Want to write novels? You had better be prolific and when you’re not writing, make those book tours! It’s no different for anyone in the movie and theater industry. Right before a movie comes out, you see the actors hit the talk shows on TV.
Make a choice
I think as artists we have come to a point where you must make a choice: Set your life and family aside and work the many, many hours to be successful in a form of entertainment, where there still is money to be made, or accept that your art is a side business and enjoy creating it, without the pressure of making money doing it.