Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Biggest Question?

Why? How? Who cares?
Last year my husband gave me a wonderful gift for our anniversary. He knew how much I like to read, even though it “takes me away” from our real life together, he gave me a Kindle. Wow, books and more books all the time. Answers to questions too. Sometimes an inkling of a clue to a big answer to a big question.

Just yesterday I started reading a book on that Kindle that I’d downloaded a little while ago. The book had been patiently waiting its turn in my queue for the number one spot. “Make Art Make Money” by Elizabeth Hyde Stevens ( is a bit of biography of Jim Henson, but much more than just a bio. It is a place to start a discussion with yourself, whatever type of art you make, about the “dance” between creating and selling; the idea of art as a gift and art as commodity. 
The whole first Episode has my brain just spinning. It has me considering a challenge I face every time I get paper and paint together to make a creation. What is my goal? What do I really want to do? I’ve heard that to really touch your audience you need to start by creating what you love and let that love shine through. How do I create what I love? How do I know what it is that I love?
I believe some of my stumbling blocks in my search for answers lie in the past, as most stumbling blocks do. My background is in graphic design:  solving problems for customers in creative, attractive ways that will “sell” what each customer wants “sold.” I’ve cultivated skills in organizing information, finding the “hook” to get the customer’s attention, and working within a budget and timeline. I’ve won awards for creativity in printing and graphics. However, when it comes to dealing with the idea of “write (paint) what you love” and the audience will come, that’s where I run into trouble.
I don’t think I’m alone in finding this to be a conundrum.  What is it I truly love? How can I not think about the market for sales, making money, time, costs, return on investment, how to price the final product, how to get the product to market? All this seems to get in the way of creativity.
This is where the ideas in Make Art Make Money start to help. I seem to be able to create things when I plan for them to be “gifts.” For example, back in 2012 I was asked to be the art director for a large church Prom where about 700 teens would come. The goal was to turn a church building into London on a shoestring budget. It was a great creative challenge and I had wonderful, intelligent, creative women to work with. We put hundreds of hours into making decorations, little details abounded, and pushing the limit on what “could” be done. The end result was fantastic! The teens had a fantastic time and still talk about the great time they had. The newspaper reporter covering the event asked me why I did it. It took just a moment, but my response was that I wanted the kids to know that they were special, that they were worth all the time and effort that went into making the evening magical. There is no price tag I could place on that gift.

Back to the "dance" idea. Hyde-Smith says the dance between art and money goes like this:
1.       Make art.
2.       Make art make money.
3.       Make money make art.
She says the tricky part is #2. I’m still stuck on #1. I’ve heard over and over to make art that you love. My big question is “What do I love? What subject matter, what medium, what size… What do I love? How will I be able to make art so that my love of the creation comes through as genuine? It’s so hard not to overthink and wonder who will care about the finished product especially with money having the status it does in our modern economy.

For me this is the biggest question. Is anyone else struggling like this? How have you found solutions to this issue?  Could the answer lie in the idea of art as a gift?  Then the question becomes "What do I have to give? What do I want to give?" to start the dance as described by Elizabeth Hyde Smith.
Maybe soon I'll find my rhythm to enter the dance by starting with a gift. In the end, the gift may be all that matters anyway.


  1. Love this, Susan. I wish I were an artist. It's a gift I would love to have just for the sake of having it--I enjoy art so much I'd love to be able to produce it on a level I could enjoy. For now, I just have to enjoy that gift in others, which is okay too.

  2. Number two is very tricky. I'm still working on that one. ;)

  3. Great post :) I have the same problem of you.I'm trying to arrive to number 2 but not so simple:)

  4. Great Post. Such an important and vibrant questions. Do you have any pictures of Prom Art?

  5. I'm also working on #2. Have been on it for few years and I suppose it will take few more years for more money to dribble in. Such a sweet gift from your husband!