Swimming Upstream and Labors of Love

I have exhibited my photography in a cafe and sold one framed tryptych after about 4 months. I exhibited in art fairs many times and never sold more than a small print or greeting card. I owned a fine art photography gallery where I exhibited my own work as well as the work of 48 other photographers. In the gallery, less than 10 photographers sold anything and of those, only 3 or 4 sold consistently. I am just wrapping up my second month in a gallery in the Bridgeport section of Chicago…and another at the Prairie Center for the Arts in Schaumburg, IL and I have not sold a thing. I haven’t event [sic] seen a significant uptick in traffic to my web site? I have some of my canvases on display on a couple of restaurants in South London – I sold 7 last year to people who’d seen them there. Its a slow trickle and not a huge moneymaker! There were of course some more positive success stories, but no one claiming to have it made in the shade. Me, I’m doing better than these three folks and perhaps at least a bit above the average for this particular newsgroup. In fact, I actually have positive income to report to the IRS this year. Still when neophyte photographers approach me at art shows inquiring if it’s possible to make money in this business, my reply is always, yes, you can make money selling your work at art shows. But for a better, more secure hourly wage you’re better off working at McDonald’s (they even offer benefits). I think most non-commercial photographers and other artists outside those selling in the rarefied air of the tony art galleries on the coasts are doing their art because it is a labor of love. (I know I am.) If they aren’t they are going to be disappointed because they’re not going to make much money. Think of American Idol. Most of those contestants aren’t ever going to make a career out of their music, much less reap a ton of money at it. Hopefully they’re singing mostly for fun and the appreciation of their audiences. So the next time you’re contemplating purchasing a piece of art from a local artist and hesitate because you think the price is a little high, think about what the artist’s net hourly income is. I can assure you in most cases you wouldn’t work for those wages.]]>

7 thoughts on “Swimming Upstream and Labors of Love”

  1. “Annihilation is an existential fear; the common fear that some part of you dies when you stop making art. And it’s true. Non-artists may not understand that but artists understand it all too well. The depth of your need to make things establishes the level of risk in making them.” –David Bayles, co-author of “Art & Fear”

    1. Janet, I read that book some years ago, but don’t remember that quote. I guess I’m going to have to dig it out and read it again. It sure comes closer than the profit motive as far as explaining why I do what I do.

  2. And I thought you were raking in the dough. Fine art photography is such a tough way to make money. I feel for you. I know that’s not your prime motivation though. Janet said it well. I need to read Bayles book every once in a while. But then I gave up on making money with my photography in 1975. As for paying for gear, I recently got really lucky. A lottery ticket bought me a 5D Mk II.

    1. Bruce, I never thought of the lottery. I should spend my money buying lottery tickets instead of doing all these art shows etc. It would be a lot less work and a lot more likely to produce a profit than fine art photography seems to be! I think I’ll have more to say about motivation etc. as I in fact started rereading Art and Fear this morning. You are right it’s worth re-reading at regular intervals–especially if your memory is going as fast as mine is!

  3. Buying lottery tickets was my wife’s idea. I never won a dime before. I just decided it was a waste. She said it would be “fun”. I would have rather won the 8.5 million but since Canon had such a great sale I took the money and had fun. She’s always right.

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