This is a really complicated subject so you know I'm going to write a ton. Bear with me guys, even expressing the subject is a pain in the butt, and my thoughts are so conflicting that rambling is really going to go weird places.
Here we go. Being an artist is a weird exercise in having ultimate, total confidence, while also having the humility to accept criticism with grace, and know that you are not the bomb. Except that you have to be 'the bomb' for people to want to buy your art, so you still have to radiate 'I am the best' confidence, while also not being too egotistical. When you send your work in to art directors, you need to have the ultimate confidence to be able to do ANYTHING they ask of you while also having the humility to bow to their art direction. When you speak at conventions you need to have total confidence for your craft and your right to be there as a professional, while still maintaining the conviction that your fanbase is wonderful even if it is not as large as another artist's fanbase, or your success is not measured in the same way as the artist next to you.
It is such a juggling act, to be your biggest fan while also not being too big for your briches. To be self aware of your art to continue growing and evolving as an artist, while still being completely confident in your art at the level it is currently at. While I talk about this, I notice that I have several conflicting emotions that are each triggered by different events. So I'll just go through them one at a time. What is my value as an artist?
The first is just the basics. There are billions of artists out there, how am I in any way unique or important enough for people to care about? It is so easy to go onto sites like deviantart, and be overwhelmed with the sheer number of artists there are. You look at the mass amounts of images, music, dance, sculpture, fabric weaving, etc. etc. and it just feels like the whole world is nothing but art. And to some degrees that is true. A single artist has a profound effect on everything around them. One drawing can ripple and change entire rooms. The way we live art is shown in our architecture and our clothing, in our furniture.. everything about us. So it really does feel like everyone is an artist.
Would it surprise you to know that artists make up only 1.8% of the civilian workforce? Princeton did a survey that was as broad in the definition of art as possible, and established that in 2011 there were only 2,511,000 artists in america. www.princeton.edu/culturalpoli…
Think about that. Two and a half million artists in ALL of America, all three hundred and sixteen million people! Granted, there is some leeway, but even being very generous in your numbers, you still only get about two percent of the population are artists. You truly do have a very, very rare skillset that IS valuable. It's what you do with it that makes the difference. But you, yourself, as you exist, have uniqueness and value. Just what is fame and success?
Fame is my bane. Success is what I know. One of the worst things about being a guest at conventions is that there is always someone who is a bigger draw than you are. When I go to a speaking engagement, the biggest thing I fear is someone going 'just who is this looser that's taking up my time?' Or worse... 'couldn't they have gotten someone more well known?'. I know I can keep a crowd engaged, I know I can do GREAT panels, but man. I am not Brom. I am not one of those big names who people rush to in order to see, and I know it. Believe me I know it.
Right before I crumble from my doubts, I have to stop and count up my successes. I have to stop and know what I HAVE DONE to achieve all that I have so far. I have to, or I cannot walk up to the front of the room and address a crowd full of strangers and say "I am a professional."
I have education like no body's business, I have the skills to pay the bills, that is the most important part. I have shown in so many galleries it's not even funny, all across the world. And fans? I used to think only a handful of people knew who I was at all, then about five years ago a friend tried to cheer me up by counting every single unique name across all of the sites, emails, conventions that I attended for one year, and reached the conclusion that I had roughly 97,000 fans. That's not a very big number in the large scale of things, sure. And it's spread out across SO MUCH, that it's hard to realize that 97,000 different people *spoke about my art*. It really made me smile after a while. And.. I have not had to work a retail job in years. I have kept my bills paid, and while I'm not wildly rich, I have not been homeless.
Fame is a funny thing. There are people who have incredible names but cannot get a job to save their souls. Frazetta was mourning that no one wanted his style of work, in his later years. I have sat at numerous panels and watched artists who work for Marvel, DC, DISNEY and other places mourn the lack of work and how no one seems to care. The whole panel at one con turned into a big fest of 'no one likes my art enough'.
But you know... when I walk into the room, I am the only person who can do what I do... and that's why I'm there. I am not there because I am the most popular, I am not there because of who I know. I am there because what I do is incredible, worthwhile, and for a little moment in time I can sit down and answer the real, hard questions for people. Face to face, at their pace.. we can talk about what I do and how I do it. We can talk about the pros and cons of both a school education and a self taught artist because I have been a little of both. We can talk about helping children grow as artists, because I have a unique perspective on that, we can talk about SO MANY things... and it can help someone else. And that's the important part at the end of the day. When I walk into those rooms, I draw the successes I have had around me like a cloak, and for a little while I simply am the expert. I am the professional. I am the place with the answers and I will give my all to that moment. And when I go home, I can have self doubt, and I can worry about if I am enough. But for that moment in that room, I am enough.
Success is where it is at, every single time. And there are hundreds of thousands of artists who are quietly being successful without the glamor of being a household name.
And I think that's okay with me too. Standing your ground
The hardest part is when you have to stand up and say "Hey, give me the same respect as my peers.". I know a few people will roll their eyes at this, but as a woman this can be even more of a trial. One of the more well known male artists in the art industry made a statement in an article that there are no famous female artists, because women cannot paint. He said "The market has spoken", basing his claim on the fact that no woman has outsold the highest selling male artists. Ironically about three weeks after his article hit the news, a woman did, indeed, outsell him. A woman from the 1800's, but a woman none the less.
One of my teachers in art, was a man named Mike Dringenberg. Shortly after I had mastered my first watercolor lessons from him, I did a painting that I called creation. I gave it to him as a gift, and a thank you for devoting so much time to me, as an artist. I remember his words, he was shocked and almost reverent as he said "Why would you give this to me? You should sell it! You can get several hundred dollars for it!"
And he was speaking honestly. When he looked at my art, the value he placed on it was in the hundreds of dollars. I never realized how important that was to me until I began to price my originals for sale and had people fight me on it. Inevitably the argument over the price came down to time. How much was my time worth, and did I really spend that much time on that piece? When money is involved, it feels like every artist stumbles just a little, their feelings of self worth can influence their estimation and just how much value they put on their time.
Learning to value your time is one of the most important things you can do as an artist. Not only your time spent painting, but your time spent in ANY way involved with the art. What education did you have? Were you school taught? Value those lessons. Were you self taught? Value that. Did you spend an hour driving to a con only to sit in a corner with a young girl and go over her sketchbook for the next three hours? That, my friends, is priceless. Every moment counts and is worthwhile, so do not be afraid to ask for your worth. Be it in monetary gain, in promotional gain (please please always have your name where you are going, on the art you are selling. I have read too many stories of artists who did the art for designer labels that never received name credit), or simply emotional gain.. such as sitting with that girl and helping her to grow. Know what you want out of every exchange and don't be afraid to ask for it.
But what if people argue iwth me? Well.. then they argue. I think the thing that frightens people the most about asking for their worth are manipulation tactics. Where the other person tries to make you feel guilty, tries to push you onto the defensive, and make you feel bad for asking for something in return. For me, it's hard because that's when all of my self doubts from the earlier paragraphs sneak up. Well I'm really not that well known... well... I mean I did only spend five hours on that and I mean maybe I should only charge minimum wage because the person I'm talking to only makes minimum wage, etc. It happens. It does and it's hard when it happens. I don't have good advice for myself on this because I don't really know how to deal with it and I become terrified that my ego is getting in the way. Just who do I think I AM asking for these things? I think I'll leave this with the words of my friend Desiree, who said this: "I think what you're describing is healthy self-confidence, and that's something that every professional has to have. The difference is that as an artist you have to trade on the value of your name and the value of tangible products that you've created. Maybe to someone who isn't running their own business based solely on their own talents and skills that looks like egotism, but in my opinion it's both something that has to be done for you to run your business and also something that is psychologically healthy, b/c it means that you value yourself and your creations."