The Inescapable Compulsion

Let's dispel an art myth or two with a real world example. 

The image above took me a week of sporadic labor to complete. When I say sporadic I mean that I didn't spend every minute of that week working on it because I had to eat, sleep, and commute to the studio to work on it in the first place. But sporadic also means that everything from reading to socializing took a back seat to hours of leaning over a drafting desk in a stuffy studio. Eye strain trumped seeing live music, hiking, and communicating with my family. 

There is nothing glamorous about being an obsessive recluse. The world passes you by while you dole out your life creating encasements of single moments that few people will see and fewer will care about. Art making is pathological. It scorns reason and dictates to you how your life will be parceled out.

When the drawing was finished it needed to be documented. This necessitated a roll of slide film ($13.99) that would net three usable shots of the work, one of the entire composition and two detail images, when it was developed ($6.55). Luckily, I have the equipment and where-with-all to take my own slides, otherwise I'd have to pay a professional photographer (insert whatever incomprehensible hourly fee you like for that service). I'll go ahead and account for the materials cost of making the image in the first place (approx. $20.00, which includes the paper, photocopies, graphite pencils, gesso, tea, and pastel) before I get ahead of myself.

As the art world is currently indecisive about whether it prefers the expensive exactitude of slides or the duplicitous convenience of digital images I then had to have my three good slides scanned as high resolution digital image files ($6.00 per image for a total of $18.00).

So far I've racked up $58.54. That's the cost before framing the image (approx. $300) and without paying a professional photographer.

Now, let me open the whole in the bucket a bit wider. At a certain point I decided that this image should be part of my submission to New American Paintings' annual Northwest competition (application fee of $35.00). New American Paintings claims that they'll soon be capable of processing digital submissions but, until then, I have to submit slides. As you should never send your original slides anywhere other than a hermetically sealed box in a climate controlled closet, duplicates must be made for any submission ($9.00).

The application and slides are mailed ($1.85 in stamps and another $1.00 for the mailer). Then the spending ends and I wait. I'll neurotically check the mailbox for the next two months. Based on my past track record of accepted submissions over a two year period I have a 30% chance of success.

If you're not keeping track of the arithmetic I've spent a total of $105.39 on this drawing ($405.39 where I to frame it). You can figure out how much I'd need to charge if I wanted to recoup this amount and get paid $7.80 an hour (Oregon's minimum wage at the time, the same wage I'd get for manning a drive-thru window) for the roughly 40 hours it took to make. Even where I able to sell the drawing there's not much potential for making a fortune with these numbers. And with only a 30% chance of having it appear in New American Paintings its unlikely that fame will come a knockin' either (not that fame tends to slavishly follow each issue of New American Paintings).

I won't go so far as to say that art world fame and fortune are total cultural fallacies but I would caution any aspiring artist to avoid factoring them into their reasons for a creative life. Your drive to create has to be ineradicable— an inescapable compulsion to stamp some meaning on to your mortality. 

1 comment:

Esteban said...

This post was a really interesting look into how a piece of art comes into being.

Your advice at the end about not waiting for fame and fortune brought back to mind similar advice I heard once on Inside the Actor's Studio. I think it's true that art, in all its forms, is best when made for its own sake.

While I'm not trying to be facetious, as I read this post I couldn't help but think that if you had replaced 'art' with music or sports or fishing or gardening that you would simply be describing a hobby. Yet most people don't associate hobbies with being activities that "stamp meaning onto their mortality." I'm wondering what, for you, separates making art from being a hobby and being an activity that instills meaning in one's life. Where do you draw the distinction between the two? Or, even if you're willing to call art a hobby, do you think the significance it brings to the artist's existence is less if not recognized publicly? How is the meaning stamped exactly?

Kind of a big topic for the comment section, but I look forward to reading your thoughts on the subject either here or maybe in a future post.

You're blog is fun. I never know whether to have crayons on hand when I read it or wear a black turtleneck!