Monday, December 16, 2013

Why I Don't Sell My Art

Sometime shortly after I finished my first mosaic guitar, I was met with a familiar feeling. It's a slightly manic and charged emotion and although it feels good, it's really not.
This feeling is best described as "I could sell this and make a TON of money".

However, like most bad feelings, it's pretty detrimental.
When this feeling enters into my mind-set, my production rate sky-rockets. My quality doesn't suffer too much and my rational thinking disappears. I start to make things for some unseen audience. That effects every choice I make. Like I said, it really doesn't effect the quality too much, but it ceases to be an emotional endeavour. It also causes me to "rank" my pieces, "This one isn't good enough for selling, I should just pass it off..." bla, bla, bla.

At the very core of this is the fact that NOTHING of mine ever sells. Doesn't matter how good, original, well-crafted, high quality, beautiful, etc. my things are. The bottom line is they never sell.
The painted tennies.
The children's furniture.
The mosaics.

After 25 years of this, I can honestly say I couldn't sell a dollar for fifty cents...
I've never even aspired to that. It is like a strange, alien land that whole sales thing.

I plod along. Time heals a multitude of wounds and dulls the memories. I got really PUMPED UP after making Laura's mermaid guitar. I dove back into mosaics with a vengeance. So after a big summer of major mosaic making, I had a small show at a shop in town.
I sold a few little things, but not enough to warrant the 11 weeks of work and pounds of tile I'd bought.

And right then and there I gave it up.

I spent the following week feeling down. Unmotivated. I didn't want to start any more projects. I realized it was the feeling of failure that had dampened my drive. "Feeling" of failure. Because, when you look at it, I didn't fail. I only was unable to get a big pat on the back from a monetary source. Granted, our society is 99.9 wired into gratification and validation from financial sources, but certainly I'm better than that. Aren't I?

Mostly what I disliked and actually dreaded were the conversations about what I "should" do. There's a certain groove you "should" have to self-promote. Everyone has an opinion. E-v-e-r-y-o-n-e.

I know it is because we are all consumers. We all buy things therefore we all fancy ourselves a bit of an expert on what makes things sell. Despite what I know in my heart are people's good intentions, these conversations always made me feel awful. Talking about selling made me feel more of a failure as people addressed skills and strategies that I could never dream of having, and above that, skills I don't even want to have. Being good at sales is like aspiring to be a gymnast. I admire it, am in awe of it but I know there's no way on God's green earth I could ever do it. And again, I don't want to.

No one has anything bad to say about my work.
Not about the quality or creativity or color choices or anything.
What I do get are loads of comments about how expensive it is. It feels a little silly that it would just dawn on me that I couldn't make a small living selling my art...but here we are.

My mosaic shoes and skulls are small items. However, they take about 14-18 hours to complete each one. Then there's the cost of tile, grout, adhesive, etc. It adds up.
And most people would like to pay about, oh, $35 for one.
It's laughable and sad.

This is what Target/Wal Mart/Ross has done to us. Everything is disposable. Everything is replaceable and thus, NOTHING has value.

When you make something FOR someone, it is very different.
I've made a few quilts. When you are sewing that quilt for someone you know, you think about that person the entire time.
When you knit a sweater for someone, you have that person in your head every stitch.
When you are finished, your end product is elevated to a realm that is untouchable. It may not look that way to anyone else, but it will to you the creator.
There is no way to put a price on that. The validation is between you and the recipient.

Tom's guitar

Back to the failed sales at the show:
I decided shortly after that to NOT try to sell my work. I would continue to make things as I desired.
 If I found a worthy recipient, all the better.
It became just as difficult to discuss this "new" groove as the old one. People, friends, family all were stubbornly arguing against just giving the art away.
Key word in that last sentence? "just". It implies a weakness or a step down in stature.
"I'm just a stay at home mom."
"It's just an old sweater."
" It's just what we do in my house."
There's a silent apology hidden in there, but it is NOT how I feel when I just give the art away.

It is also difficult to explain that making art---and knowing full well you are NOT going to be compensated with money---is my WORK. People want to label it a hobby or tell me I'm spoiled in that I get to play around all day, but I see it very differently. It is my work and I am not ashamed by it nor do I really feel any need to defend it. I am LUCKY in that I can do my work and not have to take a salaried job. For now at least.

Without getting too weird, when I give something away, it does feel as if I've released a bird to the sky. My art is out there. It is all over the country. There's a toaster in New York. There is a guitar in Cathedral City, CA. There are yoga mat bags in Texas and mosaic shoes in Las Vegas and Indiana. This is success to me. I gave things to people who admired them. Everyone gets to be happy. I don't get off on being unselfish or gracious. What does it for me is putting something (anything) that I feel has worth into the hands of someone who values it.