Sunday, August 16, 2009

Art as Business: Commissions I

I know many artists. I know that they are artists. But I don’t know how they make their living. Slowly, when getting to know someone better – and asking (If you dare to ask those personal questions) – you might find out how some artists make ends meet. But many won’t even answer you – they will avoid the question … you’re not supposed to ask that question (at least not in Sweden).

Many teach art (this they will admit). Others have jobs on the side like waitress, caretaker of children/old people/handicapped, handyman, selling fish or working in a store. Some have a partner who provides that regular income to the family – others have some kind of unemployment benefits or are sick-listed. Very few make their living just through art sales at exhibitions, but some make their living as artists in other ways.

Let’s say some really bad swearwords in the world of artists (at least the world I know)
Commercial art
Marketing art

Oh, my ears. Those words mean that you are a sell-out! (if you anyway do those unspeakable things - have at least the judgment to pretend not to.) Art is a calling. (Some people believe artists just suck at marketing. That is not the whole truth. Artists say it with pride “I’m so bad at marketing myself, I prefer to spend all my time in the studio.” Or they believe that “Good art will always find its way.”)

Let’s swear a lot, shall we? Where do I MAKE MONEY right now – as an artist?

In my bookkeeping I’ve divided my income posts into
1. Commissions
2. Exhibitions (gallery)
3. Art sales outside exhibitions (provision sales/through my own studio)
4. Teaching/workshops

Commissions give the most money (especially) when you take into consideration the time spent working. Besides a commission is normally a bigger job. Today I’ll concentrate on this part of Art as Business. This has also been the part I’ve chosen to concentrate on first in my fresh start.

(yes, I would also like to know that)

I got my first public commission in 2004 thanks to KKV – artist run collective workshops here in Gothenburg – where I am a member. KKV had a project mediating public commissions for KKV:s members. The municipal of Lerum was looking for a figurative painter who could paint monumental – and who could come up with two suggestions within a month. I was asked not just because my art is figurative (had never painted monumental!), but because being on the board of KKV for two years I had shown I kept to my deadlines. The Municiple of Lerum was very pleased with my first big job (38 x 8 m) and I was contacted again two years later for another mural.

my first public commission

After my first public commission (and again after my second) I made sure to have good photos at KKV for future commissions, I put photos and an article about my commission from the local paper in my folder at KC-väst (an artist organization that mediates commissions etc) and made sure to be in their printed material etc. I had it on my website. But nothing happened. No one asked for me. (Except the municipal of Lerum because they were pleased with my first job.)


Why didn't anyone show any interest in me and my fantastic murals?
What was I to do to get some more commissions?
And what am I planning to do about it now?

Read next post about commissions >>


Alexandra Hedberg said...

I just want to thank everyone who left so encouraging comments last week!

Alexandra Hedberg said...

... and if anyone wonders: Yes - that blue-eyed girl once upon a time was me...

gracia said...

Similar things have been playing on my mind of late as I toil away in my home-based studio. To do what you love, to make a living from doing only that which you love... ah! yes, I am working towards that... but sometimes, sometimes it all feels like such an uphill battle.

g xo

P.S. I like your dirty words. Made me smile.

Marchi Wierson said...

I am very grateful you are doing this alexandra. I have been in a similar circumstance and wondered now what. I am looking forward to sundays!!!

Rynke said...

This is so helpful, thanks so much!!
I can't wait for the next one :)

nathalie et cetera said...

You leave us on a cliff hanger again. This is very interesting Alexandra. Thank you!

aimee said...

no doubt you are causing gasps of horror from studios all over sweden! (and i bet they're all reading your posts on the sly, too.)

just linked to you!

Laura said...

thank you, alexandra. i think your points are all so relevant. it is good to hear such honesty.

Bibbi said...

Halloo, jag är här nu :) Behövde mycket sommar i år, helt slut efter vårens jobb med, just det, uppdrag. Vad bra du delar med dig! Bibbi

Veja cecilia said...

verkligen intressant! Och underbart med en cliffhanger igen, ser fram emot nästa söndag!
kan inte en ganska stor inkomstkälla vara stipendier?

●• Thereza said...

interesting points and observations... i wish i had the answers..

asphalt and air said...

you are asking such good questions.
and sometimes we don't find the answers to questions not because the answers are hard to find but simply because we never bothered to ASK the question.
sometimes just sitting down and giving things a good think can bring about fabulous results.
so here i am, thinking with you!
together. we can get more done.

Alexandra Hedberg said...

Cecilia, fast stipendier kan man inte riktigt räkna som inkomster. Visst finns det arbetsstipendier, men de flesta stipendier jag känner till skall gå till något mer specifikt (resa/vidarutbildning/bestämt projekt) - och kan liksom inte bli något man lever på. Pengarna är redan öronmärkta.

Fast självklart söker jag regelbundet stipendier!

Lori said...

Thank you for your honestly- I am so interested.

pRiyA said...

my goodness, it seems this way for artists in every country!