By guest blogger and St. Petersburg artist Allen Leper Hampton.
So you’re an artist!
If you’re reading this, there’s probably a pretty good chance that you consider yourself an artist, or at the very least you have a few artist friends. You’ve been to (or possibly even a part of) art exhibitions. So let me be the first to congratulate you on your nominal jaunt into the shallow world of the deep thinker! Soon you will be up to your ears in the genitalia of the gender of your choice! The local community will respect you as a forward thinking social leader, and support your creative endeavors both financially and intellectually! People will foam at the mouth to hear you speak, to see your creations! They will cherish your ideas, your attempts at progression, and your selfless endeavors to obtain an unattainable utopian ideal!
Let me explain a few things:
1. Being an “artist” is one of, if not THE easiest self-appointed personal descriptor. One must simply speak the word aloud in the mirror, or at the local pub, for it to be true. Post modernism has taught us that there is no real definition of art, that anything and anyone can be art. The logical extension of this, of course, being that anything and anyone can also be an artist. And this I will not argue, not because I agree, but because there is nothing to be gained from that debate. So keep in mind that simply being an artist makes you no different from the rest of mankind. Artists are simply people with the potential to create and communicate.
So what does make you different? It’s the work you make right? The way you draw that bird, or that skull. The materials you use to paint the portrait of that girl’s face, or the way you photograph that gritty street scene. It’s your personal style that makes you different. An individual artist in a world of 7 billion other artists.
It’s not. I assure you.
It’s not even your concepts, your ideas, your communicative abilities. It’s not anything.
The sad truth is that YOU ARE NOT DIFFERENT. And being an artist, making drawings and paintings, will never change that. There is no piece of art that you or I will ever create, no idea or theory, that will not come in part from some other preexisting thing. The best we can hope for is to re-sort that which already exists in a more succinct, understandable manner.
The most distinct and vital line is drawn between what I call the Entertainer and the Educator.
The Entertainer is the most common genre of artist. An Entertainer creates pieces that they hope people will find attractive. And most (or all) of their visual, stylistic, and material choices are based on that hope. Their end goal, their best case scenario, is to create a beautiful work of art that will be popular and will sell. The Entertainer creates a wallpaper for a consumer populace. Art as decoration.
The Entertainer is a businessman, someone who focuses on the possibility (or actuality) of making a living off of the creative process. Art is their business, a commodity to be utilized to provide a specific lifestyle outside of the creation of art.
The Educator, as you can probably assume, is focused primarily on the transmission of ideas. The art of the Educator focuses on aesthetic beauty (as most art does) but it does not hold aesthetics above content. Form merely follows function. Communication is paramount, and the work simply looks like what it needs to look like in order to be able to most efficiently communicate the chosen concept. The Educator’s best case scenario is to provoke thought. Their work is created to pose questions, to make assertions, and most importantly, to attempt to progress intellectual culture.
The Educator is a committed hobbyist, someone who focuses on building a life that enables them to create the work that they NEED to create, in their free time. They assume little to no financial compensation for their work, as it is not seen as commodity.
As a new artist, you get to decide where on this imaginary scale you and your work will fall. And remember, you can always shift in and out of any and all types.
2b. Pricing your work will be one of the defining characteristics that will dictate to your audience where you fall on the afore-mentioned scale. Now I’m not going to say that art work should never be expensive, but it’s important to consider all the factors that went into production as well as how you view your work. If you feel like your work is worth a far greater amount of money than the amount of money (and time) that you put into it, then you are probably an Entertainer. If you value your work for its intrinsic intellectual significance and are more concerned with sharing the work and spreading ideas at any cost to yourself, then you are an Educator.
And the viewing audience is not ignorant. We have all walked through a gallery and positioned each piece next to its title card, judging how much the piece cost to make and how long it took to create against its typically exorbitant price tag. Just know that this affects the way people view your work, whether or not they trust the sincerity of your work is based primarily on whether or not they respect you as a human. And that respect, in part, is determined by whether you view your audience as a group of intellectual peers, or as a pool of potential buyers.
I have been told that you should price your work at what you think you can get for it. I see this as a relatively immoral practice, and an attempt to take advantage of supporting patrons. As an artist, you should be honest with yourself, with the work, and most importantly, with your audience. Price the work at what it is worth.
But no matter which category you fall into, consider this: art is a luxury. It is not something that mankind NEEDS, it is something that mankind WANTS. The service we provide, though it can be remarkably beneficial to society, is not NECESSARY. You should keep this in mind when determining the price of your work based on how important you think it might be.
Ideas are free, and should be shared as openly freely as is possible.
3. Now that you know what kind of artist you are, and how you will price your work, there’s only one more thing to do: decide what you want to make. Now most artists tend to do what comes naturally. Their particular style is one that flows out of them rather easily, something that they just DO. And sometimes this makes for some of the most intense and incredible viewing experiences imaginable. But, unfortunately, most times it simply creates artists that use their “style” as a crutch to keep them from having to visually and conceptually progress as an artist. Magazines like JUXTAPOZ and even ARTFORUM have taught us that in order to “make it” as an artist, we need to find our stylized niche and milk it until everyone knows that whenever they see a painting of a big-eyed girl with an animal skull, it’s OUR painting of a big-eyed girl with an animal skull. We’re taught that our work is not about content, but continuity of visual iconography. We are only as good as THAT ONE THING that we’re known for.
This is not fame, notoriety, or worth as an artist. It is comfortability and stagnation. It is a rut that, at best, will make you someone’s favorite big-eyed girl artist (for a short while), and at its worst, will make you a has-been who couldn’t make something different and new to save their life. So rather than this, I suggest a much more bold attempt. Try to be someone’s favorite artist EVER. In every genre of art imaginable. Be their favorite painter, but also be their favorite sculptor, their favorite video artist, and their favorite photographer. Shun the niche in exchange for the WHOLE.
Not only does this have the ability to make you well-respected, but it also helps with the much more crucial task of teaching you how to be a better artist and human being. Force yourself to learn new mediums, new ways of producing, new imagery and iconography. Surprise your viewer and you will gain their respect and their trust. Surprise yourself and you will learn more about who you are. This style of production will teach you about yourself and about the world. And what is art if not the most direct means of self-progression?
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Allen Leper Hampton was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. In 2005 he moved to Tampa where he received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of South Florida. He is an interdisciplinary artist whose work focuses on the analysis of the negative aspects of life. He currently resides in St Petersburg, Florida. www.allenhampton.net