You may recall that I’d been mulling over where to take my work next – primarily, whether to try selling my work in high-end galleries, establishing a “name” for myself as an artist and hopefully being collected by museums someday. (As opposed to continuing to show my work in the guild/craft world, which is mostly separate from the gallery/museum circuit.)
I’ve thought about this the last few days, after seeing my dress in the museum exhibit and after a long talk with the insightful Bhakti Ziek. I think I’ve decided not to try selling my work to galleries (or anywhere else, for that matter), and not to worry much about developing the kind of reputation that makes collectors chase after you. It’s not because I don’t think I could succeed in that world – my work is solid, I’m good at networking, and I’m enough of a businessperson to be able to figure out what sells and tailor my work accordingly. Randy Darwall told me once that I could be a success on the gallery circuit within a few years, and I think he’s right.
But, as they say, “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.” What would be the purpose of selling to galleries and collectors? I don’t need the money; my day job pays really well, far better than any living I could make as an artist, and doesn’t interfere much with my creative life. I might be able to scrape out a living from my art if I decided to live elsewhere, but I like the Bay Area, I have a mortgage to feed, and it’s nice being able to save money towards retirement – all of which are much harder to do if I were trying to make a living off my art.
And, if I were trying to sell to galleries, I’d have to tailor my work to the things that are likely to sell, and which would bring in enough money-for-time-spent to be worthwhile – which would crimp my artistic freedom.
So why would I want to sell to galleries? The only thing I can think of is prestige – the ability to say that my work is being collected by so-and-so, and the satisfaction of seeing pieces sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars. And while that would be gratifying on quite a few levels, I don’t think it’s healthy – it’s chasing after what Buddhism calls maya, the illusion.
I’ve had an interesting life as a weaver. Somehow, in the last six years, I’ve gone from being a rank beginner to being a minor rock star – complete strangers come up to me at weaving shows to tell me how much they like my work (or my blog), guilds ask me to speak to them, people go out of their way to attend shows just to meet me. This never ceases to amaze me, because I don’t think of myself as anyone special – in my mind, I’m still that rank beginner, I just know a bit more than when I started, and my work is a bit more ambitious. I don’t see myself as being in possession of any magical knowledge, and I’m certainly not a god, so it always surprises me when someone comes up to me and says how much they admire me or my work. Because I know how much left there is to know, and I know only a tiny fraction of it! The world is much, much bigger than me.
But, as I keep reaching artistic milestones (having my work published for the first time, having it featured on the cover of Handwoven, getting it into a museum), I keep realizing how little they mean. Yes, it’s incredibly gratifying, and I’m sure I’ll be over the moon for at least a month after seeing my work on display at the museum. But you know what? I woke up the morning after the reception, and my work wasn’t one bit better than it was after getting my piece into the exhibit. I hadn’t acquired new skills, my work hadn’t suddenly leaped in quality, and I certainly didn’t have deeper artistic insights. So while it was fun getting the recognition, it’s not something I want to chase after. Because in the end, for me anyway, it’s not about being famous and getting collected: it’s about the work, and the work doesn’t care about my reputation one whit. It cares about the skill and care I put into it; it cares about my design knowledge; it cares about the time and effort I lavish on getting it Just Right. But my reputation? Not even one teeny bit.
So, then, why would I want to sell to galleries and collectors? I really can’t think of a reason. It’s definitely not a “bonus”; I can’t just make things and then dump them into galleries. Getting going with high-end galleries requires networking, an awareness of the market, and, well, effort – and if I don’t need the money and it won’t improve my art, why do it at all? The one thing I would like to do is to share my work with others, and, as Bhakti pointed out, there are other venues for doing so.
So in the end, I’ve reached a conclusion that should really have been obvious from the start: I’d rather stick with making my work for myself. For me, it’s not about the glory, but the work – and the work just doesn’t care.