The Business of Art

Friday Thoughts And Bon Mots On Being An Artist

Alexander is a regular "helper" in my studio

Alexander is a regular “helper” in my studio

This is my 600th post!

There have been a couple of interesting posts and comment threads by fellow artists this week on my Facebook newsfeed. I thought I’d share some of the comments and see what you think. And I also found some appropriate quotes to offer.

1. Using photo reference- A professional artist posted this question yesterday and it led to a lively discussion. “What do you think about the difference between doing a realistic painting/drawing from another persons photo reference versus doing one from a photo you took yourself?” By far the other professional artists, including me, came down on the side of only using reference that the artist takes themselves with very few exceptions. Why?

My comment: “One might be stuck if doing pet portraits, but that’s only a tiny corner of the animal art world. Context, emotion and the knowledge of what went on before and after a particular photo was taken are always going to be missing when an artist uses someone else’s image. Superior work comes from using one’s own reference.”

A nationally known wildlife artist;”You miss out on the having had the EXPERIENCE. Artists shouldn’t be rote machines that copy someone else’s 2 dimensional photographs. We should feel, smell, hear, absorb everything about the animal and it’s habitat. That will come out at the end of your brush, or pencil, or scratch tool 🙂 or whatever and give that heart and soul to your work…”

Another nationally known animal artist: “if you faithfully copy someone else’s photo it is not an original composition. The design of that photo is the creation of the person who framed it through their viewfinder. Making the effort to see and experience your subjects for yourself is part of being an artist. As a professional artist…I chose to live where I do because of the opportunities that this region offers for viewing wildlife. It does not matter whether someone else will “know” you copied another’s art/photo (and photos ARE art)…what matters is your own integrity. NOTHING replaces the experience of viewing your subject for yourself…and it is those personal experiences and encounters that we should draw upon.”

From our “host”, in conclusion: “I love taking my own photos and feel the best investment I made was in my SLR digital camera and all of the lenses. The second best thing was my first trip to Africa. Some wise artist told me that too much time in the studio was not good. You have to get out there and experience what you will paint/draw. Yes, it costs time, but improves results 100 fold. You just will have to figure out how to raise prices to compensate!”

Unfortunately there were a number of comments from some other artists, some self-described as professionals (unlike the artists quoted above I don’t personally known them), who defended using or buying photographs from others. What came across to me were lots of excuses about why they couldn’t or didn’t feel the need to shoot their own reference or why it shouldn’t matter. But, as anyone who does shoot their own photos knows, it makes a huge difference as demonstrated above.

3. Insurance for artists- One colleague posted that she thought it was really time to seriously look at getting insurance for both her work and studio equipment, plus when she’s on the road. I’ve had a general business insurance policy for many years. It not only covers my studio equipment, but when I take art and things like camera equipment off-premises. There is also general liability coverage.

However, most of the other commenters noted that the premiums they have been quoted are far higher than what I pay and most have chosen to do without. Here was one comment from an artist who does have insurance:

“I am NOT covered for anything while my work is at a show or in transit, and I am not covered for “customer” visits if I had a gallery or open studio here (which I don’t…no room!). I’m also not zoned for a commercial business here, so if anyone wants to see my stuff, it’ll have to be at a show or gallery.

As far as theft, if your art is stolen and all efforts to recover it or get paid have failed, talk to your tax person. That’s a “loss” to your business and as long as you can document it (as with all things taxes), it’s likely to be a deduction for you.”

Another artist, whose work was recently threatened by a fire in the gallery where he was showing, chooses not be insured because he believes the resilience of artists and their ability to create more and perhaps better work if the worst happens more than compensates for the value received from paying insurance premiums.

Do you carry insurance on your art business? Have you ever had to file a clam and was the settlement satisfactory?

3. Quotes about the business of being an artist-

I paint for myself. I don’t know how to do anything else, anyway. Also, I have to earn my living, and occupy myself. Francis Bacon

The most common money-related mistake artists make is a reluctance to invest in their own careers. Caroll Michels

Artists often make emotional decisions. They can be so eager to be represented by a gallery that they neglect paying due diligence to the terms and conditions of the contract. Chris Tyrell

An artist is not paid for his labor, but for his vision. James McNeill Whistler

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