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.
Nice blog post. I love the way you are so open about your thought processes.
Getting recognition feeds the ego, not the work. 🙂 After weaving for 35+years, I’m still learning, still feeling like a ‘beginner’ about some things. And that is what is so exciting for me, about weaving. There is always something more to learn. 😀
A thoughtful essay. I happen to agree. It’s all about the love of doing the work, and of each step feeding the next step.
Louise Yale says
Agree with you, Tien. The “work” is IT. I do not want to attach my creativity to $$ or a fickle market.
I earned a living in health care. My career paid the bills so I could create whenever and as ever I chose. It has been an immensely satifying experience.
The intrinsic value of enjoying oneself can never be commodified, I am glad you have chosen to remain free to the creative process and reap the rewards of being unencumbered by hungry ghosts and false gods.
Pirkko Karvonen says
You did express thought provoking ideas about exhibiting in galleries. I never thought that exhibiting in a gallery would have anything to do with prestige – it is quite possible. I experience an inner drive to weave tapestries. I find that they make a place more livable and add warmth to a public place. I have worked mostly through art consultants. If the work and idea is suitable for my way of thinking, then I will do a rendering (draw images) and the art consultant takes my images back to the customer. I plan new projects all the time in my mind and on paper, some of them end up being tapestries.
Tien, you also have an amibility to express yourself in word. You are a good writer and thinker. You make your blog very interesting. You are good in expressing yourselfr. Keep up the good work. We all have our own path to follow. You are young! I am at the other end of the spectrucm.
Pirkko Karvonen says
Hi again Tien, I was interrupted by my son having to use the telephone. We are on a dial-up, so the telephone is connected to the internet.
You know what you want of your life and weaving. It is good. Many people search a whole life without knowing what they want.
On Sunday I was showing a documentary that I had made for TV about a Finnish Utopian Colony in BC Canada. In it there is mention about two teams of fisher men rowing their boats and competing against each other. The leader of one boat says : “Slow down”. They ask:”Why? We are winning!” “You are the winners because you know you can win, but let them win so they will feel good”
Perhaps we have been brought up in a system which has empahsis on competing and winning. Our whole system is based on profit.
Some time ago I was teaching a Manpower Program on an Indian Reservation. I was waiting for someone to be first – to see how far they could go. The fastest one went to help the slowest and they all moved along with the same speed. This was new to me. In all the previous class rooms I had experienced competition – who could be the best? If we all could help each other, what a wonderful place this would be!
I agree with your thoughts entirely!~!~! Fame is fickle and fleeting. Creative art is it’s own reward.
Tien Chiu says
Thank you all (especially Pirkko) for your very thoughtful comments! They are insightful and give me more to think about!
You are very lucky to have your work discovered by the right people at the right time. But then, it’s all the hard work and journeying that makes it sweeter.