IS ART A WASTE OF TIME?


“Coastal Rocks”40 x 60 cms

Prismacolor pencils on Canson Pastel Board. Own reference.

Today’s featured coloured pencil drawing happens to be my biggest selling print as a greeting card not only in Australia, but overseas. For some reason this drawing has universal appeal. Is it the subject, the medium, or the colours and shapes?

I recently took part in ArtWalk 2019, an annual local council arts initiative at Port Macquarie (Australia) where I’m currently residing. For 3 hours on Thursday, July 18, between 6-9pm, about 11,500 people visited the CBD to witness a massive range of visual and performing arts. This event gets even more popular with every passing year. I wish though that it be held over a weekend, not simply an evening. On my stall I offered cards and prints for sale and my return this year exceeded my participation in last year’s event, so from that point of view I was successful. Unfortunately, I was situated well away form the fine art stalls and performers, limiting the amount of customers I could have had if I were nearer to the ‘action.’

What pleased me most was the reaction of people to my work. The vast majority were amazed that my cards and prints were derived from actual coloured pencil drawings. Two comments stand out: “They’re only photographs,” and “I wish I could take photos like that.” I’m not sure what to make of either!

Despite the popularity of my work, why has it been such a challenge to sell my original drawings?

Creating art is part of a process that often involves extensive research, planning, making, framing and marketing. If you simply create art for your self, then it’s about the processes involved in making something and keeping it for yourself. Sharing one’s art is a very different matter and can be classified as the ‘serious side of art.’ It also can involve a great deal of expense for materials, framing and promotion. The latter can also include gallery representation, a website and market stalls.A selection of my recently released prints of some of my coloured pencil drawings that are also available as greeting cards.

For a long time I’ve been of the opinion that we first and foremost create art for ourselves, enjoy the process and take solace from the products that result. When one crosses the line into the commercial art world, strange things can happen. One can be seduced by the market’s demands and produce work that’s popular. ‘Popular’ has a great chance of selling. If that’s the way you want to go, you can expect a reasonable financial return for your efforts. But what if you want to simply ‘be yourself’ and create work that has personal meaning? Starve?

There are a number of artists who have succeeded being ‘themselves,’ I’m not one of them. The past few years have not been good for me sales-wise in respect of my coloured pencil drawings. I am however, enjoying success with my greeting card range and lately, with my recently released range of prints. Despite some limited commercial interest, I’m wondering though if it’s all a waste of time. I get depressed when I see art on social media that is popular, selling and what I consider insincere and of questionable originality.

I promote my art as one should on various social media outlets, my website, online galleries, my RedBubble shop, this blog, through my art workshops and in 3 galleries for (lately) very little return. Having been away from my home state of Tasmania for the past 3 years hasn’t helped maintain the sales I was experiencing before I left. Breaking into new (local) markets has been a challenge that has eluded me. I’ve been featured in national art magazines as well as overseas publications and books. This ‘promotion’ has resulted in no sales of my work whatsoever. I’m beginning to question if it’s all worth the effort and I believe that I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

The art market seems to pay little attention to the skills of artists. If people like an artwork and are prepared to pay for it, then a sale is made. Producing ‘commercially popular’ artwork sits way above any comparison to artists’ skill levels in many instances. ‘Nice, happy, friendly, non-offensive’ artworks will more often than not, sell. I can understand that if art’s your living you have to make art that brings in the dollars, but is the joy of creating art diminished? For some, maybe not and good luck to them!

From time to time I’ve questioned my skill level, but with 50+ art awards to my credit, I must be doing something right now and then. Maybe my subjects are too personal; what I like to draw lacks ‘commercial appeal.’ It may be the fault of my preferred medium, coloured pencil. The latter is a point worth consideration and is worthy of a blog post itself. There is (still) a deep misunderstanding concerning the merits and value of coloured pencil drawing as genuine artworks of merit in the Australian art market, especially away from the big cities. Why are my greeting cards so popular, while many of my originals still reside in my studio?

Next year I’ll be returning to Tasmania and to my own studio as well as re-connecting to the local art scene. This will be the ideal time to re-evaluate my involvement with art. Should I continue with drawing with coloured pencil or should I return to painting or my love of digital art/photography? Can I combine them all? Should I continue teaching? If so, should I change my approach? I want to write a book about my art and after several starts it’s still a ‘work in progress.’ Maybe it’s time to get it done. Are more public art demonstrations and art markets the answer? If all else fails, it’s back to fishing and golf!

Before any decisions can be made it all depends on whether or not I can continue to find ‘joy’ in anything creative, for without a love for what one does, how can joy be found? Why one does art is just as important as the art one creates.

At the end of the day, our priorities in life will determine the journeys we take.

Richard

About artkleko

artist, art curator, art teacher, art judge, art critic
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28 Responses to IS ART A WASTE OF TIME?

  1. Mary McCabe says:

    I left a long reply, but unfortunately, once I logged in my reply was gone. So, I’ll simplify. Look into mymodernmet.com. They’re always looking for people who make unusual art, or make art in an unusual way. Make a video of you making an art piece that takes you many hours, and condense the YouTube video into no more than ten minutes. List all the pencils you used and how long it took you, and the story behind the piece. There is always the problem of finding the people who will connect with your art. It is entirely possible that colored pencil as a serious art form has not yet happened, and may not be taken seriously by the art world and therefore collectors for, dare I say it, hundreds of years. You can always branch out into another medium that has more gravitas in the present. Painting in oil comes to mind. Personally, I am really enjoying pastel work. And, it has it’s own problems, as it is seen by many as being “too delicate.” But, that’s another story. Good luck to you Richard. You have already gone farther than most artists out there, so don’t feel too bad…

    • artkleko says:

      Thank you Mary for your comments. I suspect that coloured pencil will never be recognised as a mainstream art medium and your suggestion of a change in medium certainly has merit. Warmest regards, Richard

  2. I think, sadly, art can seem a waste of time now and then in this digital age, yet it is the personal connection with folks and sharing the beauty of creativity that does indeed matter. That expression is needed, even if so many pass it by. My “name” (for what it is worth) and my art (whatever that is too) are somewhat known, but thus far translates into few actual sales as well. Why buy anything today, or even come to a show, when people can see it for free for fives seconds as they scroll along on the internet? I think this has hit galleries and artists hard. In terms of subject matter, I don’t know how many times I have heard the “you should draw such and such” about whatever some particular subject someone thinks will sell wonderfully – and they are all different ideas. Everyone is an art coach, lol, but not a buyer. If I did that I would have no personal vision, just a shot gun splatter approach and no meaning to what I do at all. It gets so discouraging, I agree, but I am glad you are following your own vision for your art. That said, again it is the personal connections, I’ve been blessed by the support of so many wonderful people even if I don’t sell often. Sorry this is so long, it brings up my own experience, I’ve had a lot of the feelings you shared, over the years. I do my own art for God’s glory and let Him provide my finances along the way in whatever manner he chooses, so I do find it worth it. I feel for your struggle, thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. Dave phoenix says:

    Inspiring piece of writing….thankyou for taking the time to express what many of us feel….

  4. ridgecookearts says:

    I admire you as the authentic artist that you are, more than I admire your work I think. I see you as courageous for the persistence in drawing what you do knowing realism will always be “popular”. I sometimes feel artists do a lot that benefits others which is disguised as benefiting themselves eg, articles for magazines, demonstrations for galleries. I guess it’s a different journey for all of us to navigate. But I think it’s always important that we remain authentic to ourselves.

  5. MJ King says:

    Artists in America are experiencing the same difficulties you are. People buy art because they’ve formed an emotional connection to the piece.. Our hearts have become so full of hate and resentment that there’s little room to connect emotionally to anything else. Your insightful words are as hard to read as it is to see our art sitting in piles against the studio wall. I myself, am just beginning my fine art journey. I hear many ooohs and ahs, but only occasionally sell a piece. I’m hoping that will change as I build my reputation, and colored pencil becomes more mainstream. But until the hearts of our admirers change like the The Grinch at Christmas, we may have to remain content to create an oasis of beauty in an ugly world.

  6. Paula Woodward says:

    I guess if you want to make a living out of it, or even break even on your expenses, you could say art is a waste of time for most artists. I have never had an income worth mentioning from my art, although I occasionally sell a painting. When I retired 15 years ago, I had high hopes. I even spent several years studying for and completing my BFA at UTAS. I have tried different styles and media, but it hasn’t made much difference. A couple of years ago I decided I couldn’t acquire any new canvases for painting, as my house was at capacity. So now I’m working mainly on paper as it doesn’t take up so much room! Having turned 70 this year, I have decided to just do what I enjoy doing. If something sells, it is pleasing, but it’s not the main game any more. I have learned from past experience that I need to make art for my mental health, so that is my focus. I am fortunate to be one of a self-funded retiree couple, so I don’t need to make a living out of my art, and we are comfortable enough for me to buy materials.
    As far as coloured pencil work is concerned, I have had similar problems with the “buying” public’s attitude to this medium. I started using coloured pencils in the 1980s and loved them, as I have always loved drawing. Then through the 1990s and into the early 2000s I was fully occupied with a job which I didn’t really enjoy, and on top of that, looking after a couple of teenaged boys and an
    ageing mother. My husband also had a demanding job. For 15 years art went on the back burner.
    I took up coloured pencils again in 2016, and rediscovered my love of the medium. However, I have now developed some arthritis in my left thumb, so I now use aquarelle pencils rather than dry pencils which require more pressure.
    So, is art a waste of time for me? Making art is never a waste of time, but trying to produce something that will sell probably is a waste of time from my point of view.

  7. Richard there is so much of “me” in this. The dilemmas, the circles, the analysing and the wondering. Although slowing down, I can;’t seem to stop creating despite its many frustrations and I continue to put art out there for sale. My love of fluidity is not as popular are carefully drawn pieces but I mix it up and still enjoy that. I will never be THE (c.p., oil, watercolour, silk, encaustic, botanical…..) artist as I still explore all. I now tell people I am still a scientist (my original training as you know) but my Science lab is now an art studio. I still love to experiment but have a passion for fluidity that links much of my work. I still face turmoils over what and why but am very lucky. I love Tasmania and enjoy capturing that feeling in art…. not usually political statements therefore not seen as challenging but my challenge is different.
    My last work had so many comments about how people could feel the breeze etc … that made me happy. Will it sell… who knows but the comments mean heaps. I still have myeyesight, do not need financially to sell my work and despite 51 years type 1 Diabetes and severe arthritis am living to “splash” the paint or “scribble” with the pencils another day. I do not need to sell but it does make me feel good about my art as do awards and positive feedback from strangers. Will mI stop while I can physically do it…I doubt it. Life changes, and sadly we get older

  8. sorry Richard… probably heaps of errors in that. Did not re-read/edit. Now to Makers Workshop with other artists who face a variety of dilemmas…. but all “addicted”

  9. Marlene says:

    Hi Richard, I just want you to know that I love what you do and you obviously have the passion and talent needed to produce wonderfully engaging works of art👍. I just think that everyone is so oversaturated in this digital age, the economy is flat and most people’s priority is keeping a roof over their head! Buying art is no longer the investment it once was. So just keep creating your beautiful art and know that lots of people enjoy viewing it online even if they are unable to buy an original piece. I always purchase cards from artists I admire,as I am unable to afford an original piece. I think this is why you sell so many cards. Your work is FAB and definitely not a waste of time, Keep making beautiful art in any medium you enjoy, it,s definitely not a waste of time. 😘
    Regards, Marlene Holdsworth x

  10. Suzanne LaPrade says:

    Hi Richard, Wonderful and thoughtful responses. I have felt most of the emotions expressed here. I am almost 80, and often think about these things. Yet I cannot make myself stop making drawings and paintings. I think it is because I believe my work is the reason I was put here, and to stop at this point would be a form of suicide. I have slowed my rate of production and often miss the deadlines that I am aiming for. I seldom buy new supplies or get many pieces framed. I have decided to continue as long as possible because I am an artist, and what artists do is make their art. Nowhere are we taught that we must get rich from our efforts, or receive world wide recognition, or even last longer in great reputation than our contemporaries. We are only required to keep on keeping on as artists, because that is what artists do. For me, there is no other option.

  11. vespakat says:

    Hello Richard, I was in the audience when you gave your talk at Winter School McGregor, in Toowoomba early this month. I was inspired by your work and couldn’t believe what could be achieved with coloured pencil! I’m now on a steep learning curve with pencil drawing, and loving it. Regarding your comment re selling original art – I think think the modern minimalist style of living has a lot to answer for. Most modern homes have very little wall space for displaying art. How I miss the Queenslander home we used to own with its walls of tongue and groove timber. You could bang in a nail and hang pictures anywhere. The 14’ ceilings allow plenty of extra room, too!
    Maybe the way artists make a living is changing. There’s Patreon, and as you mentioned, Red Bubble, and people so want to learn. Teaching seems to be so popular, with many retirees eager to learn to draw and paint. I hope you will return to Toowoomba so I can do your class!

  12. nollykaye says:

    Hi Richard, I read your post and wondered how to reply.Your dilemma is a sign of the times in my opinion. I am in the same position after painting/creating all my life.I’m now 74 and started as a four year old using anything I could find to create my paintings/collages. Art is a huge part of my life and I have done it for a living and had six galleries over the years and many exhibitions. It has been a wonderful life, even through my many personal trials. Then, along came computers and I determined not to let it change my art. Of course it did. Like some major tsunami it opened dozens of floodgates and new opportunities and with it, a whole new area of art. I always knew prints and digital art would change the face of creativity. It did so in many ways. You have used it beautifully and I love your work.  Personally, as a wildlife artist, I’ve tried to embrace the changes but it’s so hard to keep up with styles now.The current abstract fad often involves one or two brushstrokes and everyone can be an artist. The day I first saw art prints in the dollar shops I knew it was over! Without raving on forever Richard, that’s basically it.The big thing is marketing and it has never been my forte. I think most sales are online now and galleries a thing of the past. The exceptions are major galleries in the cities and big name artists who have stuck with them. Not to mention those wonderful patrons from long ago!  Prints are a way to go and you seem to haveworked well on that.  I would love to know the answers Richard! Good luck,Noelene Johnston

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

    • artkleko says:

      Thank you, Noelene for your perceptive comments. What you have said is so true of art these days. The days of visiting galleries are certainly diminishing as well as showing one’s art there. Successful marketing is the answer and you are right. The trouble is takes up so much of one’s time!
      Kind regards, Richard

  13. Lynn Hasenkam says:

    Hi Richard, I have read all the responses to your original post and its hard to know what to say. In response to the various comments about galleries in general – I have been taking tours of the Hadley Art Prize again this year and the number of visitors has been fantastic. I think people do want to come to Galleries but they also want an experience – to engage with, learn about and appreciate the work on a basic level; they want to participate – they want a conversation. That’s where many galleries fall down. Having said that, some of the mainland galleries are really proactive in promoting their artists across a broad range of opportunities.
    It still seems that for many artists, being true to yourself and making a living will always be a balancing act. You are definitely not alone in your concerns and doubts. I am just getting back into making my own work after many years promoting and curating exhibitions for other people and I am totally beset by doubts. Some of the old skills have gone and it’s really hard work getting started again. I know what people would like me to make but I also know what I want to make and that’s the work that makes me happy. Its terrible when artists have to start questioning whether they are doing the “right” sort of art. If its any consolation, I have a small original piece of yours from the early nineties. It makes my heart sing every time I look at it.
    Lynn Hasenkam

    • artkleko says:

      Thanks Lynn for your perceptive comments. There is so much truth in what you’ve said. I guess that at the end of the day our art should be about who we are, not what people want us to be.
      Kind regards, Richard

  14. Libby Simmons says:

    Hi Richard,
    We’ve missed seeing your smiling face here in Launnie. Your work is truly original and has a place in most homes in Australia. Sadly your efforts are being undermined by cheap copycats on the internet.
    I have taken a bit of rest from my paintingd recently, and giving textiles a whirl.
    Maybe you just need a break from pencils for a while. Go back to basics, use inks or brusho to release that stress inside.
    Good luck, best wishes.
    Libby

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