If you want to make a living off your creativity, there are lessons you’ve got to master. The most important one I learned was how to not take things personally.
Art is subjective. Completely. The entire concept of “art” lives in the minds of humanity and nowhere else. It’s not oxygen, or water, or sunlight or food. It’s an idea. Sometimes people share the same idea, sometimes they don’t. Some people think art must make a statement and anything that doesn’t contain a message or purpose isn’t art. Some people think everything has the potential to be art if looked at the right way. Some people think anything made with creativity is art. Some people think if it’s not painting or sculpture, or some other classic medium, it’s not art. Some people think if you haven’t been to art school, you’re not making art. Some people think if a thing has a use, like a handbag or a bowl, it’s not art, but craft, and craft is not art because art has no purpose other than to be looked at. Some people think art and craft are inextricably intertwined and cannot be separated.
I’m not making a distinction between good and bad art, which is also subjective, btw, just “art” and “not art”.
I happen to think if I hang a saw blade on my wall because I think it’s pretty to look at, it’s art. But it’s also a saw blade, and if I need it, I can return it to its original purpose. But I like things that serve multiple functions.
My point is, not everyone is going to get into your stuff. I’ve had people argue vehemently that I’m not an artist, because what I make doesn’t say anything. I’ve also had people argue vehemently that I am an artist because I make stuff with my hands and my imagination and all it has to do is make someone glad to look at it for it to be art. I’ve watched people get insulted and bitchy because a customer came into their shop and didn’t consider what they were selling to be worth spending money on because they didn’t get into it. I’d like to point out that that happens in every field of sales, from toasters to cars, but only artists get butt hurt about it.
What I’ve come to understand is that you can make whatever you make, and some people will love it and some people won’t give a damn. And that’s their choice. If you want a safer profession go be a plumber. Everybody poops. You’ll never be out of work and no one will doubt whether or not you plumb. No one will argue that you’re not a plumber because they can’t agree on the definition of “pipe”, and your union guarantees a certain wage, even if you’re not a particularly skilled plumber.
Art is a shifty idea. A profession that flows and ebbs and changes depending on what angle the light hits it. You’ve got to move with it, or you’ll be miserable. If a show organizer doesn’t like your stuff, apply to another show. If a customer doesn’t think what you make is art, smile and tell them to have a nice day. Maybe they’ll think your neighbor makes art and buy something from them, an attitude which helps you strengthen your concept of “community”. Supporting the arts doesn’t just mean supporting you personally as an artist. It means an entire hoard of people doing endless different variations on endless different themes, all of whom need to pay their bills. Maybe your neighbors unappreciative audience will be your next paying customer. It works like that.
I will happily pay “art prices” for folk art, a thing which most people consider primitive. Contrary-wise, I’m left completely cold by most of the major names in painting from Titian to Caravaggio to Vermeer. It’s not that I don’t think they have talent. I just wouldn’t pay money for their work. “Whaaat? But they’re great artists!” Technically, yes. But emotionally they do nothing for me. It’s. All. Subjective.
And since it’s all subjective, I can’t see the purpose in getting emotionally involved in those who don’t perceive my work as something worth spending money on. Of course I want to make a sale. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about taking that lack of a sale personally. That someone doesn’t get into your stuff is not an attack on your character or ability necessarily. It’s just their opinion. Which they are as equally entitled to as you are. Now, if they’re being a douche about it, that’s a different story. There’s no need to be discourteous to a person because you don’t dig on their art. Walking into a shop and saying “Well this is crap” is not the same as politely looking around and leaving when you don’t dig on what you see. It’s also not an insult when someone finds your prices beyond their budget. I can’t afford to buy art. I mostly make my own home decor because I’m broke. I totally get it when someone looks at my price tag and says, “It’s a bit more than I can afford”. Which is different than someone saying “You want how much?”.
But I’m not talking about rudeness. By all means get cranky about the rude. Rude people ruin everybody’s moment. But don’t waste your time getting cranky about people who don’t share your vision. If you’re skilled at what you do, no matter what that is, there will be plenty of people who do share it. Hopefully people with hundred dollar bills burning holes in their wallets. But even if not. An appreciative browser is sometimes as nice to have around as a buyer. Good feedback does its job feeding your soul, even if it isn’t paying your bills.