I grew up with so many of my art friends and educators telling me,
“A true artist always make art for themselves."
"Artists do NOT make art to for other people."
"Self-expression and artistic integrity are more important than selling your work."
When confronted with these clichés I always wondered why I couldn’t have "artistic integrity" AND make a good living making art.
I have also wondered what was so wrong with making art directed towards a particular audience or client and still be a respected or good artist.
I think I started to sell my art when I related to or collaborated with real people whose values I respected. In essence, when I turned the focus of my art as something I was making for other people and not solely as personal expression I became an artist who sold work consistently enough to quite my day job and become a full time artist.
As a young artist just out of graduate school I made art about my personal history and experience, often focusing on imagery that was personal and also fit the criteria that I could draw and paint it well. I painted portraits of my classmates film noir images in black and white and figures done in the Bay Area Figurative style. I was consistently interested in expressing personal ideals, motifs, often people didn't get what I was trying to tell them and I often thought they were idiots for not understanding my intensely personal vision of the world.
When I hit my mid 40's I started thinking about what kinds of things I thought my friends might like to have as gifts. I have a friend, David, who liked looking at nude men and I made him a series of drawings and paintings of nude and semi nude men that I knew he was attracted to and gave them to him as gifts for holidays. I really enjoyed making art that I thought of as a gift for someone else.
Over the next couple of months and years, David told me how his friends kept trying to swipe my art and he encouraged me to make more art about men mainly because I enjoyed drawing and painting the male figure. I guess you could say I started making art that that I thought David would like not art that I thought of as personal expression but rather a collaboration between a real person and myself. My sales and my reputation really took off when I started to expand the circle of people I thought about making art for.
My art career really took off when I started thinking about my art as gifts for people I like and care about.
Now, when I make art I have an audience of people who I imagine my art is for. Some of the people who are looking over my shoulder are imaginary and real friends with whom I share tastes with and this ranges from movies, to books, to even what kind of people they are attracted to.
Example, I make art about Leather Daddies because I think they look cool and I also know that other people think so too.
I make a lot of paintings of older hairy men, “Bears,” because I know that there is a demographic of men and women who find this attractive and want to engage with the subject, I love the subject because that’s how I look and it makes me feel good to paint men who look like me, and I love painting the male figure, mainly because I’m better at painting them than almost anything else.
Recently I started painting and drawing human rights and political heroes. I wanted to make pictures that I could share on Facebook that I thought might friends might get some inspiration from. I was hoping that my pictures would counteract the negative stuff going on in the world and express a hopeful alternative. I actually did not start making them to sell, they were meant as disposable art that I would put in storage. When I put them up for sale I was surprised at the popularity.