As our intrepid columnist finishes settling into her new digs in Warsaw, today we bring you a look back at some advice that still holds true. If you have a question about making, exhibiting, finding, marketing, buying, selling—or any other activity related to contemporary art—you can submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.
I have been a semi-successful studio artist for almost 30 years. For about the last ten of these I have been able to support myself financially with my work. I consider this a fortunate situation, but recently I have had to admit to myself that I’m getting tired and that the satisfaction of being an artist no longer seems worth the hustle of maintaining a viable studio practice. However, I am still an ambitious person (possibly out of habit) and I feel very acutely the pressure to produce work in a certain quantity. Being an artist has been the central part of my identity for so long, and I still romanticize it but I’m just not sure I can do it any longer. If I did stop making my work, I think there’s plenty I could do to make a living in the city where I live, but the thought of giving up a national reputation is frightening. Not that I think that there’s an adoring public who would be devastated but I can’t deny that my studio practice is externally motivated at this point. Is there a way to gracefully wrap up an art career without dying? Is there a way to turn down opportunities and quell the beast of the “artist’s ego” in order to lead a more sane and relaxing existence?
Thomas Demand. Copyshop, 1999; C-print; 72 1/4 x 118 1/4 in.
Of the many possible dilemmas to have, let’s admit that this one is rather attractive. Selling work steadily enough to provide a livable income is something that many artists yearn for, a marker of capital-S Success—at least on the commercial market. And for the past ten years you’ve had it, but now it has lost its luster.
Certainly, you could start bowing out. A regular job worked forty hours a week would surely make you too busy (and definitely too tired) to meet your current production demands. If this is what you really want, you need to have some honest conversations with your gallerists and dealers. Tell them that you need some space to pursue other goals right now and will be slowing down your studio work. It will be a hard conversation to have, but if you’re going to go down this path you need to be candid with the people who have helped support your career.
But before you initiate those conversations, you need to have one with yourself first. Clichéd though it may be, it’s absolutely true that age has a way of putting things into perspective and it might be that you’ve matured and grown distant from your current life. Before you lock the door to your studio and throw away the key, let’s try to figure out how you got here in the first place. To put it bluntly, let’s make sure that this is a well-considered course of action and not just a mid-life-crisis maneuver that ends in remorse.
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