Saturday, July 27, 2013

When Does Life Begin?

Recently, a creative coaching client asked me what an appropriate answer would be for the question, “How long did it take you to make that?”  Actually this topic comes up quite often as most artists-if not all-have been asked at some point how long it takes to create their work.  I myself have been asked that question from time to time.  I think we artists can acknowledge the question is off-putting, especially because it is generally asked by some schmuck who has absolutely no intention of doing anything more than jabbing his or her finger at your work while using a slightly accusatory tone suggesting that if he or she had access to the same materials they could create something identical, if not superior, in less amount of time. 

I notice that no one asks accountants how long it takes them to file taxes, how long it takes a dentist to examine a patient's teeth, how long it takes a teacher to create a lesson plan.  In fact I wager the only other sort who get asked a question even remotely similar are those in manual labor while a customer is eyeballing the bill.

It is difficult for us artists to answer this question because of the many elements involved.  Materials effect the time spent.  So does the size of the piece.  But the ultimate factor is: When does the life of  art begin?  Should the artist factor in the number of hours he/she conceptualizes the artwork before setting foot in the studio?  How about the time spent researching and purchasing materials?  Do we calculate the time it took for us to learn and perfect our craft?  Unlike professionals who complete a task often in one sitting, the “office hours” of an artist-especially one who is set on making art their means of earning a living-is nebulous at best.  Anyone who knows me will tell you I am never not working.  My days are spent finding inspiration and materials for future work, freshening up the content of my online marketing, searching for new exhibition opportunities, drafting and scheduling newsletters, responding to phone calls and emails; the list goes on and on.  I consider all of this part of my artistic career, yet none of it happens inside the studio. 

I am not suggesting that the next time you get asked, “How long did it take you to make that?” you offer up a diatribe about how much blood, sweat and tears it takes to make a living as a creative entrepreneur.  In fact I usually do answer this inquiry with a patient, pleasant and VERY simplified time frame.  However, I do encourage you to take every moment into consideration when it comes to valuing yourself as an artist.  Give yourself a pat on the back for the amount of blood, sweat, tears AND love you pour into each and every piece.  Price your work accordingly.  I find artists tend to  readily dismiss the importance of what they do, even to themselves.  Keep in mind you have the capability to take raw materials you have carefully collected and blend them with soul, vision and passion into something that has never existed before. The issue isn't “How long did it take you to make that?” Instead it should be, “What did you have to experience, learn, love and dream in order to make this happen?”

If you do have a tendency to minimize the significance of your artistic endeavors, I have a homework assignment for you.  Attempting to calculate the time (all those classes, hours in the studio, treks to the art supplies store) you have invested since birth might blow a gasket or two, so let's keep it simple. For the next two weeks keep track of how much time you spend on your art career, and I mean EVERY task required to further you as an artist.  I think you will be impressed by your level of dedication.  I hope your findings will make you proud and help you to believe in your pursuits.  Believing in yourself improves your focus.  You become more realistic about your price range, and  your boosted confidence eases the stress of dealing with the general public.  I hope you will feel you don't have to justify to anyone what you do.  Your career path is just as valid as any other.