“Some of us paint for pleasure”
I spoke at the monthly meeting of a local art group recently, and I spent some time talking through my experiences of selling artwork and other income streams I use to pay the bills. I’m fortunate in being able to spend so much of my working week creating, whether it be art or music. More and more of my time is spent creative work for others though – either writing and producing scores for television, or selling artwork and painting commission pieces. I wouldn’t be able to continue doing it if I didn’t make money out of it.
But at the end of my talk, one of the audience, an elderly gentleman, remarked that “Some of us paint for pleasure”. I felt a bit crestfallen. He may not have meant it to be disparaging – he may have just meant that some people don’t need to earn a living from their art, so can truly paint whatever they want. But it sounded as if he were suggesting that because I have to make money out of it, I am somehow selling myself out. And that my work is somehow tarnished because it is produced with the aim of selling it.
That’s not the way I see it. How could it be? I am at the stage in my career now that I am proud of what I can produce. And what’s more, I want to share it with other people. I don’t produce music just for myself – music is supposed to be heard. Art is supposed to be seen. And finding ways of getting my work “out there” usually entails selling it in some shape or form. Attaching monetary value to it gives it value beyond its intrinsic value.
And I do feel pleasure in that sort of work. It can be very pressured – of course it can, but there is a huge pleasure to be gained from creating something out of nothing, and getting it done to a strict brief and deadline. It can provide focus where this can be lacking when I’m creating only for myself. I don’t know about you, but I love having focus in my work. I love having that feeling of working towards an end – it’s rather like driving to a distant destination and watching the time till you reach your destination on the satnav coming closer and closer.
My grandfather always used to say “If something is worth doing, its worth doing well.” And so anything I sink my teeth into creatively requires my upmost effort, and the joy I feel in producing a well-composed painting or score is second to none.
Some people might say that painting someone else’s view (for a commission) is less personal and therefore less valuable to me as a person. Well, it is less personal, for sure, but less valuable? I’ve learned so much from painting commissions. I use the same skills for them which I do for my own work, but actually they often stretch me further, because they are not the scenes I have chosen for myself. The ones I choose for myself might end up limiting me because they will be the sorts of scenes I am comfortable with. And what about music? Is writing to fit the high and low points of a television drama less useful or valuable than creating something entirely my own, born of my own imagination and with reference to no-one else’s? Not a bit. They are very different challenges. The film has its own momentum which gives the music its momentum. Without a film, I need to create that momentum myself, and this is not always easy. But at the same time, fitting music into the constraints of a film is itself hugely challenging. And one has to be very careful not to stray into cliche, or worse, mawkish sentimentality. But the pleasure that can be gleaned from watching the film come to life with the addition of music can not be underestimated.
So do I somehow sacrifice pleasure, or any other sort of value, by setting out to sell my work? No. No more than cooking a meal from scratch and giving it to my family to eat. Human creativity is supposed to be shared and enjoyed. And when I’m painting a commission piece, there are whole other dimensions of pleasure to be enjoyed – seeing the look on the client’s face as they see the finished painting for the first time is one of them – that knowledge that you have given them something special, something to be treasured. There’s nothing quite like it.