Rachael McCampbell Takes a Personal Look at the Life of an Artist
A New Monthly Series
There is an old, romantic fantasy that artists are so driven to be creative they don’t ever think about money. I hate to pop anyone’s bubble, but we have bills to pay, too.
Imagine that you attend a job interview and they say, “You will work for six months on a project, pay for all the supplies, but not earn any money until the exhibit—that is, if you sell any of the products you make. And the place where you show your products will take fifty to sixty percent of all the proceeds. You will also be required to work sixty-hour weeks and almost every weekend. You will be the creative talent, marketing director, graphic designer, Webmaster, secretary/assistant, sales force, public speaker, framer, bookkeeper, maid, landscaper/gardener, cook, and housekeeper. You will not get an IRA, nor any healthcare—no benefits at all, actually. Well, yes, one benefit. You will get to do what you really love to do—that is, make the product.”
Needless to say, most people with any sense would run away. But the courageous/crazy artist signs on: Sure, sounds like the career for me! We are simply compelled.
I wake up each morning hopeful that the canvas that I paint, love to paint, need to paint, will resonate with someone, so much that they actually buy it. Oops, did I just say the buy word? Sorry, that’s a naughty word in this field. There is an old, romantic fantasy that artists are so driven to be creative they don’t ever think about money. Just the satisfaction we receive is reward enough. I hate to pop anyone’s bubble, but we have bills to pay, too. Yet, when you paint, if you make it all about money, your creativity suffers. It’s a double-edged sword.
A lot of artists get to make art because they have a spouse who supports them, or they work full time and do art on weekends. And some artists, like some writers, athletes, or actors, make it to the top one percent in the field and can sell one painting a year and live lavishly. But, for the ones who are regular, full-time artists, like myself, we have to wear all the hats and work long hours for sporadic pay. There are times where it feels hopeless to continue in this way. And I think about what my MBA friend, the CEO of a company, says: “This is not a good business model.”
So, I read all the books on How to Make It Big in the Art World. Yet as soon as one book is published, the paradigm shifts and the rules change again. And with the advent of the Internet, many of the traditional brick-and-mortar galleries have disappeared—replaced by online galleries. Artists must be adaptive to survive.
No matter what the trends are around me, I hold onto my truth that keeps me going. I’m simply an old-fashioned artist who believes in the power of original work—art painted one painting at a time, with MY hands, putting MY energy, heart, and soul into each canvas I create. I think when collectors buy good art, they want to purchase that artist’s vision and point of view—one that won’t be found anywhere else in the world. It’s like a fingerprint—entirely unique. This is magical to me. And this magic is what keeps me going.
One day, I’d like to get an assistant to help with some of the hats I wear so that I can focus more time on my art. That would improve the business model. In the meantime, I paint alone each day and cheer myself on. And when things seem hopeless and the art isn’t selling, I practice my speech: Would you like fries with that burger? Just as I’m about to fill out the McDonald’s application and pack it all in, the phone rings, and I get another commission or show. And so it goes.
Rachael McCampbell is an artist, teacher, curator, and writer who resides in the small hamlet of Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee. Go to www.rachaelmccampbell.com.