Tag Archives: art education

Artists and Money: Ending the Martyred Stereotype

© Uriél Dana 2015.

Did you know that it only became “fashionable” for artists to be poor during the time of the Romantics? The term “suffering for one’s art” was actually coined by an unsuccessful artist in his best-selling book to justify his lack of sales. Ironically, as an author (a different art form) he was quite successful. You know him as John Ruskin.

Artists are almost always portrayed in movies and books as slightly crazed or suffering martyrs. In art classes it was common to see students adopt this persona to get attention. Although creativity cannot help but reflect itself in its creator, the truly mad in our profession were often suffering from lead or mercury poisoning from art materials. It is unfortunate this misguided stereotype has worked its way into the mass consciousness.

Being an artist is not synonymous with being poor. All professions embody people who rise to the top of their field; as well a few that will do a bit better than average. There will also be the inevitable lump of those who do only what they must just to just get by.

The median income for an artist in the USA that consistently works at his craft is about $54,000 ($123,000 if you live in Delaware). About 20% will earn $100,000 to $200,000 per year. A tiny percent make over a million dollars a year.

To succeed in the arts requires knowing that it is a business. This includes doing all of the things for your business that would be done in any other.

Money is not the death of your art. Usually it just means we’ll have better materials, better studio, and “better weed” (if that’s what inspires you). You’ll pay more taxes, but trust me, you will sleep better.

In my article, Roll Your Own Dharma, I write about working with foreign art communities as an Arts Ambassador for the US State Department with the late Gage Taylor. We met and worked with hundreds of artists.

Over and over we observed impeccably painted work collect dust on walls and paintings rendered with unbelievably poor skill that sold like crazy.

Without fail, when we met the non-selling artists, they were angry at the world and felt the world owed them a living.

When we met the artist who’s work sold, we would encounter a joyful, spirit-filled human who loved what he was doing, loved people, and was filled with gratitude. They also had a sense of service to something larger than themselves.

The energy you are channeling as you create stays in that piece of art forever. You can paint a nice picture, but people will feel the anger subconsciously and not want to be around it, much less buy the painting.

For years I’ve been reading and studying about artists that have combined their talent, purpose, and business in equal manner.

For example, Raphael lived more like a prince than a painter. When he died he not only provided for his mistress and his friends, but many of his disciples. He provided for the restoration of one of the ancient tabernacles in the Pantheon. He also left money to commission a marble statue of “Our Lady” for an altar that was also located in the Pantheon.

According to Giorgio Vasari in his Lives of the Artists, Leonardo DaVinci was also very generous. He fed and sheltered all of his friends, rich or poor. He sold the Mona Lisa for today’s equivalent of a million dollars and made his client pay in silver bars.

Vasari was a frustrated 16th century artist. Frustrated because he became better known for his architecture and artist biographies than his own huge body of work (again, a different art form). Through his writings we have learned that Giotto was very wealthy and managed his own business affairs. Not only was he a landowner but he also loaned money at interest like any other prosperous Florentine.

In the book 50 Great Artists we are told that paintings by Jan Van Eyck brought their actual weight in gold. This would have been a substantial amount as they were painted on heavy wooden panels.

We also learn that Rubens was a wealthy artist, diplomat, man of letters, and a collector of art.

In Late Gothic to Renaissance Painters other successful artists that put equal energy into their business affairs as they did their art are discussed. “It was said that Titian was not only a born prince among painters, but a self made prince in a commercial society. He knew his work was a form of luxury merchandise over which he had a monopoly so he naturally intended to be well paid. He had an office that he honored as much as his studio.”

This is only a handful of artists (from the 15th and 16th century) that have succeeded financially because of their talent, kindness, and love towards others. (In another article I will cover later centuries and include women artists).

I love how the Victorian painters actually worked in suits and kept office hours. Although dressing up does not seem practical for the modern working artist, perhaps it is time to embody a new image? Surgeons do not operate for a great yelp review; nor would a supermarket offer you free groceries for the experience. This doesn’t mean it won’t be hard financially at times. All businesses have difficulty in the beginning and sometimes they go through rough patches, but with persistence, they thrive.

On a more modern note, a New York based activist group called W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the Greater Economy) has been focused on regulating the payment of artist’s fees by nonprofit art institutions. They have a manifesto that will help establish a sustainable model for best practices between cultural producers and institutions that contract their labor. There is also a W.A.G.E. group in London. Artists can join and help pave the future for fellow creatives. Nonprofits can become W.A.G.E. certified. I’ve included a link below.


Featured Image: from the Immortal series by Toby de Silva


Art Schools in the 21st Century & the Return of the Ateliers

Once in a while a young creative will corner me in a panic over art school admissions. They realize they will need to submit work to show skill or take an applications test. Do they need to know something about art history or the art world?

Like all schools, there are establishments that will take your money and let anyone in. In the arts, if you are not asked to submit a portfolio or questioned in any way about your art focus, find another school. If your intention is to support yourself off your art, where you train does matter.

Check that the school you are interested in is an accredited member of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. It is very important that the school offers Career Development counseling or survival training* for artists. Artists are like airline pilots: we need an end destination and a clear path to get to where we want to be.

If you intend to be a painter, check with the Art Renewal Center (ARC) list of approved Ateliers. ARC stringently vets skill-based training in the arts. In earlier centuries what began as apprenticeships became guilds and eventually small schools under a specific teacher, known as Ateliers. The Ateliers had all but disappeared in the 20th century.

In a way we had entered the dark ages of art training. Many art schools stopped the teaching of drawing, painting, and other foundational courses originally taught through the atelier system. The focus became how to sell your idea (like a start up) and anything and everything was marketed as art. (For more info read: Who Says That’s Art by Michelle Marder Kamhi). For art students that want to ride that boat I’m giving you the heads up now, that ship has sailed. We are in a new renaissance of figurative art.

In art school you will learn to understand why certain art movements took hold. What was going on historically around them contributed to those movements, just as we are in a bardo or transition between modernism and the return of the ateliers.

For example, the 1980’s and 1990’s was a time when artwork became a way for the wealthy to launder money. Art, especially valuable art, could be shipped easily as household items. Valuable household items that could be liquidated quickly or used as collateral in other countries.

The dishonest behavior of galleries, auction houses and museums has led to an ongoing investigation by the FBI. It became common place to create a name for an artist through creating controversy or advertising portrayed as false articles on an artist to raise prices. Museums were offered kickbacks of sales after raising an artist profile prior to a gallery exhibit.

In the meantime, the public became subjected to endless art installations, graffiti artists sold as the “in thing” & art made from materials that would completely disintegrate in a relatively short period of time. Art became a weapon of social intimidation and it eventually kept the public away from museums and from art galleries. People were told they just didn’t understand when the truth was obvious,” the emperor had no clothes.” 

When you apply to a reputable art school, you are going to have to show something that demonstrates your aptitude for fine art. (I am excluding dance or music because I have no personal experience with those areas).

A simple website is good but you want to have some sketches, finished drawings, perhaps even costume or set designs. All will serve you if you feel they represent your best work. Treat your school application like you would a job interview or a client. It reveals how seriously you take your creativity.

Applying to art school with little knowledge of art history is demonstrating a lack of interest in your field. Chances are you will be asked what your favorite style or period of art is, and a good art school will test you to see if you know any artists from that time or if you understand why each of those periods in history are important.

You may say, “but I just want to paint”. The truth is, if you can’t draw, you will be very limited with what you can paint. If you do not know there is an evolution to art, trends in painting, or what was going on historically, your work may appear derivative or trite.

There are fun and interesting ways to learn about art history. Susan Vreeland is an Art History teacher who writes well researched novels about paintings and their creators, set in the time period they lived in. You may be familiar with Girl in Hyacinth Blue. She also wrote Life Studies, a collection of short stories about different impressionist artists. I have it on CD and enjoy listening to them in my car or while painting.

Check out art series like Simon Schama’s the Power of Art or BBC Video’s The Private Life of A Masterpiece. Absolutely anything by Waldemar Januszczak, writer, filmmaker, and art critic for The Sunday Times is brilliant, fun, and educational (Athena Video). He’s an excellent art historian who is married to an artist so he makes it work from both sides.

Check with your librarian or google non fiction books in your field of interest. When I became interested in restoration, I read everything I could about forgery, its nasty younger brother. Thomas Hoving (former Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) wrote a great book on art fakes called, False Impressions.

If you’re interested in paper conservation I’d like to recommend The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenga about the “mud angels” that came to Florence after a great flood in 1966 to help save thousands of books.

Drawing, painting, clothing design, sculpting, ceramics…you will need to submit samples of your work or it will be a waste of everyone’s time and money. Even if you are great, you will soon learn you are unskilled. With a good art school you will learn discipline, build on your skill set, learn to hit deadlines.

The first two years of art school focus on art history and foundational courses. Learning to draw (graphite, charcoal, pen and ink, washes), technical drawing (perspective and human anatomy), sometimes gallery management. Many prerequisites for art schools are the same as other universities, including math and cultural studies. You will have beginning electives that include sculpture (wood, stone, lost wax bronze casting), jewelry making, paper making, glass making, pottery (ceramics).

In third year you will have to focus on your major; painting, sculpture, or printmaking, etc. All foundational courses must be completed before you can take these. Drawing will often be taken for 4 years if you are a painter. I’m just short of a second degree because I just couldn’t stomach one more math class. I was already earning my living off my art by that time.

*Survival skills for artists include contracts, copyright, record keeping, health hazards and insurance. Some schools offer credit classes (1-6 credits) of mandatory and elected professional business practice courses, others may only offer noncredit workshops or seminars.

Featured Image: Florence Academy of Art Drawing Class 

Why Technology Will Never Replace the Artist

Our world has gone mad since the 2016 US elections and we are all terrified. We are shellshocked with betrayal. We are filled with fear for our brothers and sisters who can not defend themselves and the violations of a Constitution that threaten all our ancestors gave their lives for. We fear for our planet. I get it. My heart hurts, it’s hard to breathe.

I am a person that holds creativity as one of the highest forms of enlightenment. It is easy to want to give up my daily sharing of artwork and its impact in this time of chaos. Without beauty, empathy and manners we will never survive this.

Without art, we have no modern world.

Artists design our clothes, the packaging our food comes in, the tools in our kitchens and in the garage. Artists design our furniture, and our homes (architecture is one of the fine arts).

Artists design toys and the silly costumes people dress their pets in for Halloween or when its cold. Artists design our video games and the look of the movies we watch. Artists design special effects.

Do not think the tools of the artist can replace the artist.

These are just a few of the jobs that come from fine art training. Art schools (legitimate ones) teach structure, perspective, the chemistry of color, design, composition but most of all develop the area of the brain associated with problem solving and constructive reasoning.

Featured Image: Handcrafted crayons made from Beeswax

Art On the Internet: The Caravaggio Effect

Caravaggio was a master of light and shadow much like the information we find on the internet. We’re seeing those extremes of light and shadow being acted out daily online. Lately I’ve been considering how this behavior is being played out in reference to painting. The energy of the artist when they create stays in that creation forever. When I stand in front of a painting at a museum it often feels like a telepathic conversation with the artist is going on. If I stare long enough at a piece, it reveals its secrets to me. I begin to visualize the step by step process of how the artist created it. A communion of souls, artist to artist. Fragments of the painting appear in my mind, about the model, what was going on in the studio, when it was time for lunch.

The digital world is a bit like compact fluorescent light bulbs: the color feels off and the energy is considered dirty. The emotions are stripped in the same way humor or sarcasm do not translate well in text messages. These are two of the most impactful negative effects of art seen on the internet. The colors are off and people don’t realize how distorted the image is. Just as porn progressively becomes more extreme to stand out, only the most garish and unsophisticated of art can often stand out in social media.

Unfortunately, one of the most hypocritical aspects of online social media is its arbitrary censorship of paintings. Facebook will show you a film of a murdered child and tell you it does not conflict with their policy but they will shut down your account if you show a painting that has won a national competition if you see part of the nude human body. It is censorship of the worst kind because it is hiding art skills taught for centuries while also normalizing violence.

Let’s take a moment to consider digital art in the internet art world. Digital art is an advertising or film tool, not fine art. Sorry, at best an electronic object is being used to draw in an electronic world, at its worst altering photos on a computer. This is not fine art. It is a skill, but it is not fine art.

Digital art is an ephemeral product with an ephemeral life span. Oil paintings will last centuries.

What other negative effects has the internet had on art? Sadly, it flooded the market with untrained people identifying themselves under the persona of an artist. They do not understand the foundations of art and thereby create structures that can not last. There is no understanding of materials, perspective, anatomy, design or color. If you combine people acting out the “persona” of an artist with the rampant rise in narcissism it is a very bad combination. Like narcissists, people have no idea how repulsive their art is coming off.

Schools have been removing the arts nationwide and focused more on internet skills. As a result, people have forgotten what it feels like to create. It is common for people fall in love with the object of their creation instead of recognizing it was the act of creation itself that they actually loved.

Sadly, the internet has flooded legitimate fine art competitions and galleries with untrained artists. It wastes the time of everyone and obfuscates established artists.

In the 1980’s I was competing with 80 people in an art competition. We each had to send in slides or expensive 4×5 negatives of our art. In the 90’s we were able to send slides but some galleries allowed compact discs. Suddenly we were competing with 800 people. Now most competitions can be entered online easily by uploading work but you can be competing against 8000! (Fortunately, some competitions will only accept original paintings for the jurying process).

The internet has made it easier to track copyright infringements, find stolen art, research artists, and find great art schools. It has also made it easier to follow museum and gallery exhibits and openings.

I post a figurative art stream on Twitter featuring contemporary artists. The gratitude I receive from artists and art lovers is my reward. So many people do not realize we are living in a renaissance of classically trained artists. If you would like to visit it please go to Twitter.com/Uridev.

Featured image: a studio session at the Angel Academy, Florence, Italy.

Art, Social Media, And the Nationalist Agenda

Many people are familiar with the English artist William Hogarth but do not realize he was also a brilliant social critic and editorial cartoonist in his day.

Hogarth was famous for blasting the politically corrupt, social integration, & the vulgarHis “Modern Moral Subjects” was the Facebook of the 16th Century.  Ironically, he owned a dog named Trump.

Artists by nature are the eyes, ears, heart & soul of a country; the pulse of the collective body of the unconscious. As with any body, you can have healthy white blood cells that heal or cancer cells that kill.

Cancer cells destroy by devouring healthy cells or organs. They do not care if they kill a single organ or the entire body. They are completely self serving, oblivious to the destruction they leave in their wake.

A cancer has moved into our political system and it is eating away at everything that made the USA the country of innovation it once was. Beginning with the Supreme Court’s decision in 2010, Citizens United permitted corporations to be allowed the same rights as individuals, and super PACs to create a system of tax exempt “dark money.”

Corporations began funding politicians that would represent their financial interestsMost candidates, especially in the Republican party, no longer represent the people, but the interests of the corporations that funded their campaigns.

Hundreds of Millions of dollars have been spent on propaganda machines like Fox & Friends, Sinclair Broadcast Group, and the Trump propaganda machine. The intention seems to flood social media with false flag news stories and the embarrassments of Trump himself. People are indignant over distractions while our constitutional rights are being stripped and our country raped by corporations.

People living like refugees and hostages to the American Plutocracy, continue to bicker and bully like grade school children. The arts have become relegated to something people will think about later. The truth is, art needs to be pushed to the top of our collective education.

I have often said, “the part of our brain that helps us create, is also the part of our brain that helps us creatively solve problems. When the arts are removed from our schools you get a population incredibly easy to manipulate through the media”.

When I was traveling with the US State Department with the former Arts America Program, Art Ambassadors would be sent into places with an anti-American sentiment. The government recognized something important, even then:

“There is a universal art spirit that transcends the work of a thousand politicians. It transcends medium, style, language, or governments.”

In my experience, I’ve never met a racist artist. In fact I don’t think I’ve found anyone more able to find the beauty in our differences in skin tone or ethnicities.

There is a common trait of painters being able to spot the most beautiful, unusual, or unique in nature, architecture or people. We are always seeking that single red flower that holds its own in a field of green grass.

As an artist, one of the first things I noticed about Trump was about how much pride he took judging his beauty pageants. Beauty pageants are the homogenization of everything that would be unique. This is a red flag to someone who is creative. The process of homogenization not only makes everything the same but in dairy products prohibits the cream to separate to the top. By its very nature, that which is unique or special must be submerged.

A nationalist agenda does not want to support creativity in our schools or culture. Art space (that place of creating or connecting with art) feels a lot like meditation, or at the very least, communion. Artists can recognize that space in another which is why walking into a painting or drawing class can feel like you’ve walked into a church.

Artists do not tend to identify one another by narrow parameters such as “Muslim, Christian, or Jew.” How you connect with your sacred interior is viewed as private. Trump’s words and practices penalize and segregate anyone who’s internal process is different by labeling them with highly charged words.

Women artists are a double threat to this nationalist agenda. We now represent over half the population and 55% of management in the workforce.

In the arts, women painters now are leading the way with skill and honors. This is vital to understand this transition of gender in the workplace in regards to Trump. Historically, we live in a unique time as women artists. In the past we have systematically been left out of history books and credit for our art has often gone to our fathers, brothers, and husbands. Only with modern conservation technologies are we now discovering the truth of our legacy.

Currently, 65% of art students are women and nearly half of professional artists are women. Only 15% of museum invitationals are to women. Women know discrimination. We know that when the sex of an artist is unknown our work is selected in equal proportion to men. We are creators of beauty and incensed by anyone that would judge our value as if we were a mare for breeding. The nationalist agenda knows the best way to control a woman is to control her reproductive rights.

Artists are also professionally involved in the protection and conservation of art, and architecture. Many landscape painters are active in preserving the sacred in nature. (If you look at a landscape painting of New York City two hundred years ago you will know in an instant why this is important).

Trump has repeatedly shown a disrespect for the legacy of future generations. In architecture, The Metropolitan Museum of Art begged him for a pair of Art Deco reliefs that were part of the facade of the Bonwit Teller Building for their collection. Trump destroyed them along with the landmark structure to build Trump Tower.

In Washington D.C., Trump also destroyed the Old Post Office Building that housed the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. He decided it would make a better hotel and forced everyone to relocate.

In regards to painting, Trump has used words like degenerate (aka Hitler) to describe paintings such as a Madonna and Child. Deceptively, he has implied such work was commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts. It wasn’t. This is derisive behavior to imply the NEA funds art no one cares about and is a waste of money.

Trump has used this stance to infer he will end funding to the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA funds a small portion of many city orchestras, dance & ballet troupes, and theater productions. Only a few personal art grants are given. Most of the art grants are to help cover insurance and transportation costs of major museum touring exhibits.

Hogarth was known for being witty & subversive. He would be having a field day with the politics of the 21st Century. It’s time for artists, writers, musicians & poets to take his place. Cell phones and social media have created people trapped in the land of the lotus eaters. Only the arts will be able to awaken them.

Featured Image:  Baby Trump, from an idea by London activist Leo Murray.

Common Sense Rules For Artists Selecting An Art Agent

© Uriél Dana 2015.

Bernard Poulin recently asked on one of Linked In’s professional art forums, how does an artist find a legitimate agent/broker to represent our work? These are a few of my rules after thirty years.

There are some common sense things to watch for.

You ask for references and check them. You also ask for their art background or experience in the arts and check those references.

Read the person’s reactions to the work. Recently someone contacted me about agenting the work but when they came from out of state spent almost no time looking at the art, let alone engaging with it. (My place is a small museum with nearly forty paintings; the artwork is framed, tagged, and lit impeccably). Ok, I think, she’s not interested. She then asked for my client list? Sorry, that’s not how it works. This was a con artist wanting my client lists to sell other artists work to my collectors.

Agents have their own clients. Ask potential agents their primary area of focus? (Example, designers for hotels, private collectors, etc). An agent will make money off their clients wanting your work. Do not give them the name of your collectors, you’ll just be losing money and clients. You do not need an agent for clients you already have. Your clients would not be so for long if they are chased by your agent trying to sell them art.

Ask directly how much of a percentage do they take?

Ask, who pays for shipping, packaging, insurance? If you not get an answer it will be because they not know their business.

Never, give anyone exclusivity.

Never give anyone your art to keep to show or exhibit. You will have no way of getting it back if they are corrupt. You also have no idea if it will be insured or hung correctly to prevent damage. Agents use imagery off of a disk and bring private clients to you. (Never ask for their phone number or details of your agents clients. You will see neither agent or client again).

Whether agent or client, art should never leave your studio until it is paid in full.

Commissions require 50% down (non refundable) and must be paid in full before leaving the studio. Most agents charge 20% to 30% (depending on how much they do) and I add this to my price.

Do not let an agent undersell your gallery or it will ruin your career. In fact, never, never undersell a gallery yourself. Not to family, not to good friends. Galleries spend years building up your reputation with exhibits and advertising, and with it, your prices. If you undercut them no one will ever pay full price again. Your current collectors will stop buying your work because you have devalued their investment. Amateurs always think no one will find out. Trust me, it will get out and finding representation will be impossible once it does.

Agents will represent “you” in many venues. What does this person tell the art world about themselves; about you? Are they a Harvey Weinstein type predator or an elegant communicator such as Meryl Streep? The agent you choose will be strongly perceived as the kind of person you are.

Last, but not least, do not expect someone to rescue you. Know your own business. My Grandfather use to say, “Oi, you must know how to do your own books before you let someone else manage your money, or you won’t know if their cheating you!”