When the Money Doesn’t Follow

"Two Pears" by M Kathryn Massey OPA

"Two Pears" by M Kathryn Massey OPA

Back in the 90’s there was a popular idea, “do what you love – the money will follow.” That seemed plausible, and for many of us in the world of art, this has become a reality. Many painters are sitting on lucrative art careers either through well placed portrait commissions, print reproductions or popular workshops with an accredited institution. However, in the world of Occupy Art, 1% vs. 99%, I, like many of you, fall into the latter: the 99%.

As my brief bio states, I began to paint at age 41 with no prior instruction or education in painting. I knew I wanted to paint, and around my 41st birthday, I began. The rest as they say, is (almost) history.

Most of us were not full time students when we began our careers. Nor were we married to, or partnered with an established painter whose career was already doing well, and in turn, might ‘introduce’ us to the best galleries, invitational shows and teaching institutions, thereby eliminating much of what the majority of painters go through early in their careers. Many of us didn’t come with a Trust nor were we independently wealthy. In other words, we created the space we needed to paint because it wasn’t put before us. We found ways to work at learning to paint with unique and different challenges. None of these ways should ever be discounted or diminished.

My own instruction consisted of a 5-day workshop about once per year, and in the remaining 51 weeks, I painted when and where I could around a marriage and children ages 3 and 5. I also worked out of the home part time to help sustain our family. In 1999, I began to paint full time and saw great progress in my work.

This is probably how most of the women in the OPA memberships worked at their art career and certainly, some men. Many men who have taken my workshops did so upon retirement because they now had the energy and time to paint. It takes courage and tenacity to do so.

In 2006, my family broke apart as I divorced my husband. I could have remained married to a man who was leading a life outside our relationship, but I didn’t close my eyes to that fact to be safe and insulated. My career had to be put on hold to stabilize my sons and my own sense of well-being.

Starbucks?!
I was determined to keep painting, but lost my health insurance in the divorce. I learned if I worked 20 hours per week at Starbucks, I could provide full health benefits for my sons and myself. I was the oldest person working there for some time. I was 53 when I began. In total, I worked there, part time for over 4 years.

While my work during 2006-2010 wasn’t my best, I kept painting and learning to paint. I began to work on a book that is now ready for print; I continually developed my workshops, and was affirmed I am a good teacher; I practiced painting as much as I could within the parameters of my new family situation. I was completely on my own, but it didn’t stop me.

At the end of 2008, the financial world collapsed. All of us have been impacted by this fact. Like you, my sales have fallen off. Traditional art galleries 30+ years in the business are at an all time low in sales and clients. Some galleries closed their doors from the strain. More web based galleries and art exhibitions are popping up.

In addition, many painters who would normally travel to a workshop and spend money on tuition, lodging, food, and transportation are just not as eager now, or able to do so. Many on-line workshops are available to purchase so painters can stay home and hang on to the money they legitimately need in these tough times. I don’t hold this against them. We all need to adjust.

What now?
This article is to generate ideas and input for all of us. I already mentioned one way I found health insurance. Here’s how I’m paying for my tax prep this year.

I have artwork in a posh Victorian inn in northern California. I gave the owner a painting that I created with her signature logo wine showcased in a still life arrangement. She loved the painting, I gave it to her, and in return, she gave me two nights free to stay at said posh inn worth the value of the painting.

Bartering. It’s an old concept and has its place. The logo wine painting is and was the most appealing of all my paintings to the owner. She didn’t have money to pay for the picture outright, but she did have something else: gift certificates for any room in her upscale inn. I parlayed that into a trade for my tax prep. I gave one of the two certificates to the CPA preparing my taxes.

I have other examples that are seeing me through this crunch time. Part-time work, volunteer work, etc. Both have me in the community and being with people. These create opportunities, or, that’s how I choose to see them.

I know there are other creative ways you have put in place to work through this difficult economy. Please, let’s hear what you are doing that might help our OPA members transition through these lean times to keep painting.

Upcoming OPA Events

OPA 2018 National Exhibition OPA 2018 National Exhibition
Oil Painters of America’s Twenty-seventh Annual National Exhibition will be held at the Steamboat Art Museum (SAM), Steamboat Springs, Colorado, from June 1 through September 3, 2018. Learn More!
OPA 2016 Summer Online Showcase OPA 2018 Spring Online Showcase
The Spring 2018 Online Showcase is from March 1 - May 15, 2018 and will be open to Associate members only. Learn More!
OPA 2018 Salon Show OPA 2018 Salon Show
OPA's 2018 Salon Show Juried Exhibition is being hosted by Crooked Tree Arts Center, located in Traverse City, Michigan, from June 22 through September 1, 2018. Learn More!