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.

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.

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  • Kathryn,

    Thank you for sharing your story.  As a  woman  who did not begin painting  until my early 40’s, and who sometimes feels it is too late to have the career I would like, I am greatly inspired by your words to keep painting and to persevere.

    Julie Messerschmidt 

  • Geriacosta

    What a pleasure to read such honesty in an article. Thank you!

  • Choatefineart

    Dear M. Kathryn, Thank you so much for your willingness to be so honest and humble, yet positive. Only today I was wondering why God did’nt make me a plumber! Oh, but what a beautiful ride this is. w

  • Artist

    Thank you all for your kind responses.   Keep at it and the best of luck.  Mary

  • Robert

    Kathryn,  One hears about so many artists and after seeing their work and hearing their name a number of times one believes that they must be doing well.  You are one of those artists who for me fell into that category.  Your story is a refreshing reminder that success as an artist is following ones bliss.  I’m with you in the struggle.  Thank you for your honesty. 

    • Loriwords

      Robert, I’ve been interviewing artists I think are doing well, and then I find out that few are doing as well as I had imagined. In the current economic climate, fame does not equal fortune. Still recognition keeps us moving forward with our art development and vision. The good news is that a new population of collectors is emerging. They are a little “sticker shocked” by established prices, but many savvy artists are creating two lines of work… something easy for the artist and at a lower price point.

      I am so glad that Kathryn shared her story. She has courage and tenacity! It will carry her thought the rough times.

  • Tim

    Kathyrn, I was trying to recall when I first found your work (exhibiting with mine)…gallery, show? I think it was well before the internet days. Thanks for the brave open letter. All people have bumps and all artists are people. I picked up my hammer when my daughter was expected to regain some great health care a few years back. tt

  • Kathryn,  How refreshing to see such honesty from you. You have inspired me by telling of your history. I have been painting (seriously) well over 20 years and have been fortunate to show in several galleries but many of them have closed and I
    have been without gallery representation for awhile. It can get discouraging but I
    keep painting for the love of it. I have admired your work for awhile and commend you for your perseverance through the years. After reading about you I will keep on keeping on as well.    M. Beth Page

  • Loriwords

    Thanks for your willingness to share your reality with us Kathryn. It does help others to realize that they are not alone in their current struggles and that an artist doesn’t have to “throw in the towel”.

  • Janet

    Looking forward to your book! Took your excellent workshop in Highlands, NC a few years ago and have admired your work for years. Thank you.