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Starving Artists

Money in hand in the form of many large bills
Money in hand in the form of many large bills

Why do some artists become venerated during their own lifetime and others remain starving artists only to find fame and fortune for their artwork after they die?  Let’s look at two examples.

Pablo Picasso was a very successful artist during his own lifetime, and he started styles of art that others then copied.  Picasso painted for 75 years and produced an estimated 50,000 works of art.  That averages out to approximately 2 per day.  Obviously he did not start out famous and successful, but he kept working at it until he achieved his goal. But other artists, equally productive with exquisite artworks have fallen short to one degree or another.

Vincent van Gogh, for example, produced approximately 2,000 works of art in his lifetime, which was cut short at the age of 37. His paintings now sell for millions of dollars, yet in his own lifetime he may have sold none at all (it is disputed whether his brother Theo sold one or two of Vincent’s paintings while Vincent was still alive – at any rate, not more than two sold in his lifetime). For the short time he painted, he was very productive. So was Picasso.  Van Gogh’s art was the future and is appreciated by millions of people today.  So is Picasso’s.  Paintings by either artist sell for unbelievable amounts of money today.

So what is the difference?  One was a very successful and revered painter.  The other was a starving artist. The difference was basically marketing.

Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, showed a few people a few of Van Gogh’s paintings.  His paintings were not allowed to be displayed by the art establishment of the time. In reality, almost nobody even saw Van Gogh’s paintings during his lifetime.

Picasso started out just as penniless as Van Gogh, and throughout the biography of his early years his fortune had its ups and downs.  But Picasso basically made himself into a successful artist by “networking.” He made connections, courted patrons, made friendships with art dealers and pushed his work into galleries.  In other words, he ensured that people saw his artwork.

Both artists started as starving artists.  Both artists produced outstanding works of art in abundance. Both artists are famous today and their artwork is loved by many people.  But in their own lifetimes only the one who marketed his art was a successful artist.

That’s an eye opener!  You may have heard the joke:

  1. What does an artist (dancer, musician, etc.) say when he steps up to the microphone?
  1. “Would you like fries with that?”

You do not have to take a job at a fast food place to become successful in your chosen creative field.  You do have to market yourself and your art.

Artists these days have it much easier than Van Gogh or Picasso.  There are weekend art shows all over the country and the world actually, and one can be seen and sell art at these.  The internet offers a vast array of resources a creative person can use to launch oneself into a successful artistic career.  The internet and art websites are not an end-all, but they sure can help get your work in the public eye.  And not just visual artists – musicians, actors, dancers, poets, writers – all can benefit from sites on the internet. It’s going to take some work, and it’s going to take a little courage to put yourself out there, but many successful artists who enjoy making a living in a creative field can attest to the fact that it can be done.

“Getting lucky” or “getting discovered” so rarely happens that it can be crossed off your list.  You have to work at promoting your art and yourself.  By all means accept any help offered, and cultivate the people who have helped you (including keeping careful records of contact information of your customers).  But it’s rare that a “lucky break” will turn you into a success unless you did the work to create that lucky break.

Enjoy yourself and your work.  Be creative, and be enthusiastic.  You will attract people who love your work.