When we go to an exhibit of visual art it's easy to feel the magic of the exhibition. The creative works fill the room and there's communion between artist and viewer, perhaps one of the oldest forms of communication on the planet. Most often the curtain is hidden and so we don't think about what has happened behind the scenes to make this exhibit possible. For the non-artist, this is perfect. The joy, the magic and the energy of the exhibit are the important things. But for the artists and the soon-to-be artists, failure to see behind the curtain can cause some very uncomfortable moments. For this reason, I'm going to part the curtains for a second.
In the last year I was selected to have a solo show in a small gallery. A solo show is a big deal to an exhibiting artist. It is a reason to get excited. It is also a reason to spend a lot of unexpected money.
For this particular exhibit, the artist had the responsibility of bearing the total cost of the exhibit. It has become obvious to me over the last several years that the general line of thinking on this is that the artist has already made the work, so how expensive could it be? And wouldn't it be worth it to have a solo show? Wouldn't the artist get lots of press and publicity and wouldn't they sell artwork and actually make money?
So let's consider the costs for the artist. The creative work is done, so let's not consider that as an expense. In my case, I'm going to make the art anyway so having it ready for exhibit is just what I do. So what other costs would there be? Well, the artwork has to get to the gallery. This includes transportation or shipping costs. In this case I was able to drive the work to the gallery so gas was the main cost. Nails are cheap so hanging the 2D work was basically free but those pesky sculptures can't just sit on the floor. A group offered to rent me some pedestals. You read that correctly, they offered to RENT their peds to me for the show. No thanks. Luckily I had my own pedestals but they were in a different county and were in terrible shape. More gas and a couple of gallons of paint added to the costs.
The show is hung and it's time to for that publicity. Guess who gets to pay for the postcards to advertise the exhibit? That's me. And if any of you still use that old postal service you'll recall that postage is not free. Postage costs? That's me again. Digital and physical advertising in the gallery space? Me and me again.
Which brings us to the opening reception. Wine and catering. It would be difficult to do this any more cost effective than I did it but it was still a huge chunk of change out of pocket. It is customary for the artist to attend the reception which added more gas to the receipt.
Then the show comes down, bringing transportation costs again and adding in any packing materials that might be needed.
Total cost for this exhibit: $689.00.
Please note that my time and labor are not included in this figure.
So $689.00 out of pocket for the exhibit. Let's subtract the sales from that.
$689.00 - $0 = $689.00
So was it worth it? Good question.
My wallet says no. Several months later and I've not been contacted by any galleries near the exhibit who want to market my work. No other exhibits have been offered as a result of that show. No one has contacted me to say they just have to have that sculpture or drawing they never got around to buying.
But the crazy artist inside me says that it was worth it. From a business point of view I lost almost $700. But from an artist point of view, people who do not live in my house saw my work. And really, that must be a huge understatement to say that they "saw" it. They experienced it, they walked among it and they conversed with it. I witnessed this to some extent while in the gallery and I had others tell me things that people said about the work. That part was magic.
This gets down to the question of why artists create things. Some may disagree on the surface but I think if you dig deep enough you'll find that we all want to share our work and in some way we want to reach out to people. The purpose of that reaching out may vary, but we all want to make things for others to see and experience.
I've accepted the fact that people will not come to my basement welding studio to see my work. Heck, I'm so non-social that no one ever even comes into the upstairs drawing studio to see my work. If you want people to see it, you have to put it where they can see it. Maybe one day I'll be successful enough that I will get paid to put the work where people can see it. Maybe Mr. Saatchi will find something of mine he wants to buy and I could even make a profit while putting the work where people can see it. Maybe.
Until then I'll keep putting my work wherever I can afford to put it, and I'll try to keep that curtain pulled tight.