Artist Defection

A theory on why artists leave the field

By Jezli Pacheco
Published on LatinoLA: July 18, 2005

Artist Defection

From the mouths of survey people, and other industry professionals, we are told artists on average last up to 5 years before laying down the brush, chisel or whatever tool they use. The dissolution of their dreams is directly related to the impossible odds of cresting the wave of recognition. Artists are more likely to face mediocre art careers regardless of their masterful techniques and finished products. Why? Simple, unlike other careers that are considered socially necessary; art is viewed as a sideshow of everyday life. This is simply lack of education first on the general public?s part and second artists.

Shrugging aside fears of inadequacy, many artists, myself included, sorely lack the business acumen to market their art successfully. Bringing into their careers just creative skills leaves them floundering once out of art school. From personal experience art school is just a preliminary of what the art world will be like. The ordinary art teacher is your future artist competitor. Sometimes you will find that they will be a great hindrance to you and others they will remain in your artistic life for years to come. Mentors and competitors alike they are not the only people that should be part of the artists schooling. Mandatory classes, seminars, and workshops on marketing and business should be the norm not the exception.

For an artist to stand on graduation day with a great amount of knowledge of artists of the past, their styles and their struggles lead nowhere in the business world. From that first step outside art school, this emerging talent must start to look for showing venues, become knowledgeable on the subject of contracts and be their own best salesman. Nothing in reality is better than hands on experience, but having the theory goes a long way toward practicing the business of art.

Artists attempt to learn the process through trial and error. They leave themselves at a disadvantage for the sake of actually selling a piece. In the mind of the artist it?s better to sell at a substantially lower price and receive acceptance than keep what seems like an impossibly high standard of sales. The premise is that the need for money or recognition is greater than the fairness of reality based prices.

Some ask what is necessary to launch a good selling streak? The answer is simple become an ace at pitching yourself, or hire your greatest fan, the salesman; you. How can they catch the collector?s eye? An agent once told me that the first mistake artists make is to under value their work. He referred to artists need to please and thus giving away, swapping, or otherwise pricing the work at minimal levels. Collectors when they come, they?re not interested in the price alone, but rather in the confidence of the artist to present their work. Engaging the public is two thirds of the sale. Once you have prospective collectors interested with the concept of the work itself, then the salesman should close the deal and convince them the price is a steal compared to its real worth. In other words becoming a bestseller is contingent on the marketing that is enacted.

In contrast though, the salesman sometimes also needs the help of social awareness. The more the public knows about the arts, the more likely it is that the effort will be recognized. The fact that there are so many stereotypes regarding artists is one of the barriers that are fought every day at the grass roots level. From the bohemian nomad that sells work on the street corner to the junkie and jobless wraith that wastes his time, a career in the arts is one of the most maligned by society. If greater education was invested in the artistic process than many more would understand the social thermometer that artists are.

Proof of this is that in history the arts has had a hand in depicting a range of human conditions that are otherwise shuttered behind social rules. From the civil war images of Spanish artist Francisco Goya to the tender ministrations of a mother in Mary Cassatt?s paintings, art is a visual representation of life as it happens. When the public view is cast under this very different prism, there will be greater respect for artistic careers. Even if the layman has trouble understanding the message artists put out, governments are not as blind. If repression is evident even in countries such as the US with the black listed artists of the 50's, much more so in countries such as previously communist Russia that forced artists to create to please the state.

Knowledge is power and artists wield it with a finesse that beats the doors of social reform down. The masses don?t know to acknowledge them, but the arts and artists are precursors of change. Truly the artist is a gage of unrest and a voice that can be greatly influential. Now if only education was reinforced and emphasized beyond the hobby mentality. Give the public a better idea of what they face, and prepare artists with the background knowledge to run their career as a small business.

Of course this is just the capitalist in me searching for the perfect point between keeping a true voice and making a profit. Until that time comes we are doomed to search for understanding and a decent livelihood. Many will struggle to peddle their efforts for a lifetime and many more will hire themselves away from the artistic dream.

About Jezli Pacheco:
Jezli Pacheco is an artist looking for the big break in Los Angeles. Finally the Gagosian gallery has accepted her work in NY. She takes great joy in being a writer. She has a poetry book "Alien Americans" available at

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