Creativity, Commercialism, ?

It isn’t that I want to be intentionally anti-Commercial, that I want to produce art so-much-for-art’s-sake that it has no chance of being sold. Rather, I want to avoid creating art for the sake of money; I don’t want to be creating simply to sell it, because I need the money (which I do; don’t get me wrong about that), but to be creating what I am inspired to, to follow my heart, mind, & dreams – and then hope that others share my heart enough to want it hanging on their walls.  (And then maybe enough that they’ll pay money to put it there.)

It’s difficult.  Partially because I do need the money, so the commercial aspect, the idea that I’m making art I’m going to try to sell in order to buy groceries, is constantly in mind.  When I get in the neighborhood of thoughts like ‘what can I paint that will sell?’ and ‘what sort of art do people want?’ I tend to get stuck.  Like writer’s block, but for artists.  Well, like writer’s block for writers whose block stems from not wanting to “sell out,” anyway.

I have no interest in freelancing, or in getting a job as an illustrator, designer, journalist, pro-blogger, or any other such thing.  I don’t want to write the same book over and over again (ie: formulaic fiction, or process-wise, most non-fiction).  I don’t want to paint/create the same image over and over again.  I know, yes, verily I know, that these are core ways writers and artists are able to “establish” themselves and their “style” and to build a career.  To build a base of buyers who want to read another one like the last one you wrote, who are comfortable with your art because although each swirly tree is different, they can at least count on you to still be painting swirly trees the next time they need something for their walls.  And buyers would be nice.  Repeat buyers would be even better (and I have a few), but I nearly never want to be painting the same thing I’ve painted before.

((Technically, my not-very-publicly stated policy on the subject of re-creating an original work is that the base price multiplier for each successive recreation doubles.  I have a formula (an occasionally altered one, but fairly consistent for the last few years) which accounts for a work’s size and quality to determine price.  It is intentionally tweaked to give quirky prices.  I like them.  But imagine for recreations that formula is multiplied by 2n (where n is the number of times I’ve been asked to reproduce the image).  If created in quick succession, at the same size and quality, prices would quickly rise, say from $60 for the original to $120 for the second, $240 for the 3rd, $480 for the 4th, $960 for the 5th, $1920 for the 6th, $3840 for the 7th, and very quickly someone asking for the 8th copy is paying 128 times the cost of just buying something different instead.  Luckily, people don’t often ask me to paint something I’ve done before – and when they do, I simply tell them how much it would cost & see if they want it that much.))

But it is hard even to paint something new, if all I can think about is wanting to avoid painting something that won’t sell, because the bills just keep coming, even when I have a couple of dry sales months.  I’ve even been stalling a little, lately, in working on my next novel, which is intentionally an experiment in writing a formulaic (or at least recognizable) zombie novel – because although I’ve come up with a story I want to tell (and in my research of what makes a formulaic zombie novel fit, I’ve discovered that my novel won’t be as formulaic as I’d hoped… which is part of the problem), both writing a novel in reaction to people’s negative reaction to my last one (which is what motivated this experiment in the first place) and knowing before I start that my experiment will be a failure (ie: my novel will fail to be a cookie-cutter zombie novel, or to follow the ‘rules’ of commercial fiction) give me pause in pursuing it.  Even though it’s a story I want to tell, a book I want to write.

I am having trouble both because I don’t want to write commercial fiction and because I fear my attempt to do so will be ridiculously far from that blasted mark.  How can I be properly creative with this dark and complicated cloud of commerce always hovering over everything I do?

Not going back to school right now

I don’t remember if I mentioned it here before or not, but after I left ICE to begin working on my own projects full time, one of the things Mandy and I considered was that one of us might go back to school full time. A major factor of this is that student loans / financial aid are designed to cover all the costs of going to school, from tuition and fees to transportation, room and board – if I could get sufficient financial aid, I could go back to school, finish my Studio Art B.F.A. (which I believe would help not only with creating art but with integrating into the ‘Art World’ and with selling art to all the people who keep asking where I studied), and have several years of lead time to get my projects paying enough to cover the difference between Mandy’s single salary and our living expenses. ie: I’d get an education, that fancy sheet of paper that so many people seem to think proves you’re worth something, we’d get the immediate financial assistance we need to get by right now, and we’d get the time to build my businesses up to a point where their income might be more steady and significant. It sounded like win/win/win/win/win, so I submitted my FAFSA and applied for re-admission to ASU.

Due to a “paperwork” problem (which is insane, since the entire thing is digital), my transcripts took several tries and over two months to get from PVCC to ASU, so I didn’t get officially re-admitted to ASU until a couple of weeks ago. I promptly went down to ASU for advisement and to submit some paperwork to their financial aid department, neither of which I could do before being re-admitted. The financial paperwork was a revision of our financial position, since the FAFSA was based on last year’s taxes and this year I’m not working full time and expect to make something like $20k less as a household this year over last year, depending on how sales go in the next six months. (Anyone want to offer $20k for a painting? It would be the height of irony, far better than buying ‘I Am Rich’ for your iPhone.) Show the change in financial status, write a letter about it, fill out a form, and they’ll re-consider your financial need and revise their financial offer.

While waiting two months for a file to be electronically transmitted less than 25 miles, we had time to consider -at length- many of the pros and cons of my attending school, and its feasibility. Notwithstanding the immense increase in our personal debt that the student loans would create (student loans being one of the least terrible forms of debt on your credit report), there was plenty to consider. If attending school full time, would I have [any|enough] time to work on personal projects, new art, new books, et cetera? How much money would need to be offered above the cost of attendance to cover living expenses, including the cost of driving back and forth to Tempe? What is the real value of a degree? Would I be able to cope with Academia on a constant basis for three to four more years? Would I learn anything worthwhile that I couldn’t just teach myself? On and on, back and forth, in conversation, thought, and prayer while we waited…

By the time I managed to get PVCC to actually send the relevant information to ASU and get re-admitted there, I had determined both what the financial aid offer needed to be in order to attendance to be financially possible (ie: without causing us to starve even faster) and that if re-admitted and appropriate financial aid was offered I would be attending this Fall. The initial aid offer was based on “zero need” from last year’s tax numbers, and was about 60% of what we would actually need, all in Unsubsidized loans (which means that interest accrues while you attend school). Friday I got the letter from ASU advising of their updated offer (which I had seen online this time last week, but wanted to wait for the paperwork, in case that wasn’t their final revision) of aid, which was based on a need which they had adjusted by almost exactly the amount more we needed to be offered to afford school. Except that despite the significant change in calculated need, the dollar amount of the “new” offer was exactly the same. A little over half of it was now in Subsidized loans (which means that interest doesn’t start accruing until you’re done with school) and the rest was still in Unsubsidized loans.

Well, fuck. That doesn’t help, not at all. Not in the slightest. Except that it does make my decision for me: I cannot attend ASU this Fall.

So I’ve already gone through, this weekend, and declined their insufficient financial aid offer and withdrawn myself completely from classes. I should probably send a couple of courtesy emails to my adviser and a professor in the Art Department I’d emailed to say I was coming back… thank them and let them know I’m not… But otherwise, that thought, that dream, is over for now. It’s back to the grindstone for me (not that I’ve really been away), back to trying to make enough to eat from my art and my books.