Friday 15 November 2013

The Age Old Argument

Should we do art for art's sake, or should we keep a commercial eye open for selling our work? It's a quandary, and that's  no fairy tale! 

There's a certain conceit in  putting it up for sale, it sort says that you think your work is good enough. Yet if it sells it indicates that you are getting into the right 'zone' and self confidence grows.

If you paint for the sake of it, then it can be an expensive hobby. So are we going to subsidise our life, or afford  the cost of being a total amateur?

There's also a certain conceit in not selling your work and maintaining a purist approach 'art for the sake of art.' This too  involves a value-judgement of how good you think your work is.

There is no doubt that I fall into the former category. In my ideal world, somebody buys the original, and Pat sells prints of it without me getting involved in that, time wise. This route, however, brings me to the dilemma I am facing for the second time in my life. When selling drawings in the old days, the originals were going nicely and the prints selling like 'hot cakes'.... but ... the problem arose of commissions. Before long all I was doing was commissions, that is to say drawing things other people wanted. If you are earning your living from it, you have to be pretty famous to turn commissions away. The cost however is your creative juices dry up and you find yourself drawing oil rigs instead of cathedrals.

So what is the point in me brining this up now? Well I have just painted  painting #36 (I have numbered each painting since I decided to try painting a little while ago) and it is a commission, but it is the fourth original of the same subject, the "19th. Century Geisha."

A Geisha in the Style of 1800                      by John Simlett

 Acrylic Paint on Stretched Canvas 

32 inches x 12 inches (81 cms x 30 cms)

What is happening is I get emails (via my etsy shop) asking if I do 'her' in different colours. This is the fourth I have painted, each in a different livery.

So, I'm going to take a sabbatical, and draw some really old sailing ships that nobody but me will be interested in!! :0)) 


  1. It's a lovely painting so I can see why everyone wants a version of it, but I agree we need to do things for us too. I read about an artist in the past that only did so many commissions a year and then did what he wanted so dont feel bad...better to not lose the joy of creating.

  2. Well, whatever you do turns out beautifully, John. I fall into neither category. I have a secret wish that someone would ask to buy something, but I don't put it up for sale and I'm not a purist either. I really do know it isn't worthy of selling so I indulge in it just for me.

  3. So glad to have you back here with us, John and congratulations on your 4th generation! I can only imagine what a thrill that must be! I read your post with great interest as this is a subject I have been concerned about recently have no answers. I will admit that I gave up commissions a while ago as they added stress to an otherwise joyful pursuit. I once did a portrait commission that I painted 8 times before I was satisfied - after much gnashing of teeth and many new gray hairs, that was the end of that!

  4. she is beautiful..! My policy? I do as I like. You should do the same :)

  5. ah now, I'll be interested too :) I love seeing what artists paint, for their own pleasure.

  6. You have a point there, John. Since I opened my Etsy shop I also thought about it. Enjoy drawing sailing ships, John, and I'm sure people will be interested in them too! Have fun!

  7. John, I think a sabbatical is an excellent idea. I seem to be painting and drawing dogs, dogs, and more dogs, but they are all completely different, and I love the work. But I can certainly feel for you in the dilemma you described.
    Kathryn xx

  8. The most important is not to loose the joy of creating. But I can see why they are so interrested; it is a lovely painting!

  9. Interesting discussion and I think we all have to go by our individual needs. I have to sell to support my paint habit, but I also paint things just for myself and slap a NFS on them. At the moment it is a series of feathers.
    I gave up commissions when I found them stressful. I will paint for family requests though.
    Your geisha ladies are beautiful and dramatic so I can see they would be popular. I can also see why it would drive you nuts to just churn them out in different colors.

  10. I know what you mean John. The moment I am asked to do a commission my heart sinks... It shouldn't, but to be honest it interferes with my creative flow. I'd far rather someone said - 'I like that - Can I buy it?' How easy that is! But climbing in to someone else's head is not easy and then there's that terrifying moment of handing it over... Will they like it?? But - I can't afford to turn commissions down. I just don't advertise the fact that I will do them!
    Anyway - No surprises that you are getting lots of requests for this painting. It is stunning after all!
    My advice to you would be to always say yes, but never say when! :0)

  11. As much as I would like to get some validation for my abilities through sales to keep my enthusiasm up, I can't seem to cross over from art for art sake to professional. I don't want to be dictated to by what paintings in what colors sell or by other people's choice of subject. I also don't want to be pinned down to a particular medium or subject matter. Yet I have an Etsy shop, (indicating I'd like to go into business). Then, I have yet to put anything in it, ( indicating I don't want to commit). I am one crazy mixed up artist, a dabbler, a dilettante, I suppose. My dilemma has been lifelong. I totally understand you pulling back. I would to. Who wants to be caged?

  12. hi john can understand your need to step back ...look forward to seeing your ship dwgs :)

  13. *I* will be interested in your ships! Bring 'em on!

  14. An interesting subject and one which is relevant to me at the moment as I've been lucky enough to get a few commissions in the last month or so - again mostly via my Etsy shop. However, for me the commissions are what I love to draw/paint anyway - animals (dogs usually) so I don't find myself doing things I have no real interest in. I think you have to love what you're doing - I love dogs and I hope that is clear from the end result of all my paintings whether whimsical illustrations for my own amusement (or greeting card designs!) or commissions of someone else's beloved fur baby! Funny enough my mum asked me to design two illustrations of landmarks in my home town of Derry. I did them in a whimsical style but nevertheless I found it really hard to do as drawing buildings/bridges is absolutely not 'my thing'. They turned out ok but I didn't enjoy doing them at all. Perhaps if you are getting repeat interest in your Geisha you should do her digitally and then you can photoshop the colours to suit the clients - that way you'd be selling prints rather than originals but you wouldn't have to keep reproducing the same painting over and over (which I agree would become tedious for me too even if it was of a dog!)

  15. I think even professional artists who sell all their work need to have something they do just for themselves with no pressure from galleries or commission clients as to how it should look or turn out.

    Just look at Andrew Wyeth and the "Helga series"!