Art dirtied by the mighty dollar

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In a reversal of the usual roles, yesterday I interviewed a psychiatrist. Perhaps it was novel for her: it was certainly informative for me. The interview will hopefully form part of the Anthology I’m working on, with many other writers from around the globe, on the subject of motherhood. It’s even tentatively acquired a title now (which I will post about another time), so it must be starting to resolve itself, like the image appearing gradually on photographic paper. I’ll just have to keep swirling it in the developing fluid of continued effort, and hopefully it will emerge as something beautiful.

Anyway, one slight stumbling block in the interview was her continued confusion as to what the Anthology was for, and whether it would be commercial. Had I looked at all the other works about motherhood out there? Was ours going to fill a niche? Would it be useful? What, in short, is the market?

I suppose that a more mercenary person would have considered these issues in more detail, but for me, to complete the project as well as I am able is actually enough. If I’m going to give it the self-aggrandising name of ‘Art’, then I think art can, and perhaps needs to, be created just for itself.

Not that I’m saying that I wouldn’t like it to be successful, but it feels like something that needs to happen regardless. One of the best rewards a writer can have, I feel, is to have people enjoy their work. In the case of this Anthology, we’re perhaps hoping even for some social change, by deepening and widening the discussions around the experience of motherhood. The current level of conversation on the subject in wider society seems to be at the moment at best trite, and at worst shallow and deceptive.

Anyway, the psychiatrist’s emphasis on the commercial viability of the project got me thinking. I’ve always been someone who writes and paints ‘just because’. It’s an outlet of my subconscious, which has taken me to some surprising and very varied places. I don’t have a consistent painting style, and perhaps that is a reflection that I am an amateur. But I also write about diverse subjects – few things could be further apart than this current Anthology and my novel, which is science fiction! Perhaps my brain would explode if I didn’t let this stuff out.

I’m aware that other writers do find a niche, research a market, and write accordingly, and no doubt many of them are more commercial successful than I am. In the case of non-fiction, that seems an entirely justified approach. But I wonder if that whole process doesn’t compromise the creativity of fiction writing. It feels to me a little manipulative: like having an ulterior motive to do a good deed. I read a great post over at the ‘the Writing Blues’ some time ago about how she might lose her real voice if she started to think too much about what her readers would like to hear.

I’d be very interested to hear what others think about this issue. Is creation of art for arts sake enough? Am I just naive? Does having a market in mind compromise your work?

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12 thoughts on “Art dirtied by the mighty dollar

  1. The market matters if you want to make a living out of what you are doing. With the anthology, I think our goal is predominantly to make a contribution to other mothers but be remunerated for our effort. If it makes a fortune, great, but my goal is to help others work through something that is much harder than it seems, because it is different than portrayed in the media. Basically, there are reasons to write for the market and reasons to to do art. Great if they are one in the same, but sometimes making a work of art for one set of reasons, strengthens your ability to deal with the market in other ways.

    • HI Sabrina! I think you’re quite right – this project was perhaps a bit different in that it was born with an exterior audience in mind. The need to provide an alternative view to that in the media, and actually be helpful in women’s thinking and understand of the issue is central to the project
      I guess with my fiction work, it’s a little different in that I’m writing predominantly for myself, rather than trying to help anyone else! 🙂 Fingers crossed we will be able to both make a fortune and provide some genuinely useful and thought provoking work. The work I’ve seen so far from our writers and artist has been amazing, and delightfully diverse.

  2. I’m with Sabrina on this. Our reasons for creating art mesh with the reasons for the sales. I’m one who is of the frame of mind that if it sells, cool, if not, still cool. It’s also a reason why I don’t actively go out and sell myself as a commission artist. If you like my work enough to want your own custom picture, then you’ll send in a request. If not, then I know another good artist will have a sale.

    • Hi Candace,
      Great to hear from you! I suppose in the end we wouldn’t be letting any art out into the great wide world if we didn’t hope that someone would like it, perhaps even enough to purchase and recommend it. This project is different to the other things I’ve worked with in that it’s developed by a whole community of writers, not just myself and my own little imagination, so in a way we’ve already broadened the audience, just by being a group of people thinking about the same issues.

      • 🙂 It’s a topic I think people might enjoy and find some link to in their own lives. I can’t wait until it comes out. Motherhood comes with many stories and a fountain of knowledge.

    • Totally agree.

      Sometimes my work is bought by people, who generally ask “how much would you sell that for?”. Anything I do sell is nearly always a one off, a 1 of 1 print run. My ‘creativity’ is for my sanity, but if people like it its great.

      A wise old friend once told me

      “turn your hobby into your business, and very quickly you will come to hate it.”

      Now given the number of writers, musicians, actors etc out there, thats not necessarily true, but it does still have a certain resonance…

      Matt

  3. do you feel the painting works in conjunction with your avocation ?

    I think art is an expression of our humanity. I think to suppress it is to live less fully than we can possibly be.

    The market is harsh, and cash keeps score. Often we sacrifice our uniqueness in order to keep the score up. That’s the way with markets. Make what you love, might not sell. Make what sells, and maybe no love goes into the creation.

    I guess it all depends on your integrity, and need. Some find a happy medium.

  4. I do think heads would explode if we didn’t let those creative sides out. 🙂 Creation of art for arts sake should be enough. We do it because we love it. If the love isn’t there and marketability issues start to come through, it’s just no fun anymore and I think that starts to show in whatever’s being created. Trying to follow the rules does this to me too. It’s better to just let it all flow out for the love of it. That’s easier said than done though.

  5. Thanks for mention, Kasia. I still think about that concern. I don’t think it would compromise your work to write in a certain niche but yeah, what if you suddenly want to go left and write about something completely different – what would be the consequences? Would your audience be mad? Would your publisher mind? Would you be able to get back to your niche?

    Thanks for writing this – lots to think about.

  6. I think perhaps you should look again at your work as I believe there are more links between your novel and the anthology than you give credit too. The genres may be different – one is science fiction, the other is more concrete, but it seems that both works explore similar themes. Such as relationships, female identity, adventure, vulnerability, life changing events, birth, alien experiences and lastly motherhood itself.

    • Hi Zoe! Yes, you’re probably right, but to me one feels very different in that when I wrote my novel, I had no idea that I would ever be a mother – for most of the time I was writing I’d decided that I wouldn’t have kids at all. So some of the material in the book is from research alone, not personal experience.
      Also – I’m not sure that many people have Alien experiences (unless you mean completely new and exotic) as parents! 🙂 That said, there is a scifi story in the anthology which does include an alien!

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