Artists and Money – Day 33

[Today’s featured artwork for Day 33 of the 365 Days Project is by Vincent van Gogh.]

Self-portrait with Grey Felt Hat by Vincent van Gogh (1883-1890). Credit: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
“Self-portrait with Grey Felt Hat” by Vincent van Gogh (1883-1890). Credit: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

OK, here we go. Let’s talk about artists and money and artistic worth. And how dead artists might have made more money in their lifetimes.

#33 – Artists don’t have to wait until they’re dead to maximize their artistic worth.

So what’s the deal with the Van Goghs of the world who can’t sell any of their work while they’re living, but whose work suddenly becomes a hot commodity the minute they’re dead? I can tell you in one word: Marketing.

Take a look at the artists who are making good money from their artwork in their lifetimes. Most either had a special talent for promoting their work or they had someone who promoted it for them. And when you find an artist whose work was suddenly worth millions after their death, it’s because there was a very good business person who saw the potential and primed the market, sometimes even before the artist passed on.

Of course, there are many factors that also contribute to success. Talent is at the top of the list, particularly if you happen to be one of the rare geniuses. But artists don’t have to become famous to make a good living from their work. It’s never easy and it involves hard work, creative entrepreneurship and perhaps some artistic compromises along the way, but most of the artists I know don’t have day jobs, trust funds or spouses who support them. They do their own marketing, networking and sales, even if they have galleries. They seek out exhibition opportunities and new galleries that will raise the value of their work. They are clear about their artistic intent and know how to leverage it in their publicity. They develop relationships with their collectors and find ways to attract new ones. They don’t waste time with endeavors that do not advance their goals and they are constantly raising the level of their work.

Van Gogh did manage to sell or barter some of his paintings in his lifetime. But keep in mind that the great works of art that he became famous for were painted in the last years of his life. This explains perhaps why, in part, appreciation for his art began to increase after his death.

There’s a saying that when artists get together they talk about money and when bankers get together they talk about art. I’m not going to wait till I’m dead for my artwork to reach its maximum monetary worth. It is completely up to me to create increasing value while I’m alive and to continue finding new ways to develop public appreciation and new collectors for my work.

Letter to Vincent van Gogh (1888):
“You speak of money which you owe me, and which you want to give back to me. I won’t hear of it. The condition I want you to arrive at is that you should not have any worries….”
Theo van Gogh, art dealer

“Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”
Andy Warhol

“The artist, through his or her efforts over many years, is largely responsible for the increased value of their work.”
Joe Fafard

“…To yell at your creativity, saying, ‘You must earn money for me!’ is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away…”
Elizabeth Gilbert

“I’m a professional artist, that’s how I make my living….I’m very happy younger artists can make money faster than we could. And we were making it faster than a generation before us.”
Brice Marden

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The 365 Days Project

In 2012, Serena Kovalosky committed to writing an article a day for 365 days as an exploration into the lives of artists and the value of creative thinking in our society.

Experience the full evolution of the project! Click below to read the entire collection of articles.

Click to view The 365 Days Project

Description of the image included in this post:

Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Netherlands
Oil on cotton
Credit: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

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