Sunday, December 14, 2008

Making the Nut.

Back in the days when traveling carnivals toured the land, smaller independent outfits would often talk about the difficulty of "making the nut". This phrase referred to the necessity of covering the daily costs of the operation. I'm enamored with the colorful slang associated with that milieu, and I'm vulnerable to employing such language whenever I can justify it. So when people ask me how my show went this weekend, my answer has been given relative to the possibility that I might achieve my essential goal. Have I "made the nut?" Well, the truth is more complicated in the realm of "art". It's not necessarily a "pay-to-play" proposition. And while I can understand the resistance to thinking about and discussing it on these terms, it's still ultimately a form of willful denial to beg the question.

It is a bit crude to think in terms of getting your money back when you're engaged in something as nebulous as "art". I think it's an unspoken rule that all participants (artists, curators, gallery owners, and those that "patronize" the work) are required to approach the subject of the market with subtlety and circumspection. Because when all the artifice and pretensions are pealed away, art simply isn't necessary. Sure, it uplifts the human spirit (and all of that flowery jazz), but you can't eat it, wear it, or huddle underneath it for physical warmth. It is a luxury in the truest sense of the word. When times get hard, it's the first thing sacrificed. Not only that, but a lot of people seem to feel entitled to it for free.

That's the nasty secret for a lot of people that work to put on shows. There is something undeniably gratifying about getting an exhibition of art together. It is beyond utility, and not easy to put into a standard of dollars-and-cents. Certainly I get a sense of satisfaction from doing something that I enjoy that results in a tangible product. And it's enjoyable to get people together in an environment that one has created, and communicate an idiosyncratic vision. However it all costs quite a bit of money, and not many of the participants are aware of the total expense. Obviously the physical space itself has value, and inhabiting it requires an allocation of wealth. This is usually transmitted to the artist in the form of an upfront hanging fee, and/or a percentage of any sales from the event.

Meanwhile the individual creator must pay for materials, promotion, presentation, and refreshments for the opening. Obviously these costs can accrue, and become prohibitive for someone wanting to actually generate income from selling his/her artwork. Fortunately I have a job/career that minimizes the need for me to acquire profits through the pursuit of my passions. At the same time this isn't a vanity enterprise for me, and I feel some compulsion to make my activities pay off. At the very least, I want to get back the money I put into making and showing my art... thus my obsession with "the nut". Maybe by this point you are impatiently expecting a straight answer regarding this, my latest show.

In addition to generating what I believe to be a healthy amount of goodwill, I see the possibility of bringing the balance sheet into the "black". That's not to say that I have all of the money in hand. I have an armful of promises as well that don't weigh quite as much. They feel pretty good though, and perhaps that's the main point. It is a serious tribute when someone pays a price for a piece of art that is commensurate with the amount one might spend to finance a nice night on the town for him/herself, and a date. But there are rewards that are less quantifiable, and that doesn't invalidate them. I did have a good time, and I'm confident that the vast majority of those who shared the experience with me would be able to say the same thing. It can be about that if it needs to be.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Money and art
are far apart.
Langston Hughes in the poem "Plaint", 1955.

8:06 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Yes. It seems so.

11:57 AM  

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