Deadlines are a misnomer.
Recently, I was chatting with an artist friend and we ended up expounding on the inspirational qualities of deadlines.
In my work, I always have at least one other person besides me who’s looking forward to the completion of a painting. The subject acts as a deadline of sorts in that she-he makes every portrait especially exciting to complete.
Of course, there are more specific deadlines too. Completing works for a conceptual series is always easier if I already have a venue lined up for the exhibition. I never wait on securing a space before diving into my conceptual projects, but the moment when I do nail down the venue does mark a change in my attitude toward the work I am creating for the show.
But—subjects, clients, venues—none of these deadlines can compare to the motivational force that is a growling stomach or an unpaid bill. The looming shadow of a rent check due each month can have a way of paralyzing an artist, but there’s something infinitely worse about having one’s way paid. The vital-ness goes right out of the work if the artist doesn’t have to do it in order to live.
I make money with my art, so that I can have money to buy the fuel—supplies and materials as well as food and shelter!—to keep on making work. It may sound like an endless and dizzying spiral, but I am living proof that the spiral is not only sustainable but also mostly headed upwards! I talk a lot about the value of being a working artist and specifically of doing commission work, because, as I see it, it’s the only way left for artists to avoid the unnatural vacuum that has been created at the heart of art today.
For thousands of years, art has been to some degree for patron’s—and not for art’s—sake. I understand why modern artists sloughed off the limitations of the specific patron and expanded the art market which allowed them to first create the work that they wanted to create and then put it up for sale. The change was a necessary one for the role of art and artists to develop and blossom as they have in this past century, and much important work would not have been made when it was without this new freedom. That said, the art for art’s sake revolution has run its course and now it’s gone the way of so many revolutions: it’s become nothing more than a mantra, held onto with a sort of religious fervor and wielded in the most fascist manner!
Let’s face it: art for art’s sake is now a vacuum. It’s supposed to produce art which is untainted by thoughts of money—by the constraints of working for a meal. It’s supposed to be pure. Instead, it’s destroyed a defining characteristic of art, the link between the artist and her-his audience.
So, it’s said that money is evil, that it corrupts art. But money is also a measure of the artist’s ability to connect. I’m not talking about the Damien Hirsts of the art world with their overpriced (if fascinating) trinkets which land in famous collections where the owners are barely aware their existence and view the works as investments. I’m talking about the average working artist, the one who makes ends meet by selling to regular people. Patrons keep the artists’ work honest, keep it communicating instead of getting lost in an unnatural vacuum.
Along these lines, the relationship that I have—and, by extension, my work has—with my clients should not be underestimated. My patrons are my muses just as much as the subjects of my conceptual portraits are.
Last year, the subject of this portrait, Jim, and his wife Sally approached me with a most astonishing proposal. They had read about my series of “before” and “after” portraits, Swollen, in an article, and they had another kind of transition for me to document. Jim was very sick. He had lived with a heart condition for ten years, and, if he did not get a transplant soon, his heart would be the end of him. Sally wanted a “before” portrait of him and, if it came to be, an “after” one as well.
We are nearing the anniversary of Jim’s new life with a 26 year old heart. He is well! And, recently, I asked to borrow the above portrait for a show in October. He agreed and decided it was time to do the matching painting. We did the photo-shoot and interview on Friday and I can’t tell you how excited I am to celebrate the changes that Jim and Sally have seen in the last year. In fact, I mean to try to have the second painting done in time for the opening in October.
Deadlines are hardly deadening!