I exhibited my baskets and weaving at my first high-end craft show in 1996. Participation was by invitation only and I was excited to be picked, to be in the rarified atmosphere of craftspeople whose work I had often admired from a distance. I thought of all the stimulating conversations we artists would have while waiting for sales. We would talk about what inspires us; we would discuss techniques. We would bond as artists participating in a sort of salon, the kind that Isabella Stewart Gardner used to hold.
But it was all so very, very different. Everyone was kind and helpful to a fault, but the conversations, rather than being about craft and the deeply held life philosophies that had brought us to our individual art forms, were about something else. Money. Only about money. What kind of a booth would attract the most sales; how to crank out as many products as possible with the least amount of effort; what promoters and shows to avoid because of lack of sales. I was deeply disillusioned. I wasn’t making baskets and weaving cloth because that was the only thing I knew how to do, I was doing it for the challenge and the expression of creativity. For me, it wasn’t about the money. Which always sounds so noble, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t any more (or less) noble than the motivation I did have, which was recognition, or to put it into less syllables, fame.
My father once told me—he had read it somewhere—that everyone has a primary life motivation that is one of three things: fame or power or money. My first thought was: that’s so tawdry—our strivings can be distilled down to that? But over the years, I’ve come to realize that that is not a bad thing.
We all want to think our lives have mattered. Fame is validation. Money is validation. Power is validation. Being motivated by one (or more) of these three is longing to achieve external validation—the seal of approval that our lives have mattered.
I just attended an event that celebrates children’s book authors and illustrators in a gallery that sells original illustrations from children’s picture books. And to my way of thinking it beautifully illustrated (ha) the truth of money and fame and power. The gallery, by bringing together artists and patrons, hoped to sell some of the original illustrations (money). The artists, by appearing and meeting their fans hoped to amplify their brand (fame) (which leads to selling more books–money) An award that was given out at the event underscored it as a influential voice in the children’s book world (power). Everyone’s needs were being filled; everyone’s motives being addressed.
Where’s the art in all this, you ask?
The art is back in the studio, in the solitude of creating, in the hard work of delving the depths day after solitary day.
A little money, fame and power is a just reward, I think, for such honest labor.