Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Wrap-up

This piece is the aforementioned "last commissioned work I am ever going to do." It is of my church which is just finishing up an eighteen month renovation of its historic structure. Among other things in its history and along with many other old churches in the area, it was used as a hospital during the civil war battles fought nearby. The painting is done on a piece of slate taken off the roof of a much later structure added to the property in the 1950's, part of which had to be removed during the recent construction of an additional floor to the building. The church allowed me to take the slate to use for my own purposes, and I have made pins and pendants on the fragments and small paintings on whole tiles or larger pieces. You can see the original holes which had copper nails going through them to hold the tiles in place. To finish it, I will knot a leather thong in the holes as a wall hanger for the plaque. I added a bit of the history of the slate on the back by scratching a short paragraph into the soft surface of the stone.

I'd like to wrap up the discussion on commissions that was so ably addressed by folks here on my blog by telling what I learned. (I feel a little What-I-Did-On-My-Summer-Vacation here!) Everyone responded so thoughtfully, and it really made me separate myself from my frustration about my own situation and achieve a little perspective on the topic.

Many of you had similar negative experiences of taking on commissions and championed the idea that it was dampening to the creative spirit. Also in that argument was the feeling that it had felt a necessary part of an early career, but being more established in your field gave you some choice in the projects you chose. Both of those ideas really made sense to me. Many of us have had to wait until late to begin a career in art and feel we just don't have time for artistic projects that take us down a side road from our own pursuits. That describes me as well.

Other artists wrote about how they managed their commissioned deals with contracts and upfront, non-refundable deposits. That was helpful in thinking about the future should I decide that I will take on the occasional commission. Because, I can enjoy the challenge of commissioned work. Sometimes I am asked to do something I've wanted to do, but haven't gotten my "round tuit." It is appealing to have the assignment, and perhaps have a paycheck for it at the end.

Barbara Muir's passion in favor of the commission, stating that she earns much of her living from them, made me stop and think. Of course, I know that many artists do earn their living from commissions. Historically only the wealthiest of people or institutions could afford art. It is a fairly modern idea that a wider sector of the populace could own art and that artists could create art for their own pleasure. Then, we could get into the debate about hobby vs career, but let's not!

The most compelling argument that Barbara made for me was that the relationship between the artist and the "commissioner" was the most important aspect of the deal. The communication and listening between the two parties needs to be good and thorough in order to have a successful outcome. I like this. There's a distinct lack of joy in the statement from the artist I heard say, "If you are not willing to let someone go away with a painting they are not entirely happy with, you shouldn't be doing commissions." If I have to subscribe to that tenet, I surely will not do more commissioned work. But if I am honest with myself about my own history, I do see that the failures have been largely mine for not working harder on the relationship with my buyer. With this perspective, I can say that I have had more successes than I have had failures. It is a relief to begin to figure out that it is so, and why.

So thank you, talented and serious artists out in bloggerdom. Your thoughtful and reasoned responses to my rant of several posts ago were a real help. I'm grateful for you all!

14 comments:

David Larson Evans said...

Thank you for your post.It's funny that even though more than 99% of the people are happy with my commissioned works it is that small group that seemed indifferent is what still bugs me to this day.

Christine's Arts said...

Love this commissioned piece! It is cool and it's history is interesting.
I hope the commissioner loves it too.

laura said...

Barbara's point is a great one, but aren't there just some people who are jerks and expect the impossible?
I don't do/haven't sought commissions (though I sometimes toy with idea of trying)--I think mostly for fear of disappointing the buyer. I have a friend who, when she takes a commission does two or three versions of the painting, then lets the buyer choose the one he/she likes best. Then, by comparison, the buyer "likes" that one. Seems pretty clever to me.

Elizabeth Seaver said...

Yes, thanks, Christine, the buyer did like this one!

Laura, I agree, perhaps some people do expect the impossible, or at least, what they've created in their own minds!

I also create more than one of a commissioned piece for the buyer to choose. In the case which made me lose my cool on my blog, I had done just that. Neither piece I made was what they were looking for.

Jean Spitzer said...

Ouch (about the above comment) and congratulations. Thanks for sharing your insights.

Megha Chhatbar said...

Really nice commission..It is a challenge to work according to others expectations, but you always do it beautifully..:)

ariel freeman said...

Thanks for sharing your insight on commission work. I haven't done many, but the ones I have done, I found the project easier when it was a subject/ method that "fit" me better. I love your slate paintings and the history of where the slate came from, makes them even more precious.

Kathleen Krucoff said...

I think this commissioned work is just lovely. And I hope your client enjoys it a great deal...personally I think they should be thrilled with it!

And thanks too for the insights on this subject.

Cathy said...

This is a great piece of art and a lovely idea to paint it on a piece of the building.

I remember being commissioned years ago to produce a pen and ink drawing of a house and making Christmas cards from the result. The husband kept adding bits and pieces and I was forever changing it. I was glad when it was over.

Saundra Lane Galloway said...

Elizabeth, Congratulations on completing this historic piece. If it is your last commission, you went out on a good note. Very interesting how you did it. And for the rest my dear...You follow what feels best to you at the moment. If you change your mind so be it...Just have fun!

Elizabeth Seaver said...

Thanks everyone! I will definitely pick my projects more carefully and interview my clients more fully before taking on a project in the future.

This was a pretty sure thing given all our mutual connections and the folks' love of the church and its history.

black and white said...

nice try!!

Gwen Bell said...

Love the way this turned out and I know your client must be very pleased.

Thank you for the great post. Very interesting. I have done mainly commission work during my career so I really dread them and see them as creativity crushers. (Don't you hate it when people who DON'T paint try to tell you how to do it and what's wrong with it?) However, the exception is when I get lazy and want someone to just "tell me what to paint". Plus, it is easy to get sucked back into "sure thing" money.

Gary Keimig said...

it really is true that out of all the commissions I do very few are unhappy and maybe those folks are unhappy people anyway so it should in no way be taken seriously. With that said I hate doing them and then I took one monday. A buffalo for a fellow in Michigan. What would he know about buffalo? Oh well, I get hungry and keep taking them on.