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!