Creativity Out of Necessity.

Artists around the world create, whether it be painting, carving, sculpting, leather work, jewelry, decorative art or any other creative medium. 

An artist painting on commission has the best possible scenario because she or he has the purchase commitment from the buyer prior to the creation. Many paintings we find in galleries wait for years for the right person to come along with the budget and appreciation to make the purchase. 

For decorative artists such as myself, there is the security of the commission prior to the work when the client hires one to do something specific, such as a cabinet make over or a new wall finish or even to match wood or a marble column.  With constantly evolving and ever changing trends, a good decorative artist must stay on top of such trends by way of constant continuing education and exposure to new products. Phases come and go and these days, a more contemporary style is favored over an old world finish which is seemingly out of style and so, once again, the requirement for our skill may appear much more meager than in the early 2000’s. 

To sustain oneself as an artist takes a lot of work and this is not easy.  I too have “diversified” and have the security of another income to meet my bills and obligations at the end of every month.  Many fellow decorative artists that I know are not the major bread winners in the family so they don’t have the pressure to make that money, no matter the state of demands on their artistic talents.

Today I wish to highlight and appreciate those who often get unrecognized on this subject.

I am an avid world traveler and through my travels I have been inspired by many artists. Sadly though, I have also witnessed the terrible struggles of these artisans. The first time I was keenly made aware of this was in Gallup, New Mexico.  I was sitting in Earl's Cafe where native Americans frequently came through the restaurant, offering their creations.  I was somewhat surprised at how inexpensive these elaborate pieces were and bought several things before realizing that I simply couldn't buy something from every one of them.  Once outside the cafe, I saw many other natives who had set up tables to sell their crafts and I watched as other people negotiated with the artists and saw lots of beautifully crafted pieces of artwork being sold at seriously undervalued pricing.

Once, in Alaska where the inuit carve the most beautiful creations out of walrus tusk or whalebone, I saw a native on the street desperately trying to sell his elaborate piece; an item that would normally go in a gallery for 10 times the price, but he was desperate to have the cash to put food on the table that night.

The most vivid experience of this kind I actually experienced in Africa. In Zimbabwe & South Africa where I spent most of my time, I watched many natives selling their beautiful creations, absolutely phenomenal carvings for next to nothing and again I watched shoppers bargaining them down to the bone.   For these people, creativity is not a luxury but a means of survival. They have to be creative just to buy food and necessities and are often waiting for days to make a sale.  Never mind that location is also a huge matter, whereby if you are lucky enough to sell your items in a shop versus on a blanket in a remote area amongst all those others, you may get a better price.

In the Matopos in Zimbabwe I fell in love with the artisans there and that day I only carried a small amount of cash.  There were 31 vendors and I was determined I would try to buy at least a little something from everyone, not withstanding how to get it all home and how much could I fit into my small house.  When I see fellow artists struggle, my big heart seems to get the best of me and I just wished I could help everyone, but of course that is not possible.

While in Nepal and India, I noticed the the exact same phenomenon with their natives special artwork, especially in India.  Tourists are hunted down and eagerly invited to buy something and the bargaining down begins. I don’t bargain with these artisans but more often than not, actually give them a little more.  It frustrates me to a great extend watching other tourists go to the bare minimum as I have seen yet again on a most recent experience in Ecuador. The exquisite wool creations, carvings, and weavings are simply amazing. I went to several artisan markets there and witnessed much the same as I have seen all around the world; how artisans have to be creative out of necessity.  Thus they are already at a disadvantage starting out with the “beholding of bargaining power” of the potential customer.
I bought 11 finger puppets and each one cost a dollar.  I actually had someone criticizing me paying 11 dollars instead of bargaining to down to $10.  I sharply retorted that if I can spend $5 on a Starbucks drink in the US where I live, I certainly don’t need to make or break that important $1 dollar by bargaining with the artisan.  Sadly, this kind of attitude is all around me.

I have struggled over the years to keep my business alive but again, my line of creativity is also linked to a service in the areas of cabinet makeovers and home improvements thru decorative & vertical concrete and I “make ordinary things look extraordinary.”  I feel very blessed that diversifying my work has helped me keep things afloat and I have a deep appreciation for all those who have such creative skills but can only use them to put food in their belly.

Todays message is to appeal to your kindness and search your heart; do you really need to bargain to rock bottom because you are in that position or could you just pay those extra couple of dollars that are a make or break kind of a thing to the artisans?  I refer to my souvenirs of artist creations as treasures…perhaps one should do the same.  I have seen KARMA too, but that is for another subject!!!
As for putting it all in perspective on another level, lets highlight Van Gogh who sold one one painting for $80 and look today at what fortunes are to be paid for his creations.  At least on our level when we purchase something from artisans, they are affordable. We are alive to enjoy them as is the artist who is glad to provide for themselves and their families with your purchase.  Please keep that in mind next time you feel you need to became a fierce bargainer when you purchase a souvenir treasure.

This blog is dedicated to all of those artists around the world who struggle to make ends meet and yet will still part with their pieces of art for just enough to survive... I wish to thank all the native artisans for their generosity, inspiration, and their great kindness toward me.

Up next in my blog : The art of keeping art alive …. the difficulty of passing on ancient artwork creations…..