Some years ago I read a book by Marsha Sinetar, Do What You Love The Money Will Follow. It was from the first wave of New Age all-the-way-to-the-bank books. When she got letters from people saying they do what they love and get very little money, her reply was simply put, "I didn't say how much." I believe there is something to it. I've spent my life doing what I love, have made a little money at it, and would make more if I kept at it. But money has never motivated me. I regard it a false motivation. My rational mind says it's perhaps as good a motivation as any. Yet it doesn't move me to anything. I always paint/draw my very worst for a commission. That is actually aside from money, because no matter what I do with a commission, the answer is always, "That's not what I saw in my mind," after telling me that anything I want to do will be fine. It never is. I quit doing commissions. I don't want the money from doing something I don't want to do. Plus, commissions degenerate to portraits of babies and brides immediately.
Outside the idea of art, I did plenty I didn't want to do for money. All my life I've never known a way to make money that I liked doing. I see NY artists making hundreds of thousands a year, people smiling at them, wanting to meet them, have snapshots of themselves taken with the artist and feel like they're doing something big meeting somebody famous. I've done it. And probably will do it again. The time I met Ralph Stanley, I could have talked with him, but all I could think was he's so tired of fans drooling over him, I'm not adding myself to the list, and end up saying nothing. But I got his autograph in his memoir, a truly beautiful read if you like mountain music and culture. Blocked, I didn't know what to say but, Thank you. In the art market world, the artist is expected to suck up to the rich in ways I can't let myself do. In my way of seeing, the Bares on Dan Osborne Road are the equal, at least, of the Chathams of Roaring Gap. I took that path for a short time and saw I wanted nothing to do with it. The rich use artists at dinner parties like pet chimps. The artist is expected to entertain by talking about art or something. Once, I was sitting by a successful politician who started conversations, "How many children do you have?" Followed by, "What are their names?" I turned him to the person sitting the other side of him when I answered his first question, No. A man extremely wealthy told me if I keep on with what I'm doing I'll get rich. I said, "I'll never get rich working." He looked at me like I'd made a major social faux pas, thought a second and said, "That's right."
Then there was the year of being with a gallery in Chapel Hill, a good place to have paintings for sale. It has a name as one of the finer galleries in the Southeast. At first, I thought it an honor. About Christmas time the gallery had a big party for the rich and all artists were expected to be there. People in sophisticated clothing were packed in so tight nobody could move. Carole and I grew tired of not being able to move and decided it was time to go. Going out the door, the gallery owner said,
"You leaving?" Yep. I saw artists schmoozing, being charming, laughing and emoting over nothing. They were on the climb. I was not. So I do what I love, then to sell it I have to do what I loathe. I quit being concerned about selling and got a job. In the art market world, schmoozing is how you get someplace. I didn't want to go to that place. I didn't want to take part in the social game of the rich: See my new!
Now that I'm painting again, I paint for the people that live around me, the country people. I price the paintings so working people can have one if they want. I've been told a thousand times to make prints and sell the prints. To me that means spending a lot of money I don't have for something I need to keep in a box in the house the rest of my life. The reason mountain musicians seldom recorded in the past was the same. You spend a lot of money to make a certain number of records you keep in a box under the bed the rest of your life. Every once in awhile somebody buys one, but not often. Then there is going around at shows, being charming, answering stupid questions, and selling little to nothing. Paying for a space costs more than I'd ever take home. So I end up driving someplace far away and spending the day bored out of my mind for the rent. I'd rather have a job.
Early on in the art game I believed I had to do what other artists do, get the attention of the rich. When that happened, I totally lost interest. In this world the artist has to be a businessman too, which is not how I see myself. Like a mountain musician, I make my art for the fun of it and when there's no fun in it I don't do it. I don't want a big house, wall-sized tv and a fleet of different colored Mercedes convertibles for every day of the week. I like my little schoolhouse in a Blue Ridge mountain valley where the wind blows from ridge to ridge passing over the top of the house making the place the house sits an ideal spot where the wind is seldom more than a breeze that tinkles the windchimes. I'd rather live here than at High Meadows Country Club. I like having my friends who are friends because of who I am and who they are, not what the other has and what I've got for sale. In a gallery situation I wanted to buy a plaid polyester suit at a thrift store and those shoe/boots that zip up over the ankle, "salesman boots," like a 50s or 60s salesman such as Arthur Miller depicted in Death of a Salesman. If I'm going to be a salesman I'd dress like a salesman. A conceptual joke that amuses me, but isn't worth the effort to make it happen.
My motivation for painting now is to make a portrait record of various musicians of this county, primarily. This is my home, the people I live among, where my friends are, and these are the only people I want to paint for. That old way of doing what is expected by some commonly agreed upon principle to be a success in the art market world is not for anyone anti-motivated by money. I put a price on a painting according to its value to me. Like I painted it for myself and this is what it will take to get it away from me. Like some poets say of their verses, they're my babies. I feel a bit of grief letting them go. I prefer that they go to my friends where I can see them from time to time. I've come to feel like the effort that goes into a painting, and it's not easy going, is done for itself, not for making money. The influence of mountain musicians has been stronger on me, artistically, than the art market world. Mountain musicians ask for little more than gas money. Often they don't even ask for that. Their music is not about money. It's about making music to make the audience feel like they've heard some music when it's over. Beyond that is of no importance. In fact, beyond that becomes anti-important, like selling yourself to a corporation to make money.
I live poor, will always live poor, and do not want the temptation of a shit-load of money. I don't ever want anyone to say of me, "Now, he's Money." Paying a lot of taxes I'd feel guilty about supporting the Death Star wiping out millions of the poor around the globe with bombs from the sky. I don't want my name on any of those bombs, especially not anti-personnel land mines that cripple and kill an awful lot of children and will for many years to come. The more money I make, the more taxes I pay, the more taxes I pay, the more guilty I feel. The BP in Galax I pass every week is 15c a gallon less than the Exxon in Sparta. I couldn't allow myself to put BP gas in my car. Can't do it. Two hundred and seventy some violations of safety codes in a year, when Exxon had one. Also, what little money I have to put out into the flow of the economy I want to be at home, Alleghany County, Sparta. People who run gas stations make next to nothing for a whole lot of work and aggravation. I want my 15c a gallon to go to supporting someone of Alleghany willing to do that work. When the building my store started in was bought by Miami real estate investors, the day of closure I moved around the corner in one day for one reason, to pay half the rent, and the other, the major consideration, I wanted my money to stay in the community, in a Sparta bank, not a Miami bank where it's the same as nothing. I feel like I'm finally coming into making real art, like a clawhammer banjo picker, in my own style.