Paths to Realization of an Art Object

Doing artwork for a living does not require you be crazy to begin with, but it will certainly get you there. Whether it’s illustration work, photography, painting, or making lighted objects, every work has a piece of the author baked into it. That’s what separates art from product design or graphics. So what happens with the resulting product is equally personal.

As a lighting designer, I felt a personal connection with my work, but the intimacy was diluted by the number of people between the creative vision and the end product. The finished design and process was a team-involved collective effort. The myopia and hyper vigilance over details invisible to others softened the self criticism. Few can visualize light in space during the design process – that’s what makes lighting design a true professional art (sorry lighting science nerds, it is not about formulas and compliance, it is art, even when it isn’t.) That means that even when the end product was less than artistically perfect, you still create magic.

The same cannot be said of works created with your own hands, where you own the entire process from inspiration to finished object in hand. Every detail, surface, finish, mistake and success, are 100% on the creator. Imperfect is failure; Just send it to the landfill – I’m going to work at the Home Depot stocking shelves, I suck!

Art is a Business

Any time one attempts to make a living from work, it is business. There is a product being created (value), and a customer (patron), where the sale (value conversion) occurs. As a pragmatist, I don’t buy into the romantic vision of purists (artists and collectors alike) who believe art is work unfettered by these connections, that it is all about pure expression.

The imagery of the starving artist, sacrificing themselves to commitment of the purity of art doesn’t suit me. Just like any businessman, if I fail to find a path to earn a living from my work, then I will bag it and do something else. I can enjoy art for my own environments while profiting from my work and value added in other endeavors.

Bottom line; Art involves a passionate creative entity, producing value through expression of ideas, visions or thoughts, that someone finds of value enough to want to own in – resulting in the exchange of ownership from the author to the patron using a monetary exchange agreeable to both parties. Sounds like business to me.

Distinction Between Art and Design

There is one specific difference between art and design. That is the underlying style or personality of the work itself. Where a designer is a chameleon, changing his approach to suit the work in hand, or the corporate image of itself – an artist attempts to stay within his individual expressive voice. This differentiation is what separates a nicely designed product from an artistically expressive one.

Art is a combination of design and expression, that steps beyond design to express the personality of the author in ways that product design attempts to more tightly control.

One of the reasons speculative art presented by an artist, including me, is important, is that it presents the approach, style, and vocabulary of the artist. Speculative work will often be more extreme and uncompromising than might be the case when working with a specific customer. Whether it be classic, or contemporary in nature is less important than the way shape, color, and forms are put together. An artist will want to include this in any work they do.

Speculative artist works will often be more extreme and experimental than what might be expected, as experimentation is allowed to flow without constraint and visions allows to flow.

Another difference is in how value is created and offered to the potential customer. I see it boiled down into two paths.

Path One – The Artist Creating Work on Speculation

The mythical imagery of the struggling artist generating thousands of works, hoping to find a magic patron to buy one. The imagery is romantic, the actual reality of it is far less compelling. Trying to make a living on sales of speculative art is what drove Vincent to lop off an ear (I know, not factually correct, but you get the idea.)

Speculative creation is great for exploring and expressing an individual’s thoughts, without constraint. However, there is a constraint – reality. The exploration is actually pursued with an imagined potential customer in mind, as the goal is not to just express oneself, but to feed oneself through the sale of the work completed.

Speculative production carries with it a great deal of cost as. Unsold works collect in inventory, increasing the raw costs of operation. The effort of marketing and selling is also born by the works that do sell, but the effort is determined not by what sells, but by what is on offer. One works hard to sell twenty, but realizes results from only five.

This path is an ongoing effort – it’s the long game. Regardless of sales, it is where artists find their voice, experiment with technique, create from the heart, and take time to contemplate approach. While there is always a nod to producing marketable product, there is also a lot of exploring beyond the anticipated market. Hey, if you’re going to bear all of the costs, with no guarantee of a sale, might as well enjoy the work, you might be have it for a while!

Path Two – Commissioned Work

The goal of most every modern artist is to build a base of work around satisfying customers who commission them to produce. From Picasso to Warhol, Max, Neiman, Pollack, and Parks, all continued to do commissions throughout their life.

Commissioned work brings two mutual benefits. 1.) It provides the artist a target to create within, with a pre-set value to be captured when completed to the client’s satisfaction; and 2.) It offers the client the opportunity to secure the work of an artists they like, through a piece they want specifically, to fill a desire of their own, at a price they agree to up-front.

How much latitude there is in a commission ranges from wide open to very specific. Where one client provides only basic direction, another might want something more specific, from colors used, scale, and intended location. Patrons come in many varieties, from the philanthropic investor, who funds speculative work, to those who have defined market ideas, thru project specific work, to engagement of artists they feel are worthy, to create a series, or participate in some larger effort.

In the end, at least for me, commissioned work takes a lot of the crazy out of the pursuit of art as a career. My background in design, and experience as an entrepreneur are founded on directly connecting with customers. While the explorative work I do on my own is satisfying creatively, it is not until something is sold that the real satisfaction is realized. Commissioning is a far shorter path to that end, and economically more viable.

Commissioning is as old as art itself. The Sistine Chapel, Last Supper, David, and the majority of Andy Warhol’s income were all founded on commissions. Most every modern artist, be it an art photographer, sculptor, painter, digital, screen print, or litho print master, have some portion of their effort secured by commissioning patrons and customers.

Commissioned work will reflect both the customer’s wants as well as the personality of the author selected. How far this goes in either direction, is negotiated and part of the process of defining the work to be completed.

My business model is to pursue engaging clientele in commissioned work for a portion of my work demand. This, combined with speculative work, as noted, to demonstrate capabilities, experiment with techniques, hone my craft, and… yes… to sell to those who enjoy those products of my effort. The blend of the two is what makes this an attractive career choice.

The Process is What Makes it Work

Coming from a background in design and consulting, I understand how the process works in ways that many artists will struggle with – especially when it comes to being engaged with the specification and design community.

When an object is being driven through a specification entity, such as Interior Designer, Lighting Consultant, or Architect, there are six phases I follow to realize the finished work:

  1. Define the work.
  2. Create a draft concept for review.
  3. Establish an agreement (contract) with specifics.
  4. With approval to proceed, start work.
  5. At prescribed points, submit for approval to proceed.
  6. Deliver Object(s).

It is understood that there will be time between work definition and final payment and delivery. The benefit is that the specified work is pre-sold.

For direct customer or representative commissions, the process can be simplified somewhat:

  1. Define the work.
  2. Creation a draft concept with quote, and contract.
  3. With approval to proceed, start work.
  4. Deliver Object(s).

Again, it is understood that there will be time between work definition and final payment and delivery. The benefit is that the specified work is pre-sold.

In the agreement phase, any required deposits, payments, and specific process requirements are set out to suit the project and/or customers involved.

For speculative products on offer, it is even simpler:

  1. You like what you see?
  2. Buy it and I will get it to you right away.

The benefit here is that the work is paid for immediately. The down-side is that of all speculative work, not all will sell, while the unsold work is already completed.

What Makes Lumenique Special?

Lumenique offers the unique combination of Sculptured Art that includes light as a component, texture or functional feature, using modern technologies for production of objects that can be made to suit a very wide range of wants and needs. As a studio, production of a single item, or runs of very small quantities, is what I do. Unlike luminaire manufacturers, there are no minimum quantities or engineering department tinkering with the final product. The finished object will be made as art, with a significant amount of hand work and craftsmanship involved. This is particularly beneficial for:

  • Where the concept of an artistic object that includes lighted elements is desired.
  • Special signature or identity pieces.
  • High design and art works to set a mood or enforce a feeling.
  • Displays for shows or showrooms.
  • The inclusion of an artwork to evoke or support an emotional connection to a space.
Last Words

I hope this provides some clarity on my pursuits and direction, and that you can see where it might be a fit for you in realizing some want or desire going forward. It all starts with a quick email or phone call, where we can discuss what you’d like to see made, and how I might be of service.

Author: kwillmorth

I am an artist in lighted objects and product designer.

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