Men Get To Make Art, Women Have To Make Things

I’m in a museum!!!

I know a few men that are artists, fine artists I mean.  Like they are represented by galleries and make their living by wealthy collectors buying their art.  These men have a large following.  Images of their art is in coffee table books.  They have art openings attended by rich patrons. Their whole job is to make art and yes, probably some schmoozing is involved too and various tasks that go along with being a professional artist along with the pressure to keep creating work people will buy.  I am not disparaging them.  I know they are extremely talented and I’m actually very impressed and happy for anyone that can make money creatively, especially by making their art.

I am a woman artist though so my experience is very different from theirs.  I make art and then turn it into product that people buy from me.  I’ve never been a “chosen” artist.  I’ve never been able to break into the gallery world or anywhere else that there are gatekeepers.  You could argue, maybe, that I’m just not good enough, maybe I need to just face the facts.  But if my work wasn’t “good enough”, I wouldn’t be able to make a living selling it to individuals for all these years.

Turns out that only 11 percent of art museum acquisitions between 2008 and 2020 were of women artists.  Only 14.9 percent of exhibitions in American art museums featured art by women.

“Calm down Sunde, that’s museums, NOT galleries.”

Okay, well, only 10 to 15 percent of art in galleries is by women and only 3.3 percent of all art auction sales are of women artists.  Sooooo.

I’m not looking for pity or saying that anything that hasn’t worked out for me has been solely because I’m a woman but I do know that at a certain point in my life, I realized I was spending so much energy trying to break down doors and get let in when I should have just been spending my energy on making art and putting it out into the world.

I’ve never figured out how to gain entre into the art world so I make a living from my art by turning it into things.  I turn most of my art into greeting cards but I also make it into magnets, coloring books, pins and stickers–anything that I think people will buy.  Most of the art I make has to appeal to people that are celebrating birthdays or anniversaries, or consoling someone, congratulating someone, sending love to someone.  I learned early in my greeting card business that cats sell so I make a lot of cat art.

“Oh, so you’re a cat person.”  People tell me when they walk into my shop.

“No, I’m a dog person.”  I say matter of factly. “But cat things sell better than dog things.”

Sometimes people look at me quizzically like, how could you draw so many fun cat things then?  Uh, because it’s my job.  I want to make money from my ability to draw things and so I let go of my ego long ago about what I draw.  Instead, I come up with a weird, funny, kooky ideas and that is what holds my interest in order to complete a piece that I can sell as a card or gift.

Making things for my business is not a grind though.   I love coming up with an idea and creating it into reality.  I love that I can make something beautiful that helps people through difficulty or to celebrate themselves or make people laugh or be inspired. But it’s not the only thing I want to make.  I have to do it this way. No gatekeeper is extending their hand out to me to pull me into the creative money making realm.  I dropped out of high school and didn’t go to a prestigious school.  For most of my life I’ve known no one artsy, I’m not cool enough to rub elbows or get invited anywhere that there are elbows to rub.  I could never figure out how to get a job around art or in the art world.  I worked blue collar jobs until my late thirties and focused so much energy on surviving that breaking through with art just seemed other worldly and for other people that were somehow more special than me.  And, it turns out, being a woman has something to do with it too.

Recently I started looked around my industry and noticed that almost all card and gift brands are created and run by women artists.  When this dawned on me, I was actually shook.  All us women probably all started out thinking we’d be the next great artist with shows around the world or books on their 5th reprinting.  Instead, we’re designing Croc charms and enamel pins that we can sell at summer festivals.

I realize now that male gallery artists don’t dread summer because for them it’s not the start of festival season.  They don’t have to dread the grind of packing up their truck with their inventory, tables, tents, spinners, displays, and chairs, arrive at a fair at 6am, unload their truck, set up their tent, sell all day for two days, then break back down, pack up the truck and unload everything back where you store it.  By the time December rolls around I’m limping through each show on swollen feet and nursing a frozen elbow from all the lifting.

For me, to make money as an artist, I have to constantly work to expand my money making avenues.  I have an Etsy shop to sell to people around the world.  I sell wholesale to stores which means always having new product coming out, website updates, sending out catalogs, updating my Faire wholesale webpage, packing orders and shipping orders on time.  To round out my options, I opened up a little gift shop in Pacifica to market my business and sell my products directly to people.

Because of my shop I get up at 5am in order to have time to make my art a couple of hours each morning.  I write and illustrate essays for my blog because I like to but also to improve my SEO results and I’m trying to build up my illustrating portfolio so that maybe one day I can publish my illustrated essays or children’s books.

I have two newsletters, one called FunStuff Weekly where I create an activity or game each week and send it out on Fridays, and the other one is a monthly check in where I talk about new products but always try to make it a fun learning experience.  I include fresh art for the opening page and I make a gif to help people unsubscribe more easily.

I’m tired guys.  It’s a lot.   In my sad moments I wish that someone had picked me to lift up and let me into the published, exhibited, written about, reviewed, regaled artist club.  I am grateful for the fact that I can make a living from my art but I can’t help but feel a jealous tug in my heart when I envision the perfect life.  I would have time to just surf and skateboard and make art, stare at the clouds going by.   Maybe learn pottery or make ceramic sculptures, learn to weld and make cool metal sculptures to display in the garden. I’d be able to make art to just explore ideas not just to finish an upcoming product drop.  I’m getting older and I’m worried that I won’t have the opportunity to make the books I want, have my work seen more broadly, have a nest egg, experience recognition, be able to sleep in or sit quietly and dream.

This is life and I know that I’ve made my choices so I am where I am.  But I also know that I’m an artist within a societal construct that almost always affects how I have to do things.  (Deep breath, rubbing eyes under my glasses.)

I’ll just keep creating my own opportunities and keep grinding away till I open the gates myself, I guess.  It’s just going to take me a while.