Piero Manzoni, Artist’s Shit (Merda d’artista), 1961.

Piero Manzoni, Artist’s Shit (Merda d’artista), 1961.


Etiquette for Artful Living


DEAR BABS: In my art practice, I gravitate toward using ephemeral media and creating installations. Sometimes my work deals with “difficult” subject matter. Do most gallery owners steer clear of those qualities in art because it is challenging to sell? Is the only route to showing and selling work to go with nonprofit or alternative spaces?
–Alice Moore, Denver, CO


Dear Alice, You can never second-guess the art market in terms of what your art should look like or what kind of art you should be making. First and foremost, you should ALWAYS do your art for YOU. Do not make art with hopes of monetary rewards. Yes, we all want to make a living with doing what we love most, creating art, but that shouldn’t be your motivation. Otherwise you might as well go into textiles or graphic arts. Yes, generally speaking, most commercial fine-art galleries will steer clear of the unproven, especially if you are an unknown artist. Why should they take a risk with a product they already suspect won’t sell? They have to make a living too. But! If they believe in it, and it’s unique and catches their eye, they just might take a chance. The more successful the gallery, the more they can afford to consider challenging art—they usually have a cushion of some bestsellers on their roster in order to allow that to happen.

These days though, you have to have a connection in the art world before you can get anyone to look at your art, whether it be controversial or pastel seascapes. Can you imagine Italian conceptual artist Piero Manzoni walking into a gallery today, presenting his “shit in a can” piece? The dealer most likely would say “Get the hell outta here,”—or, maybe, “I’ve never seen that before… I have just the collector that may go for that.” Chris Burden started out doing outrageous performances that got tons of attention. Gallery dealers all love a buzz and want to get in on whatever they may feel is “of the moment.”

Both artists eventually became famous. Their work pushed boundaries, and people took notice. Don’t think about the money part; just do your art. If you have the conviction like Burden, and the dedication, that alone will be the payoff—the satisfaction you will get from following your heart.