Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Taking Commissions

45. Taking Commissions

This can be a very divisive issue among potters. Many refuse to even consider creating art to match someone else’s specifications. It becomes a fundamental issue of authorship. Others have horror stories of difficult or even impossible patrons, projects from hell. Certainly an artist’s life is much simpler without taking commissions. On the other hand, the Sistine Chapel ceiling was painted as a commission and Michelangelo did not want to do it. Good things can come from taking commissions.
First among the benefits, of course, is the money. When the technical problems emerge (or the client changes their mind) the money may not seem like enough but it is money at a time, perhaps, when money is in short supply. Value that money appropriately, but be careful not to set your price too low.
Second, a commission is, in effect, a class assignment for which you get paid. The challenge of the assignment has many of the benefits for you as an artist that school assignments had. You will be learning things you might never have attempted otherwise. Successfully completing the commission will make you a better artist simply because you will have added to your storehouse of experience and expanded the range of your skills.
Third, completing a commission is good for your sense of confidence and self-esteem. Even if the project stunk and the customer was a complete nuisance, you survived. You now know more than you did before, even if what you now know is that you never want to take another commission again. Fine. You were tough enough to see this one through. Congratulate yourself. Walk taller.
And fourth, work is work and valuable for its own sake. However horrible fulfilling the commission may have been, you were working, problem-solving, creating. What must be more horrible for any artist is inactivity. Creating art for which you do not get paid makes you a hobbyist. Failing to create work at all makes you either a has-been or a never-was. If it takes a commission to keep you working, then God bless it, and do your best.

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