Visual Artists Find It Tough to Make Ends Meet

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

FOR those looking to make a career as a visual artist, the outlook is not good. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, most artists spend twice as much money producing their art as they recoup from sales, and this situation may last their entire lives. What to do. Resolve oneself to starvation? Give up the art entirely? The majority of fine artists look at one time or another to jobs in teaching, required to put in just a few hours a day or week to classroom activities and spending the rest of the time doing their own work.

Others, however, try out related fields, such as commercial illustration or art therapy. Alexander Liberman, for instance, has been art director at Cond'e Nast publications for years, while Donald Judd, another contemporary abstract sculptor, wrote art reviews in the early part of his career. Some artists are led to become entrepreneurs.

Virginia Gardner, a painter, spent six years counseling artists on how to manage the business aspects of their careers.

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As the director of ArtWork, a government-supported free employment agency for artists, and her own company (Artists Network), she negotiated contracts and helped set prices for artists' work as well as assisted them in ``finding money to get through the week,'' she said. ``Sometimes I felt more like a social worker.''

The artist worked in business jobs after receiving her art degree from Cornell University in 1974, ``and I was able to put a lot of what I had learned to work for me as an artist and, by extension, for other artists.''

Art Guerra, on the other hand, put his increasing interest in creating his own paints to work, starting up Guerra Paints and Pigments four years ago so as to ``make paint chemistry and technology available to artists.''

It is also not uncommon for artists to become art dealers, setting up a gallery that includes their own work. ``I wanted my gallery to make a statement, that there is a place for figurative work in the contemporary art world,'' says Lucian Day, a painter living in Craftsbury, Vt., who ran the Blue Mountain Gallery in New York City's SoHo district from 1968 to '79.

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