Beth Meadows

You Gotta Give it Away

Beth MeadowsComment

I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert recently, and it has shifted my perspective on creativity so much, and helped me embrace some truths I've been resisting.

I'm moving out of my studio of seven years at the end of the month. As I've been clearing out the massive piles of artwork from every nook and cranny, I've wondered what to do with this art. Making the decision to move out of my studio has helped me decide to do something I've wanted to do, but have been fearful of- to give this work away. Just move it out and away. And then throw away everything else. Go back from whence you came!

So starting with our studio's annual Open Studio Night at the end of November, I began the process, and it feels like such a relief. Ever since then, I've been meeting with about five to ten people a week to give them work and sell them discounted prints and originals. This thing that I'm not "supposed to do" feels really good to do. It's my work after all.

I've been talking with a lot of artists about this dilemma. We are no good at running businesses but we yearn to keep creating, so what do we do with all of these things we keep making? There are some works I won't give away. I am stubborn because I want to sell them or I want to make sure they go to someone that will value them, even if they can't with their dollars. 

I feel stuck by this question of how I value my work. What do I want? What is my time and the money I spend on materials worth? But in a city like Knoxville, I have been driven mad by people's ignorance about the value of art. I wish I knew the number, but it feels like for every one person that validates the price of my work, there are 50-100 that don't get it. They don't understand that venues take a cut. They don't understand that I'd like at least an hourly wage. They would never out right say it, but they don't consider what I do work. And it is real hard to keep chipping away when you keep getting that sort of reaction. I promise, I've tried to not let it get to me, but the rate at which I hear it is too much.

Maybe if only they could say, "I see why you are asking that, but it's out of my price range." Just something that conveys that they value the time and money I put into what I do. If downtown Knoxville bars can sell a cocktail for $12, I should be able to ask $100-200 for a piece of artwork that I spent several hours making, right? To cover labor and materials and overhead? The dawn of the $12 cocktail in Knoxville has really fueled my fire...

I know so many artists in Knoxville who make work quietly in their studio and don't share it. And they are really good artists. I know one in particular that has stopped making artwork altogether. "Where will I put it?" I understand her predicament, but it sucks so bad. The world needs her artwork, her ideas. Knoxville needs it.

Unlike me, these artists have protected themselves from the rejection I subjected myself to for a decade. I feel like I thrive off the ability to show and share my work, but when it doesn't sell, show after show, there's a breaking point and a very loud voice that says, "Please for the love of God, stop making artwork! Just stop!"

I do sell work. I do, and even though it's been a lot, the countless hours invested compared to the income gained has become too difficult. And a lot of times when it does sell, I can't sell it for what it's worth, and I haven't found a venue in Knoxville that can advocate for me. Very few First Friday venues proactively sell and market artwork on behalf of the artist. 

This has led me to another question and sidetrack: Is it Knoxville or is it me? Will it work somewhere else? I want to find out. I do. But I need a break.

It helped to read Big Magic this year as I process all of this. I don't want to stop creating, but some things have to give for me to delight in it again. I have to stop pursuing those things that are open opportunities in Knoxville because they won't lead me anywhere. They never have, they never will, and I know it. It's the hardest thing to give up, but with enough misery, giving up becomes easier. And I am ready to let go of the things that aren't working, and get back to the real work, my joy. 

Giving away this artwork has been a symbol for me then, of making this change. It is a symbol of saying, I still don't know what they hell I'm doing, but I'm going to keep going, granted, in a slightly different direction. Even if the work I make going forward does not sell for a good price, it doesn't mean it doesn't hold value. I am desperately trying to come to terms with this, this inability to market what I do well. To come to terms with what I feel is my calling and my inability to make it work.