Why is My Art Free

Picture         I have been asked many times, “why is your stuff free?”  There is no short answer but I promise you there is one.   Before I start on the explanation, know this…I have given away many pieces and have entered a prolific period the likes of which I have never done before. Read on below if your interested.

        It started back in the spring of 2009.  I was reading the book My Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.  It was in chapter 25, entitled Revolutionaries, a simple question was asked “When was your greatest period of inventiveness?” (In the book, the question was referring to humankind.  Yes,the person asking the question was not human.) Here’s the text right out of the book:

“The period of the Industrial Revolution.”
“That’s right.”
“How did it work?”
“What do you mean?”
“Your greatest task in the decades ahead is to be inventive – not for machines but for yourselves.  Does that make sense to you?”
“Then maybe there are some things we can learn about inventiveness from the greatest outpouring of inventiveness in human history.  Does that sound plausible?”
“Yes, absolutely.”
“So, once again, how did it work?”
“The Industrial Revolution? God, I don’t know.”
“Did an Industrial Revolutionary Army move into the capital and seize the reins of power?  Did it round up the royal family and guillotine them?”
“Then how did it work?”
“God … Are you asking me about cartels and monopolies?”
“No, nothing of the sort.  I’m not looking into money, I’m looking into inventiveness.  Try it this way, Julie.  How did the Industrial Revolution start?”
“Oh.  Okay. I remember that.  It’s all I do remember.  James Watt.  The steam engine.  Seventeen hundred and something.
        “Excellent, Julie.  James Watt, the steam engine, seventeen hundred and something.  James Watt is often credited with inventing the steam engine that started it all, but this is a misleading simplification that misses the whole point of this revolution.  James Watt in 1763 merely improved on an engine designed in 1712 by Thomas Newcomen, who had merely improved on an engine designed in 1702 by Thomas Savery, who doubtless knew the engine described in 1663 by Edward Somerset, which was only a variation of Salomon de Caus’s 1615 steam fountain, which was in fact very like a device described thirteen years earlier by Giambattista della Porta, who was the first to make any significant use of steam power since the time of Hero of Alexander in the first century of the Christian era.  This is an excellent demonstration of how the Industrial Revolution worked.  But I don’t imagine you see it quite yet, so I’ll give you another example.
                “Steam engines wouldn’t have had much utility without coked coal, which is flameless and smokeless.  The coking of coal produces coal gas, which originally was simply vented and worthless.  But by the  1790s it was beginning to be burned in factories, both to urn equipment and to produce light.  But coking coal to produce coal gas generated another waste product, coal tar, a nasty, smelly sludge that was especially difficult to get rid of.  German chemists reasoned that it was foolish to work to get rid of it when there might be something useful to do with it.  Distilling coal-tar, they produced kerosene, a new fuel, and creosote, a tarry substance that was found to be a wonderful wood preservative,  since creosote kept wood from rotting,  it seemed reasonable to suppose that similar results might be obtained from other coal-tar derivatives.  In one such experiment, carbolic acid was used to inhibit putrefaction in sewage.  Hearing of this effect of the material in 1865, the English surgeon Joseph Lister wondered if it might prevent putrefaction in human flesh wounds (which at the time made all surgery life-threatening).  It did.  Still another derivative was carbon black, the residue felt by the smoke of burned coal tar.  This found one use in a kind of carbon paper invented by Cyrus Dalkin in 1823.  It found another sue when Thomas Edison discovered that he could amplify telephonic sound by inserting a pellet of carbon black in the receiver.”
                Ishmael looked at me hopefully.  I told him coal tar was a lot more useful than I’d imagined.  “I’m sorry,”  I added.  “I know I’m missing the point.”
                “You’ve asked me what to do, Julie, and I’ve given one blanket directive: Be inventive.  Now I’m trying to show you what it means to be inventive.  I’m trying to show you how the greatest period of human inventiveness worked:  The Industrial Revolution was the product of a million small beginnings, a million great little ideas, a million modest innovations and improvements over previous inventions.  These millions aren’t exaggerations, I think.  Over a period of three hundred years, hundreds of thousands of you, acting almost exclusively form motives of self-interest, have transformed the human world by broadcasting ideas and discoveries and furthering these ideas and discoveries by asking them step-by-step to new ideas and discoveries.
        This chapter goes on for a few more pages; however, this is enough to explain why my art is free.  I have been drawing, painting, sculpting and taking photos for many years. In fact, in the late 70’s, I was a wedding photographer.  A hobby turned profession which took the fun out of photography for me.  I gave it up, both the hobby and the profession.  The hobby came back a few years later.  Then drawing, painting and sculpting came along.  After a while, people started to tell me I should sell my work.  Funny thing though, the ones telling me to sell the stuff never bought anything.  But others did and it wasn’t too long after selling a few things that I found myself back at the place of wondering if I should do this for a living.  I knew what happened the last time I tried to make a living off of my art, I hated it.  But that wasn’t the bad part. I found that when I was working on a piece, I was spending so much time thinking about how much to charge or how fast can I sell it, that the art itself suffered.  I had a career during all of this and was doing well, very well as far as I could tell.  Great family, great friends, great kids, great wife, great job, great life but I knew something was wrong in a very subtle way.  So delicate an issue I didn’t realize I had one.  I would go many, many months sometimes years at a time and do no artwork at all.  How could that be?  I loved the process of creating art and yet I would find a thousand reasons not to do it.
        Then the late 2000’s recession hit.  I was impacted but not too badly.  It got me to think about money and how to make more.  I listened to good friends, read some great books and realized something is wrong with our society and its relationship with money.  I don’t mean it’s evil and it’s certainly not a corruptor but it can’t make you happy.  And how the hell did I mix it up with art?  What does this have to do with the excerpt above?  I think we need a revolution of sorts.  I don’t want to take over the government and start some new world order.  I believe it will take a million little good ideas passed on from person to person over a long period of time.  So like the Industrial Revolution, aided if not started by the early ideas out of Alexandria, I can make a start to a new way to live.  One that I cannot possibly understand right here, right now.  You may find yourself thinking of a new way and might end up with some tribal hunter-gatherer thing or some utopian scheme.  Don’t get stuck on what it will be like, you can’t know either.  We don’t need to know what it can grow into. We just need to know that this is how revolutions work.
        Someday, 500 years from now, someone will be talking about the great financial revolution of 2511 and a few historians might take a close look back and find it was started somewhere in Chicago around 2010.  Some artist in the area started giving his art way because he believed that finding a piece of art beautiful was enough reason to have it.