Why I stopped selling my art for a year and the commercial suffocation which killed my creativity

Just over a year ago I decided to take down all my art for sale on my website and removed my art from galleries. This was not due to not selling work or a moody tantrum, this was in fact thought out over some time, which was needed as my mind was riddled with questions such as “will this sell” and “is this going to be popular with customers and collectors”. The part of me which was now in charge of my creativity was also doing mental spreadsheets and customer surveys.

The Broken Willow - By Charlotte Farhan

The Broken Willow – By Charlotte Farhan

Now I am not saying this is not a way to sell art, as there are many successful commercial artists who take to art as they would any business. However this is not for me, I am not driven by money and my philosophy is very anti-capitalistic and personally I dislike any art which is made in the hope of selling for obscene amounts of cash.

The arts have been growing more elitist and individualistic since the 20th century, which historian Walter Benjamin called “The Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” The commodity of art and creativity is now a marketable idea and product to be sold on mass, even though the world we live in is in no way accommodating to the life of an artist, unless you are the lucky few (which is mainly white, middle/upper class men) then you can not replicate the same success as any outlet which churns out art prints of generic tastes to be sold at your local department store. Visual art is taken for granted in our world, imagine the world without it? Removing these visuals from our surroundings would be an extreme shock to our senses, yet we do not value it enough. Art becomes a throw away item, something you donate or sell at a carboot sale or even toss in a skip.

Emotions Take Over - By Charlotte Farhan

Emotions Take Over – By Charlotte Farhan

My husband and I are by no means rich, we are actually under the living wage by quite a bit in the UK, which is why the pressure arises in me at the idea that the only thing I can do well and do from home due to my disabilities was not going to feed us or house us on a regular basis – making me believe that myself and my art were worthless. Which left me hollow and without purpose, so as with everything in my life, this became a question of survival.

Tackling mental illness, sexual violence, capitalism, war and being an outsider artist in general meant that automatically my work would not be considered commercial or be the kind of art that the general population wish to put in their living rooms. Nonetheless this is not of any concern of mine, as the artist my purpose is to create, the rest is not up to me. Over this year many of my followers and fans have asked to buy my art or asked where my art is on sale, but still I did not give in. The journey was not over as I still could hear the faint voice of capitalism whispering in my ear.

With this in mind the idea of selling art became something which actually started to terrify me, the thought that if I started again the muse would leap from my mind, with nothing left to nourish me. So I continued on my quest for my cathartic creativity. Which is what led me to reexamine my roots in art – the reason I had begun and the reason it had saved me from hurting myself for so many years. I remembered painting and drawing as a child when my world was falling apart around me, with no adults to guide me; my art was a comfort and allowed me to express feeling which my young brain could not process with language. Furthermore art therapy had saved me when I was in psychiatric hospitals or therapy, never did I think of “selling art” at these moments, there were no thoughts just creativity exploding from me in every direction with a “fuck you” attitude to match.

Then I thought of the other experiences with art which had suffocated me and led me to become silent. Such as secondary school when my teacher decided her and I had a “personality clash” and that I was just a disobedient child who would not concentrate on the topics at hand. Which is hard for me for many reasons. In class a blank piece of paper would be set down for me, with an objective given, such as to draw a still life of some sort – my mind could not confine itself to the simple still life set out before me, other things would appear in my vision and these would have to be incorporated, different colours emerged which others did not see. Which is what drove my art teacher mad, she would get so angry at me and I just could not understand? This was my best and favourite subject and my way of communicating but it was shut down and I stopped trying and taking part.

My Burial - By Charlotte Farhan

My Burial – By Charlotte Farhan

When later in life I decided to go to art college at 17, having only been out of hospital a short while, the intensity of my emotions and coming from an art therapy environment did not merge well within the confines of academic art. This time I had learnt from previous experiences that my voice was too loud or too raw and with the social pressures of adolescents, which made me want to conform so as to be seen as “normal” and not the crazy girl, I simply muted myself and my creative voice. Which meant yet again the teachers found me difficult, leading me to leave after a year.

With this retrospective, the mission was clear and simple; my work needed to come from the place which has been unheard and abandoned for so long. It is not pretty or comfortable, but it is my genuine voice and my message to the world – with the aim of helping others who like me have been pushed down and silenced.  During my year off from the headache that is consumerism, my mind was able to redevelop the meaning behind my journey as an artist. It is true that for me the message in my work is far more important to me than if it is “sellable”, which meant that finding my voice was the most important aspect for my exploration thus far.

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Now I am ready to sell my work again and put my work back in galleries, Knowing that the selling is a bonus and the galleries allow my art to be seen and my message to heard by more people. There is now no whispers asking me consumerist questions and there is no compromise to my philosophy. Now I am secure with my art and purpose which means my muse has returned.

If you ever find yourself in this predicament as an artist (of any discipline) then I would recommend a similar period of time away from the suffocation that is our capitalist, consumer driven world, find your roots in your work, work towards your purpose and do not compromise this for anything.

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