Saturday, August 2, 2008

Atristic Intregity versus a Paycheck

So, Young Artist, what's your price? What will you "sell out" for? Remember, as a member of the animation industry you fall into the category of "Commercial Artist". That means you do "art for hire". If you want to draw strictly for your "heart and soul" you must choose "fine art". A "fine artist" draws what inspires him, what gives him pleasure. It doesn't matter what style the art is in, all that matters is whether the artist works according to his own vision NOT someone else's. Jackson Pollock, Andrew Wyeth, Pablo Picasso all fall into the category of "Fine Artists". They drew first and sold, if they could, their work later. Some well known painters crossed over the line separating these two categories and did "work for hire". Toulouse-Lautrec, Peter Paul Rubens, Michelangelo, Maynard Dixon were all known to have done family portraits, ceiling murals, book illustrations and poster designs for a fee. Other famous illustrators such as N.C. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell were perfectly content to make a living in commercial art and never labeled themselves as fine artists.

You, Dear Animation Artist, fall into that last category. You are a Commercial Artist and your work is bought and paid for as you do it. And you do it according to your employer's direction, even if he has no artistic taste what-so-ever. When I got into the business, my employers and supervisors were all professional artists. They taught as they directed. I got better, they got richer. It was an honest trade-off for the education. Today, animation is often controlled by investment bankers and business school graduates. Art is a product and they are the sellers of that product. It angers them when your work does not illustrate their vision, which they are unable to describe graphically to you. Yet, you, as a professional, must find a way to work with these employers.

I worked with a great designer who knew his employer very well. When designing a character for a new show, he would draw about a dozen variations. Then, he would stack them in the order he wanted his boss to see them in. The top four drawings were the best versions. The BEST drawing, his choice, was the third one down in the stack. The balance were just additional drawings that illustrated how bad this character could be drawn. He said his boss would always reject the first drawings he saw and only make up his mind after seeing multiple choices. This professional designer said the third drawing was the most often picked but he could feel good about any of the first four. You also must learn a technique necessary to help blind men see.

This does not mean you have to prostitute yourself or your art for money alone. If it's only about the money, then there are other ways to make it faster and more agreeable. I choose a project for three reasons; I like the project, I like the money and I like the people/person I'm working with. When working in children's television, I found that the product was almost identical from studio to studio. Liking the project seldom factored into my decision. I would change studios only when considerable more money or advancement was offered. After I established myself, I would sometimes take a lower position in order to work on a more prestigious project, like a feature film or to work with a known director, like Chuck Jones. The truth is, most artists work for love. If they only worked for money there would be a lot more rich artists out there. Money does not make you smart or talented or ethical, it only gives you power. I'm more than happy to exchange power for the ability to make smart, artistic decisions that help others to do their jobs better. So, if your dumb, untalented and corrupt employer insists upon doing your job badly, be prepared to walk away. If the job hurts, stop doing it!

During an interview, Hollywood Joe, the smartest and most successful artist/producer in the business, was asked what advice he could give new artist film makers based on his years of experience. He answered, "Be prepared for disappointment." 'Nuff said.

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