Art not for commerce
Friday, January 17, 2014 at 03:24AM
J. Preston


Yesterday, I turned in the final draft of my LL.M. thesis. I returned home not so much relieved (after all, I still have to defend the thing) but just emotionally spent. Why? Well, there's a whole vortex of issues that go into that 103-page, heavily researched pile of massacred trees. And I'm not talking about the comparative analysis of California vs. EU Initiatiave systems (yawn.) I'm talking about the personal reasosn why I did an LL.M. at all, and what that decision has to do with the drawing above.

I could go on for days about my self-diagnosed psychologocal issues and why I did that LL.M., which I will not bore you with here. Let's talk about the drawing instead.

I think creative people need to create to live. I turn into a lump of gray goo when I'm not creating. When I got home from turning in the thesis, I sat like a zombie in my livingroom for a few minutes before telling John "I need to do something visual. Now." Blurry-eyed from too many small-fonted footnotes, I located my box of Prisma colors, which hadn't been used in over 10 years.

So, I have like, over a jillion beads hanging all over the walls of my office, because my chosen "creative outlet" for the last 10 years has been jewelry. But jewelry has always been associated with Jib & Genoa, my jewelry company. I can literally say I sold the first piece of jewerly I ever made. So why is that a problem, you ask? 

Venture back with me bit further. My father and mother have always been entreprenuers. I'm not certain when I first heard someone remark about a piece of art I'd made: "That's really good Jenny, you could sell that," but I know I was pretty young. I don't think my mother was really pushing the capitalist agenda, but I do remember her starting a line of hand-painted porcelain in her shop with a design I'd created at, what, 4? 5 years old? Talk about a confidence builder! Your stuff is good enough that it gets its own little shelf in the shop. Where all the adults can see it.

Here my mother was, pouring her creativity into her porcelain shop and successfully making a living from it. She took pride in every piece she made, and had sincere appreciation everytime someone complimented her work. And here I got to see a little collection of my design (or whatever it could have possibly been, at that age, probably very much guided by her hand). Someone buying your design was the ultimate compliment! So yeah, I got that message before I could tie my shoes: good art sells.

When I started taking metalsmithing at UCSD, my very first piece was this very large, dangerous looking metal tree. I almost cut several apendages off making that tree. I did not even know how to solder jump rings onto it from which to attach a necklace chain. So what did I do when the tree was completed? Did learn everything there was to learn about metalsmithing? Did I study the masters? Did I redo it and redo it until it was perfect? Nope, I took that tree home, built a website around it, and said, yup, I think I'm going to make a jewelry company out of this. And I did. 10 years later that crazy tree is still in production and being copied all over Etsy (to the ire of my Intellectual Property lawyer). So yes, tree=success story.

And yet when I desperately need a creative fix, my jewelry supplies lie dormant. The first thing I rush to when in dire need of visual stimulation: my box of prisma colors. I needed to make something that I didn't stand back from and immediately calculate the wholesale value of. I needed to make art for the sake of art. When you make art for commerce, you are not the only one in that studio. You are surrounded by buyers, retailers, customers, critics, competitors, magazine editors. They are hovering over your bench, smirking and offering opinions, usualy negative. They are guiding your brush strokes, manipulating your color choice. Reigning in your creative expirimentation until it fits snuggly within in the bounds of "Yes, I'd pay money for that."

Making money from art was always the ultimate goal. But in a strange way, having someone pay you for your art turns that art into a widget. How many widgets can I churn out? Where will this widget fit on the market? What's a good price point for this widget? Commerce robbed the fun from jewelry. The compliments and orders give you a high, but the lack of compliments and orders can get into your wiring and deplete you of your true vision.

At any rate, as I crafted the portrait, knowing I was creating it for no one but myself, I happily let the legalese drain from my brain. I could practically feel my heart flutter up out of my chest. It is the first thing I've drawn in over 10 years. And frankly, I don't care what anyone thinks of it. 

Article originally appeared on The Wanderlusting Expat (
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