Artist Ann Rea “abandoned art for over a decade, only to develop chronic anxiety, a fixation with the future, and depression…” she writes at AnnRea.com. In this straight-up, pull-no-punches conversation, Rea reminds that time is fleeting and if you’re serious about being an artist it’s time to seize your moment, irrespective of fear of failure – or success. Rea is the founder of Artists Who THRIVE, which helps artists secure creative freedom through business savvy. She also launched MAKING Art Making MONEY, an 8-week interactive online business course for artists.
00:15 Daedalus Howell: I hate the H word. I know you’re thinking, “What’s the H word?” The H word, hobby. Hobby, hobby, hobby. Not because it’s the hallmark of amateurs, but because of that little girl. You know the one in the blue bonnet? Holly Hobbie, the character created by the illustrator of the same name that was on every shirt of every girl in grade school in the ’70s and ’80s. You remember, that little girl in the big blue bonnet, whose face you could never see, because the bonnet was like a hood and that hood made her look like a pint-sized grim reaper. The bonnet obscured who knows what? A skull head? She creeped me out. Still does. And because of that, I hate the word hobby. Which brings me to artist Ann Rea.
00:58 DH: She doesn’t hate the word hobby, but what she says about the concept of hobbies will make you get off your ass. You’ll see. “But who is this artist Ann Rea?” you ask. Well, as she writes in AnnRea.com, and that’s R-E-A for Rea, she abandoned her art for over a decade, only to develop chronic anxiety, a fixation with the future, and depression, a preoccupation with the past. And when she began painting again, she did so with soulful and truthful purpose. So we pick up on the conversation where Ann talks about returning to art after a decade of depression and other personal challenges.
01:32 DH: So you began working again and I think as before art was a refuge, it was your salvation, and then it became your life. Can you talk about the process of committing to creating again and how that became… Well, became your whole life?
01:49 Ann Rea: When I returned to art the second time, it was again to heal. It was again for my own personal expression. I had no intention of selling my art. I had no intention of even showing my art to anyone. I started to take… I took a painting class, not really because… And I studied painting, but it was really just for the discipline. I had a place to go and I had a schedule, and that got me into the habit of painting. And then eventually I decided, “Oh, I think I’ll… It would be nice to sell some of this,” and then I started to sell it. Sell paintings…
02:32 DH: Now, were you working through, like a traditional gallery model?
02:34 AR: Well, first I started in a cafe, that had a program for artists. It was a very nice cafe. And then I… Not too long after that, I was working actually at a battered women’s shelter, as a development director, and I had my paintings in my office and I had an… I was interviewing an investment manager about a trust for the organization. He was an avid art collector and a huge fan of Wayne Thiebaud. If you don’t know who he is, he’s really an icon. You’d find him in the art history books, in every major art collection.
03:16 DH: Okay.
03:17 AR: And he said, “You know, your palette kind of is reminiscent. Did you study with Thiebaud?” And I said, “No, I didn’t,” and he said, “Well, maybe you should talk to him,” and I thought, “Yeah, maybe I should.” So I wrote him a letter and actually put some slides in the letter. That’s when you still had slides.
03:38 DH: Right, right.
03:40 AR: And I asked him to call me if he’d be willing to critique my work and he called me, and he began… He taught at UC Davis for free for many years and… ‘Cause no one could possibly afford him. And yeah, he critiqued my work and encouraged me and gave me a glowing letter of recommendation, which doesn’t really get you anywhere in business, but it made me feel good.
04:07 AR: And then I studied with his friend and colleague, Gregory Kondos, and I went to the South of France and painted with him. So my answer to your question…
04:15 DH: Yeah.
04:15 AR: That’s how it started. That started the momentum. But then there was this moment when he said, “You should really pursue this,” and I said, “Great. How am I gonna do this?” Now when I asked him that he… His paintings were starting to sell for over $1 million on a secondary art market. He had a retrospective touring the nation at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was kind of like the pinnacle of one’s artistic achievements.
04:43 DH: Right. So he’s made it and it’s…
04:45 AR: He’s made it and…
04:45 DH: It’s easy for him to say, “Just go do it.”
04:47 AR: Yeah, and he also has licensing deals. He has designed the license plate for the State of California. His son has a gallery in San Francisco, called the Paul Thiebaud Gallery.
05:04 DH: Yeah.
05:04 AR: Things are going well. And I said, “Well, how will I do this?” In other words, how will I make a living? And he said, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m not a businessman.” And I had a huge ephiph… Like, “What?” And I thought, “Okay, this is how bad it is. This disconnect between making money and making art is so freaking warped that someone who has reached this level of financial success and who clearly is a businessman is denying he’s a businessman like… What is going on here?” I just saw it for the big fat lie that it was. And all I could… I didn’t say this out loud, but all I could think to myself is, “Well, the IRS sure as shit thinks you’re a businessman.”
05:50 DH: That’s great. So, I mean, do you think that he denied being a businessman because it didn’t fit within his personal brand as an artist? Do you think…
05:57 AR: I don’t know where this nonsense started. I really don’t but if you look back in history… And you don’t even have to look that far back in history. You can just look at Ray Charles, right? Ray Charles was one savvy businessman. I love rappers because they don’t have this weird lie that they carry on. They’re very much into building their brands, and…
06:30 DH: In fact, it’s almost like the complete opposite relationship with success and…
06:34 AR: Yeah. They couldn’t get the music establishment to represent them. So there was like, “Well, screw you. Then, I’ll do it myself.” And now…
06:45 DH: But there’s no shame in their success.
06:48 AR: Why should there be shame? Which is so bizarre. Does any other profession experience shame [chuckle] as a result of success? I don’t know what it is but I just was really… I just wanted to flip it. Like, this is silly. This is just so silly. I was a straight A student in art history, my art history classes, and I think this phenomena of money is dirty, I can’t mix with art. Sort of happened when art became really abstracted and hard to interpret… The collectors to interpret. They needed the gatekeepers and the critics to interpret it.
07:35 DH: Right.
07:36 AR: And that created this arm’s length distance between the collector and the artist and that also serves the art establishment because then they can keep their cut. I think it’s an unconscious thing that happened. I don’t know and in fact, really, I don’t care. What matters is, is that, there’s nothing… Let’s be real. Let’s be honest. There’s nothing more inspiring for an artist, and I mean artists in the global sense of the word… There’s nothing more inspiring than getting paid for what you do, for what you love. Nothing.
08:13 DH: It’s affirming and it allows you to continue doing what you love.
08:16 AR: Yeah. Exactly.
08:17 DH: And you have a whole life. [chuckle]
08:18 AR: Exactly. So, why you should… Why is there… So, this built-in assumption that you should be shameful or you should be overly humble, I don’t know what that’s about but I’m not buying it.
08:32 DH: So, it sounds like you are able to overcome that hurdle but how would you advice other artists who are still in that space to get over that crap and…
08:40 AR: Well, just see it for the lie that it is. I mean, come on. What’s going on here? Honestly, you can’t desire success and deny success at the same time and that’s what’s going on.
08:51 DH: One issue is that the gatekeeper phenomena gives people a sense that they’ve arrived somehow, that they’ve made it, that they can’t affirm their own sense of success without having that other part in between them and their collector or…
09:05 AR: Right. They’re seeking permission. They’re seeking sanction from another but all the permission that you need, all the approval that you need is someone wants to buy your art. Actually, a friend of mine is a representative and he represents visual artists, musicians. He represents a lot of the… A pretty full gamut of artists and he said, “Most artists don’t get it. They don’t need representation. They just need… And all the validation that they need is that someone wants to pay them for their art. That’s all the validation you need.”
09:33 DH: I love that. And you’ve got a couple of sites online that speak to this from different angles. One, of course, is artistswhothrive.com and then, makingartmakingmoney.com.
09:43 AR: Right.
09:43 DH: Kind of walk us through both those concepts.
09:45 AR: Yeah. So, Artists Who Thrive is my blog and I started it because I got really pissed off when people would… It’s successful and then we’d go to pretty lavish events in Napa Valley and Sonoma and I would be dressed appropriately. And as soon as I was introduced as the artist or an artist, what would happen is, too often, people would just assume that I had a sugar daddy or that I was a trust fund kid or just so many… Or I was starving. It was just so many assumptions that came along with it and I just thought, “Screw you.”
10:21 AR: And I just got sick of like arts… Those terms, artsy-fartsy and starving artist. I think it’s worse than lawyer jokes and I just wanted to set the record straight. There are artists who actually do thrive and here’s how I did it. So, it’s sort of a personal thing and then as I received some press, artists started coming to me asking for help and I just thought, “Well, I’ll just spell it out in… Best I can.” I don’t consider myself a writer but I’ll just do what I can and I’ll have typos and I’m just not gonna care. I’m just gonna do it.
11:04 AR: Then, I was interviewed by my friend, Jonathan Fields, on the Good Life Project, and there was a number of us interviewed and we had a dinner. We had this amazing dinner after the filming. And Scott Dinsmore, who’s now passed away, was sitting next to me at this dinner and he had created ‘Live Your Legend’ and Leo had created Zen Daily Habits, like all these… And Jesse had created the Samovar Tea Houses and I just thought, “What am I doing? I need to take what I’ve learned and put it into a set of courses.” And so, that’s when I decided, “I’m gonna get to work on the MAKING Art Making MONEY Semester.”
11:46 AR: So, the makingartmakingmoney.com is actually just information about the MAKING Art Making MONEY Semester but I do include some thriving artists’ profiles and I ask artists or people who advice artists what their three fattest failures were, and then what they learned from those failures. Because, we all know it’s hard, the only difference is some of us keep going and we learn from the failures. So those are the two sites and then I’m actually repositioning my own fine art brand this year, so stay tuned, [chuckle] ’cause those brands will be featured on remembersanfransisco.com and remembernapa.com.
12:29 DH: That’s great. I mean do you consider yourself both an entrepreneur, an artist now or is…
12:34 AR: Yes. Absolutely. Yeah.
12:36 DH: If you could give one piece of advice to artists out there who have yet to kind of break through this idea that it’s okay to be successful and pursue success outwardly. Artists who believe that being an artist means they can’t touch anything having to do with marketing, business, money, anything remotely related to branding themselves, because they wanna be a pure artist. Now…
12:58 AR: That’s perfectly fine. Then your art is your hobby and that is [chuckle] perfectly fine, it really is. I was in that mode where I had no intention of selling my art or even showing it. That’s called a hobby. It’s just a hobby. And there’s nothing wrong with having a hobby, it can be very fulfilling. That’s what I have to say about that. It’s just, that’s what it is, but get real. If you can’t… If you have a conflict, if your actual desire is to sell your art, yet you won’t help yourself to do that, then you obviously have a conflict that you have to deal with. And all I can say is this, none of us are getting out of here alive. If what you really wanna do is make art and sell art, then the clock’s ticking. And the opportunity or the runway for you to do that is shortening.
13:54 AR: So get over it, get past it, go to a personal development workshop. Do whatever the heck you need to do to move past it, because we are not getting out of here alive. And I spent over a decade, hopped up on prescription medication from my psychiatrist to deal with depression and anxiety and all those years were wasted, just because I was trying to do what I thought I should do, or I thought… And that I was trying to do what I believed I was only capable of doing. Well, you gotta challenge that. If you’re not happy, you have to take full responsibility for your success and your happiness. No one’s gonna do it for you. The gatekeepers are sure as shit not gonna do it for you. They could care less about you. They don’t care. They’ll care about you, when you are a marketable commodity, and not before.
14:56 DH: That is very galvanizing, and I think totally spot on. And I think a lot of people need to hear that. It’s amazing how artists oftentimes box themselves in with their own fears and anxieties and perceptions of self that are completely irrelevant in the greater scheme of things.
15:10 AR: Right. And we all have them, so don’t feel bad if you are fearful, I’m fearful, but I just… And you just have to develop coping mechanisms and skills to move past your fear. Fear is not gonna go away, but you can actually… I love my friend Jonathan’s, the subtitle in his last book, it’s called ‘Uncertainty’ and his subtitle is ‘Turning Fear into Fuel’. So you can allow fear to paralyse you and limit your life, really limit your life. Or you can turn it around and make it into fuel. But I wanna say something.
15:52 DH: Yeah.
15:54 AR: I didn’t believe that the quality of my life could ever change because when you’re really in the doldrums, when you’re really paralysed, there’s just this spell on you that makes you think that this is gonna be your state of being forever. Don’t believe it. It’s actually… Just remember, it’s actually part of the whole illusion, it’s not forever, it’s not necessarily forever. But I really did suffer from that, I thought, “I’ll never be able to make my art and make money from it. I will never be free of depression. I will never be free… ” And that’s what it felt like. It’s not true, it’s just not true.
16:40 DH: Well, congratulations on all of your success and I love how open you are and how you’re able to share this, not only your story but your insights that I think are really invaluable to people out there still struggling with these issues. So, the takeaways. Reach out to those who inspire you. There’s no shame in success. If you don’t take it seriously, it’s a hobby and you know how I feel about the word hobby. I encourage you to find Ann at annrea.com. That’s Ann R-E-A.com. She’s the Founder of Artists Who Thrive, which helps artists secure greater freedom through business savvy.
17:17 DH: And she also launched MAKING Art Making MONEY, an eight-week interactive online business course for artists. Thanks again for listening. If you dig Culture Dept., please review it on iTunes where you can also subscribe to it. Ditto on Stitcher and wherever quality podcasts live. Music by Shannon Ferguson of Fergusound and special thanks to Karen Hess for editorial help.
17:41 S2: Visit culture, D-E-P-T.com to sign up for your free ebook, ‘The Tea Cup Whale: How to Find Your Creative Niche’. For more tips on Making a Living, Making Art, follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn. Culture Dept. Is a project of FMRL, the Future Media Research Lab at fmrl.com.
18:01 S1: To learn more about Daedalus Howell, visit dhowell.com.