Staying Commercial: What I Learned from Monet
This week I took in the Monet exhibit at the Kimball Museum in Fort Worth. The show covered Monet’s later years when he was established, wealthy from his art . . . and going out of style. His paintings weren’t selling. The demand was for abstract art. And this exhibit was of one unsold vibrant, bold painting a
fter another. How do we know they weren’t sold? Monet did not finish a painting that hadn’t sold. He would leave the corners roughed in. The center was complete and brilliant and the corners were loose brush strokes on bare canvas. He also would not sign a painting until it sold.
So here I was in a room celebrating the vibrant unsigned paintings by one of the great art masters and I found myself thinking about the challenges of creating whether it is art, stories, design, or music—
- Tastes change. We want to capture the public’s imagination and yet no matter what trend is in power, something else will come along and spark new interest. Remember when every romance novel had a vampire or a duke or a secret baby? Right now, princesses rule. Next year–?
- The creators are the ones who drive change. Impressionism in art was once fresh and innovative. Then the abstractionists came along and piqued the public’s interest and impressionism goes out of fashion. However, the public didn’t demand something different. We had no idea what we wanted until an artist pushing the boundaries and following her personal vision gave it to us.
- Creative people must create. It is fun, and lucrative, to be everyone’s fave which often means one must stay commercial—except nothing lasts forever. The world does move on. So, to find satisfaction, there must be joy in the act of creating. Creating art, stories, film . . . it really is about the personal journey. Monet’s later paintings did have an abstract element while still be true to his vision as an artist. Does the fact they didn’t sell make him less of an artist? Of course not. The act of creating is what made him an artist, not the act of selling. Yet even Monet hedged his bets by putting the bulk of his time into what was selling.
- There is a balance between going forward and not being too wrapped around the outcome. I meet writers who have been writing the same three chapters for years. There are writers who can’t get started because what they try to put into words doesn’t match the vision in their head. Yes, there are those who are so sloppy, the book is unreadable—but at least they have produced. Going forward is everything. Leave the corners undone, hold on the signature, but create. Do the work and then do it again on the next canvas, the next page, the next idea.
I write commercial fiction. We love trends and we love earning a good living. For that reason, what is the next hot thing is an important question. However, in my own humble, and very fun genre, there are books that transcend the ordinary. Books that are masterpieces of excellent writing, that opened my soul, and stay fresh in my memory. Some of them are bestsellers. Many are not. For all of us, having created something from nothing is our gift to the world. It isn’t solving world peace any more than
Monet painting hundreds of waterlilies helped the downtrodden—and yet there is magic in those stories, in those paintings, even in the desire to start in the direction of our passions.