Mesa artist Jim Gardner has been successfully supporting himself with his art for decades, but he doesn’t think of it as a job. It doesn’t have a pension or benefits, and there is no guarantee of job security.
In his new book, “Artists are like Apple Trees,” he explains making a living as an artist is not about superior technique or shrewd pricing; it’s about serving others.
Gardner sketches a whimsical comparison between an apple tree, which produces fruit as a by-product of its natural lifecycle, and an artist. An artist creates not because he or she wants to sell art, but simply for the love of the creative process.
“I kind of grew up with the messages that are in there,” said Gardner, adding that the book is for “anybody who actually wants to take their talent seriously enough to make a living.”
He began with a Bachelor’s in Art from the University of Wisconsin in 1973, getting his start as a musician performing in bars and hotels. He recounted his path to becoming successful as a musician, saying he made a conscious decision to do away with all of his music that wasn’t specifically designed to make people feel good. He said after this his career began to take off.
“I got into my artwork because it allowed me the freedom to serve as a creative artist,” said Gardner. “If you can provide a service rather than show yourself off, that’s when people will appreciate your talent.”
Eventually, the late-night lifestyle began to wear on him and he sought other work which still allowed him to produce art for the enjoyment of others.
Gardner moved on to sign painting, graphic design and other visual outlets, until he finally settled on murals. At first, he painted murals on cars and motorcycles, but he has since moved on to wall murals, saying the acrylic paint is better for his health.
In the book, he speaks about putting service over ego, producing art that is useful to others rather than what one’s ego, he says, will be most self-gratifying.
“Of course you aren’t going to get paid for something that’s meaningless to the outside world,” said Gardner. “Nobody pays you for being talented; they pay you for the service you can give.”
He added, “Get your ego out of the way and learn to serve others with the gifts you’ve been given.”
Gardner went on to say that the problem begins in art school, where students are taught to perfect technique, but not how to apply it in useful and marketable ways. He said many people with undeveloped talent stop making art because there isn’t any money in it for them; they need to focus elsewhere in order to make a living. They couldn’t make a living with their art, he said, because they didn’t focus it on serving others.
But Gardner says he has never wanted a job; he has always wanted a project. This drove him to make his skills marketable and self-sustaining.
“My book is for those who really want to make a living at (art),” said Gardner. “If you want to make a living with your talent, don’t sell out.”
Find out more about Gardner’s book and his art at jimgardnerauthor.com.
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