For the artist who can draw everything but an income, the speaker's message holds more truth than beauty.
"We have to be materialistic," says Lisa Kaslow, a Baltimore sculptor. Artists can work hard all their lives, "and somebody else will make a profit after we're dead . . . We're interested in making some money while we're living."
Observing a panel discussion are about 500 artists from around the country who are trying to learn to do just that. They have come to the University of Maryland, which this week is hosting a "survival workshop" on the business of art, trying to strike a medium that will allow them to practice their art and keep food on the table.
To satisfy both palates, the week-long workshop is featuring seminars on hard-nosed marketing and salesmanship, blended with financial and legal advice. The U.S. government wants to help, and is there is the form of the Small Business Administration and the National Endowment for the Arts, joined by the Maryland Summer Institute for the Creative and Performing Arts and various state and local organizations.
The art of selling a painting doesn't appear to be much different than the art of selling a vacuum cleaner. The artists are exhorted to be persistent and not take no for an answer.
"I've attended some corporate organizational meetings and discovered they aren't that much different than we are," says sculptor Kaslow.
And indeed the 500 attendees could be at a Sears and Roebuck sales convention, so far from Bohemian-looking are they, with women in neat summer dresses and some in suits and men in slacks and sports shirts. It is an audience of adults, who have paid a $50 fee for the week, plus the price of travel and lodging.
But this group's sales record apparently is far below what would be tolerated for even a novice peddling vacuum cleaners. When the 500 are asked how many support themselves solely by selling their own works of art, only about 10 raise their hands.
Members of the panel express skepticism about the value of galleries, dealers and agents, which all cost artists large percentages. "The biggest shock I had as an artist was to find that you can't just be shown [at a gallery] and make it," says New York artist Claudia DeMonte.
A gallery canot promote all its artists intensely, but when a work of art sells, the gallery takes between 40 percent and 50 percent of the sales price, DeMonte says.
Agents may not have been much respected in years past, but they may be worth their high percentages for their knowledge of the market and their handling of all business transactions, she adds.
Sculptor Kaslow, however, opts for self-promotion. In any event, she advises the artist always to keep control of his or her own money.
The audience is told to seek out businesses to play the role of private patrons, which centuries ago was filled by princes and barons.
"Prudential and Chase Manhattan are the Medicis of today," declares artist DeMonte.
Kaslow agrees: "Talk with business people and bankers," she suggests, adding that it is possible to match an artist's goals with that of a business.
Other tips come from an assertiveness-training expert, Dr. Mary Leonard of the university's counseling center: She talks about how artists are "traditionally strong in symbolic communication" but often get pushed around by the outside world. To underline the practical application of assertiveness training, Leonard relates how she aided one woman whose problem also was one of economics: "She said she had four sets of encyclopedias -- and couldn't afford a fifth."
From the health hazard expert, DeMonte: "Most of the chemicals we work with have not been tested" for toxicity and become more dangerous when the artist works at home.
And from the university art department chairman, Dr. David Driskell: The artist must be "at peace with oneself" to achieve stability and personal harmony.
The program spans a spectrum from the impressionistic "Balancing Your Life" to the more pointillistic "Budgeting, Accounting, Record Keeping, Taxes." The group also is to hear about their legal rights and obligations from the birth of their creations to their own deaths in a session that encompasses copyright/patents and estate planning/retirement.
Representatives of museums, galleries and corporations will address the group on the markets for art. The artists are to be told how to photograph, price, package, display and ship. And one day is devoted to getting grants from the federal and state governments or foundations.
At the opening session, Washington was credited with having improved its attitude toward the artist. When a member of the audience comments that more New York artists seem to be relocating in D.c.L, New York artist DeMonte agrees, adding that this is a phenomenon of the past five years. She says the nation's capital has become "more receptive to the artist."
But the artists are told that playing the gallery game in Washington, or anywhere else for that matter, is not unlike playing the stock market.
"The blue chips like Monet or Chagall always sell," says Dean Bruce Sharpe of the School of Art and Design at Brooklyn's Pratt Institute. Without a blue-chip mane, he suggests, the artist needs a redhot hype or at least a fancy label -- something along the lines of "post-post-post-impressionism."