Dance with The One Whut Brung Yuh…

by Owen Garratt | The Art of Being an Artist

A s my Grandma used to say “Dance with the one whut brung ya” (she had, I need to say, excellent grammar and diction; the saying worked better dressed down). It has to do with selling out.

And dabbling.

Lots of artists make the mistake of ‘dabbling’ and it’s poisonous to your career.

You need to find a horse and ride it. Dance with the one whut brung yuh, etc.

Wooden mannequin using one hand to support isolated on white backgroundArtists are notorious for flitting from medium to medium without any thought to the consequences. They paint a bit, they do some watercolors for a while, then they try sculpting, then drawing, then jewelry, then poetry.

If you’re at all serious about being an artist with a career, then you need to understand what’s happening when you do this.

Here’s a scenario:

Say you’ve been doing some really great tile mosaics and they’ve actually been selling pretty well. Like most artists, at the first sign of repetitiveness you mistake it for boredom and throw the pendulum the other way and start experimenting with paper sculpture.

What’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t artists have the right to express themselves as they see fit?

Of course!

But there’s a problem…all of the people that bought your tile mosaics will feel a little betrayed or even ripped off that you stopped the tile. They understood that the tile stuff was who you were. You created it, didn’t you? You accepted their money for it, didn’t you?  Then why did you abandon them?

Very damn few of them will follow you into a new medium.

Why?!?!  If the artist is more important than the art, then what does it matter that I do different things?

An EXCELLENT question, grasshopper!

People’s ability to process information is limited. Very limited. And usually, the first thought to register will be the only considered. A mind does not change unless under severe emotional upheaval.

In just about every product or service you can name, the market leader was the first one to register in the public’s mind – even if that product wasn’t technically the first into the market.

Yes, it’s the first impressions thing again. You can complain about it all you want, it’s the way humans are wired, despite all of the examples we have of being wrong.

If you don’t like someone on first impression, it’s nearly impossible to change that.

If they’ve accepted you as a tile mosaic-er, then to them that’s what you are. It’s you.

Let’s look at a few examples and hypothetical questions.

What if Steven King went bananas and started writing syrupy romances and quit the horror all together? How would it do in relation to his other work?

Terrible.  Even if future historians ultimately claim it to be the greatest romance ever, he won’t be taken seriously here and now.

How did Ann Rice’s fans feel about her giving up the sensual horror stuff and focusing on Christian writing?  Let me state that again, she has every right to express herself as she sees fit…but the public also has the right to reject her change in direction.

How does it work when an actor tries to put out an album? Not very well. Why? The world knows the person as an actor, not a singer. Their previous notoriety works against them.

How about when a comedic actor tried to play something more serious. Ask Jim Carrey how that’s been working for him. Sure, some can make the leap, sometimes you get a Carroll O’Conner who can ditch the Archie Bunker typecasting but it’s a hundred to one against…and the ones that do take it very seriously, not just on a whim, and they map out all manner of contingencies and work like crazy to sell the new idea.  They certainly don’t wander into something because they’re a little bored.

If the world thinks that you haven’t made up your mind, then it’s unlikely to take you very seriously.

The obvious danger is that you can quickly paint yourself into a corner, and they’ll refuse to see you in any other light. Ask Michael Richards…even 10+ years later, he’s still Kramer to us, and nothing but (well, except for that time he went nuts in that club in LA)

There’s a balancing act involved. Your career will be much easier if you can find something fulfilling and develop it as far as you can.

“Does that mean I’m stuck in one narrow little genre? I’m pigeonholed?  That sucks!!!  I refuse to accept that.”

I share your angst on this, I really do (don’t shoot the messenger…)

Believe me, I’d LOVE to be able to experiment in color, or sculpt…but my clients now me as The Pencilneck ®, and know that I’m partially colorblind. Screwing around with that because “I should be able to” or I’m bored is dumb.  I’ve worked too hard to earn the connection with those thousands of people.

Life has some sacrifices.  I “sacrifice” garbage carbs to lose the fat.  I “sacrifice” casual sex for the stability and support in my marriage to The Colonel.  I “sacrifice” hedonism by choosing to be a good role model for my sons.

And personally, I’d rather sacrifice a broad, fuzzy, undefined, whim-based creative focus for the reassuringly solid security of a base of thousands of people who connect with and understand me and my art.

Just sayin’.

While you’re here, you might as well check out The Fast Start Art Marketing Primer!

 Check out the Fast Start Art Marketing Primer!

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  1. Douglas Pittman

    I had a sense of this, but never really put a steak in it like you have here. As artists, we should be able to experiment with other media, style and subject matter, but personal projects shouldn’t be confused with our focus. As artists, we can get bored, but if we’ve been fortunate enough to have gained a following, best not to leave them feeling abandoned.

    • Owen Garratt

      Exactly! It’s a mistake I see all the time; an artist gets bored or listless and wants to swing the pendulum all the way over and do something completely new…and does it at the cost of the followers they’ve worked SO hard to get!

      Whims don’t belong in client relationships…!


    Get what you saying and I’m now wondering if my focus is too wide? I make beaded products- jewelry (necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings, body chains) but I also do keyrings and bookmarkers, I bead dazzle bags and household items – electrical outlet cover, cookie jars, glass mirrors, photo albums. I believed that my focus was beads, that is why everything I make has beads. But now I’m wondering? What do you think?

  3. Beth Clark-McDonal

    Hi Owen, I’m new here but am so excited to be reading all of your great articles!! This article is particularly relevant to me because I have struggled for years with focus. Not so much with medium as with subject matter. I have narrowed it down to three main categories, horses/animals, Celtic design and a mix of these last two and 18th century/history subject matter with the last taking a bit of a whimsical approach. I guess my question is, is it hurting my success to do all these things as opposed to painting, say, just horses, etc. I guess if I had to pick just one, it would be horses but I enjoy doing them all. I would appreciate your input if you have time! Thanks!

    • Owen Garratt

      Hey Beth! We’re glad you’re here!

      I cringe a little at the “what should I do” questions (cowardace, I’m sure), because no one has the right to tell an artist what he or she should be doing in their work, but I can offer a couple of thoughts.

      Horse art can be a little seductive as a subject matter, but there’s also a couple of caveats. Horse art is a little broad; horse OWNERS are of a type. There’s the folks who treat them as pets, there’s the whole cowboy thing, in your neck of the woods there’s the fox hunting history, there’s steeple-racing, harness racing, polo, dressage, and on and on and on. And then there’s the question of breeds. It’s almost impossible to sell art with a quarterhorse to an Arabian owner. They want what they have. A similar problem exists with dogs and cats. And cars.

      To make the most out of it, you’d want to explore if you have a connection with any particular type of equine subject or breed,and….


      To be dirt honest, I don’t think focusing exclusively on horses is necessary in your case; seeing your horse paintings along side the other subject matter doesn’t create a disconnect…it still has a consistency about it.

      That’s why I also do gold and agricultural art alongside my oil rig art. You can tell it’s my stuff, and my clients ‘click’ with each subject too. It’s very common for clients to order a dozen prints package from us, and get 8 oil rig pieces and 4 golf pieces.

      “So what the hell’s the article about?!”

      In reference to the article, it would be a mistake for me to start doing something in colour, or sculpting wood nymphs, or doing performance art. None of that is consistent with what I’ve been doing.

      So I don’t think you need to prune your subject matter; it’s consistent in its look and tone to be recognized as yours, and that’s the goal. Just don’t jump into something unrelated, like abstract stuff or seascapes or what have you.

      Still, having said all of that, the real answer will lay in the client’s hands. What are they buying?

      Do more in that vein.


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