Do What You Love: An Interview with Artist Vicki Berndt

Published on March 30th, 2008 in: Art, Feminism, Interviews, Issues, Music |

ghost world
Still from Ghost World
From newsie__nympho

Popshifter: When you talked about your commissioned works. . . a lot of people—artists—when you talk about “art as commerce” they get really upset. But people have been commissioning paintings for centuries and some of the most famous paintings in the world are commissioned works. How do you feel about “art as commerce” and how that contradicts the whole “starving artist” stereotype? What are your feelings on that negative reaction? Some people think it’s cooler to starve to death for your art.

Vicki Berndt: I didn’t go to art school, so I don’t have too many art school ideas in my head, where it has to be at a higher level, or purely your own creation, and that you are the genius and you must find your genius or whatever. I just started painting for my own enjoyment and my own fun. I have no problem painting something for somebody else. Especially if they have a really good idea. For me, the hardest part of a painting is a good idea.

The painting is easy, but having a good idea that I want to paint that’s going to be appealing, or clever, or interesting to me, or will make me laugh. . . that’s my hardest thing. So it’s almost easier to paint things for other people and paint their ideas. If it’s a good idea, then I’m doubly happy. If they just want a painting like the one they saw, I’m like, “All right.” But to me it’s more. . . it’s a job. I just paint and I can afford to not have to work at Starbucks or whatever.

I don’t have any kind of hang up about custom work unless the person is really unpleasant or difficult to work with or demanding or I can’t make them happy. Then it’s a drag. I really try to feel them out by having conversations with the person. “Is this going to be a fun job or a drag?” I have actually even told people, “You know, I don’t think it’s going to work out.”

Popshifter: I think a lot of people feel like that when they work for themselves. I mean, in the beginning you’ll take whatever you can get. But then you’re just stuck in the same situation you’d be in if you were working in a company.

Vicki Berndt: Exactly! Yeah, like why not just go work somewhere where at least it’s secure and comfortable and has a predictable wage. If you’re going to be unhappy, just go do that. (laughs)

diy or die
D.I.Y. or Die

Popshifter: Exactly! (laughs) Have you seen that documentary called How To Survive As An Independent Artist?

Vicki Berndt: (intrigued) No!

Popshifter: It’s really good, and you can actually download it for free on the Internet. It’s by this guy named Michael Dean. It’s got lots of interviews with a lot of musicians, but also dancers, sculptors, painters. . . Ron Asheton is in it, Ian Mackaye (who’s interviewed quite extensively), Lydia Lunch. It’s really good because a lot of what you said is what the people on there say. I mean, it is their job. But they’d rather do that their own way then go “suck up to the man” or whatever. You’d probably really like it.

Vicki Berndt: I just wrote that down. That sounds like something I would be really interested in seeing because it’s how I’m choosing to run my life, too. You know, I’ve looked up that kind of information at the library and you can get a lot of books, but it’s like legal information or taxes, which is good to learn, but you never really get. . . this sounds more like the artistic approach.

Click to read more from Vicki Berndt on. . .

Tiny Tim
Art as commerce
St. Johnny Thunders
The fanzine approach
Photographing bands
The punk rock aesthetic and what’s next

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