You’re right, it’s just Photoshop, and I look incredibly pretentious. All deliberate. Just felt a need to kick off the year with some sort of announcement.

Six weeks ago I announced I was going to take a year off teaching and devote myself to making art. I resigned from my job, but stayed on to finish out the term. Now the journey is underway. And what hubris it takes to “quit the day job”, and tempt fate to teach me a lesson for being so audacious.

I’ve budgeted $6,000 to fund the year off. I’m reserving enough money to find a job and relocate if and when I have to strap myself back into the harness of working for peanuts for others. I don’t think I can stretch $6,000 for a whole year – even living in Thailand, where my rent is just $250 a month, and I can get a decent meal for just over $1 – but I’m going to try. A friend pointed out that I earn hardly more than $500 a month teaching, and that’s when a light went on that I might be able to do it.

Mindscape 1
For those who don’t know me, this is my most recent piece. “Mindscape 1″ by Eric Kuns, Finished August 27, 2013 (digitally created using only Photoshop. 30×40″ at 300 dpi).

I’m also assuming I may not make any money off of my art or get any donations – I can’t rely on manna falling from the heavens. The total money I made off of art last year was – zero, nothing, zilch, nada, 零, ไม่มีอะไร. So, I’m being realistic. It’s HARD for a no-name, independent, fine artist who works in digital media to make enough money to buy a used postage stamp. Clearly, what I am doing now is not working, in which case, in addition to making a bunch of new pieces, I’ll have to find clever ways of getting more exposure and recognition. I plan on earning it and deserving it.

“Death, Dissolution, and the Void”.  This piece has been viewed over 12,000 times on Deviantart, was awarded a “daily deviation” and has 688 favorites. But nobody bought even a post card. Even if a work gets attention, it doesn’t get sales.

However, if I make any money it will go into the pot of the initial $6,000, and allow me to keep on making art. If before a year is up I start bringing in enough money (@ $500 a month) I won’t have to go back to work, but that’s a long shot. Part of the problem is that I work digitally, and there’s no one-of-a-kind object for buyers to invest in. More about that another time.

Excel chart I made to measure how I’m doing on a monthly basis. The main thing will be to try to keep the (presently invisible) red line at or above the green one in order to last the year.

So why am I doing this? As long as I’m working a job it takes most my time and energy, and art gets relegated to a back burner. This is partly because of my work ethic. The last university I worked at in China forced me to take a personality test, and the result showed one of my strongest characteristics is a sense of duty and responsibility. I put my job first. But now I’m essentially working for myself, in which case I can redirect that attitude to work to my own ends.

People naturally assume if one works digitally, they don’t really know how to draw or paint. I actually didn’t start working with Photoshop until AFTER I got my MFA. I even did sculptures. These three are from around 20 years ago.

If I don’t take the time now to work on art, I may end up waiting too long and never getting around to really throwing myself into it. About eight years ago I spent ten days meditating in a Thai temple, for about 6 hours a day, and when I was done I had one very clear regret, which was that I hadn’t made more art. Sure, while meditating, I managed to keep thinking relatively subdued. But after hours of meditation, when I was back in my monk’s room, the floodgates of thinking and reflecting on my life would burst open. When I looked back at my life it was my art that mattered most.

Me in my monk’s quarters at Wat Mahathat 11/16/2005. I realized then I needed to be making art. I tried some avenues, but ran out of money and ended up teaching English in China, and have been teaching ever since.

If I work really hard, and fail, at least it will be a dramatic failure. I don’t want to be the guy who threw his talent away to have an average life spent toiling and making money for others. Thus, even if I don’t make any money, I’m excited to get really involved in my artwork, and make a bunch of new pieces. I don’t know what I’m going to come up with, but I’m confident they’re going to be really good. And maybe if they are as good as I think they’ll be, something will happen, and I might be able to start living as an artist and be free.

And on that note, here’s one of my favorite of my early paintings, which happens to be about breaking free. “V”, 1990, by Eric Kuns, acrylic on canvas (36×48″)

If you want to follow the trials and tribulations of my attempt to take a year off to make art, there’s a “Year of Art” button on the menu bar. And it’s not just about me trying to do it, the project is representative of people today trying to earn a living through intelligence and creativity, and independently, rather than working for others in some unfulfilling subordinate capacity.


If you haven’t seen any of my recent creations, see this gallery.

If you don’t know anything about me, check out my snappy about page.

Work already for sale here.

and if you happen to be filling generous, there’s always this.

14 replies on “The year of art starts today

  1. Let me be the first one to wish you good tidings for the next year! You truly are a remarkable artist and writer, and I have no doubt that you will make amazing pieces without teaching to throw you off course. I can’t wait to see what the next year brings you; good luck!


  2. Congratulations on your new adventure! Along with the actual chance that this will be a huge success, it’s an excellent way to prove your devotion to yourself (in a non-narcissistic, non-Oprah way). Plus, you’ll get excellent insight into the business side of it … hopefully not unduly painful.


    1. Thanks David. I like the line about proving my devotion to myself. That’s really a lot of what it’s about, being willing to invest in myself and believe in what I can do if I try.


  3. Good luck. I spent a few years trying to combine work and art but it is so hard since art really needs time to capture you completely. I took my years off in 2008 and 2009 and produced good work, had a number of exhibitions, made a few thousand dollars, got selected to be part of the 2008 Olympic art Exhibition. Unfortunately, then I had to start work again. Couldn’t survive on art alone and didn’t want to either because in a way that stifles creative freedom. Since then, the same sense of duty to my job as you mentioned is also a thorn in my side and my personal pride prevents me from doing it half-arsed in a way that gives me time for art.


    1. Well put. Yup, we have the same attitude towards work. Even when I was doing temp jobs, I would try to do excellent work. Teaching particularly takes time away from art because it also requires creativity, and one has responsibility not only to employers, but even more so to students. If a class doesn’t go very well, it’s a bad feeling that can stick with one until one has a chance to follow it up with a really good one.

      I can see why you’d say that surviving on art stifles creativity. One could end up spending too much time alone working, and it could get redundant. One might need external challenges. There’s probably a way around that, though, which ideally involves interaction with other people. I thought teaching would give me that balance, but it’s too demanding of my free time. There could be some simple solutions such as joining a sports team, doing a bit of volunteer work, having a low-hours part time easy job…

      Hope you can find a way to invest more of yourself back into your work soon.


  4. I love the sculpture on the left (in the photograph of the three sculptures). Congratulations on kicking off your art work year. Happy and scary time, right? To devote your time to your work — you are lucky you can make that choice. I look forward to seeing your new stuff. Please stay away from the Bushes, I and II and spouses too.


  5. Galleries still don’t seem to engage much with digital work. I’ve just got a Twitter piece running for a show (see my current post) partly for that reason. Already there’s had to be debate about whether the feed should be in the gallery. There’s also the question as to what qualifies a work to be part of an exhibition. Museums, for example, make handset guides, some of which are podcast now MP3 downloads for mobile devices.
    What does digital allow your work to do that can’t be done with analog? If so, why does the end product need to be digital?
    On the matter of content, and in a reversal of David Banner, I like you when you’re angry. Are the concerns you talk about on your blog going to inform your new material? The V painting has an angry and mucky energy about it that I don’t see in your digital work. It’s as if the computer is too clean for that. It’d be interesting to see you develop serial, angry, messy works on the things that get your goat. You’re now going to tell me that you did that years ago!
    What you’re doing is a good thing. You have an audience!


    1. Hi Jeff.

      I’m guessing galleries have little or no enthusiasm for digital work because it can be reproduced infinitely, and thus isn’t a commodifiable object. Most digital work falls into the cheese-ball “manips” category (y’know, take some stock photography of a girl with big boobs, put stock photography wings + gasmask on her, and the crowds love it). Even I am against digital art in general.

      I work digitally because it allows endless experimentation, flexibility, revision, and reproducibility. It’s too powerful of a tool to not use. Besides, I couldn’t set up an easel and start flinging paint in a hotel room. Most my digital work was done on a laptop. Now I have a large monitor that I plug into it.

      I think some works will reflect political and social issues I address in my rants and whatnot. If I use imagery, and if it’s not from a photo I took, it tends to be quite dark. One of the reasons I did some abstractions was to make work that wouldn’t be so dark as to drive away viewers. The piece I’m working on now is really dark. But I avoid explicit politics because than the work becomes didactic, and boring.

      I think the “anger” and “messiness” you saw in my earlier work may have had more to do with what I was trying to achieve than with the media in question. I did “V” in my first painting class at UCLA. The teacher gave me a “B-” for that class, and told me I’d never get into graduate school. That work was considered hopelessly passe, over 20 years ago. The teacher was wrong. Point is that they stopped me from doing that kind of work.

      Anyway, some of my new pieces, I think, will have a fair amount in common with my earlier style. The piece I’m working on now is really along the same lines, as it so happens, but drawn on the computer. It’s obvious that it’s by the same person who did those earlier pieces. But I’m planning on doing some stuff that’s not in that camp as well.


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