JÉRÉMIE, Haiti-- Louis Jean Gounod is a poet and artist living in Jérémie, a town in southwestern Haiti. He says he is struggling to make a living in the visual arts, an art form he has long had a passion for.
“Ever since I was 6 years old, I used to draw,” he says. “I used to take money from my mother to buy colored pencils.”
But his family couldn’t afford to provide him formal training.
“In 1998, I started getting serious about painting,” he says, “even though for economic reasons I could not go to art school.”
Throughout the years he has continued to pursue his dream. When he sold his first painting, a piece called “The Rhythm of the Moment,” it went for 4,500 Haitian gourdes ($100).
“I think my artistic talent is a gift from God,” says the 6-foot artist dressed in blue jeans and a gray T-shirt. “I got a lot of compliments for my art.”
Gounod explains artists’ motivation.
“There are two things which make us paint: inspiration and creation,” he says.
He adds that alcohol enhances both.
“I have to drink some alcohol quite frequently,” he says. “Some of the people who owned galleries and who bought some of my paintings encouraged me to drink. They said alcohol is good for your body, and it helps you paint better.”
He says he found some truth to this.
“Yes, I did good work,” he says. “But these paintings were not for me. They were for the gallery owners.”
For Gounoud, it’s an internal struggle when he sells a painting, as if a part of him goes with every painting that he sells.
“When an artist paints one picture, he cannot reproduce another one like it,” he says.
At the same time, he needs to sell paintings in order to earn a living. But compensation is not always fair.
“We sell our paintings for very little money to galleries, who in turn sell them for a lot of money,” he says.
He says that it’s difficult to make a living as an artist.
“What we sell in a year is not much,” he says. “We can barely get by. We just have enough to buy food and some clothes.”
He says he can’t be financially independent as an artist.
“The only reason I can live like this is my mother,” he says. “She does everything for me. She feeds me and buys what I need.”
Gounod says that the visual arts have great importance for Haitians and could boost the economy if the industry received more investment and support.
“I would like to see complete change,” he says. “That means we have a government that thinks about us, that can put an infrastructure in place that can attract tourists, that respects us. A change like that would be really good for the economy of the country.”
Artists in Haiti say they love their work but struggle to support their families with weak and sporadic sales. They are asking the government to invest in tourism in order to expand their customer base. The government runs one art school and organizes occasional exhibits, but officials admit that they need to do more to support the art industry.
International tourism receipts, or expenditures by international inbound visitors, grew steadily from 2005 to 2009 in Haiti, according to the World Bank. But this figure fell by nearly half after the earthquake in January 2010, from 312 million in 2009 to 167 million in 2010.