The genius of Vincent van Gogh was almost completely unrecognized while he was alive. Having to rely on his brother Theo and other artist friends to support him weighed heavily on van Gogh before his suicide at age 37.

Today, huge crowds flock to van Gogh exhibits, and his once-ignored vision is considered a pivotal innovation that affected all art after it.

Posthumous appreciation would be small consolation to an artist whose original work isn't valued. Artists need food, clothing and shelter, as well as the raw materials needed to express their creative vision. When making art clashes with making a living, how do creative people balance the drive to be original with the drive to be marketable? And when "will it sell?" becomes a concern, does it affect originality?

"In dealing with originality and the end of it being a commercial product, you probably will end up with some sort of altering of the original idea," said Lawrence Brose, who as executive director of the not-forprofit CEPA Gallery, said he doesn't face that pressure.

But he recognizes that organizations that rely on ticket sales face the pressure of whether to present groundbreaking material that may be unfamiliar to an audience - or play it safe with less creativity.

"If you play it safe, then fine, all of the older people who just love that - are going to come back, but you're not going to build your audience. And yes, you may lose some people who say that stuff is too modern, it's too weird, I don't understand it, whatever," said Brose. "But you're going to have a whole other crop of new people who are going to respond to the challenge: something more compelling."

While he says JoAnn Falletta is taking more risks with the Buffalo Philharmonic, Brose adds, "I think that this community has lost some of that edge in certain sectors."

In his career as a musician, Will Holton, a Buffalo saxophonist, sees plenty of players who mimic popular styles, not only the sound but also the mannerisms and look of a popular performer. "There are a lot of David Sanborn clones out there, with his edgy, gritty sound," Holton said.

What he does is different, Holton said. "I take in as many influences as I can, and not just with saxophone - I listen to keyboard players, rhythm, basses and drums and other horn players to basically make a stew, a Will Holton stew."

But do audiences appreciate innovation? Yes and no.

"The problem with the jazz market

is that consumers really don't understand a lot of what's going on - they like to tap their foot and enjoy the catchy grooves or the catchy words," said Holton. "So I try to cover every audience" with a mixture of the familiar and the new.

Artists who sell their work, rather than perform it before an assembled audience, have one luxury - they can go far and wide in search of a market. Carrianne Hendrickson, a popular Buffalo sculptor of whimsical figures, dioramas and teapots, said, "I make what I want to make and then I decide where I want to shuffle it off to.

"I grew up in Schuyler County, the Seneca Lake-Watkins Glen area," she said. "And if I ever tried to sell the type of work that I'm known for in Buffalo, it just wouldn't fly in that area. So I moved to Buffalo, which has a more liberal stance on art, more metropolitan. But there's still some work that doesn't always fit in the Buffalo niche, so I search for galleries online. I think that's the key, personally - you've got to find the niche."

Jon Elston, resident playwright of Road Less Traveled Productions, yearns to push the limits with his work. "I stubbornly stick to the idea that somewhere in WNY there is an audience that wants to see plays that are deep and complex and challenging and difficult and scary and yet somehow still wildly entertaining," he said. "There is an imperative within our company to remain centrist enough to still not scare away the older, more conservative demographic. After all, we gotta pay the director, the actors, the stage manager and the designers.

"We're in a precarious position, frankly," said Elston. "If we went waaaay the heck out there, I'd be a lot happier, and I think we'd have a stronger audience base. But if we were 'waaaay out there,' we probably wouldn't be in a position to bring major names in the national theater scene to Buffalo."

Writer Colin Dabkowski contributed to this story.