Post from November, 2012

Make or Market?

Sunday, 25. November 2012 23:42

“At first I was just looking for a place to show my work—mostly at the insistence of friends. Now it seems that there is a show every other weekend, and I don’t have time to make my art.” This was a complaint that I overheard recently at the Houston ArtCrawl.  And it’s true. If you live in Houston, there is an art show at least every other weekend— if you know where to look. I suspect it is the same for other metropolitan areas as well.

If you are an artist in the Houston area, you not only can find places to show your work, you can find an overabundance of places—so many, in fact, that if you take advantage of all of them, you may find it difficult to find time to actually make your work.  Over the ArtCrawl weekend, I heard this complaint from more than a few artists. Admittedly, a number of these people are students, or have day jobs, but still, the artist with limited time—and who doesn’t have limited time?—is faced with a choice: make or market. Although some claim otherwise, these are two very different activities, both requiring large commitments of time and energy. The artist must make the choice. Some choose to be in shows, but not be present. That’s fine, if there is someone present who can manage your sales for you. But often such remote sales are costly in terms of percentages, sales lost due to the inability of the surrogate to answer questions about the work, or inattention to the sales process.

If you are like most artists I know, you cannot outsource the making of your work. You can certainly get prints made or have others frame your work (I was asked three times during ArtCrawl if I framed my own work.), but you cannot outsource the creative part. You do, in fact, have to make your art. And that takes time, and if you’re making you can’t be showing or selling—at least directly.

This leads artists to often seek gallery representation, which many will tell you is a less than desirable situation in that you have no control over the sales and you will give up a significant percentage of the revenue (often 50%). For some this seems to work well. Others, such as Hazel Dooney and Marie Kazalia, counsel artists to take their sales into their own hands and to move them out of the galleries and onto the internet or utilize some other form of direct selling that cuts out the middle man, and allows the artist to keep all proceeds.

How to make the arts marketing choices that are best for you can be a daunting task. It’s easy to pick one or perhaps two because they are easy and comfortable, but each method has its weaknesses as well as its upside. There are a number of factors that go into making such decisions: what level of success do you want to achieve? How do you want your work represented? Do you want to keep your work within a certain price range? What percentage of the sales price are you comfortable turning over to an agent or gallery? How much time do you want to spend on marketing and sales? How involved do you want to be in dealing with your collectors? How is your work best shown to potential collectors?

These are factors that require thought, and perhaps a bit of experience. The trick is to find the technique or combination of techniques that will maximize you sales effort. But whatever methods you choose, be sure that your decision also maximizes your time for creating your art. If you don’t make it, you can’t market it.

Category:Marketing | Comment (0) | Author:

Failure: A Stepping Stone

Sunday, 11. November 2012 23:57

Wherever art advice appears, there is always mention of failing. The discussion always goes something like, “in order to create, you have to risk, and the downside of risk is failure. But you can use that experience and move forward stronger and better.” This is advice that I myself have repeated many, many times.

The problem with advice that encourages you to risk and perhaps fail is not that it is bad advice; it’s that it doesn’t fully inform you how do deal with that failure. Nor does it suggest that you might have problems recovering from the failure, particularly if you have invested heavily in the creation. Nor does it advise you on how to use the failure to move forward.

The context in which I most often offer this advice is rehearsal, where, if the director is any good, the actor feels safe to try things out, some of which may not be successful. It’s a good atmosphere in which to create.

Unfortunately, for many artists the protection of the rehearsal structure is missing. Yes, you may be able to attempt and succeed or not in the privacy of your own studio, but it’s another thing entirely when others are around or when you are staring a deadline of one kind or another.

You realize your most recent effort is far from successful; it is, in fact a disaster. And there are consequences: there is a client who must be satisfied, or there is a deadline that must be met. Suddenly the possibility of failing is far less romantic. There is ego and perhaps money on the line. Now it matters whether or not you succeed, and there is no protective structure or safety net.

Sometimes you don’t succeed, regardless of what is on the line.  It’s the nature of the creative process. You can certainly do many things to help insure your success, but, unless you lower your standards, you can never be completely certain that your attempts at creation will be successful. What then?

Then you try to be ready to deal with it. Unless you are practiced in non-attachment (a worthwhile practice), you must allow yourself a few moments to grieve for your loss. And taking that time is important. Any creation that perishes deserves to be mourned, and yours is no exception. You have invested in it, so take the moment that you need.  Then move on to satisfy the deadline or the client or yourself. Jump into a new creative project as soon as possible.  If it is possible to build on the failure, then by all means do so. Incorporating the remnants of the old project into the new makes the failed idea less onerous and may actually turn it into a step in the development of a project that is more successful than it would have been otherwise.

Just this week I had the opportunity to test this advice—outside of a rehearsal framework. The project I was working on fell and couldn’t get up. Of course, there is always the tendency to want to resuscitate the project, no matter how brain-dead it is. So I tried that. No joy. There was nothing to do but move on. Fortunately, I was able to use the event of the failure, if not all of the material of the project, as a stepping stone to a new project, which I believe has a much better chance of success.

And that’s why the advice is solid. Unless we attempt, we will never know what is and is not possible, and what is problematic and what isn’t. And, even though every creative project is different, and even though failure in unprotected circumstances can be daunting, it is only through risking—which holds within it the possibility of failure—that we continue to develop and grow as artists.

Category:Creativity | Comments (1) | Author:

It Ain’t About Pretty

Sunday, 4. November 2012 23:37

A while back, a friend of mine went to work as a studio assistant for a high-dollar photography studio.  After hearing about how people would travel across the country and pay enormous amounts for headshots, I went to the studio’s web site to see what was what. Everything was pretty. And I do mean pretty. Very slick, very commercial, very pretty—technically perfect, in fact—but completely soulless. All of the images of a type looked alike, down to the makeup. The photographers had found the formula for commercial success, but not necessarily for creating art.

Art may be pretty, but that is not a necessity. In fact, many artists bypass pretty, and attempt to create art that is beautiful. And beauty is an entirely different animal. Beauty goes far beyond mere pretty; for some, prettiness actually interferes with the beauty of the art.

Many artists believe that to be truly beautiful, something must have some strangeness to it.  This sentiment has been expressed by artists as disparate as Karl Lagerfeld, Edgar Allen Poe, and Sir Francis Bacon. The poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire has said “’I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which is no melancholy.” Author Stephen Crane has gone so far as to defend ugliness in art: “I cannot see why people hate ugliness in art. Ugliness is just a matter of treatment.”

Although there is little agreement among aestheticians on what beauty is, there is general agreement that it conveys something meaningful and significant to the viewer. Regardless of the medium, if you ask knowledgeable people about the best art, the most beautiful art, you are very likely to get answers that include plays and poems and novels and paintings and sculptures and films that are anything but pretty. They may be uplifting or depressing or breathtaking or sad or heartwarming, but they are likely not to be attractive, and they certainly will not be superficial.

The artists who created such art will have told their audiences the truth. And even though that truth may be uncomfortable, it will have been presented in a way that invites contemplation, consideration, speculation, thought. Even art that appears initially to be whimsical or humorous does this. Art, good art, does not worry about being pretty; rather, it tells us something, often something that we need to know—although we may not want to hear it—and it tells us in a way that strikes a resonating chord within us.

Sometimes I hear [visual] artists say with reference to the art they make, “but no one will ever hang this on a wall.” (The equivalent for the writer is “no one will ever publish or produce this.”) They say this because the art they make is not pretty. If they want to produce pretty, then perhaps they should be into the more commercial illustration or decoration business.

Art is a different thing. And most collectors of art know this and dress their walls accordingly.  Just in the last week, I have seen hanging in residences images that tell stories about relationships, memorials, ambiguous abstract ideas, abandoned buildings, cemeteries, nudes, burned homes, flowers, complex concepts. Only a few were pretty in any kind of conventional sense; some were not even attractive. All were beautiful. All were compelling. All invited contemplation. They were not only art; they were good art.

And that’s just two-dimensional visual art. We haven’t even touched three-dimensional art, music, dance, theatre, film, or the various written genres.

Sometimes in art there is a place for pretty, sometimes not. If you are an artist, make the art you need to make. Make it the best you can to say what you need to say, what your audience needs to hear. And, if you are tempted to dress it up a bit here and there, remember: it ain’t about pretty.

Category:Aesthetics, Audience, Criticism | Comment (0) | Author: