Post from December, 2012

Collectors, Clients, Customers, Fans

Monday, 31. December 2012 1:15

Not long ago I bought a painting from an artist whose work I appreciate. In the course of the post-purchase conversation, he turned to someone and said, “I have a new collector.” Never before had I thought of myself as a collector, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the new title. But I thought about it, and I thought about the other names that could be given to our relationship and decided that collector was probably the most accurate.

This, of course, led me to wonder what other artists call persons who buy their work. It’s curious but I don’t think I ever gave a name to that relationship. I would, like a number of artists I know, just say “sold a piece” without reference to the person who bought it. When I write, I have most often referred to those people in the collective, as the audience, but that word is a little awkward for those who are not someway involved with performance.

But I do know that how we label things (and people) will sometimes govern our relationships and attitudes toward them, so maybe this is a topic that deserves a little thought. Once we get past those who are “just looking,” there are four categories of people that you might find in your audience:

  1. Fans are those who are interested in what you do, and sometimes in all that you do, but are not necessarily interested in buying anything. They want to stay informed about what you are doing, but they might be content to do that from a distance without ever actually interacting with you. Sports teams have fans, as do movie stars, and celebrities of all sorts. Fans are those who follow us, and, as we all know, some of us are interested in acquiring as many as possible. The very popular crime novelist Mickey Spillane, on the other hand, once said, “I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends.
  2.  Customers are people to whom you sell things. Some may become your friends as Spillane suggests, but mostly they are interested in purchasing your wares. You must presume that there is something in your work that they like, but you may never know what that is. Often you meet them only once and never again. The interaction can be as simple as the exchange of money for art or a complex ongoing relationship that does indeed turn into a friendship of sorts. Customers buy commodities.
  3.  Clients are repeat customers, or at least there is a connotation of repeat business in the word. There is also the connotation of work for hire. Commercial photographers have clients, as do designers, doctors, and lawyers. But there are two important things about clients that differentiate them from other categories: they have input, no matter how small or insignificant, into the work, and they themselves are the ultimate judge of whether the work is satisfactory.
  4.  Collectors are those people who want to possess your work enough to give you money for it. They appreciate what you do and so want to own it. They differ from customers in that they are less about buying a commodity and more about purchasing a representation of how the creative side of your mind works. Sometimes, like customers, they are only interested in purchasing only one piece; other times you find that what you produce speaks to them in such a way that they will want multiple pieces. And you will probably find that relationships with collectors are well worth nurturing—for more than financial reasons.

There are probably more than four categories of audience members. But I suspect that you will find that these four make up the bulk of your audience. Remember though that fans can turn into customers can turn into collectors. So we need to learn to address them all—and build a tribe.

Category:Audience, Marketing | Comments (1) | Author:

Dealing with the Holidays

Monday, 24. December 2012 0:00

No matter which ones you celebrate, the holidays bring special challenges and opportunities. And no one is immune, particularly those of us in the arts. One bonus for those who have day jobs is the extra time off at this time of year. Many of us immediately think, “Now I have time to complete that project that I’ve had to put off for so long,” or “I can really use this time in the studio,” or “finally, some uninterrupted time to spend with the script.” (And, of course, nearly any creative tool or project can be substituted for the word script.)

But then there all those other things that need attention: parties, gatherings, family dinners, shopping, gift-exchanges, special holiday events. So the question becomes how to best utilize that “extra” time. If you’re not careful, you will find that you have over-committed and what is for everyone a very busy time of year has become so impossibly crowded that you cannot enjoy any of the activities. And all that time that you were going to spend working on your art is now diminished and fragmented. You can become completely overwhelmed with trying to juggle all the things you want to do and places you want to be with things you have to do and places you have to be.

What to do? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Schedule. Just this week I realized that my to-do list, which is normally a get-this-done-before-you-sleep affair, had expanded to a weekly list, broken down into morning, afternoon, and evening for each day. It was the only way to even think about dealing with all that needed to happen, but making a detailed schedule let me find the most efficient way to get things done.
  • Leave some flexibility in your schedule. There is always the 10-minute gift delivery that ends up taking over an hour. There is always something that you forgot when shopping that has to be retrieved before dinner. Likewise there are things that take far less time than you thought they might, so you suddenly have an extra 45 minutes to work with.
  • Reschedule as you go. Along with that flexibility, you will find that some elements in your schedule can and should be adjusted, moved, enlarged, reduced, omitted. If it will make your life easier or more productive or more enjoyable, do it.
  • Immerse fully in the activity of the moment. It is pointless to schedule discrete activities if your head is already considering the next obligation or worrying about whether the present you got for your best friend is the right choice. Deal with those things during the allotted time; otherwise you become as frenzied and overwhelmed as if you had no plan.
  • Balance it out. Be sure to include in your schedule some time for the things you really want to do as well as the things you feel that you have to do. And be honest about it. If you need and want to spend the majority of your time creating, do that, but remember there may be other things that are, in the long run, equally important.
  • Leave some room for down-time. No matter how much you may or may not enjoy this time of year, it’s a stressful stretch between Thanksgiving and the New Year. You will want to save out some uncommitted time for yourself. Take a little time to breathe.

For many, this is the time of year for judging successes and failures, a time for planning. That can certainly be worked into your schedule, but remember that the frenzy of the holiday season may not be the very best time to be objective either in evaluating or planning. Be sure that whenever you decide to engage in these pursuits there is calm and quiet available.

We can enjoy the holidays and be productive as well with just a bit of planning and scheduling and being aware of all the considerations. We can sometimes even incorporate them into our work. I hope yours are happy.


Category:Productivity | Comment (0) | Author:

Do Better Work by Staying in the Moment

Sunday, 16. December 2012 23:47

Yoga instructors encourage their students to stay in the present moment during their practice. Actors work constantly to stay in the moment; most know that without the ability to live in the “eternal present,” their work will suffer. Dancers deal with the ongoing present in much the same way. Other artists sometimes experience “being in the moment” when they get into “flow.” The rest of the world simply disappears while the artist’s entire being is engaged in creation.

The post, “Art as Salvation–Creating ‘in Flow’” explored the characteristics of flow provided by the originator of the term, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, but they bear repeating:

  1. intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  2. merging of action and awareness
  3. a loss of reflective self-consciousness
  4. a sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  5. a distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered
  6. experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience

It is easy to see the benefits of such a practice, whether it is on a yoga mat or on a stage or at an easel or at a computer. You will be more creative; the work will be easier; and you are more likely to produce good work. That should be enough, but there are other benefits as well. If you are living in the present, the past and the future cease to exist. While this is a necessity for actors, it is not the standard state of being for most of us. But just think of being free from anxiety and worry, two conditions that are not only crippling to creativity, but also interfere with simply living.

It works quite logically: if you are existing fully in the present moment, you have no awareness of either the future or the past. Without referencing the past, there can be no worry; you cannot be concerned over what happened yesterday if you are fully concentrating on today. Likewise, your anxiety about what is going to happen tomorrow disappears if you are so involved in now that you do not really register the future.

Of course, there are times when we need to reference both the past and the future, but there is no advantage to dwelling in either place, and much benefit in returning to the present as soon as possible. When we are not distracted by what we think will happen or what has happened, we get to enjoy where we are and what we are doing much more fully. Because we are not distracted by mental static, we become those who are fully and completely engaged in the conversation, the sale, the intimate moment, the creation of art.

Many who create drift into flow naturally—when they are creating—and so for a time live in the present. But it never occurs to them to employ it the rest of the time. It stays contextualized as part of the creative process—and it is a very important part, but it could be very useful to be able to generalize this skill to life. The good news is that this ability can be learned. Once learned, it can then be applied to any situation, not just creativity. Mostly it takes identifying the factors required to stay in the present moment and then putting them into practice. And then, as with any skill, practice, and practice, and practice. Constant “flow” is not the goal, but rather existing in fully in the moment.

And that can be both beneficial and exhilarating. Yoga instructors often advise their students to “take yoga off the mat.” A variant of this advice for artists would be “take the first element of flow out of the studio.” (Some of the other elements may follow, but that’s just a bonus). Your world and your work will be better.

Category:Creativity, Theatre | Comment (0) | Author:

Selling Your Art: How Far Will You Go?

Sunday, 9. December 2012 23:47

How far will you go to sell you art? It’s a question that would not have occurred to me several years ago, but recently several things have happened that brought the question to my attention.  The first was a conversation that I overheard recently at the Houston ArtCrawl between two established artists, one a sculptor and the other a painter.

The sculptor began the conversation by stating that she had done art for other people for thirty years and that now she was doing her own art. The conversation went on, and she suggested that she would not even entertain commissions—at this stage of her artistic life she was only interested in satisfying herself. The painter, on the other hand, said that she was happy to make a painting using colors that would complement the client’s décor, but that she would paint only what she wanted using those colors.

In another conversation, a man was explaining to a friend that another artist in the show was going to make an individualized print for him with his girlfriend’s name replacing the existing word in the for-public-consumption print hanging on the wall, something the first two artists would never consider doing.

In conversations with other artists this week I heard a number of related stories. One was about an artist who did a commission and sent a photograph to the collector only to have the collector respond by asking for changes in the piece. Another story was about an artist who had a long-unsold piece that had finally found a buyer, if the artist would make certain modifications. The question then was whether to make the changes and sell the piece or to decline and keep it, perhaps for another long period. For some artists, such as the sculptor mentioned earlier, this is not a tough decision; for others less resolved, it is perhaps more difficult.

Fine artist or commercial artist, there are just some things to which you do not want your name attached. But it can get complicated, particularly when you do commission work. For example, the article in a recent issue of Rangefinder Magazine called “Saying No…” explains to photographers ways to refuse a request and keep the client.

Judging from the fact that these conversations are taking place, there seems to be interest in customized art work. I guess it’s not a novel concept, but it’s not something to which I had given a lot of thought. During a discussion of the topic, a friend asked if I would change the wording on the interior of the cards that I produce if someone wanted to buy a set of custom cards. The answer was “of course.” But then I had to stop to examine my response. I consider the cards commodities—based in art, but a commodities nonetheless, so in my mind there is no difficulty in customizing the wording. If it were a limited edition print, or even an open edition print, I would have far more difficulty and would probably say no. For me then, it seems to be about the category of the work in question, as well as whether the request is to create new work or modify existing work.

Likewise, I imagine that every artist has his/her own threshold of willingness to customize art for the collector, and in those cases where the artist is willing, his/her own set of criteria for customization. If it’s something you haven’t considered, you might want to spend a little time thinking about it. If you are in the arts, sooner or later someone will ask. I would be interested to hear any ideas you have on this topic.

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Obsessiveness: a Necessity for Artists

Sunday, 2. December 2012 23:13

One of the highlights of the Chinati Foundation‘s full collection tour is the “100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminum” created by minimalist Donald Judd. After having walked through the exhibit, a woman in my tour group, commenting on what she perceived as Judd’s obvious obsessiveness, said, “I come from a long line of obsessive-compulsives, so it just jumps out at me.” She went on to say that at least in this instance the obsessive-compulsive impulse was used for good.

She had a point. It would be exceedingly difficult to create 100 aluminum pieces of that scale without some measure of obsession.  But isn’t obsessiveness a requisite for all artists, not just those concerned with making 100 variations of something?  I have read some writers who say that no, you don’t have to be obsessed to produce art. And I think, who are you kidding? Of course, you do, at least if you want to produce art on any sort of consistent basis.

Assuming that there are no other factors forcing you to do your work, where else are you going to find the stamina, discipline, and courage to produce, particularly if you are not one of the fortunate few whose works are in constant demand?  The impulse is internal and personal. We all know stories of writers who will write on napkins or matchbook covers rather than not write at all, or painters who will paint the walls of their rooms if they run out of canvases. What else but obsessed are such people? And that obsessiveness extends to all the arts.

Obsession may take different forms in different artists, and they may be compelled in a variety of directions. Some, as in the above examples, find they need to make multiple variations of a piece. Some must produce in volume. Some may have to create in great variety. Some may need to work on a given piece slowly and meticulously for an excessively long time. Some demand perfection in their work; others imperfection. Some may hallucinate concepts for months before ever picking up a brush or chisel or pen. Obsessive behaviors are as varied as artists, but make no mistake, these people are obsessed

And that’s a good thing, because (I am convinced) without obsession there would be very little art. If you have the opportunity to observe young artists, it is easier than you might think to determine which of them has the best chance of success in his/her chosen art. They are the ones who live, breathe, eat, and sleep their art; they are the ones who concentrate on their art almost to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. Many may have talent, and even ego; what they do may come very naturally to them, and they may really enjoy the work. But no matter how much they love what they do, those without the drive, the compulsion to create are not likely to succeed—at least in making art.

Real artists are not well-rounded individuals; these are people like Hazel Dooney who said, “Art can never be part of a balanced life. It only works if it’s a complete obsession.

For most people, making art isn’t easy; it’s something they must do. They may experiment; they may play; they may change media.  But finally they have to make something that says what they need to say. They can’t not produce art. And without that obsession, no matter what form it takes or how it expresses itself, there would be no art.

Not even artists themselves understand it. They just recognize that they have to create. Well, you know.


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