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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.

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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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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.

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Why Art Really Matters

Monday, 20. August 2012 0:14

Last week’s post dwelt upon the need for artists to work within a very imperfect system. As I thought about it further, I realized not only that art should matter, but that art does matter, perhaps not the way Hazel Dooney wants it to, or as much as we think it should, but it does matter right now, even in our very imperfect world—in lots of ways.

The arts are good for business. For example, the arts bring consumers to downtown areas. Just google “art helps downtowns” and you can read article after article about how this event or that production boosted downtown businesses. The arts are significant for other businesses as well. The National Governors Association in a 2012 study entitled “New Engines of Growth” has recognized the impact of the arts and culture on economic development and has suggested ways to incorporate the arts, culture, and creative businesses into economic development plans.

Those plans take into account that employers are interested in talented people with creative abilities, particularly for higher-level positions, and creativity is something one learns most easily by being associated with the arts. Moreover, a creative, cultural environment helps attract and retain those people, which opens the door for even more creative employment.

And arts employment is significant. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, as of 2009, 2.1 million people in the United States were artists. By anybody’s standards, that is a lot. You should also be aware that that number includes only actors, announcers, architects, fine artists, art directors, animators, dancers, choreographers, designers, other entertainers, musicians, photographers, producers, directors, writers, authors. The list does not include a number of other occupations which depend upon the arts and artists for survival: agents, gallerists, curators, box-office staff, press agents, publicists, auction-house employees, and technicians, just to name a few.

Another aspect of the business-art partnership is that companies purchase art. “Commercial art,” you say. “That’s not real art.” It is real, and it is art. Just ask the artists who made it.  Yes, there is some factory-manufactured stuff hanging on walls and decorating reception areas, but the more successful and high-end the business, the better the art that they display. And it’s not just prints and knock-offs. Much of it is real, artist-made one-of-a-kind or limited edition art.

And those are just some of the economic reasons why art really matters. There are other reasons as well, just as important as economics. Some would say more important.

Studies link arts instruction with higher IQ scores and higher intelligence in children. Research “shows tight correlations between artistic endeavors and cognitive abilities.” Essentially, “performance or practice of any of the art forms” can “influence cognition, including attention and IQ.” And this finding is confirmed by a number of studies.

Art not only improves cognition in children, but can improve adult brains as well. It can often do this by presenting us with problems in ethics, philosophy, or design to consider.

But perhaps the biggest reason that art really matters is in its ability to enrich our lives by fostering empathy and understanding, helping us see connections, and putting us in touch with ourselves and the rest of the world. As the late Robert Hughes said, “The basic project of art is always to make the world whole and comprehensible, to restore it to us in all its glory and its occasional nastiness, not through argument but through feeling, and then to close the gap between you and everything that is not you, and in this way pass from feeling to meaning.”

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Actors and Salaries and Art, Oh My!

Monday, 9. July 2012 0:11

A headline attributed to Forbes appeared not long ago in my news reader summary: “Kristen Stewart’s Lavish Pay A Sign That Nobody In Hollywood Knows Anything.” It turned out that the headline belongs to an op/ed piece by Kyle Smith, a Forbes contributor. Smith’s position seems to be that Stewart, who topped the current Forbes Highest Paid Actresses List, earning $34.5 million, did not make a significant contribution to the films she was in. Smith cannot find connections between the high incomes of major movie stars and the number or earning power of the films in which they appear. Nor does he see any connection with branding of the films.

Anyone who has studied film should understand that movie-stardom and the quality level of film are not really related. Movie-stardom is about a relationship between a movie person and his/her audience. It has very little to do with acting ability, profitability, or anything other than celebrity. Sometimes, movie makers can cash in on that popularity and utilize it for marketing (Historically, it has been used as an aid to market stability); sometimes not.

Smith also seems to miss at least one point that Forbes staffer, Dorothy Pomerantz, in a business news article, “Kristen Stewart Tops Our List Of The Highest-Paid Actresses,” makes quite convincingly. Stewart is in demand; fans would allow nobody else to play Bella Swan in any of the latter Twilight films. Thus, she (and her co-stars) could command a significant salary and a percentage of the profits. And why would the studios not pay? Hollywood, after all, is (and has always been) about the money, and if the producers want the movie to make more money, they will give the potential customers what they want, and if what the customers want is the actors they are used to seeing, regardless of the level of talent or skill, then they are who appear on the screen. And that same fan base justifies a higher salary for these actors in other movies.

Putting any actor in any role is a gamble into which many factors play. As far as I can determine (without digging too far), at least nine other actresses were considered for Stewart’s role in Snow White and the Huntsman. Replacing any actor playing any character can and does change the nature of the film. The choice of Stewart, and her accompanying higher price tag, was not a chance thing done for no reason.

Another thing that is evident is that the money paid a person working on a film is not automatically related to “crafting a story.” Money in American film is allocated not in a way that will necessarily contribute to artistic improvement, but in a way that will make more money. One reader of Smith’s article points out that Forbes also nominated Stewart as one of the most profitable/bankable stars of 2011 because “she was netting an estimated $56 for every dollar she was paid.” That is a pretty good return on investment according to almost anybody’s way of thinking.

Aside from finances, there are a number of considerations in putting a film together, artistic considerations being only one. Creative projects, as any of us in the arts know, tend to take on a life of their own. Once you are committed to the project, we will do almost anything to bring it to life. In the case of movies, this involves many compromises and much collaboration. And it includes scheduling: is this actor available when we want to shoot? Do we modify the schedule? Do we find another actor? Will these actors working together make the project better or worse? Should we pay more for this person, material, location, or less for that person, material, location?  What is the nature and availability of our funding? What is our window of opportunity? How will modifications impact audience acceptance? How much are we willing to compromise? What about the project is really important? How badly do we want to do it?

In the end, what becomes important is completing the project, realizing our vision. And we do what we have to do to make that happen, whether we are collaborating with others to produce a multi-million dollar movie, a stage play, a concert, an art show, or working individually to produce a photograph, painting or sculpture.

 

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Arts and Money, Another Perspective

Monday, 2. July 2012 1:26

Several weeks ago Lightsey Darst wrote a three-part essay called “The Poorest Art: Dance and Money,” which details just how poorly supported dance is in the US, and explores some of what that means. Anyone who has worked in the performing arts knows how hard dancers work and how short their professional lives can be—much like a professional athlete without the perks and the money.

Then just recently, I heard that a regional art center near me was closing its doors because they could no longer afford the rent. Shortly after hearing this rumor, I received an email from the curator explaining that the board of directors had “made a decision to move forward with a new vision” and that they were “right-sizing” the organization. While I recognized this as spin, I was very happy to see that they decided continue to bring art to the community, albeit in a very different format.

These events seemed to bring into focus the sad state of arts support in parts of the US. But then the same month, I participated in a group show that set a record for sales. Then I was reminded there were other records being set by arts auction houses in the past year, and, although I have discussed the high-end art/money interconnection before, more pieces are selling than just the works of recognized “masters.” Jocelyn Noveck, an AP writer, has reported that in some places ballet has hit a high point in pop culture and shows are selling out.

So which is it? Are the arts in terrible shape, completely unsupported by the public or are arts seeing a resurgence, with a great deal of financial support? The answer is, of course, both. Sometimes, you can see both phenomena in the same place, like New York professional theatre. AP writer, Mark Kennedy reports that “God is having a tough month on Broadway – ‘Godspell’ is closing, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ is on life support and now comes word that ‘Sister Act’ is going to theatrical heaven. [sic]” Yet, at the same time, Book of the Mormon is still selling 102.63% capacity  in the same environment (although I’ve never been quite sure how they do that).

It just depends on where you look. Not having statistics, it is difficult to determine if the overall financial support for the arts is up or down, or just moving around. An article by Lucas Kavner in The Huffington Post reports that the “fourth edition of ‘Arts & Economic Properity’ reveals that the [arts] industry generated $135.2 billion of economic activity,” which causes Robert L. Lynch, CEO of Americans for the Arts, to conclude that “the arts remain ‘open for business.’ People are clearly still going to arts events.”

It seems that at the same time that contemporary society devalues one art or one company or one gallery or one artist, it embraces another. And while I sympathize with the dancers in Darst’s articles, I have the same sympathy for any artist who feels devalued because society is moving in a direction different from where he/she stands, or popular culture is interested in something else at this particular moment in time. No matter what the ideal might be, the fact is that the arts in the US in the twenty-first century exist in a market economy, subject to the same fluctuations and forces as any market economy. We need to remember that it’s not personal; it’s just the way the market is moving at this particular moment in time. We are just caught in whatever trend is occurring this decade or year or month. And in the long run that may be a good thing, not necessarily for the individual, but for art in general. That arts organization near me may thrive in its newly “right-sized” form and have far more impact that it would have done in its earlier incarnation.

Most of us did not get into the arts for money, and while money is certainly desirable, some of us will stay in the arts whether or not we are paid well. We have to.

And artists are, for the most part, supportive of each other, and I certainly would not change that. We must continue that support each other. Like the artist I mentioned two weeks ago, if we cannot sell our own art, then let’s sell somebody’s—let’s just be sure that somebody’s art gets sold.

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Selling Your Art: You Can Learn

Sunday, 17. June 2012 23:32

This past Saturday was my first group show, for which I was preparing last week. I have been in juried shows, but this was the first group show in which I have participated with the goal of selling art. As is the case with any “first” experience, I learned a great deal, and had a number of ideas reinforced in practical terms.

Here is what I learned during “Speaking of Abstract…” organized by Jomar Visions in Houston’s Hardy and Nance Studios. Some of the items below seem obvious; but before the experience, they were not, at least to a number of participants.

  1. The vibe matters. I had more than one visitor talk about how good the show “felt.” I think that may have been the mix of artists, the music, the nature of the show, the venue. It was a very inviting atmosphere, and it seemed that visitors grasped that the second they walked into the studios. I can only credit the show’s promoters.
  2. The quality of the surrounding work matters. Every artist in the place brought quality work, and that mattered. It might not have been to everyone’s taste, but none of it was bad. This was not the case in some shows I have seen. This show, however, was juried if not curated, and that insured the quality, which added to the vibe and created a positive expectation on the part of the patrons. Again, I credit the show’s promoters.
  3. Alcohol helps. The show was sponsored by St. Arnold’s, a local craft brewery, so there was plenty of beer. And a number of artists brought wine, soft drinks, water, and snacks. All of this was offered to patrons and artists alike and certainly added to the festive feel of the show. It may have made the difference between lookers and buyers in some instances.
  4. Everyone who walks by is a potential sale; there is no predicting what will catch someone’s interest. Another photographer asked me the age of my market. I had thought it was persons 30+ years old, but this show taught me that although my market might lean that way, it did not exclude younger people. Indeed, some younger people spent a great deal of time looking at the images and came back repeatedly.
  5. Having your contact information available and easy for visitors to find is vital. Those business cards in my pocket did nothing for me; they needed to be easily seen and accessed, whether I happen to be in the vicinity or not. Some patrons have to think before deciding to make an investment. And they need to be able to find you later.
  6. Networking both with other artists and with potential buyers is paramount. Most artists want to help their fellows, at least that was the case in this show, and knowing people and their work helped in that regard. It also became evident that someone who had liked your work would tell others who would then come by and visit. The more people who know and like your work, the better your odds for a sale.
  7. Sales go to those who interact with potential patrons. Yes, you have to actively sell your wares. A sculptor, whose work was exceptional, and I discussed how we weren’t really comfortable approaching people with the intent to sell, while another artist near us went about trying to sell everybody’s work (including ours) to anybody who showed any interest in anything. Although he did not restrict himself to his own work, he did sell two of his own pieces and made contacts for those around him by force of personality and affable aggressiveness in his willingness to go for the sale.  He said that he was there to sell art—if not his, then anybody’s that he liked. I’m not sure that you have to be that aggressive, but you have to figure out a way to interact with potential buyers in a way that will enhance the sale, even if you have to step out of your comfort zone.

It was a successful show, at least according to everyone I talked to: 15 sales and one artist trade in seven hours—in a bad economy. I did not do as well as some, but I learned. I will definitely do similar shows in the future. And I will do some things differently. Selling art is a different skill-set from making art, but even the most introverted of artists can learn.

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Sell Your “Best” Work? Maybe Not…

Sunday, 10. June 2012 23:22

Recently, as I was selecting images to display in a group show, I found myself in a dilemma. The situation was that I had limited wall space, and so could only put up a few images. Selecting the images presented a problem. What criteria should I use? Did I want to show range, theme, color use, black and white (which some people associate with “fine art photography”), the pieces I liked best, the pieces that best represented me? This quandary brought up two questions: what was the proper way to choose? And what did it mean that I had pieces that I liked better than others?

To answer the first question I needed to think like a marketing/sales person. What did those coming to the show want to see, expect to see? What, if anything, that I had produced was marketable to this particular group of people? (I am not one of those who try to produce what the market wants; I find that a very unsatisfactory way to make art. I produce what, according to my instincts, needs to be. Only then do I look at it to try to determine if someone will actually want it.)

Your audience’s taste may not be yours, so selecting your favorites from all that you have made, while certainly a valid aesthetic exercise, may not be the best from a sales point of view. The very last part of my decision boiled down to a choice between a piece that I really liked because I found it to be very emotional and evocative and another that did not have these qualities for me. For this limited space show, I chose the second piece—not one that I disliked—but one that did not particularly move me emotionally. It was, in my judgment, more understandable, more comprehensible to the person who was likely to see this show.

It was, of course, a guess. I have only the most rudimentary understanding of the potential market for abstract photographic art, if such a thing really exists. Since the point of the show, for me at least, was exposure, I thought it was better to put things in front of people that I thought might interest them instead of indulging myself or attempting make some sort of “statement.” This was a marketing event and should be approached as one. So I did.

The second question was easier. I have written previously about artists feeling that what they create does not properly express their vision. That may cause the artist to dislike the artifact he/she has created, or at least love it less. This does not mean that the work is not good; it simply means that it is less successful from the artist’s point of view. The public may love it. Another reason that the artist may not be in love with his/her work is that he/she has moved on. Artists change, and these changes are often reflected in their work. This does not invalidate earlier work; it just makes it non-current, and thus non-interesting to the artist. The public is very different; they may love the older work— otherwise there would be no oldies concerts. Just because you don’t care for a piece that you created anymore does not mean that the buying public feels the same.

As artists, we would all do well to consider O. Henry’s advice and make work that pleases ourselves. But when we attempt to sell that art, we should offer whatever of our work the marketer in us thinks the audience will buy.

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The Value of a Day Job

Monday, 20. February 2012 0:11

There is an idea that artists who maintain day jobs are somehow deficient. If they were really any good, they would quit their day jobs and make their living from their art. Or would they? Consider this list of accomplished artists who had day jobs: Henry Fielding, Charlotte Brontë, Franz Kafka, T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, William Carlos Williams, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda, Anton Chekhov, Philip Larkin, and there are many more.

Everybody knows stories of actors or musicians or dancers who wait tables between gigs, but the occupations that artists have when not pursuing their creative work are as varied as the artists themselves.

Here are just a few: receptionist, frame designer, medical professional, legal associate, diesel mechanic, web developer, farmer, gallery owner, graphic designer, office manager, editor, store manager, art therapist, home stylist, structural engineer, case manager, marketing director, audiologist, media assistant, library director, coffee bar manager, nuclear analyst, mom, real estate development, language consultant, personal trainer, teacher, personnel manager, nonprofit director, art handler, children’s writer, dance instructor.

Why would artists who sell their work, particularly those who are highly regarded, want a second job, one that takes away time and energy from the work they really want to do? Michelle Goodman in an article for ABC News entitled Memo to Artists: Keep Your Day Job cites six reasons:

1. Peace of Mind, Stability. This is the reason T.S. Eliot kept his day jobs. He had a sick wife to care for, and discovered that both he and she were healthier if he had more income. This is true of almost every artist. The starving artist is likely not to do his/her best work. And, as most of us know, making art is not inexpensive. Having an income allows you to actually make some art.

2. Scheduled Human Contact. A lot of artistic work is done in seclusion, a situation in which not everyone thrives. Most of us need to have more contact than one is likely to get in a restaurant or coffee bar. Having a job that allows or requires you to have some human interaction can make you more balanced and perhaps healthier. That it’s scheduled helps with discipline.

3. Creative Discipline. Almost everyone has time management problems. Many artists, myself included, find it necessary to schedule creative work just as we have to schedule other duties. Because most day jobs require set hours or specific responsibilities, creative work has to be scheduled around them; that structure is desirable for some, and necessary for others. Julia Cameron in Letters to a Young Artist said, “I have seen more artists damaged by unlimited time than limited time.

4. A Source of Material. The people and situations at your day job can provide a wealth of material. Regardless of the media in which you work, the workplace can provide an ongoing stream of ideas which can be adapted, adopted, and recombined for your own creative purposes.

5. Instant Patrons. In most cases, you will find that the people with whom you work are very supportive of the creative work that you do in your “off time.” Some will purchase your work or put you into contact with others who might be interested. It can be the beginning of a tribe.

6. A Day Job is the Artist’s Way. Many artists have and have had day jobs. The reason is simple economics. Except for a tiny minority, art does not pay enough to let artists live the way we might like to. According to Alia Yunis, critically acclaimed novelist, “Almost every artist lives this way — even quote-unquote successful artists.

Being an artist is not about how you make your living; it’s about how you live. As Julia Cameron said, “I don’t know where we got the idea that being a full-time artist meant no day job. Being an artist is a matter of consciousness.”

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Making Your Art Accessible Is Making a Mistake

Monday, 13. February 2012 0:01

The question of art accessibility is one of those topics that are always under discussion somewhere. It came up again recently in a piece on Empty Easel. In “If Art is a Language, How Well do you Communicate?Niki Hilsabeck says that artists who “want to resonate more with the buying public should learn the buyers’ ‘language’ and adjust their artwork accordingly.”

In other words, if your potential buyers don’t get your work, perhaps you should modify your work so that it expresses your intent in a way they can understand.  This would seem to reduce the artist to either a manufacturer of commodities on one hand or little more than a teacher on the other. And perhaps some artists are both of those things, but to say that an artist is no more than that is a gross oversimplification of the art experience.

Hilsabeck asserts that art is a conversation. I disagree; art is an expression, perhaps an assertion itself, and sometimes it starts conversations, but often the artist is not involved in those, nor should he/she be; that’s not his/her job.

Hilsabeck’s rationale seems to be that since art is communication, anything you can do to aid that communication is a good thing. It’s a concept I have trouble with. Much of what art is about, much of the very complicated way that art communicates is tied up with how the work communicates. Good art is multi-layered and complex, and out of the reach for some people. Because of the interconnectedness of form and content, modifying how an artwork speaks to its audience must, in turn, modify what is communicated. So in trying to make your art more accessible, you can’t help but change your message as well.

You have to decide whether having another sale is worth changing what you are saying. It’s very much like politics: you can get the support you want if you will change your message to be what those supporters want to hear. The real question is: is what they want to hear what you want to say?

To put this whole argument into perspective, think for a minute about Jackson Pollock trying to make his mature work more accessible. It becomes completely different work. I, for one, am very glad that he did not attempt to make it easy for us.

So what is the artist to do? There is a natural desire to sell your work; at the same time you need to say what you need to say in the way you need to say it. The process is far more complex that the mere need to communicate. You don’t need to modify what you are doing; you need to connect with those who get what you do. There is really no “public” that you have to appease; rather there are people who, if they knew your work, would like it, and perhaps purchase it. The marketing part of your job is to connect with them, or facilitate their discovering you. You need to, in the terminology of Seth Godin, find your tribe.

Category:Audience, Communication, Marketing | Comment (0) | Author:

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