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Give It Away

Monday, 5. May 2014 0:31

Almost all artists come to the point in their artistic development when they feel that they should no longer work for free. Yes, it’s all about the process, but we begin to want a tangible return on our investment of time and materials. But then we have another issue: how to find a paying audience for our work. Since artists seldom have neither the training nor the inclination to be good salespersons, it becomes a problem.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, Austin Kleon in his new book Show Your Work, suggests that solution to getting our work out and ultimately selling it is not only to share it, but to do so freely and tell whoever will listen how we made it. His rationale is that if we can engage potential collectors through the story of how we create what we create and provide examples, there is a higher likelihood of selling it.

Hazel Dooney has said much the same thing. She publishes much of her work on the internet to generate conversation and, instead of copyrighting it, releasing it with a Creative Commons license. She too has written about the idea of giving work away. She will even go so far as to release high-res images of her work and agree to sign them if collectors will print them and send them to her (paying postage both ways, of course).

At the other end of the spectrum is an artist I know who will not even store his images on a cloud drive for fear that someone will steal them. He would not dream of establishing a web site showing his work. Because he has no media presence, very few people have ever heard of him, and, although his work is quite good, he sells very little—no one knows that he exists.

If we are concerned about the image itself or the idea, perhaps we don’t want to give it away. If, however, what we sell are original pieces, then sharing a copy may not be such a bad idea, particularly a low-res version. How else will potential collectors decide whether they want this or that piece? It’s not like anyone will be able to take that low-res internet image, blow it up to display size, and print it at a level of quality that could compete with our originals. And there are other advantages to sharing our work. We can create a tribe, a following, a group of people who like what we do an who are anxious to buy our next book, painting, original signed photograph, sculpture, those who will want to see our next movie or play or listen to our latest piece of music. That can’t happen unless they have a way to know about it in the first place.

And then there is this thing about sharing working procedures. Even the most secretive of us can have our work reverse-engineered. Once an idea escapes into the universe, anyone can give it a try. If we withhold process and procedure, it won’t stop those who want to copy; it will just slow them down a little. Why not explain what we’ve done and encourage others to try it out as well? Even using the same methodology, no one will be able to reproduce our work—simply because it’s our work and sprang from our brains. Even using our techniques, others will have to create what springs from their own brains. And knowing our secrets does not necessarily make the implementation easy. Some techniques, as we know, require years of practice before they can be mastered.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about sharing our work is overcoming our fear that our work will be “out there” and out of our control. There are ways that we can protect ourselves, but that is a topic for another time. The potential upside far outweighs the downside. Sure, someone might turn our art into a screensaver, but whoever then sees it may want an original for the living room or to give to a friend, and he/she would never have known about our art unless we had given a little of it away.

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

Uncomfortable with Self-Promotion? Take Baby Steps

Monday, 18. April 2011 0:05

One of the things there is no shortage of is advice on how to be a “successful” artist. Make no mistake; in this context “successful” means “an artist who sells.” Sometimes it means “an artist who makes his/her living from his/her art.” In any case, it’s all about marketing and sales. And why not? Being a starving artist may sound like a romantic idea, but it’s only that. We can all point to artists who were successes only after they were dead, but is that the model you really want to follow?

The fact is, whether we are painters, photographers, sculptors, ceramicists, or writers, we want people to see our art, and hopefully be impacted by it. So we have two choices: give it away or sell it. The second alternative seems to be the better of the two, at least to me.

We are told that we must self-promote, and the implication is that we should model ourselves after the most financially successful self-promoting artists. We are encouraged to follow the examples of those who promote shamelessly and/or exploit the internet. We are advised to spend every minute that we are not actually producing art interacting on Twitter or Facebook or our blogs and websites or engaging in some other form of marketing and sales.

This can be a difficulty for those of us who do not have art factories or assistants or those of us who do not believe that we are temperamentally suited for marketing. Some would say that we had better find a way to make the time and become suited or resign ourselves to giving our art away, or, like Emily Dickenson or Vivian Maier, having it found and made public after we’re gone.

There is no question that marketing and sales are necessary if we want to succeed in terms of putting our work out there into the world. We must promote our own work and we must figure out ways to become comfortable doing that.

This means researching and exploring the many different venues and approaches to art marketing and sales. Spend some time analyzing tweets, exploring Facebook, reading blogs, examining web sites. You will find that there are innumerable approaches and a variety of styles. And there are more all the time. According to Barney Davey, how artists promote themselves is constantly evolving, and one of the challenges is to try to keep methodology current.

Not every successful artist is a completely shameless self-promoter. Some promote better than others. Study them; see what works and why. See what appeals to you and why. See what fits you and why.

Then try some of those methods out. Take baby steps. Move out of your comfort zone a little at a time. As you build up your courage and your repertoire of possibilities, you can begin to see what works for you. And that, finally, is the most important thing, to find the methods or combination of methods that work for you.

Category:Audience, Communication, Social Media | Comments (2) | Author:

Giving Art Value Through Social Media

Sunday, 26. December 2010 23:59

In his book, How Pleasure Works, Yale psychologist Paul Bloom says some very interesting things about art and the art world. He takes on experts, noting that they can be fooled, sometimes famously, as in the Vermeer/van Meegeren episode and then have to quickly change their opinions to conform to the facts.  He poses a list of why we like art from an evolutionary/social/psychological point of view, and, in a different chapter, states that there are three reasons we appreciate or value art: context, history, and perceived essence. He also maintains that all art is performance, that is, it is meant, is made, to be seen by an audience.

Interestingly, the reading of Bloom’s book coincides with some other thoughts that have been occupying me for the last little while, specifically, the conflicting advice that one finds for artists. One writer will advise the artist to find a niche, even if it’s not the artist’s favorite thing, in order to be salable. Another will advise the artist to follow his/her own inclination, noting that to do anything else is hypocritical and unsatisfying. Many advise networking regardless of whether the artist is trying to sell his/her work directly to consumers/collectors or whether he/she is trying to go the representation/gallery route. Almost everyone recommends networking via social media, which can take on a life of its own, completely unrelated to anything to do with art.

All of this networking is a way to provide those three factors that Bloom says give value to art work. In other words, if we are somehow able to give our work context, history, and perceived essence, then it will, in many people’s eyes become valuable. And if it becomes valuable, people will want to collect it and will be willing to pay for it, regardless of whether we have found a niche to streamline our market or not.  What better way to provide those three features than by exposing ourselves in a public network situation, particularly one or more of the internet’s social medial.  We can, without leaving our homes or studios, provide the requisite history and context for our art work on an on-going daily, or even hourly, basis.  Given context and history, it becomes quite easy to take the next step and communicate how our essence is tied up in the work that we produce.

All that remains is manipulating the social media to insure that our information falls into the right hands, that is, the hands of potential patrons or publicists—and there is certainly no shortage of advice on how to do that. Once it’s done, we have fulfilled the requirements of giving our art value, and the results should take care of themselves, assuming that we actually produce art. Then it simply becomes a matter of continuing to feed the flow of information, capitalizing on events in our lives and artistic development to enlarge our following and thus our potential customer/collector base.

Sounds cynical, doesn’t it? Perhaps it is; it is business, after all. I’m still a fledgling at this whole social media thing and learn every day, but I can’t but help believe that Bloom is onto something, and that social media may be a way to do it. There aren’t many of them, but there are a few artists who have managed to turn social media into a really useful tool for advancing their art, some of them very successfully, if we are to believe what we read. Many are still trying to find exactly the right formula.

It does not seem to be a “one-size-fits-all” phenomenon; just as in establishing an artistic path, each artist must find his/her own social media route. Not an easy task. It is a complex problem but integrally involved with producing art today. It is a topic that I have touched on before, and probably will again and again, because, regardless of the path we choose, this is part of the art business in the 21st century and we cannot ignore it.

Category:Audience, Social Media | Comment (0) | Author:

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