Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Does Art have to be Business?

Here is part of an email that my big brother sent me with love and the best intentions about my work as an artist.

Do not worry, Dear Sister, I will not give you a lecture on marketing. You know, better than I, what styles sell, and what prices move the most. I am just pointing out some advice that could result in your name becoming better known and shown more. My guess is that galleries like what you create, but also know that they need to display what will sell the quickest in order to stay afloat. Finding out what styles of art are popular, that you can create better and at least as quickly than anyone (at affordable prices), is called “filling an unmet need” in marketing lingo.

Yes, it is commercial. and yes the art market is competitive. However, as you must admit, it is better than starving. PLEASE NOTE THAT I AM NOT SUGGESTING YOU COMPROMISE YOUR STANDARDS! I am only suggesting that you take note of what styles sell the fastest, and at what prices they sell, then use your talents to produce those same styles, but better than anyone else, for sellable prices. AVOID trying to force the market into what they “should” buy! For the time being, let the market guide you. Do a little research among galleries, and find out what sells the fastest, and where you can improve on the “unmet need”.

Dear Brother,

I appreciate your advice, and I am sure you are right in terms of business. And certainly many people say that art must be treated as a business...

But I am afraid that I am on another track altogether.

I am the worst kind of idealist. I believe that art can be the work of the Soul - and that is what I am trying for. And that is what I love and that is why I am doing it. If I were to follow your capable advice I would have to come from a very cynical place (Not that I think you are!) What you describe is what is called commercial art. There is nothing wrong with it, but it is NOT what I am doing.

I admit it, I have a secret desire to be a priest or a minister except I do not believe in established religion as such. So I 'preach' through my painting and my teaching. You could not say to your minister "tell your congregation what they would like to hear and then your congregation will grow". Well, I guess you could, lol, but it would not be a good minister that would do so.

I would much rather take some other job and work on my art as a 'hobby' than try and figure out what people want and give it to them. Look at what people want, dear brother. It is not so good. I want to help in some small way to change the world, not reinforce the direction it is already going.

your little sister

What do you think? How do you feel about your art?


Anonymous said...

Zom .. I feel like you, and I've received advice like that which you've received. But I know, if I do that I might sell more but my heart will no longer be in it.
I gave you an award .. check out my blog :-)

Red Shoe Artist said...

People usually don't know what they want until it hits them in the head anyway. I paint for the world, that is my gift. I don't compromise my artistic vision for the masses. I'm with you Sista... but how sweet is your brother?

Keli Hansen said...

i used to "make stuff" for me... i was asked to put my designs into pattern form for a quilting book...loved the first book and all the projects...because they used these things i had made for myself. by the last book...and this is why it was "the last book" for me... i couldn't stand the things i submitted... the samples came back from the book tour and i didn't have a use for any of them. i had allowed the "market" to seep in... and my voice disappeared in the noise.

i continue to stuggle with the question... is it only "worth" something if someone is willing to pay for it?

but i would like to keep going to art retreats and learning new things... so i ponder just selling enough to fund the adventure... still pondering that...

good post... sweet brother

Dawn said...

wow. interesting topic. i don't sell my art, i am very new at it...but, that is a tough position to be in. On one hand, it boosts your self-esteem and self-worth to know people like your work enough to spend money on it, yet you should not have to compromise what you love to do in any way. That seems very un-authentic. If I ever got to a place where I wanted to/felt like I could sell my art work, it would be MY way, not what the "market" says.

By the way...what "market" does the fashion industry live in?!

ayra k said...

It was sweet of your brother to care, and what he says makes sense if you plan to make (and I say make as opposed to create) art as a career; I think there are people who would cave in to financial pressures or the desire to be recognised and make commercial art.

However I think it is great that you are clear in what kind of art you want to create and stick to it.

Zom said...

Thanks for all your views and insights. I do sell my artwork, I am a professional artist. I nearly sold out at my last show.

But if I want to follow new inspiration it becomes imperative not to be thinking about 'the market'. I HATE the way everything is made into a 'product' (even people). That is exactly what I want to preach against!

nollyposh said...

DDZ i love your He~art

Co-incidently i came ova to tell u about this movie:


with love xox

Heavens2Betsy said...

Wow! This really touched a nerve with me having received similar advice myself in the past. I think what you're doing and your reasons for sodoing are admirable and that it would be impossible to 'let the market be your guide' when you create, so clearly, from your soul - well intentioned tho' your brothers advice obviously was. Keep up the good non-commercial art work! x

gayle said...

I love you pride in your art! I am nowhere near being in a position to sell my own art or to make anything 'to order' that anyone would be interested in, but I hope that I will always want to be true to what I want to create :)

Erica said...

Thank you for writing this article and sharing it with us. I feel the same way you do in this respect. I enjoy making art and if I could sell it and make a living at it some day, then great!

But I will not compromise the art I make in any way to make a dollar. If people don't want to buy it, they don't have to. Until they do, I don't mind earning money by being a photo technician.

Sydney said...

I am not so much an artist at the moment, so I am commenting not in answer to the question but to say how fabulous your return letter was. I especially liked this notion. It's perfection...

You could not say to your minister "tell your congregation what they would like to hear and then your congregation will grow"

I learned something today and I love that you are clear enough on your own convictions that you wrote what you did back.

Hope he was able to understand. I'm sure he does but is worried. But as you said, you could get another job just to keep doing what your soul must, can and will do... your incredible art.

Journalicious said...

Hm...this is a very tough one that I've been struggling with a few times. In order to keep doing what I do, I need to sell my work from time to time. BUT!!!! when I work with the idea of a sale in mind, my inspiration is blown a way. I don't know if that is because I haven't yet fully developed myself as an artist or that working commercially stops the flow for me.

Ideally, I agree that you shouldn't work commercially. But to spend every day of my life drawing and painting and spending fortunes on good art supplies is a heavy burden on my family when there's no income to compensate and justify my expenses and hard work.

Zom said...

Thanks for all the support you guys. I love the honesty and empathy.

Journalicious, I did not mean to say that you shouldn't work commercially, I was saying that I shouldn't! We are all different and must find our own right way. Some people are more inspired when they are working to a brief; I find my enthusiasm dries up. Every artist is not a frustrated priest, haha. And nothing wrong with selling work, I love it when my work sells.

Journalicious said...

@Zom...I guess I didn't paraphrase what I meant to say clearly enough (there I find problems in English being my 2nd language...it's good, but sometimes not raffined enough). Reading back my comment, it seems as if I have an opinion about what other people should and shouldn't do. But it's not like that.

It's just that I too have experienced that working with a sale in mind kills my enthusiasm and inspiration.

So therefore I think that as an artist I work best when I work for the sake of it, not for money.

And yet, on the other hand, most of us need to sell in order to maintain their work. There's a clash.

I think it's many artist's struggle with freedom of artistic expression and dependence on a (buying and therefore sustaining) audience.

Do you know "Girl with a Pearl Earring"? It's a movie about Vermeer's famous portrait and why it could have been painted. Besides the fact that it's a lovely movie, with artistic lighting and very little action, the movie is about the painter's struggle with his own artistry and a paying patron. The struggle is heartbreaking. And even though my work will never ever come close to his skillful work, I did recognize the inner struggle.

Zom said...

You have expressed yourself well Journalicious.

I think sometimes we need to look at our belief that we need to choose between artistic expression and selling. Joyfully it is not always the case.

But if it is, I hope as artists we are able to give at least some of our time to our personal expression, as I feel this is where our unique gifts lie.

lynne h said...

oh zom, your words "but i am afraid that i am on another track altogether." just warm my soul...

diverge away, my friend... xo

Lisa Klow said...

Oh, my GOD, it's like he was channeling my Dad. I really hate that entire marketing concept - oh, look, something is popular and making money, therefore you should do it, too. This happens in movies, music, t.v., even snack foods - something's "hot" and suddenly there are tons more. I have to do my own thing. If it's not popular and marketable, so be it. But, as an artist, I could never say to myself: Oh, look, that style is selling, let me start painting like that. As the old saying goes, I gotta be me.

Zom said...

Lisa, that marketing concept kills creativity too I think. All the television programs and movies based on some formula -- BORING!

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I have let the idea of having to market myself keep me from creating. But I've also been so frustrated with the thought that I am only an artist if I am selling my work or trying to make a career of it (which sadly require marketing). I actually shut down my art blog because of the inner turmoil and am trying to find my way back to creating again.

This is my journey. I love that other people have found their niche and create for that narrow market; they license their art and now I can buy calendars and cards and bookmarks with art that I love. But that's not what I want to do. What I do is an act of love. I rarely create to keep and love losing myself in a piece that is for someone in particular not the elusive, evasive marketed customer.