An essay on the best way to get rid of some really bad art.
I have been asked via Facebook Messenger about how one should go about selling art by a young artist in India. First off, I am the last person that anyone should be asking that question. I am terrible at marketing art. I always have been. I always will be. That doesn't mean that I don't know how others have gone about becoming very successful at generating an income, indeed, a huge fortune, at marketing their art during their life time. The first answer is easy. Do what sells. Marketing a lot of art and making a lot of money has absolutely nothing to do with creativity. It is about being a great con artist. Creativity entails a level of honesty. Marketing art and creativity are diametrically opposed activities. That is to say, the best way to make money at doing art is to be as non-creative as possible and still create an object that can be sold. That being said, skip the rest of the essay because I have nothing to say that is going to help an actual artist sell their work.
First off, I am the descendant of an indigenous tribe of people that are commonly referred to as the Cherokee Nation. The cultural and spiritual aspirations of this indigenous tribe were never, are not, concerned with the accumulation of material possessions. One only needed to strive for the basic needs of survival. After that, all other efforts were focused on either objects that were an expression of personal identity or else communal cultural aspirations. Expression of personal identity could be objects that were spiritual objects, like a Sacred Pipe, or ceremonial regalia, like shell gorgets or bead work. One's status within the community and society was never associated with the acquisition of material goods. Creativity was a process and function of spiritual intent. That remains a primary reason for me to do “art” today. The concept of making a living by selling ones work, as in the commercialization of creativity, is one that is imposed from foreign social dynamics. Asking me how to sell art successful and make a living at art is asking me how to function within the “white man's world”. I really don't know and I don't care. The very nature of the process is an act of cultural genocide upon the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (North and South America).
With all that disclaimer business out of the way let's jump in and have some fun exploring how to make money. Again, the less you say with your work, the easier it is going to be to sell it. That is an important aspect of the current art market. During the 1960's a number of artists emerged that sold a lot of art and did very well at saying very little. Studying their marketing strategy is the best way of figuring out how to make the most money in the art world while one is a living artist. The best way to make a lot of money from your art is to die, but that topic should be left for another day. While I am raking the art market through the mud, as only a matter of a passing nod to the reality of how irrelevant it is to creativity and art, I should also mention that I am the opinion that every art instructor and administrator of university fine art departments should be arrested for embezzlement and imprisoned for life. One can teach how to create art. One can not teach creativity, nor does the “Art Academy” do a very good job of teaching art students how to market their art. As one gallery owner put it, becoming a successful artist (ie. Selling a lot of art work, which is the only kind of success that a gallery owner is interested in) is based upon three things. Who you know. Where you show. Who you blow. One would think that this market strategy would be gender inclusive, but I couldn't tell you. I've never aspired to utilize this market strategy. There are a number of examples of artists out there that suggest that this market plan is still viable. If selling a lot of art work is what drives you, then know that marketing art is hard work, but the good thing about it is that you can pray while you are on your knees.
I suppose if one is going to go to a university to study fine art and this person has aspirations of selling their art work and surviving from it, then there is nothing wrong with taking some classes in business management and marketing. The first and most important thing that an aspiring artist should recognize is that art is a business. A business needs to do bookkeeping and spreadsheets. If you can't afford to pay someone else to do this then learn to do it your self. Learn how to do marketing. That's the question here, right? You aren't going to learn about marketing in the same class as the one that teaches you how to use turpentine to thin your oil paint down so it smears around faster and easier and you can get a painting down in two hours, how long most art classes last, or if you get really fast at it, you can get it down to thirty minutes like Bob Ross. Be sure to add some Happy Trees.
In the context of creativity, Bob Ross would be a bad example. He basically did the same landscape painting over and over again, with small variations, with techniques that allowed him to work fast and create work within the time frame of a television show. That was his art. He created an identity of being a good presenter for television. It was a notable effort. He was a combat veteran of the Vietnam War that started painting as part of therapy for PTSD. His chatter throughout his television shows that we all love so much is how one talks one's self away from the edge. He didn't start out with aspirations of selling his paintings. He started out with aspirations of engaging in activities that pushed the rat-a-tat-tat into the background enough so he didn't do self harm or hurt others. His wife realized that there was market potential in putting him in front of a video camera and letting him chatter away while he found some momentary peace. One of the best things any artist can learn from Bob Ross is the importance of getting good turpentine and have lots of paint rags about. Other than that, one should never have any aspirations to replicate his success. You really don't want to go through what he went through in order to get there.
Self-replication is the name of the game in the art market, and indeed, the art world. The Art Academy, that exclusive cult we call art education, is all about self-replication. Doing art that imitates your instructor gives them this sense of validation that they are important as an artist, and thus the student is rewarded with good grades. The best art instructors are the best ass kissers, and since that's how they made it in the Academy, they expect the same from their students. I got a lot of C's in the university. I'll explain to you why that is later. Pucker up, buttercup. Getting good grades in art class has nothing to do with creativity. And speaking of, I've done a bit of reading about what creativity is and it is all mystery. The Ancient Greeks associated it with the Muses. Like creativity and inspiration are an outside source and the artist can court the Muse. Actually Ancient Greek literature didn't address painting or fine art back then because this is all basically new activities among humans. Poetry and theater, judicial matters, and government were topics of interest with respect to the Muses. Along with composition, shading, priming the canvas, learning to do lost wax casting sculpture, and so forth, I took a class in aesthetics. It's a great field within the department of philosophy that inspires learned pursuants to come up with cleaver ways of saying that they have no idea what creativity is. The Ancient Greeks put it best. Don't look under the skirt of your Muse. She will get embarrassed and leave. That means; don't spend a lot of time trying to figure out where inspiration comes from. Just know that you either got it or you don't. Those that have it, do it. Those that don't, teach it. I know a person who has aspirations to be a great writer. He is very good with the craft of writing. He lacks a Muse. He has made a good living as a journalist and editor for other writers who were inspired but not as skilled in the craft of writing. I can barely stand to read his own creative efforts. Even his efforts at imitation of other great writers is bad.
The most important thing to keep in mind with respect to great artists becoming successful is that they didn't get there on their own. Learning how to file business reports for tax purposes is a good skill to learn as part of learning to be a professional artist, so when you do generate enough cash flow from your efforts and you can hire someone to do the accounting and bookkeeping, you'll know how to read their reports and know when they are doing a bad job. Willie Nelson trusted his accountant and got ran through the wringer because his accountant was charging him for income taxes but put the money in his own pocket instead of sending it to the IRS. Knowing how to write a hit song and knowing how to read a balance sheet aren't taught in the same class. If making money from your art work is your primary aspiration then the best thing that you can do as an artist is poke your eyes out and make a living as a beggar. You'll make more money.
There is some great art out there and the art market is the number one financial market where a lot of funds are being exchanged without any oversight or regulation. Among the living artists that are selling a lot of art through galleries, if that is the path that interests you, see the marketing plan I pointed out earlier. The meat market is alive and well in the “art world”. Meanwhile, there are a number of artists who have been very successful, success being defined by their bank accounts, without going through the process of the “3 who's”. Well, one of them is where you show, but anyway. There are a number of artists who have made a few million selling their paintings, and prints of their paintings, who never had a show in Paris, London, or New York City. Seascapes have been one of those subjects that sell like hot cakes. It's a bit like Bob Ross with sand and incoming tide. Finding a subject matter that sells easily and doing a lot of them is one way to make money. The conflict with creativity in doing this is a discussion for another day. Like when I was visiting a Native American artist in New Mexico who talked about his struggles to survive and provide for his family from his visionary art, while comparing his life and career to a peer that he had gone to collect with at the Sante Fe Art Institute for Native Americans. That artist did the typical tourist art of landscapes with pueblo scenes and made a few million. He decided to drop out of that market and do his own work. The kind of work that he was inspired to do when he first started in college. After six months of this he killed himself. The Muse of inspiration was gone and all that money and financial security didn't matter. Poke your eyes out. Really.
The second worse thing that can happen to an artist who is talented and inspired, after they don't poke their eyes out, is to become famous. Fame kills creativity. Fame demands stability and stability means that you avoid innovation and self-replicate yourself, over and over, until you croak. Defining success is a tricky business. It isn't about cash flow and market value, obviously, unless you fancy yourself a cross-disciplinary artist/porn star. To be a successful artist you have to complete the next work of art. Given all the forces at play to squelch creativity, functioning in a creative manner and getting work done is a success. That's the reality of creativity. There's a bit of a gap between a successful artist who is still doing art ten years after they get out of college as opposed to the market concept of successful. Being an artist is a tough reality. There is no fast track to success like one might find in other career choices. It's a lot of hard work and being at the right place at the right time, shaking a lot of hands at art openings, and marketing. Marketing is basically story telling. You have to have a good rap. Go hang out with street artists who have easels set up painting while they have a display of their work behind them. Listen to them talk to potential customers. They know how to hustle. They can't sell paintings for thousands of dollars on the street so they do a lot of work fast and sell it cheap, fast. Listen to their rap. This is the blue print for your market strategy. Patrons love a good story to go with their acquisition from a living artist. If you don't have a story ready for every painting, you won't sell art. Selling art face to face, whether to studio visitors, at street markets and art fairs, or in galleries, is the most satisfying way to make a living. That doesn't mean you don't pursue gallery representation. The trade off is that they take a big chunk of sale but you sell more work that way. You derive more income by having a gallery sell ten paintings than you do by selling one painting directly to a patron. Learning to navigate through the gallery scene is a whole other class that you won't learn from a college professor. You have to beat the pavement and get out there. Go to gallery openings. Eat the free food. Go easy on the free wine if you indulge. Patrons love watching an artist make a fool of themselves after they get drunk at a gallery opening. That's one of the reasons they go to openings. They love to watch you fall all over yourself. That doesn't sell art. Yours or the other artist.
The most important goal of marketing strategy is learning how to develop a patron base. That's marketing 101. You need patrons. You will need to start out small. Small means paintings that you can carry under your arm. Small means a lot of drawings. Early on in your career you will be selling a lot of sketches and drawings. Be careful and don't sell the ones you need for studies of major paintings when you can afford to do one and have the patronage to support the effort. Do a lot of small drawings and paintings. Sell them at a price that keeps them moving. Don't undersell them below their value but don't expect to win the lottery at it either. The best way to price your work is to go to art fairs and galleries and see what the market is supporting. It breaks down into several categories. The medium, the size, the actual work, your age, and whether you had to get down on your knees to make the sale. Pricing art is complicated. Sometimes you sell more art if you double the price because the patrons are going to brag about how important the work is and they never brag about how cheap it was. Understand that about your patrons. They are supporting you. Not looking for bargains. It's a strange market and the psychology of it all is very different from selling refrigerators.
Keep in mind that moral support from family, friends, and peers is not the same as developing a patron base. Your mother may have some great ideas that she wants you to paint but she isn't going to buy those paintings. A few drawings here and there are okay, but having a fan base is not the same as a patron base. All those other artists that click the “like” button on your social media page aren't going to buy your work. A thousand “like” clicks won't buy a gallon of milk. Enjoy the moral support but don't confuse this to be a marketing strategy for one minute. Patrons have their checkbooks out and are writing in them. Some of my best patrons have never clicked the “like” button one time.
I'm a slut when it comes to marketing my art. For the right price I will do anything. You want an oil painting of your dog? $20,000.00 up front and the balance as per the contract and I'll start first thing tomorrow. I may be a slut but I'm not a cheap whore when it comes to my art. Art is serious business. Commissions are a great way to earn a living as an artist. Learn what a good contract looks like and use them. Handshakes work sometimes but the bigger the price tag, the greater the need for good paperwork. People love to con artists out of their work for some reason. We are supposed to be stupid when it comes to business matters and we live up to that reputation in so many way. I love the story of an artist who was commissioned to paint a mural in a famous actor's home. The price was agreed to with a handshake. There was a basic understanding of what was wanted. The artist was provided a small living space in the residence so he could live there and work. He got meals provided. As he started to work the concept changed. Changes had to be made to the mural. What was supposed to be a month long project was going on for six months and the patron's teenage daughter was having an affair with the artist as well. It was getting complicated. Finally the artist packed up one day and left. He never got paid. What sounded like a great situation to start with turned into a nightmare. Maybe he even got sued for breech of contract for not completing the project. Paper work covers all that. That is one example of how artists have been ripped off for not doing good legal paper work. Successful artists do commissions and that includes good contracts that make sure they get fairly compensated at the end of the deal.
I love the idea of putting my art work on the side of a coffee mug. Some artists don't like that. Prints, reproductions, T-shirts, mouse pads, sell it all. I love creating bumper stickers. There have been a lot of artists who have made more money from reproductions of their work then they have sales of original work. One way to generate an income from your work is to find a market for reproductions. Getting your art work on an album cover is a great way to market your art. Do a contract. Make sure your name and website appear on the cover. That's the difference between a slut and a cheap whore. Don't give your art away for any reason when it comes to multiples. If they make money off your work, you should be making money also. Learn what copyright laws mean and use them.
/When I was 20 years old it was suggested that I seek out a relationship with a 50 year old heiress. It was a serious suggestion. The only artists that get out of art school and go straight to full time making art either have wealthy parents or a wealthy benefactor (with benefits). The rest of us wash dishes, wait tables, work construction, or find other jobs that drain our energies and sap our creative urges until all those tubes of oil paint stashed under the bed have dried out by the time that we are thirty years old. That's the nature of the profession. A successful artist is one who is still doing art at the age of thirty. It is a hard life and tough reality. On the other hand, being an artist who is still plugging away at sixty eight in spite of the lack of fame and fortune, there are many reasons to hang in there and keep going. Like I alluded to at the start of the essay, I'm doing art for spiritual reasons. I want to do art that elevates everyone's awareness, whatever that means. Welcome to the spirit world of indigenous cosplay. One minute I might be talking about subatomic physics and interstellar space. The next minute I might be talking about Grandmother Spider and the Star Nations. It's all the same thing. Just different names. I have a very definite reason for being an artist. I like money. I don't have issues with selling art or making money. I consider my work to be of value and anticipate deriving financial compensation for my work when it goes to live with someone else. But money and financial success doesn't define me or serve as a value judgment about how good my art is. In order to derive the best experience out of the creative process, resolving those questions of identity and spirituality are going to be very important. Your mother or spouse may not agree with your motivations. That's part of the challenge of being an artist. Get used to it. Success is signing a completed work. Do a lot of work. Small stuff that gets the creative juices going but also don't be a purist to the level you refuse to do stuff that is easy to sell early on. Flowers sell easy. You want to make money with your art. Paint flowers. I could have said that and skipped all this other stuff about blow jobs and poking out your eyes. To those artists still reading this, do art because it is the motivation and inspiration that the Universe has provided. It is a sacred trust between humanity and the Universe. We go into the Great Unknown and come back with inspiration to do something that has never been done before. That sense of childlike wonder that comes from this process is beyond material and financial measure. To everyone else still reading that are curious about how the artist goes about marketing, it's an easy mix of overlapping models of counter-espionage, political science, insider trading, and drug trafficking. We just provide the product. Love.
Oliver Loveday © August 15, 2021 1:40pm EDT