3 dangerous art-business assumptions.
We all know the saying, to assume makes an ass of you and me. Or something to that effect. This one's for all my fellow artists out there, slogging away at your own business, creating and selling little parts of your soul! We make the world a better place by creating our treasures. And I'd like to share with you some anti-assumptions that I have come to learn and realise. They are true for me, take from them what you will. I'm sure they will not be completely applicable to all. And because we are visual creatures I've used a very modern and original colour coding system for your reading pleasure. Here are the art business assumptions you have that are wrong!
1. Act like a business. WRONG ✘
It took me a few years to figure this one out. Being a professional artist isn't like being a professional accountant. You don't need to wear a suit, use jargon and hide your tattoos to be taken seriously. Especially when starting out on your art business journey, it's easy to fall into the trap of acting 'professionally' in order to seem competent. I see countless artists doing this every day. And you know how endearing it is? About as endearing as a dead lepper's undies. Acting like a corporation may make you seem like you have your shit together (who really does though, c'mon) - but it makes it difficult for people to connect with your art.
1. Be authentic. RIGHT ✔
So what's the alternative to acting like a professional-business-type-corporation? Acting like an individual-type-artist-person. Who knew it was as easy as being yourself! Art is usually a very emotional thing. People feel something when they look at your art. That's what makes it special. And that's what makes you special too. When you interact with your customers in person and online, being your authentic self will make them feel connected to you. And in turn, more connected to your art. (Which, hey, may lead to more sales.)
Take action: You might like to try using language such as 'I' rather than 'we'. We is cold and corporate, it implies that multiple people work for the business and keeps the customer at a distance. When writing a social media post, email or website page - try and write the way you speak. This will help convey more of your personality, which is a good thing because hey - you're awesome! And people want to connect with you and your art.
Don't be afraid to share your successes and your set-backs. If you present this flawless, perfect image, chances are people aren't going to connect with you. Think about it, I bet your favourite artist is someone you connect with? You feel like you're right there with them, having similar life experiences. Guess what - no one has a flawless, professional, successful life - so pretending like you do will only alienate people.
2. Galleries will always sell your artwork. WRONG ✘
I've only JUST realised this. For some reason I always believed that if I could get my artwork exhibited in galleries, they would sell my work better than I can. That's their job, right? Maybe not. Galleries rely on a customer base that is generally interested in the type of artwork that they generally exhibit. Generally. If your artwork doesn't quite fit (and let's face it, who's artwork perfectly fits anywhere? All the best stuff is a little weird) then it's probably not going to appeal to their customer base. And sure, maybe you'll luck out and find a gallery who's customer base is perfect for your work. Incredible! But I haven't seen that happen very often. Not to mention, galleries are often trying to sell multiple artists' work at once, which splits their focus. (And yes, they do an amazing job and I love exhibiting in galleries. But assuming they will always sell your art doesn't serve you.) Your only focus is selling your artwork!
2. You are the best salesperson for your work. RIGHT ✔
You are the most enthusiastic, dedicated and knowledgable salesperson for your art. Your customer base (think: Insta & FB followers, mailing list subscribers, website viewers) are very specifically and directly interested in your exact artworks. Hard to beat. So make the most of it. Stop waiting for someone else to sell your art for you. You are the wonderful creature that produced an artwork, and by Jove you'll be the one to sell it too. Now, I know the prospect of selling your art is uncomfortable at first. Don't think of it as selling. Nobody knows how to sell art. It's a highly emotional purchase, you can't just put it on the shelves at Kmart and hope it will sell. Start to think of it as connecting. It's your job to help people connect with your artwork. If a piece connects with them enough, they will buy it.
Take action: When you list an artwork on your website/Etsy/FB - wherever- tell a story about it. Don't describe it like an item at Bunnings (Ryobi ONE+™ 18V Compact Drill Driver is compatible with all ONE+ Batteries. Comes complete with a 13mm keyless chuck, 2 speed gearbox, magnetic tray, and LED light making it the ideal drill driver for all sorts of drilling and screw-driving applications.)
NO. BORING. I'M GOING TO VOMIT FROM BOREDOM.
Instead, try telling a story about it. What you were thinking when you created it. How you feel about it now. What it would mean to you if somebody were to purchase it. How much you want to find a good home for it. It will feel uncomfortable at first, sharing these thoughts with total strangers who may come across your internet and read it. But trust me, people are buying the story and process of creation just as much as the final product.
And don't be ashamed to give yourself a plug! For so long I was apologetic about saying 'my artwork is here and it's for sale'. So much so, that recently a friend was surprised to hear that my artwork was for sale at all. They didn't even REALISE that my artworks were FOR SALE. It was at that moment I realised I was doing something horribly, horribly wrong. Rather than feeling like I was annoying or inconveniencing people by posting about my artwork and how much it costs, I made the effort to think about it like a public service announcement. People enjoy artwork and it will bring them happiness if they purchase a piece they love. Therefore it is my DUTY to regularly inform my following that I have artwork for sale.
3. You need to find a style and stick with it. WRONG ✘
I cannot tell you how many years I spent trying to 'find my style', and feeling inadequate about everything I produced. Even if I was happy with an artwork, when the next one I made was in a totally different style, I'd be annoyed with myself. All the 'successful' artists seem to make painting after painting that look similar, all having a signature style that the fans want time and time again. UGH. I would try so many different looks and approaches, experimenting and hoping to find a style that clicked. That was unique. That was recognisable as mine. And don't get me wrong, this process of discovery is very important. You should experiment. But don't beat yourself up about it. If you simply reapply a formula to every painting you do - you will never get better, you will never grow, and people will become tired of you art anyway.
3. Your art should evolve and grow with you. RIGHT ✔
It took me a while to realise that all the distinct and fabulous styles of my favourite artists - actually evolve over time. If you look at any artists work, each year their artwork will be different. It may be subtle, or obvious. But I can guarantee that it is changing. We are not robots. We are not workers in an assembly line at the art factory. We feel different things, we learn and grow, we need to explore. Sure, having a remotely consistent style helps people know what to expect from you. But the pursuit of a 'style' should not come at the cost of your own creative expression and development.
Take action: Do not. Be afraid. Of change. Try something new. Ask your network what they think of it. Rather than being apologetic, try captioning an Instagram post of a new artwork like this "Trying something TOTALLY out of my comfort zone today guys, really excited and nervous about it! Let me know what you think of it!" This ties back to being authentic and developing that connection. If your following responds by hating on your art (they won't) then you can learn from that. Maybe you'll find new fans that enjoy this new direction. Just like you make new friends and lose touch with old friends throughout life, as you change and grow. So too will your art find new fans and lose old fans. C'est la vie. Don't lose sleep over it.
There you have it! Those are the insights I have to offer after years and years of figuring this stuff out on my own. Sometimes it takes me so long to learn a lesson that I don't even realise I'm learning it. Feel free to comment below with any other tips you can share!