What I Have Learned: The Business of Art

One topic I haven't addressed much here is the business aspect of Art as Career. For the most part, it's because I feel there are others who do it better than me, and can advise you best. My take on the matter is as fluid as my painting life. I move with eyes open as usual, but just a bit wider when it comes to protecting my work, and my name. However, I'm always careful to understand that my first job is to be clear and unencumbered enough to create. Sometimes that doesn't fit in the mold of 'business'. I will hit the big points here in point blank kind of language. There is so much to this topic..it may take a few discussions to cover. Please feel free to ask for more details, and I apologize if any of this is overtly obvious. 

What I have learned, is that deciding to pursue this life of art is different than society's definition of what a career looks like. Even though you may keep a 40 hour week, we all know that more goes on behind the scenes. This is important. I like to call it living with Antennaes Up. Not only in the form of inspiration, but opportunities. You can stage your creative life to have a 'business day' or whatever,,, but…that has never worked for me. I just do a few things as the need comes up and never proceed in a calculated fashion. Be You about it, but always proceed professionally in how you present yourself and your work. 

Let's look at the ways jobs have changed, just in my own lifetime. When I was in high school, my course of study was the business track. I learned all the skills a good secretary would need. The other big choices were, nursing, and teaching. A few random other careers mixed in, but mostly, that was it. Look at it now. Throughout history, jobs have come and gone. The call for specific skills and fields of interest, changes from generation to generation.  What about the lowly 'starving artist'? The path all our parents were afraid of letting us go into? Yes, agreed, we have a fluctuating income. However,  we are always around. Artists have always been on the scene, making things. The numbers of people who buy our work may change from year to year, but the interest in what we do, the recognition of our worth, is (generally speaking) always there in some form or another.  Take that in, friends.

Ok, what I have also learned, is that what our lives as artists look like from year to year also changes. I frankly am not a believer in Setting Goals. (I know.) That falls into the category of Making a Plan. That's just me. It harkens back to the Antennae Up thing. When you are a creative person, creative solutions exist, because you are hard wired to see them. It's not always about thinking them up. Sometimes the best solution is the one you never would have dreamed of.

Just a recap of some of the creative 'jobs' I've had: illustrator, designer, jewelry crafter, silk painter, gallery associate, photographer, sign maker, carnival temporary tattoo artist, art teacher, landscape painter, decorative artist,  portrait painter, figurative painter.

Now mind you, that may not be enough to put bread on the table. That's fine too. That's when we do what we have to do in order to have that regularity. Be it a whole different day job, or another means of making money that does not interfere with your creative work. Keeping in mind, that it's not forever, if you don't want it to be.

Contracts. Always have agreements in writing, and take deposits on commissions. Non refundable deposits. Your time is important, and I'm not talking the hours you put into the piece. Your history.

Payment Plans are a great idea. There are lots of easy ways now to handle transactions.

Diversifying your options are key. It's best to not put all your eggs in one income basket. If you'd like to show in galleries, do your homework, figure out a few places that look like a good fit, then ask around about them. Look at their roster of artists, contact a few, and ask if they like working with the folks running it. Always keep in mind there are NO definites in this Art World. Just because a gallery is showing your work is no reason to stop marketing yourself apart from them, as well as with them.  There is no guarantee they will sell a thing. They have 20-50 other artists in their gallery as well. NEVER undercut a gallery. Sell your work at retail across the board. You can factor in discounts to collectors if you wish, but you need to be professional out there.

Get on social media and talk. Not just what you have won, and where you are showing, but who you are. It doesn't have to get personal. I rarely share family stories, preferring to keep all that private..but I do share quirks about my cats. (I know)

When it comes to 'finding your voice'…let it go. It will find you. What do you love doing most? Thinking about what sells is never something I thought about too much. I just knew I love to paint portraits, and by golly that's what I'm doing. If you enjoy creating in different genres, that's fine, but focus your efforts on producing the best work possible. If one type of work is falling away in quality, you have an answer. Quality first. Always put your best out there.

Enter competitions with your very best work. That was my ticket to getting noticed but it comes with a lot of STUFF. It can harsh your buzz in a big way if you get rejected, and blow up your head if you get accepted. It's difficult staying even. Just remember, it's all subjective. It really is. SO many variables go into judging, and rarely is it "my work isn't good enough." Keep trying, until it gets old. (I'm kind of there now.)

Create relationships. This relates to start talking on social media. A big draw back I find with galleries is that I never know who my collectors are thru them. I like knowing who owns my work. We chat. My experience has been that collectors really like to know more about us, and what happened in the creation of our work, especially ones they own. This is partly why I share so much in words and process talk. They have asked. NO one, so far, who has purchased my work has said "gee, I really don't care to know about how you work, and what you were thinking." Believe me, they want this information. It becomes part of the story of the work that will be passed on.

Bottom line is, be true to how you are, and not what is "Out There". Whether it's what you paint, or how you present yourself. Be authentic. People know the difference.

My biggest take away, and what I give to you, is that you have to be ok with change. This is what I tell my high school students. If having a regular paycheck is important, with benefits, blah blah (although in this political climate…don't get me started),,,Then being an artist is not for you. The creative life is immensely satisfying and amazingly difficult. Your life will be rich in experiences, and sometimes, you will even get paid for it. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Be Fearless.

Hope all this is helpful in some way.