Yesterday, Cherie Hanson of Kelowna, B.C., Canada, wrote, “My work explores several directions at once. For me it is not a linear path, not a clearly designated roundabout with branches shooting off at well defined distances to clearly marked destinations, it is a dance. Consistent work that is the same year to year is what galleries seem to need in order to sell. How do I sell my art and still stay true to my need to experiment and explore? Most artists do not want to dance to anyone else’s tune. How do we market and still remain true? What percentage of time would you recommend that an artist should create, and what percentage ought to be dedicated to marketing?”
Thanks, Cherie. Unfortunately, our world is so constituted that it seldom pays individuals who merely dance. This goes for most professions. A dentist who fixes only the teeth he feels like fixing, or wanders off to look into other mouths before he finishes the ones he has started, is soon looking for other employment. Even a full suite of dental equipment and expensive courses in dental marketing would not help him make a go of it. He might even set up a marketing department to try to snag people on their way to other dentists, but this too would not save him.
Now, I never said there was something wrong with dancing. It’s the life blood of the creative spirit. Dancing to an inner voice builds joy, personal satisfaction and unlocks human potential. But in order to get paid for your dancing, you also need to have workmanlike habits.
In relatively normal and un-hyped situations, it’s been my observation that dedication to workmanlike habits need not mean the selling out of the creative spirit. Persistently reinforced and steady habits may actually be an instrument for quality and imaginative solutions. Habits make better products shine. It’s not someone else’s tune — it’s the steady evolution of your own.
To answer your question — one that is being legitimately asked by countless thousands of would-be artists — spend little time on marketing and lots on developing habits and skills. If you end up not getting the habits and skills, you won’t need to take the marketing course because you’re not suited for the job. Then you might consider the noble art of dentistry. People line up for dentists who know how.
PS: “Now then, you of noble mind, who love this profession, come at once to art and accept these precepts: enthusiasm (love), reverence, obedience, and perseverance.” (Cennino Cennini, 1370-1440)
Esoterica: A liberal arts education indulges dancing. But many students who choose to stay in the ballroom may miss taking part in the greater dance of life. Learn the steps, yes, but the real skills come after, and they are just as hard won. Unless you get a miraculous lifelong grant, or a legacy from Uncle Harry, you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves. Staying true is all about falling in love. Fall in love and be loyal to your own steadily developing processes, and you can minimize other courses.
The value of full exploration
by Mary Moquin, Sandwich, MA, USA
Not all galleries are looking for consistent work year to year — consistent quality, yes. But what they want to see is the thread of growth that moved the artist from one point to another. It is one thing to explore and grow and discover new sides of yourself. It is another to appear haphazard and capable of only producing a hodgepodge of unrelated work. I have noticed this often occurs because the artist is taking too long in between paintings, so the thread of continuity is lost and new ideas that never find their way to the canvas. To work consistently is to fully explore one concept or idea and paint it before moving onto the next. My advice is to focus.
Marketing only in ‘down time’
by Petra Voegtle, Munich, Germany
Beside skills and technical mastership, I have learnt that creating a sustainable business model for your art is simply the second standing leg that is necessary to make it prosperous and healthy. There is a simple strategy I am following: the times I am not likely to take the brush for reasons such as procrastination, lack of or too many ideas, being bored and all the other “excuses” one might have, I do my promotional and computer work, such as updating my website, research on materials etc. That simple. This does not only give me the assurance that I did not waste time but instead did something valuable and necessary. And from an increased knowledge new ideas may be born.
Sticking to vision pays off
by Ron Elstad, Anaheim, CA, USA
In the last couple of years I came across two great galleries who have been looking for someone just like me. They love my work and they are very happy to have me on board. They like the fact that I am unique. They just took twenty-five pieces of my work and they want more ASAP. It was a good thing as I just painted and kept painting without concerning myself with what was popular or who was selling the most and so on. Oh yes, I’ve made my share of sacrifices, but I have never been unhappy about who I am as a painter.
Quietly annoyed at gallery choices
by Nancy Bea Miller, Philadelphia, PA, USA
I am an emerging artist and just started to have galleries come to me, interested in my work. Unfortunately, they are all, to a gallery, interested only in one aspect of my work: my still-life. In vain I show them my figurative work that has won several grants and been featured in magazine articles. “Uh-huh, very nice, but we only want your still-life.” I am not in a position yet where I can insist on being taken on as an entire package, so I comply, quietly annoyed. And of course, because I am now supplying various galleries with still-life work, I have less time to spend on my figurative work. I wonder how long before that side of my painting life will just atrophy and fall away. And will it matter?
Chasing the sweet embrace of success
by Clint Watson, San Antonio, TX, USA
Artists should, as you point out, always “start with the art.” Development of proper artistic habits is essential to being an artist. That seems a self-evident statement, but I am surprised at how many non-developed artists attempt to move too quickly into marketing. The simple fact of life is that artists must, first and foremost, develop their artistic “chops,” just as musicians must develop their musical “chops,” or as I, being a software craftsman, must develop my programming abilities. However, after reaching a certain level of proficiency on the artistic side, artists should not pursue a haphazard, unplanned, or shotgun approach to marketing. But being in business, one should learn the proper habits of marketing. After all, business really is nearly ALL marketing. Otherwise, enjoy your hobby.
(RG note) Thanks, Clint. You can read Clint’s essay Chasing the Sweet Embrace of Success by Developing Habits.
On marketing versus skill
by Jim Connelly, Jenison, MI, USA
If I have the option to paint or market, I paint because I am a painter. I think the best marketing tool is a great product and in painting, that can take years. Some are successful at marketing and make a living at selling their work. These people become professional marketers. Some are successful painters, make a living at selling their work and have the satisfaction of acquiring great skill. These people become professional painters. It is easy to spend way too much time and money marketing an inferior product. You might sell some or you might even sell a whole bunch, but what have you created a market for?
Get off the pedestal
by Karl Heerdt, Lockport, NY, USA
Far too many young artists coming out of schools today have had a disservice done to them. They are under a delusion that they can produce anything and everything under the guise of creativity — pure art, whimsy and the like — that they can produce all manner of abominations under this cover, and be successful. Unfortunately, the real art world is not like this. It takes a great deal of hard work and determination to work along certain lines of thought and to be dedicated to improving your work and keeping a course. There is nothing wrong with variety in work, or experimenting with new ideas. In fact if you look at all the famous artists that are and have been, there is often a great variety in their work. They chose a style and subject, and worked hard for years until they got it right, until they excelled in it, until they stood out from all the others that were doing it! I don’t mean to stomp on aspiring artists’ dreams, but we as artists need to get off the pedestal and take our work seriously, not ourselves.
Feeding the soul and the bank account
by Barrett Edwards, Naples, FL, USA
I wonder how much of Cherie’s artistic wandering is based on her inability to define her creative identity. If an artist feels an emotional connection to his/her subject and style, that emotion will be reflected in the painting we all know that. But having faced the same dilemma that Cherie and others are facing, I’m betting that if she/they were to spend some serious time pouring though art magazines and books, making careful note of which art resonated the most strongly, at the end of the exercise they would see a virtual arrow pointing them in a fairly clear direction.
In my case, I literally cut out photos and assembled them on a full-sized mat board. Yes, I still want to paint a wide range of subjects, and yes, I still want to dance, wildly, freely. But now I know which music can keep me consistent and consistently feed both my soul and my bank account.
The inconsistency of youth
by Tiit Raid, Fall Creek, Wisconsin, USA
You didn’t mention how old Cherie Hanson is but she sounds like a young artist. I used to change my style and subject matter often when I was young, not that I was consciously searching for something that I could stick with but because I got bored after 5 to 7 paintings done in one manner… kind of like the cliche, “been-there-done-that.” This type of thing is perfectly fine when you’re young and don’t need to put your work out in the world.
Your young artist needs to work all of the time — work through all those wonderings. Sooner or later she’ll find that the work will gradually become more consistent. She’ll see more possibilities within the simplest of subjects. A young mind tends to see the surface of things, partly because they don’t have the discipline or the insight to look longer.
New times, new solutions
by Jean Morey, Ocala, FL, USA
Much as I feel that professionalism is in the continued development of one’s own direction, I do feel we need to bend to the times. I have chosen to go back to college and get a degree in creative writing (I graduate in May) and then go for an MFA in illustration. This will allow me to enlarge my publishing market and teach at the college level — both things that will add to my dancing expertise and help me pass on the mountain of knowledge I have gained over the 54 or so years as a professional illustrator. The markets are changing as we write. It can be frustrating but also challenging.
Ideals for the professional
by Linda Walker, Bemidji, MN, USA
An artist balancing professionalism with indulgent artistry must learn to divide up the day so as to do the things that must be done for the market along with the business of art, and still find a little time for ‘dancing’ (should it be deviating from normal creations or indulging in outside interests). If satisfying your market isn’t like dancing, you may find that the more known and respected you become from accomplishing the first, the more accepted and appreciated your explorations may become. Conversely, expending too much focus on any one of these can lead to disappointment both personally and professionally. Finding fulfillment in your work is the ideal.
Learn about life first
by Kare Hellum, Edmonton, AB, Canada
Eastern philosophy has told me that if you want to devote your life to meditation you should first go out there and experience life, fall in love, have children, earn a living working at something you love doing or something that brings in the dough. Until you have lived you cannot meditate, because meditation is a form of abdication from reality and an entry into your inner world. It is a blissful place once you get there, but to get there you first need to shed all those drives that are human. To do that you need to experience them first. To meditate, or to create artistic expressions, one has first to know what these impressions are about. To do both at the same time is very hard and I believe this is why so many artists never succeed in becoming even marginally comfortable. The underpinnings are not there, as of yet.
Better pacing in tutorial demos
by Wayne Robert Hall, Edmonton, AB, Canada
After watching your paint-o-grams, which I found fascinating but somehow unfulfilling, it reminded me that I have a much watched video-cassette of painting demos by you and other members of the FCA (Federation of Canadian Artists). Of course, the difference in these two products may be the difference of two eras, the “paint-o-grams” reflecting the current trend to instant and fleeting everything, and the video-cassette moving at a more normal pace. The one minute “paint-o-grams” may not convey the years of experience required and earned to make each move in your painting process. I prefer the video-cassette demos.
(RG note) Thanks, Wayne. The video you are talking about, Picture This Way, also contains half-hour tutorial demos by Alan Wylie, Joyce Kamikura and Mike Svob. They are now available on DVD, all four painters for $50.00 (Canadian), plus shipping. To get a clearer idea of what they offer, or to place your order, you might give a call to the Federation of Canadian Artists at 604 681-8534 and ask for Rosalind or Ellen.
Do something soon
by Henryk Ptasiewicz, St Louis, MO, USA
Thanks for having the stomach to bring our attention to the Computer user who tries to deny global warming. I assume we are about to hit his inbox with the same ferocity as the hurricane, earthquake, flood, take your pick, that will occur if we don’t do something soon.
(RG note) Thanks, Henryk. Yes, the inbox here lit up with wrath for that one. Some artists wrote to say it was a gross lapse of our judgment to include it. As a painter who has watched a few glaciers recede, I, among others, felt it was our issue too. For those who still think Global Warming is a fraud, I have not yet received any information of glaciers advancing.
Evidence of Global Warming
by Pat O’Driscoll, Waterloo, ON, Canada
In the coming years, artists will be recording the facts of a changing climate in their landscapes and politically oriented works. We might as well base our works on scientific facts rather than rhetoric. Computer user is simply wrong on the subject of climate change. The facts have been established after much research and published in a series of reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established jointly in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme. It has three Working Groups, each populated by many hundreds of working scientists from all over the world who assess the scientific aspects of climate systems, the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, and options for mitigating climate change. The IPCC has issued four major reports since its inception, the most recent just published this month. All are readily available on their website. The report in 2001 concluded that it is very likely that significant global warming is coming in our lifetime, and the 2007 report confirming this has been accepted worldwide as a clarion call for action. Any uncertainty in the conclusions of these reports is more due to lack of knowledge of future human behaviour than to lack of knowledge of the scientific facts. One such behaviour is denial of evident facts.
Three scarves, various motifs
painting on silk chiffon
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Dolores Park of Castleton, VT, USA who wrote, “It wasn’t until I read this letter that I realized how important it is to stay on course and persevere, always being conscious that this path may indeed produce a well organized journey.”
And also Darlene Gray of Regina, SK, Canada who wrote, “What is that letter of crap at the end of this morning’s clickback? ‘Computer User’ can’t even use his real name. For what reason would you include this?”
And also Nancy Cook of Trappe, MD, USA who wrote, “You can have both the satisfaction of your dreams expressed with your imagination flying and the everyday fact of earning money. You must manage your ‘business’ side well enough to support your expressive side.”
And also Artist and gallery owner Nancy Tankersley of Solomons, MD, USA who wrote, “If an artist is prolific and can build several different bodies of work, there is nothing wrong with seeking out different galleries for each different style or medium. But galleries need to know what to expect from an artist, and the artist owes it to the gallery to keep producing quality, marketable work that shows a steady progression within a parameter. When artists reach the fame of a Picasso, then they can put out whatever they want.”
And also Maxine Price of Wimberley, TX, USA who wrote, “I, too, spent many years experimenting with different mediums and going off in many different directions. I finally found greater acceptance for my work in sticking to one medium and arranging my work into 5 or 6 series which can vary widely, from landscapes to pure abstracts. My galleries have not minded this, although I find one or two will prefer some series over others.”
And also Kimberly Slocum of Warren, PA, USA who wrote, “I took a wonderful course called The Artist’s Life by Dave Poulin of Jamestown, NY. He suggested to divide the studio in two. One side is your ‘let me grow do what I want’ side and the other is the work for bread and butter side.”
And also Myra Katz of Anaheim, CA, USA who wrote, “Yesterday I came home from the dentist knowing things had gone badly. I was upset. It was one of those times when things were complicated. Egos were involved, and the lack of professionalism was flagrant. Your letter seemed so personal that it was eerie!”