Thursday, November 6, 2014

When Bad is Good

Another sale!!!! Once again, an online artist I know has made another sale. The work itself, by all standards is bad; her training in the arts, non-existent. That is not to say that self-taught artists do not produce and sell excellent work. But, they train. They read books, practice and take workshops. They apprentice with other artists. This artist is proud to state that she has been painting for a couple of years and has never taken a class, nor does she read……anything. 

So what is it that draws people toward her work, enough so that they put out hard cash to own one? . After several months of reading, visiting galleries and watching traffic on the internet, I have concluded that one huge factor in the success of any artist is not necessarily the quality of the work, but the person/artist themselves and their story.

People do not just buy the work; they buy the artist first, and then the work.  We have instant access to all sorts of quality art, music and writing today through the internet. We don’t even have to leave the couch to find it, purchase it, and have it delivered right to the door. No one is really venturing out their door in search of good art. Well, very few anyway. What they want is the story. This story may be about the thought process in the making of the art or the motivation behind the making of the work. Or, it may be your personal story; the story of YOU.

The latter type of story is the one that is not necessarily told by you, but by others telling a story about you. All you do for the storyteller is provide the fuel. And here is where the artist needs to be so very careful.   Be intentional and attentive with the 'fuel' you are providing.

I can mention a few names here and a ‘story’ will immediately come to mind for you. Names like Joplin, Garcia, Hendrix, Lady Gaga, Lennon and Dylan. These musicians do not even need to use their first names for us to know their story.

For the visual artists we have Picasso, Warhol, Van Gogh and Hirst. All the stories that we tell about these artists were fueled by the artists themselves.

‘So how do I get these buyers to like me  and my story?’ you ask. Well I am no expert on this but I will offer my ideas.

We need to share something of value with them. We need to give them more than a sales pitch. We have to bring it to a personal level. In the case of the artist mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is her vulnerability; her victimization. A week seldom passes that there is not some huge tragedy in her life. And we all like to be the rescuer. So, we buy a painting because that will cheer her up. That will bring some positive into her life.  I do not mean to suggest that these buyers do not like the painting they are buying.  But they like the story first and then go in search of a painting they like and can live with second.  And she graciously offers up gratitude for those who have stepped up to purchase her work. And I believe she is truly thankful and sincere. We love a tragedy and we love to be the rescuer. The something of value here is that she has given us the opportunity to step up and save the day, even in a small way.   She sets up as a victim.

So, back to my thought that we need to SHARE something of VALUE with them. Value comes with the connections we make. We all like to know that others are experiencing the same things we are experiencing. It gives us a sense of community. So, stop always presenting yourself as the successful hero/heroine.  Show your vulnerabilities and your weaknesses. Everyone needs to see your humanness.  I am not suggesting you hide your success either.  But balance it out so that a potential buyer can see your humanness.

Every now and then, show your willingness to step outside the box. Do something that makes you uniquely you. That could involve your travels and sharing through writing about your adventures. We have a local artist who travels extensively and paints and writes about his adventures. Through him we can become armchair adventurers. And…….we buy the work. because we love the adventure.  Somehow, that gives us ownership to being part of the story.

Promote other artists whose work you admire. And the opposite of that is to NEVER tear down the work of other artists. (I say this after last missive, offering up negative comments about Hirst). As I painter I do not only promote other painters but musicians, dancers and actors who I admire and know.   Some artists do not like to do this because they may perceive the other as competition. Competition is GOOD.  

Disempowering others never serves you well. I have heard of many artists giving workshops and telling the participants that so-an-so is not a good artist; a good instructor. 

Get involved with your community. That is, your actual community and your virtual community. Be willing to help others on their path to success. There is more to this than money. Share your knowledge, be willing to help, offer yourself as a speaker to community groups. Most of all, be authentic.

Be careful with your artist statement. Potential buyers do read them. Making yourself sound overly erudite will not serve you well. My favourite artist statement comes from an online friend who says, “I paint. Sometimes I use cement.”

How do you know what type of reputation you are building and if it is headed in the right direction for you? Listen to what others say about you. Recently, when asked if I would teach a workshop quite a distance from where I live, I asked how she had heard my name. She said she had not seen my work, (very honest of her) but another instructor told her I was an expert at painting on synthetic papers and with encaustic. Why I tell you this, is that I am far from an expert encaustic painter. I paint mostly with cold wax, not encaustic and I remain far from an expert at either. . I started to paint on synthetics long before they became popular and used cold wax long before it became well known. That doesn’t necessarily make me an expert, just an experimenter. This has become my story. Because I was willing to experiment and take risks with new materials, it has helped to brand my name in a certain way.  Participants in my workshops often comment that I motivate them to play and experiment and I make painting FUN.   So, that seems to have become part of my story/brand.  
 And that, in turn, helps potential buyers to understand my story and make a connection. 

And those, my friends, are my thoughts on this subject.

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