I’m an American. One of the ways I can tell is that I don’t have a hobby. Americans don’t have hobbies, they have potential businesses. And, as with all businesses, they should be successful.
And, by successful, we mean make money.
If you’re following my logic, then you can surmise that I think I should be making money with my art…and you’d be right. I actually have made money with my art, if you define it as “bring in more money than it costs”, but with no larger plan, it hasn’t really done much more than that.
So, I’ve been doing some reading lately about making money with art, which all started with a 1954 book by Kenneth Harris called “How to Make a Living as a Painter”. It contained a shocking (to me) bit of insight that I find that most artists are ignorant of. It’s called “supply and demand”.
Maybe you’ve heard of it?
Well, Harris (who used to be an advertising exec before quitting to pursue a life of painting) spelled it out to me in a way that I never considered before. Mostly, what your art is worth is exactly what people are paying you for it.
(Artists in the audience, please pause to swivel your head around and look at that stack of art you have sitting on the footstool or leaning against the wall.)
What? You’re not selling your art?
Well, there are reasons for that, and most likely the reasons fall into two categories:
A. You’re not showing it to enough people, and/or
B. You’re asking too high a price.
Now, most likely, you’ve gone along with me on A. “Yeah, there’s all kinds of books on marketing, but I hate to do that stuff.” You do? Really? You hate doing it more than you hate your day job? Really? Doing really great art and not showing it to people will only get you post-mortem recognition. Just ask Van Gogh.
It’s B that threw me off the tracks. Most artists, at some point in their lives ask “what should I charge for my work”, and usually supply the answer by looking at a similar type of artwork done by someone else.
Don’t do that. You aren’t someone else. You don’t know how someone else has advertised and who he is selling to. The question is…who are YOU selling to? Who would you want to buy your art? I’ll answer that one for you. EVERYONE. Yes, eventually, it would be great if some corporate giant or pop star would buy your work. Maybe someday they will, but we’re talking about the very beginning, here.
Your main goal, as an artist who wants to feed himself with his art is to crank out artwork, sell it for what they can get, and crank out more. More is the engine of better. You don’t get better without the “more” part. Without “better”, you can’t hope to ask for thousands of dollars for your pieces. You have to start low, and when you can’t make enough art to keep everyone supplied who wants to buy..THEN you raise your prices a bit.
“But…what about all that TIME I put into the piece? I…I’d just be giving it away!” No, you’re not just giving it away..you’re selling it for the money that people are willing to pay. As for your time, well… you used it to improve your art didn’t you? Let’s face it, a piece sold cheaply is better than all of those pieces you have stacked up against your wall.
“But…I can’t LIVE by selling pieces that cheaply!” Yes, it’s true that you won’t be able to afford that lakeside condo or luxury car, but if you’re an artist, you probably aren’t going to be rich. In fact, you’ll probably be hovering around the poverty level. But..you’ll be doing art full time. You could certainly keep your day job and work on art on the side….it will just take a lot longer for you to be able to make a living off your art.
“But…most people wouldn’t buy the kind of art I make! It’s too (expressionistic, avant garde, industrial, intellectual…insert your favorite adjective)!” Well…have you asked them? I mean…ALL of them? If you haven’t, how do you know? This sort of thing can equal intellectual snobbery, so be wary of it. You don’t know what people will pay for unless you ask them.
So, how do you find those people? Well…to start off, maybe you should forget the internet. Work the market where you are. Think about it, most purchases..particularly of art..are done on an emotional level. If you are dealing with people local to where you are, you start off with an emotional connection! (Much more emotional than a drive-by twitter post). Even if you are doing something with comics, like me, you should try building a core fan base where you live. You never know what it could lead to.
Set up a one-man (or woman) show and let your local newspapers and radio know about it. Invite all of your friends to come. Offer work for sale at very resonable prices, and a few at more expensive rates. Put up work for sale in front of your house, or in a bookstore or library. Have a website with an online store you can direct folks to when you’re speaking on the radio (Yes, you’ll have to speak to people…art is about connections, remember?).
Anyway..it’s worth a shot. What have you got to lose besides that stack of artwork that’s collecting dust?