Think the world is going to beat a path to your door just because you’re brilliant? Think again.
|Blueberry barrens on Clary Hill, by Carol L. Douglas. Every residency and event is a bullet point for your resume, but more importantly, a chance to be noticed.
“I read your recent post on business realism,” a reader wrote me. “I think I paint well, but I can’t seem to get any traction in the current marketplace. I’ve lost two galleries this year, and that really hurt. What am I doing wrong?”
The art market is morphing, and this reader was right when he added, “there’s no clear path forward.” His loss of gallery representation may have nothing to do with him, but with rapid change in the marketplace.
I know this painter’s work. It’s as fine as anyone’s out there, including many painters making a very juicy income. Why are their paintings selling and his not?
The bottom line is, he’s not nearly as well-known as he ought to be. While he’s painted with some of the big names in the plein air business, that hasn’t given him a particular leg up. Networking is important, but it only takes you so far.
|Athabasca Glacier, by Carol L. Douglas. Want people to be interested in you? Do interesting things, preferably without killing yourself.
|Do you want it enough to go for it?
That makes marketing your primary job. Some people are offended by that, but unless you were born into the upper crust like Édouard Manet
, you’re going to have to work to make connections. A better model is Frederic Edwin Church
, who embraced, rather than rejected, his father’s bourgeois business model. Nobody can say that Church sacrificed his artistic goals.
You don’t necessarily have to be a starving artist to want to market yourself. I have a friend who’s fascinated by the uncharted machinations of a career in art. After a career in business, she wants to ‘crack the nut’ and figure out how it’s really done.
|Spruces and pines on the Barnum Brook Trail, by Carol L. Douglas. This was painted at ADK Plein Air. To have a following, you must be seen.
|It’s not about whether you can paint or not.
The late, unlamented Thomas Kinkade
is just one of a long line of incompetent painters who parlayed an artistic vision into money. I’m not encouraging you to paint terribly, but I am telling you to stop beating yourself up because you’re “not good enough.”
It helps to be young and beautiful.
If you’re no longer either of those things, you need to be witty and fascinating instead. A hippie friend once watched me doing my self-care routine. “Why do you do those things to yourself?” she asked in amazement. I can’t be young anymore, but I can be attractive.
You have to be willing to exploit social media. I know you don’t see the point of Instagram and Facebook, but it’s critical to a profile in the modern world. If you don’t have a clue how to do this, find a book or a webinar and learn. Your website is still important, but it’s the catchment basin for all those other things.
|Teaching is a great way to get your name out there, but for heaven’s sake, don’t do it unless you can actually teach. The world doesn’t need any more incompetent teachers.
You need a real-world presence somewhere. You’re going to have to do plein air events, tent shows, be in a cooperative gallery, or have gallery representation. You’re going to have to pull up your big-boy paints and go to openings. (This is the hardest thing for me—not because I don’t like people, but because my bedtime is 7:30 PM.) One real-world contact is worth a thousand internet hits.
You need to plug away, a little every day. Running a $1500 ad in a collector magazine is not going to net you anything if you haven’t done incremental publicizing in advance. Press releases, openings, studio parties, blogs, and emails to your collectors are the heart of modern publicity.