I spoke to “The Artist’s Loop” in Providence, RI recently, and I started with this quotation by Paul Gauguin. We agreed that plagiarism sells, revolution, not so much. Maybe after you’re dead, but that doesn’t put food on the table.
So, what to do? Compromise? Sell out? Tough questions, and ones with which many artists wrestle. Our conclusion? It’s up to you. Yes, I know; that’s not a satisfying answer, but, in the words of Bill Belichick, “it is what it is.”
However, the purpose of the evening’s discussion was to talk about how to present your art and your self; basically how to sell your art; how to convince someone that your product has value. Crass? Maybe. Realistic? Heck yeah.
Since the overall topic was, in essence, “communication”, we started with the basics. Are you and your potential buyer speaking the same language? Do they understand what it is you’re selling? If you are selling number 2 pencils, no problem. If you’re selling artwork, you may have to look at what “language” you’re using. You have to walk that fine line between treating the customer like they are completely ignorant (“this is a paint brush”), and they are an expert. However, as Albert Einstein said “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”
Revealing a little bit of your “artistic process”, in a clear way can truly enhance the buyer’s understanding and appreciate of your product. You want them to go home and hang that picture on their wall and be thinking of the conversation they’re going to have with the first person to comment on it. “Oh yes, that painting by Rich Austin. I was talking to him about it and he explained to me how he…” If you can give your customer or client that sort of connection with you, and your product, well that’s what puts food on the table. People buy from people. Especially people they like.
And why would they like you? You took the time to talk with them and explain who you are and what you do. Not a 10-minute lecture on whatever; just a normal but informative conversation. Give them a peek behind the curtain. (Who doesn’t want to know a secret?)
How do you accomplish this? It’s not magic; but it does take some effort. You have to run these conversations through your head. Anticipate who your audience is and what they may or may not know and what it is they may be interested in knowing. Practice these encounters with a friend, fellow artist (or whatever your profession may be). One last quote from my Boy Scout days “Be Prepared!”