Hey there friend! Welcome to Part 2 of my mini-blogging series entitled The Art of Selling Art, in which I attempt to make you feel better about exchanging your handmade creations for cash, (and teach you how to make it happen more often.) If you miss Part 1, you can catch it here.
Today I’m going to talk about sell-outs.
Being labeled as a “sell-out” is a very real fear for a lot of talented people within the art community, and it amplifies the already existing fears we have around selling in general.
I remember back when I was in college, attending art classes, and this subject would come up from time to time.
During an in-class critique session we would all stand around a single piece of work from a student and delve into our interpretation of it. We would talk about technique, composition, visual themes, aesthetics, and the emotions emulating from the piece. We would be sure to note if the work touched on irony, philosophical judgement, and analyze how it compared to other works from the well-known masters we were currently studying in all of our art history classes.
No one ever dared to mention the question floating around in all of our minds: “Would anyone actually buy this?”
The unfortunate thing about a lot of art schools, including the one I attended, is that we were taught a lot about making art and art theory. We weren’t taught a thing about selling art. In fact, the very thought of selling art was dangerously close to the idea of selling out. And no one wants to be a sell-out.
For example, one of my classmates was a painter. He would take extremely large chunks of discarded wooden boards and paint abstract landscape-like shapes in a variety of bright colors across the entire humungous pieces.
This student would proudly proclaim that he could make a living off of painting, if he wanted to sell-out and paint medium-sized sunsets that could hang in people living rooms.
But of course he refused to do so. Instead, he would make money doing back-breaking landscaping work and other odd jobs, while continuing to paint his large brightly-colored abstract pieces in his down-time, purely for his own artistic fulfillment.
Here’s where he was mistaken: this student was assuming that just because his audience wasn’t the largest audience, he didn’t have one at all.
Please allow me to correct this lines of thinking. It needs to be stopped right here and right now.
You don’t have to completely change what it is you create in order to sell your artwork. (click to tweet this!)
Mainly it’s only a matter of finding your niche audience, the people who feel that your style speaks to them and will like what you make. Chances are, you’ll be even more successful for your ability to sell something different, and stand out from the masses all selling the same thing. It’s a mistake to think that merely because there is a lot of something selling within the marketplace (generic sunset paintings) that you need to disregard what you like to make (abstract paintings on re-purposed wood) in order to make any money at what you do. On the contrary, you simply need to find the people who also like what you make, but are unable or unwilling to make it themselves.
Your integrity as an artist is not compromised if you choose to make a living off of what you do.
You are not a sell-out if you can find buyers who want to purchase your work. Likewise, you are not a sell-out if you choose to optimize your work for the purposes of increasing your business. For example, creating prints from your larger paintings to enable your ability to sell smaller works (that, yes, could fit in someone’s living room.) This is not selling out, it is simply allowing your work to be more accessible to the audience that LOVES your work already. You are merely giving them an opportunity to share in it.
They don’t really teach you this in art school, but it is possible to be an entrepreneur and and artist at the same time. In fact, it is not only possibly, but can actually fuel the growth of your artwork and the expansion of your talent. When you no longer have to squeeze in time only when you aren’t busy working multiple day jobs just to pay the bills, you’ll be able to dedicate more time and effort into improving and expanding your chosen art form. Choosing to sell (which isn’t the same as selling out) could very well be the best decision you could make for the very sake of your art.
I hope that this post has helped to feel better about making money off of your creative work. Now the next step, of course, is going to be convincing other people that you work is valuable enough to pay for. I talk about that here, in part 3.