The 4-Letter Word Artists Don’t Like

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I hear you asking “I’ve known lot’s of artists, and I can’t think of any four-letter words they didn’t like.” Fine – but the word I’m thinking of is “sale”. Alright, I cheated a bit, it’s actually a five-letter word “sales”; but the title wouldn’t have been as much fun.
“All art is either plagiarism or revolution.” If you’re not an artist, this is merely an interesting quote. If you are an artist, it can be the difference between prosperity and poverty. 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. My 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.”
So, let’s look at it as it is. When you’re “selling your art” you’re selling yourself (or some part of you). Selling is all about “value”, or “perceived value”. Now comes the hard part. To convince someone your art has value, you must convince them that you have value. Yes, I know, it’s crass and even a bit demeaning. I’m sorry; but is it realistic? I think so. The good news, you don’t have to agree with me! Write the magazine and tell them I’m full of crap. Any (civil) discussion always reveals more than it conceals, right? However, let’s not start the argument right now.
To communicate value, the “speaker” and the “listener” must share a common “language”. Notice the quotation marks? What this really says is “…the artist and the buyer must share a common understanding.”
Does the buyer understand what it is you’re selling? If you’re 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.
Reveal a bit of your “artistic process”, in a clear way that will enhance the buyer’s understanding and appreciation of your “product”. Give them a “peek behind the curtain.” Practice explaining your art to a non-artist. If they give you the “doggy-tilt” look, try again. When you see their eyes open wider and they say “oh…,” you’ve done it. Once you’ve got the conversation going, it’s fun! Oh, and by the way, you just “sold” something.

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