I love being an artist. It is a privilege. In recent years, however, it has also become a luxury. In fact it has become a vanity. It used to be that vanity galleries, founded by the super rich as tax shelters, were the rare. Nowadays, vanity galleries and coops seem to be the only game in town.
What does it take to be an artist in today’s world? It’s a one word answer: Money. To be visible and relevant an artist needs to invest lots of money. How much? It would take about $250,000 in capital to open a gallery in downtown Charleston now. I opened and kept my gallery going in Detroit for eight years with profits mostly from portraiture.The days of renting cheap space and throwing really cool art on the walls are gone. Alternative spaces in Charleston cannot keep up with the rent, while commercial art galleries are thriving.
Short of investing a quarter million or so in a gallery located in a prime space, how does an artist career, or art gallery for that matter, get off the ground? There are countless businesses that have sprung up to take that money from artist wannabes. Some of these are legit, but most are offering to do what most new artists can’t be bothered to do: work at a business.
The work of an artist is not limited to making art. It never has been. Those who only work at their art to the exclusion of running their career as a business fall into one of three categories: 1) they work long hours at a day job to support their art habit, 2) they are starving in an alley with the rest of the artists waiting to be discovered and refusing to do “real” work, or 3) They are independently wealthy.
The days of working full time as an artist are gone, even for many more established artists like myself. Today you need a gallery, an accountant, a lawyer, expensive ads and competitions, a PR agent, a teaching gig, a manager, an SEO expert, a state of the art website. You also need to pay to be play. There are more than a dozen sites like Etsy, Vango, art.net. The list goes on and on and seems to grow daily. They require work and money to maintain and most take you nowhere fast.
I think there’s more at play than a shift in market share. You are not alone. I’ve blogged extensively about this retooling of society’s priorities in regard to handling images.
We are not in a recession. People are just buying art differently nowadays and we have to market our stuff more aggressively. https://www.theguardian.com/…/art-market-faces…
Nonetheless, art remains eternal. Art is the reason we bother to decorate. Interior design without real art is like a garden without real flowers. Fortunately, I have noticed a slight shift in this trend lately, where there is renewed interest in the archeological significance of owning the original. There has been an uptick in affluent art collectors and potential art collectors willing to pay thousands of dollars for original art that means something to them.
I think the problem is for years I’ve been seduced into believing I am a mass marketer. But what I really am is a personal service expert. My art and my business mission must function to serve the needs of today’s art collector. Reaching them is still the Gorilla in the room. I truly believe for every work of art created by anyone, great of small, there is a market for it, if they can connect to it effectively. That will always be the hope and the challenge. So start by identifying and reaching out to those who are your most likely buyers. It’s not rocket science but it does take a lot of research, resources and follow through. And it never seems to end. So think about getting a real job until you can come up with a full proof plan of attack.