Sunday, March 20, 2011

Some thoughts on art and money

Allow me to rant a little tonight. I have a feeling I am going to upset you tonight. But I think this is important. There is a delicate balance to keep between your art and commerce. I don't mean that you should be starving in a garret, or that making money from your art is ignoble. I make my living painting. What I mean to say is that the product has to come before the profit.

I bring this up because I think I am seeing a trend now of putting marketing into too exalted a position. The web crawls with books on how to market your art and advice columns and how-to seminars on marketing your art. And yes, I market my art. I also think you should show and sell your art if you can. But it is really about the art and it's quality, more than it is about sales!

There is so much dreck out there being sold and hustled and so many auctions and schemes for selling weak paintings that things have somehow become out of balance. Do you know what kind of paintings sell best? GOOD PAINTINGS. When I look around me at the painters who are successful financially, virtually without exception they are skilled painters and it is easy to see why their art sells. They have reputation too, not reputation for selling, reputation for the quality of their work.

I am deluged with ads for shows full of work that is amateurish, I get e-mails from artists promoting paintings that are of student quality. I think some of these folks should lay back and work at improving their art more than selling it. You would fault a merchant who sells shoddy goods, yet advertises them everywhere. Most of these artists probably could survive without the meager income they derive from their sales and let their work rise in the market on it's own quality. I do believe it can be done.

Art has no reason to exist other than that it be excellent. If you are imitating another artists style, get your own! I open the art magazines and see page after page of amateur rip-offs of Scott Christensen and Richard Schmid. That's not good enough, everyone who sees those ads knows they are seeing a Richard Schmid ripoff. People are not easily fooled.

Make your own art, make it good and then market it. If you are an amateur, show and sell when you can, but don't get the marketing out ahead of your abilities, try to move the two along at something like the same pace. Try to OWN your own little area first before trying to go national. If you aren't making a lot of money on your art, I will bet you the problem is your quality more than your marketing, it almost always is.

Don't buy magazine ads that cost more than you are ROUTINELY paid for a painting! They will only show the world what you have left unlearned. Don't compare yourself to Sargent or claim to have invented a new school of painting. It is tiring, and the pro's will tell snide jokes at your expense. You need the respect of your peers, this will lose it for you. Nothing has a bigger effect on your career than having other artists speaking well of your art. Work towards that.

Again I am not saying that you shouldn't show and you shouldn't do some marketing, I think you should, but try to keep your marketing efforts commensurate with the quality of your art. If you work hard and develop your skills you will benefit by a hearty marketing campaign.
I guess I will have to post some baby animals tomorrow after that. Class dismissed!

50 comments:

Jim G. said...

Rant away! We need to hear it. (As long as there's baby animals tomorrow!)

DennyHollandStudio said...

Forget the baby animals! We need more posts like this- straight forward and to-the-point insights on the truths of self- marketing. Right on Stape!


(OK, a few baby animals couldn't hurt.)

rahina q.h. said...

this is important for the delusional amateur and i am in agreement with you. however, i think that there is also another bunch who suffer terribly from the confidence to put their work out there and when they do they under-sell themselves. and one thing i believe is that if or when my own work is of a professional artistic standard, it will sell itself;)

Deb said...

I pretty much hate the thought of marketing, so of course I agree totally with you.
Seriously, your statement that "art has no reason to exist other than that it be excellent" is one that has stuck with me since the first time I read it here. I'm trying like heck to improve the quality. As you know, this is just plain ol' hard work.

Gary L. Everest Paintings said...

Hi Stape,
How right you are! I'm don't have the credentials to write these truths, but I most certainly agree with everything you've written in this post.
And you should know, I feel so strongly about this, I give my paintings away.
I began focusing on portraiture a couple of years ago and haven't taken a penny for any of the paintings produced during this time.
Please keep shouting out these important things which all of us need, so desperately, to hear and heed.
It's about time. Thanks!
Sincerely,
Gary.

Narcotic-Nightmares said...

Is such a problem (over marketing of substandard quality) prevalent in fine art also? It's horrendously obvious in universities, especially in Illustration and Graphic Design where students think that a computer can pick up the deficit in their skill level...

Journeyman said...

Just starting my journey into art and I totally agree with you. There is so much dross out there the last thing the world needs is to be inflicted with my efforts. Still learning and exploring. what it’s all about. Dave

Philip Koch said...

Over markenting isn't limited to individual artists trying to get noticed, Galleries and museums, including the high end ones, do this all the time. All one can do is sigh and stick to one's guns at the easel.

Oh and I was meaning to write in and complain about the lack of baby animals on this blog. I look forward to tomorrows menagerie.

Doug Holder said...

It seemed such a reasoned, dead on post that I didn't recognize it as a rant.

billspaintingmn said...

Now your talking Stape! I paint for the love of it! If someone likes my work, great! But most of it never makes it into next week.
Being a gilder, I have thought of offering gilded frames through my blog. I do sell them locally. It's an art form that is ment to co-exist with excellence.I'm a bit shy to offer them to the world. Maybe if I had a baby zebra, then I know I could!

Mary Byrom said...

Stapleton, good clear post. I don't think this is a rant. You are just stating some facts...yes, these issues are prevalent. Those ads all over the magazines are all about the magazines making some money...and the ad buyers hoping for a short cut. Everybody wants instant pudding success! There's no fast, easy, mass produced method to turn out paintings of quality,though we see people trying to and in the process doing tons of derivatives. Really like your comment about the price of a painting/price of advertizement comparison.
I have a photo of a baby lamb you might like...

Marian Fortunati said...

You're right, of course...

I think we all know it in our hearts..

We just like the baby animals to make us smile!!!

Deborah Paris said...

Rant or not, it's the truth. Many of the people offering advice have never sold enough art (or any!)themselves to be in a position to offer advice (and knowing someone who does doesn't make you an expert). Although the conventional wisdom is that artists hate marketing, it seems to me that some coming to art after a business career are actually more comfortable spending an hour setting up a Facebook fan page or whatever, than they are doing the hard work, hour by hour, year by year, in the studio or field to improve their work to a professional level.

I'd like kittens please....

Linda Schweitzer said...

You are so right, Stape! There are so many people out there selling horrible art. Sometimes it's inspiring though--to think if they can sell so well, with such poor quality, maybe if I applied myself to marketing more, I too could sell a lot of art.
There are also people who have never sold a painting in their lives writing books and selling seminars on how to sell art.
And artists, now that painting sales are lagging, making money from artist wannabe's selling panels, videos, you name it.
Opps, guess I'm ranting! Sorry.

Claire Bull said...

Thank you for the "class"... learning and striving for excellence is important and necessary. Your blog is a great way to start the day as usual - looking forward to little baby animals tomorrow! Kitties have been suggested, could we see puppies too?

Jose L De Juan said...

Good art sells itself and no amount of marketing, books, DVD's or websites will bridge a gap in quality. There are many arts associations where you can test the waters with your art and get critiques from good artists before inflicting it on the world too early. Perfect strangers that buy art are the sales that count. Not Friends and family. I would go further and add that many excellent artists squeeze sometimes pieces of inferior quality in shows but usually find out pretty soon that selling duds is like running on fumes alone, it can only last that long.

Michael Theise said...

I've been doing trompe l'oiel for almost 30 yrs. and have been looking at my many of my contemporaries and saying the same things. I'm glad to see it in now in writing. Lets face it,it's time for some just to wake up! Trompe l'oiel great Ken Davies told me in art school " your better off doing 3 great paints than 10 mediocre ones" sounds easy enough but reality is quite difficult!

Paul Birnbaum said...

I thought I was the only one who felt that way . . . I should have known better. Well said, Stape.

Durinda Cheek, Fine Artist said...

I appreciate your rant, Stape. I am amazed at what people market as "art". And also how many art marketing "reps" and books and seminars there are now. It seems everyone wants to make money off the artists. But I also put some of the blame on the current "masters" who have taken to teaching workshops every week along with their dvds since the art buying market has been slow. After a workshop is taught in a town, how many "copies" of that artist's style are in the next exhibition?

Michael Theise said...

I was so worked up I spelled Trompe l'oeil wrong in my first comment! My apologies, it wont happen again!

mariandioguardi.com said...

Well...No matter how good your art is, if no one sees it they can't buy it. And even when they do see it, they don't necessarily buy it. So I don't really think any amount of marketing sells amateurish art.

Marketing is not the same as selling. I think a lot of amateurish, undeveloped, naive or derivative work gets marketed by the maker because they don't want to put the time and work into making their painting rise above the crowd. So they try throwing money at marketing hoping that will do it.
But it doesn't. Ask anyone who has shown in those fancy NY "vanity" galleries.

Now let's see some baby aardvarks.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Jim;
I fund a nice kitty!
....................Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Denny;
I tried to be nice. Lots of comments maybe I don't need to.
..................Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Rahina;
I don't know if art will sell itself, I think it needs to be marketed, but I would rather paint and let a dealer do that.
...................Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Deb;
I am aware they may be some work involved.
...........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Gary; There is some middle ground here. DON'T GIVE YOUR PAINTINGS AWAY My argument is for a balance of the product and the marketing.
..................Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Narco-
I had no idea it went on in the graphic design world. Of course I know nothing about graphic design either.
................Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Journeyman;
It is important to get your chops down before you get to far ahead of yourself in the art market.
.............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Philip:
I know how you like cats. I saw your name go by in a magazine, you are on the advisory board of some realist art revolutionary committee?
..................Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Doug, Oh no it was a rant. I only have so many categories and it didn't fit anywhere else.
................Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will answer the rest of the comments in the morning.
...............Stape

Nika said...

That was a damned good post, Mr. Kearns and I salute you for that!

Jessica Rosemary Shepherd said...

This is a great post... I thoroughly enjoyed this. I am so fed up of seeing poor art work for sale at steep prices. And I agree with you - the more skilled the artist, the better they are known. Thanks for sharing your thoughts - wonderful!

Sue Pownall said...

Well said!

Karen Thumm said...

THANK YOU for posting your rant, Stape!!

For the past couple of years, I've been torn between these two: spending time and money on marketing and concentrating on improving my art without marketing. I knew in my heart that my art isn't quite ready for "prime time" but the marketing sirens have been drowning out that little voice in my head.

I think the need to market is partly driven by ego. Seeing our art in a national magazine (if only in an ad) where we rub shoulders with the modern masters gives us the feeling that maybe we are on a par with them. And who can argue with the high of selling a painting after months or years of no sales.

You have affirmed my gut feelings and my recent rejection of paying big bucks for an ad in a big name art mag. That ad would have cost me the price of four paintings!

Lori said...

Hi Stape, You couldn't have said it better. I used to teach art marketing workshops on occasion, and it made me sad that some of the attendees just couldn't understand that it's not about the marketing "tricks".. in fact, the only "trick" is to make great art.

I stopped teaching marketing because the attendees were often disappointed when I couldn't help them sell their work (which was amateur in nature to begin with).

I've been working at improving my art for over 25 years, and it's still not at the masterful level. I am able to sell it and get into galleries, but let me tell you, it is much more difficult than my job was at a computer company.

I'll go out on a limb here (since you did). It takes intelligence to get good at art. One has to understand the subtle differences between amateur and masterful. If I can't understand what the differences are between my work and the work of true masters, then I'll never understand what it takes to get there.

And I do paint with Richard Schmid, and I REFUSE to copy his style. For awhile this was a problem in the group, but now both Richard and the rest have come to admire me for charting my own path. However!! The principles I've learned from Richard about light, shadow, color, and edges is of value.

One last note: Stape! You are a masterful painter and teacher. Keep up the fine work, and thanks so much for being willing to state the truth of the matter.
--Lori---

Love2paint said...

Stape, thanks for ranting for me. I feel so much better now!
You can`t stop all those people from painting and trying to sell less than stellar artworks. I get a bad taste in my mouth when I see what`s on eBay. Ten years back, I put a very crappy painting on there, I wish I could go back in time to slap myself before I did it! I think there is a psychological term equated to this problem of thinking one`s art is great when it`s not. Similar to those auditioning for American Idol. It`s the grand illusion. What a patient perceives as real is really an illusion to true reality. The patient develops blinders to keep seeing their illusions. For the awful singer, when the judges say no, the contender gets mad and cusses their way out of the auditorium, saying, "I`ll show you!" "I`m way better than you say I am!" They only see their name in lights and millions of record sales. But they forgot to do a reality check, like taking music lessons, sing in the church choir, have numbers of credible, qualified, music professionals deem that they really have a talent worth pursuing professionally. People will not pay money for bad music, at least those who are in their right mind won`t pay a dollar for an out of tune song. I wish the same analogy goes for artists and all other types of talent. The thing with art, there are too many people who are not educated to notice good art from bad art. There are people who want a work of art simply because it is affordable and fills in a vacant spot on a wall. There are those eager artists who truly try and should be given credit for making efforts even though they are not quite getting there yet. A sale is an incentive to try harder or buy a book, take a workshop, get into a judged show to measure themselves against the more accomplished artists. They soon evolve and become one of the better artists out there. Enough said from me, I could go on and on.
But, I like baby bunnies and horses to mention a few baby animals...

Kevin Menck said...

Nailed it! Thanks for saying it.

clintavo said...

Stape, I'm late to the party on this post - but I wish I could make every artist read this. You are spot on. The quality of the art should come first and a lot of the marketing "gurus" don't discuss that.

It's worse than bad advice - sometimes it's downright harmful. I saw one "guru" recommending artists spend 80% of their time marketing. Really? 80% - when would an artist who did that ever have time to perfect his craft?

I'm glad to see a voice of reason out here :-)

mariandioguardi.com said...

All this reminds me. I was told once by a teacher that there are kinds of artists. The artists who think every thing they paint is great. And the artists who think nothing they paint is great.

Debbie Miller said...

really enjoyed that - well done!! and sooo true

William Worcester Fine Arts said...

Amen! I am tired of all the Schmid-lings, David Leffel and Scott Christensen imitators. What really is annoying is how many of the art magazines hail these imitators as the next big thing. I am guessing if money is spent on advertising pages, the magazine will do a feature article.

Gaye Sekula said...

Hats off to a voice of reason! BRAVO!!!

J Hopper said...

Ahhhhh.... Refreshing! Thank you!

Mary Sheehan Winn said...

Right ON!
I have two beautiful silver gray kittens...I'll send you a photo!

Ishita B said...

Grt post!! Hoping for more honest posts!

Randall Cogburn said...

Well said Stape! I fit into that amateur paintng slot but I am making headway on my own trying to find out if this is something I really want to do or not. Not selling hardly anything but not putting any effort into advertising other than my blog. I haven't went the Gallery route mainly because I think my work is not good enough, but others say otherwise. I can always spot mistakes. I think I need a while to paint to develope my skill more, in do time.

Oh, just read this "art has no reason to exist other than that it be excellent", isn't that from Carlsons book. Love that book, great read with tons of information to soak up. Maybe I should make a notebook and right some of that stuff down and the next time I'm out painting I'll use some of it that way it will drill into my memory. Just a thought.

~Kirby:)

Patty said...

You've obviously hit a nerve with this post. Thanks for an honest, clear conversation.
I like kittens too. Especially with ketchup.

VladK said...

Thanks Stapleton, great article. It's valid in real life for all kinds of business.

Dot Courson said...

You make me want to be a better... artist.