Is Easy Access Ruining Your Art Business?

by Carolyn Edlund

A few thoughts on why it should be harder for artists to get into business.

 

Artwork Slides

 

Back in the day when I graduated with an art degree, I worked long hours creating a portfolio, had slides professionally taken, and started submitting them to shows and exhibitions. My work was judged for better or worse by experienced juries. Slowly I started getting traction and was offered opportunities to show and sell.

Today, I could decide on a whim that I wanted to start painting with watercolor – or create collage – or make jewelry – and tomorrow I could have an online storefront selling my work. In this time of immediacy where anyone and everyone can enter the marketplace at will and call themselves an artist, we’ve lost a sense of the accomplishment that hard work and recognition originally earned.

Empty Etsy shops and incomplete portfolios litter the online galleries of the world where aspiring creatives tire after finding rejection or abandon their efforts to become an entrepreneur. There is too much access to present and sell your work to the world. The value of it has been diminished.

Jumping straight into commerce means that no one need take the time to develop their work enough to make an impact or focus on quality. Derivative designs, poorly made work and outright copyright theft compete directly with well-conceived and executed art.

This leads some to even despair that entire art forms are being destroyed.

With the genie out of the bottle, and global exposure at everyone’s fingertips, how do you approach your own art business? Do you ignore the noise and double down on your focus to make remarkable work?

Do you see reduced appreciation for art forms, or do you believe it has been enhanced by technology?

Comments

  1. You raise an interesting point. Art school is still a great way to acquire a depth of knowledge about fine art, although surely not the only way. My feeling is that the internet has made it easier for more “casual” artists to be seen by greater numbers of people than before but I don’t think that devalues art in general. It does allow for the capacity to see more bad art – as well as great art! We each refine our view according to our taste. So if you are interested in quick studies by daily painters, that may be the work you tend to view. If you are interested in more developed representational work then there are galleries and artist websites that feature that. The more artwork that is on the internet, the more options and connecting with the type of artwork that has meaning for an individual may take longer at first but then those connections lead to other similar connections and the ability to enjoy and be inspired by more fine artists is seemingly endless.
    Hopefully, that leads folks to want to buy art for their home or office rather than just surfing the ‘net!

    • Guess I didn’t quite answer your question. YES, I “double down and focus on making [my] own remarkable work”! There is nothing more satisfying! And exposure to many fine artists via the internet and art magazines has inspired me tremendously. I have even found a painting mentor, Todd M. Casey, who studied at Water Street Atelier with Jacob Collins. My work has improved greatly in the past year and I attribute that to having the bar raised by exposure to many contemporary representational painters.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response. I totally agree that art school (although horrendously expensive for most) is a great place to acquire knowledge and refine your work. In fact, although I’ve been appalled at the cost of an MFA (and as a parent had to hold my nose and pay it), there is great value in taking those years to work unfettered and mature in one’s art.

      I also like your point that we can choose what we view on the internet, whether casual or more serious work.

      Do you think that the plethora of bad art for sale online (and at unrealistic prices) crowds out the better work, and makes it harder for the public to decide what is art and what it’s worth?

      • Carolyn,

        I think the financial crisis of 2008 had more to do with the reduction of higher-priced fine art sales than the Internet. Since then, the pool of those buyers has been reduced –maybe for a long time. We’ve seen that with the closure of so many galleries since then.

        I see the Internet as having opened the world of original art to many instead of a few; but I think that people who purchase art online are a very different audience than those who purchase from galleries.

        i don’t see the less experienced, lower-priced artists on the Internet competing with the kind of work you do, and the prospective buyers are very different audiences.

        • Stevie

          It’s very interesting that you mention fine art gallery sales, because that reminds me of the whole big story about them now selling on Amazon http://n.pr/Kj2HJK

          I recall a conversation with a gallery owner who couldn’t make it with her brick and mortar, but was doing quite well selling online, especially to buyers in other countries.

          I wonder just how well those galleries are faring online … it would be interesting to get that story, if one of them would open up!

  2. Great art rises to the top, along with some of the crap, just like always. I wish the internet had been around when I was a kid. I lived in a rural area with few opportunities. I think the internet is very underused by young people when it comes to learning from it. It’s the information age and I run into so much ignorance. Anyway, the internet is just another tool and the good rises to the top. Now everybody can see it, no matter where they live. And yes, it causes me to strive for greatness; for my art to be the stuff everyone forwards and says, “Wow! look at this.” I’m not there yet.

  3. The old system had gatekeepers that only let a few in. The new system allows artists to be their own gatekeepers, and thus, the gates have been flung open, perhaps too wide.

    I think it gives you a mix of challenge and opportunity. It all comes down to defining your value and pursuing it with focus in both the creation and marketing of your work.

    There are many people who do quick formulaic pet portraits for low value. I do highly customized portraits that celebrate the relationship between a person and his or her pet. Dodge makes Neons, Lexus makes something different. Both artworks and both cars have value, but the customer for each is different. It all depends on what value you choose to pursue and how you target your market.

    Defining my value for marketing purposes has actually made me a better artist. I am more focused on what I want to achieve, and I continue to challenge myself artistically as I go along. I am getting better at tuning out the noise that tempts me to do things of diminished value for profit. I have found that this distracts me and does not sustain me.

    So yes, the marketplace is crowded with crap, but the mature artist will find his or her way through, and the creative entrepreneur will find a way to share his or her value with those that seek it.

    • This, to me, boils it all down: “So yes, the marketplace is crowded with crap, but the mature artist will find his or her way through, and the creative entrepreneur will find a way to share his or her value with those that seek it.” Well said, BZTAT.

      The open marketplace makes art accessible to everyone and buyers all have their own opinions about what is good and what is worthy of their dollars. I have to be honest and admit I get bent out of shape when I see “crap” out there that’s actually selling. But I can’t change that, I can only focus on my own work and make sure it strikes a chord with people, and that’s exactly what I do.

  4. This is an interesting conversation and I am thinking a lot about the kind of art I enjoy looking at/collecting as well as the kind of art I have passion about making. Seeing a huge variety of artistic expression gives me great joy! My only comment for right now is regarding the attachment of money to art. I wish we could detach the power of money from the value of art!

    It is expensive to get a formal education as an artist. That fact limits “real” art to those who have access to money or the willingness to shoulder debt over time. Being an entrepreneur, whether or not you are an educated artist, requires an investment of money and time. Even with the Internet advantages as far as access goes, marketing oneself and letting the world know of your art is still an expensive endeavor. If “bad” art is not valuable, meaning “worth money”, then what does that say about the process of making: making art, making craft, being creative, expressing one’s passion, developing a skill?

    For my practice as an artist, which is a title I have given myself, the artistic process provides rewards far greater than any amount of money a person who has disposable income could ever provide me. I say this not because I have never sold any art, in fact, I’ve sold a lot of my art. I can soberly say that the value of being an artist who supports herself in this endeavor is overshadowed by the larger joy of making. The larger joy of making is available to all!! I value my life as an artist regardless of the opinion or actions of others! If it is at all possible for you, I encourage everyone to use opportunities to be creative and name yourself Artist, Creative, Awesome, Unfettered or whatever title gives you joy. It is up to each of US, not to the consumer and not to the experts.

    Happy, Creative New Year!!
    Georgianne

    • Thanks, Georgianne – great food for thought. Your point that art has value in the creating and beyond money is certainly true. I’ve found this line of thinking vs. the constant striving of many artists to view earnings as their validation are uneasy bedfellows.

      It can be hard to reconcile making art for the joy of it and the self-satisfaction with trying to set and reach business goals such as sales volume, etc. It’s a balancing act.

  5. Is it a bad thing that mediocre/not trained artist have a platform to show off on besides their friends? I think the wheat is definitely separated from the chaff – people can showcase all they want but people see the difference. There have always been a level of artists who supplied the demand for lower priced art for those can’t afford or prefer their stuff.

    I work in polymer clay, still not taught in most places. Because of the internet, many many artist have blossomed in this field, turning it into an art form, not just a craft. There are also lots of people who try to sell stuff that isn’t so great. If I can’t afford a 400+ necklace from one of the masters, is it wrong to have lower priced options. Those who work is really superior rise to the top, others get a chance to enjoy creativity and maybe create a market.

    • It’s interesting that you mention lower priced work for those who can’t afford higher-priced items, Susan. I run an Etsy group where the members are always bemoaning the competition from hobbyists who really have no idea how to price, or don’t care. They don’t charge for their labor, satisfied to only reimburse themselves for materials. This lowers the perceived value of similar items made by artists attempting to run a real business where they earn money for their time and skill. This is where the easy access hurts others.

      I’m not sure if you sell your work in any third-party sites, but have you found this to be the case?

  6. I have spent years and thousands of dollars creating a process that’s unique. I didn’t want to look at other art for fear of subliminal copy. I wanted something that I could truly call mine. Well, now I’ve got it and everyone else wants to know how to do it and what I use in the process, without going through the process. It’s a mixed feeling of accomplishment to have something I created on my own and wanting to keep it my own and teach the process vs. answering the dozen or so emails I get everyday asking what I use and how I do it by those that don’t want to put in the time. When I do share with them, I can count the number of times on one hand that they’ve even bothered to respond with a thank you.

    I also have done some licensing. These companies request images of your work an then they reject it only to have a variation of it in their store within the year. China will steal anything they can get their hands on. I am sickened with the amount of work that I see being stolen and they don’t care that you know it either. Unless you’re rich and can afford an international copyright lawyer there isn’t anything you can do about. It’s great to sell online. However, artist beware.

  7. It is what it is! You don’t like the fact that I didn’t have money for professional art training?…..too bad!!! I see plenty of artists with this training who put out garbage! Popularity of an artist still depends greatly on networking & NOT the skill level of the artist. How many asses can you kiss? Who do you know? The internet just provides easier access for expanding the networking possibilities. Its what I am trying to do now, and have for the past 3 years. Before that I relied simply on beating the streets to get my work displayed at local galleries and art shops. I would sometimes be turned down simply because of a lack of an art degree, and some hack with lesser skills would take my place.

    It is true that online shops do have artists who are willing to sell for less on items that are virtually the same as someone with more schooling. But by the same token there are plenty of professional, online white artists that sell “native” artwork for up to 300 time the price you can get the same thing on a native reservation trading post. The exact same thing made at the source by the very people who have been crafting that jewelry for centuries longer. But because of a sense of entitlement, and a “don’t you know who I am” it costs more. So I cant say I feel bad that there are other artists who are willing to sell for less. Lower your price you greedy bastard!

    It is disheartening to see so many shops on etsy that are virtual carbon copies of each other. Photography od nature….groundbreaking. Andy Warhol wanna-be copy cats! (which in my opinion is the lamest art style to mimic)….and so on. Most of them are very popular, hell all of them are more popular than mine! Oh well! That’s what comes with more people joining the online art fray! I deal with it for sure by ignoring the same old same old and focus on my own work. I am not a business man, I am trying to get my artwork going online the best I can. Hopefully in a few years I will have a better hold on it.

  8. Interesting question Carolyn, and great conversation going on in the comments. Like most people chiming in, I also believe that quality work retains its value – even when surrounded by a glut of of garbage.

    The answer to your headline query is: absolutely not! I think it’s GREAT that the playing field has been leveled. However, easy access DOES force artists to become more savvy, more proactive and more conscious of the true value of their work. It is then up to them to:

    1) Find an audience who can appreciate their value
    2) Employ the proper tools to reach that audience
    3) Craft a message that communicates their distinctive value to said audience.

    If artists sit around waiting for “the internet masses” to discover them on the web, their business deserves to falter. As for those amateurs with their abandoned portfolios and half-baked Etsy shops, they’re not the real threat. The real threat (in a pure business sense) is the hyper-competitive artists who are using the democratized web BETTER than you, not worse.

    • I sold on Etsy for 4 year with great success. But the 4th year was pretty much a dead one. It exploded and people sold their work so cheaply it was ridiculous. I had some other issues, but not really related to this question. At the time when I was in the thick of it, I felt lots of threats mainly with copyright issues and Pinterest and Etsy not really caring to protect the work of the visual artists, anything for a buck is their mentality now. Any how, again when I was in the thick of it, I did feel threatened at every turn. Now that I’m away from it, I can see clearly that it was no threat. Quality usually trumps low ball pricing in the end.

    • Great points, Nikolas. Of course anyone in business must understand their audience, and why they should buy. I cannot argue with that!

  9. There has always been bad art. There has always been art that we hate and art that we love, and to imply that one needs to have a degree and percolation time to be a ‘great artist’ is to promote a elitist attitude. After all, what is a ‘great artist’?

    Some of the most lauded artists of past generations are now considered to be not so great — other artists unknown or vilified in their time are now considered to be among the great. There are artists currently considered ‘great’ about whom I”ll never be convinced. It is ALL a matter of taste. I personally am a fan of the expressionist movements of the early 20th century, and most of the so-called ‘masters’ as well as some great photographers like Arbus, Mapplethorpe, Evans, and Steiglitz. And I really dislike Picasso, the Impressionists (who all look the same to me), and Jackson Pollock.

    I read most current art periodicals and quite honestly I wonder about the current state of art myself — but I wonder about the artists who are featured in ArtNews and Art in America, most of whom have graduated with degrees from art schools and who don’t seem to be doing anything I can relate to. I see artists making multimillions churning out ‘factory’ work (Jeff Koons) while there are great craftspersons who are far better artists who are unknown. Just read American Craft – amazing, amazing ARTISTS.

    But you know what? That’s the way it’s always been.

    I don’t think the proliferation of artists’ markets online is a bad thing — because one will always be able to find the so-called good stuff which, again, is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t believe that an art degree is an indicator of a great artist, only that they fit in with the ethos of the school they attended.

    In my own case, I didn’t start thinking of myself as an artist until people started calling me one. And my plan is to do what I’ve always done – experiment, learn, have the courage to stretch myself. I will continue to read, study, and learn. And if someone doesn’t like what I do? Fine. They’re entitled to their opinion.

  10. This is something that I have been thinking about lately. As a jewelry artist this feels even more relevant. I did take the time to get a BFA, though I understand that not everyone has that as an option. It is frustrating though that so many people just whip something up, throw a clasp on it, and then they’re a jeweler. It’s true that “cream rises to the top” to an extent, but when people see something that’s ‘handmade’ they use that as a direct comparison with other things that are handmade. The average person may not care that I take the time to create each part of my jewelry, finish the back, solder the jump rings, etc. They just see that one is cheaper than the other.

    With such a crowded marketplace, I argue that it’s still a place where there are gatekeepers if you want to rise beyond art as a hobby or a part-time endeavor. You still have to get into galleries, shows, or exhibitions to be noticed by top collectors. It is easier now that we can take digital photos, submit work online, and set-up our own websites for sales outside of these other venues. But it still takes a lot of work to get heard above the noise.

    That being said, I’ve decided that the best course is to rise to the challenge and create the best work that I can. This is what makes me feel like I’m pursuing my life’s calling. If I make work that doesn’t hold up to my standards simply so I can sell it at a cheaper price, then how is that different from working at some other job to make money to live off of? I’d rather make work that I am truly proud of and spend my time doing what I love. Ideally, I’d also like to sell this work and be able to live off these sales. It just takes a lot of time and energy to get to a point where you get noticed by those who will pay for quality.

    • Thanks for your insights, Wendy – I speak to many other people in positions similar to yours, and you are correct, it does make things more difficult. There is never a substitution for making your best work, though.

  11. I have a degree in art and design and, like you Carol, have spent time submitting slides, trying to get a foot in the door. I hated having slides shot, or worse, shooting my own, and I find the flexibility of digital cameras, smart devices, and online storefronts to be a breath of fresh air. Online submission to shows and galleries are a breeze.

    I have an Etsy shop where I sell prints of my watercolors (your description almost fit me!) and I’ve looked at other artists on Etsy who sell prints of their work. Many of them, like me, are “real artists” with degrees in painting or design who also sell their work in galleries or work as illustrators. The prints are inexpensive, $10 – $40 typically, and are, I think, a terrific way for someone on a budget to start collecting while supporting an artist they like.

    You say we’ve lost a sense of accomplishment that hard work originally earned and in the next paragraph you contradict yourself. Empty Etsy shops and incomplete portfolios are the result of artists who weren’t willing to work for success. The artists I watch on Etsy work hard to stay successful by staying in touch with their audience and steadily adding new work. Just like in the old days.

    • Natalie, I think that sense of accomplishment comes from hard work – not from having instant online access. Yes, there are empty Etsy shops showing lack of commitment from people who started them, but there are always more being opened by others who are not retail-ready to take their places.

      Being around in the days when slides were the norm wasn’t better (it’s just the way it was at the time), but I think that the slower and harder route gave artists the time and incentive to develop their body of work more completely. There has always been “bad art” out there, in fairs and shows and other places. Today perhaps it’s just more visible.

      I’ve talked with artists at times who wanted me to help them set up their website with a shopping cart – having less than a dozen pieces of work that they have ever created. Because of instant access, they feel they are ready to have a storefront, when what they really need more than anything is studio time to hone their skills and build their portfolio.

  12. I think being able to be online and access to online stores such as Etsy in which to have a storefront is an excellent opportunity. It is also frustrating to have what you are selling, that area glutted, and equally frustrating having to wade through the immensity of this glut to find what you are looking for yourself when you are a consumer.

    As a consumer, I actually get down right angry that people put up wares in which the item is poorly constructed, unimaginative (lazy) and then badly photographed. For example a while back I was on Etsy trying to find a nice stretch beaded bracelet for my mother. I had to wade through hundreds and hundreds of images of crap work. That took hours and I resented the waste of my time! The few that I found that I liked were just too expensive as I wanted to get several for her. I live in a large city so I knew I could find supplies here and I went ahead and learned how to make them myself (since being an artist/designer those aesthetic skills are transferrable). I also ended up spending a lot more on supplies and long story short, I now I have a jewelry storefront on Etsy! Hah! And it has been doing reasonably well. Why? Because my photos are carefully taken, photo edited (which takes a lot of time) and the work is carefully aesthetically designed. I have repeat customers and my sales have improved over time as I have more product and more people find me there.

    Now, art is a slightly different animal. It seems to be an area of confusion, apprehension and, dare I say, hostility? I went the school route but slightly different as I went to a 2 year program that taught illustration/design and commercial reproduction skills. I also took graphic design and printing in high school. I developed a portfolio and beat the streets for work (back in the day). So for me, there was also this “Well, you’re not a REAL artist” mentality that some of the art galleries held (since I did not have a university degree in it) and also because I did not have male genitalia. There are only so many galleries (and it’s shrinking or stagnant) so having the internet come along with the opportunity for vast market reach is incredible! I see it as a great way to find those who love your work and to find those of like minds. Is there a glut of art on the internet? Yes. Is it confusing to determine how to find your market? Yes. But, it’s a tool like anything else, and it can enable you to find the people that appreciate and want to buy your work and there is no other way you would have found them if not for the internet and the online selling opportunities it offers.

    I have to admit though, that seeing so much unskillful work sometimes is embarrassing as an artist as I am lumped in with all of it. It took me years and years of dedicated work to this professional calling to build not only a body of work but to have it at a certain level of competency. It’s funny Jackson Pollock was mentioned in an early response and I was NOT a fan back in my 20’s. But now, as I entered into my fifth decade and have evolved from a realist painter into expressionism my feelings have changed and I see that he did, indeed, have skill.

    At first I was not thrilled about the surge of anybody and everybody who thought that they could make some extra coin by throwing it up on the internet to sell, and then charging either next to nothing for it (devaluing art) or such an outrageous amount that, again, it devalued the art and the process of making it. For me, I invested A LOT of time and money in my art – both education and the creation, production and marketing of it. And to be clear, education does not mean by an external authority such as a university or college, it means dedication and time to learning one’s craft and getting it to a good degree of professionalism before taking it to the public and charging an appropriate price for that skill level and mastery.

    So, it’s a less than perfect world but, like anything, it seems those that stick in there and keep at it, eventually, break through. That’s my hope anyways as I am in it for the long haul whether I like it or not. Why? Because, I am, an artist, like it or not and I also like to eat and pay bills so making money as an artist is imperative. Success (as an artist, for me) is getting your cake (money for food, housing, clothes, etc.) and eating it too (making money to pay for a place to make art, buy art supplies, etc.). I doubt any one in any other profession would feel success was just doing that which you are called to do and enjoy doing without regard for appropriate financial renumeration. I know my doctor, plumber, dentist, grocer, bus driver, pharmacist, etc. sure don’t feel that way! Lol!

    Thanks for posting your thoughts on this Carolyn.

    • Wow, Gwen I really appreciate your sharing your story. I know it’s a good topic when the comments are often longer than the original article!

      Your Etsy adventure reminds me of a potter who recently shared that she had searched for “handmade mugs” on Etsy. This is what she got http://etsy.me/1dSlhAQ. Take a look – how many of these are actually handmade?

    • Gwen, really enjoyed reading your story. And this “…so having the internet come along with the opportunity for vast market reach is incredible! I see it as a great way to find those who love your work and to find those of like minds. Is there a glut of art on the internet? Yes. Is it confusing to determine how to find your market? Yes. But, it’s a tool like anything else, and it can enable you to find the people that appreciate and want to buy your work and there is no other way you would have found them if not for the internet and the online selling opportunities it offers….” mirrors my thoughts.

      Incidentally I recall hours of wading through bad photos on Ebay when looking for something I wanted to purchase. People always complained about bad photos but it never stopped them appearing. I couldn’t control what they did but It made me ensure I put up only the best photographs whenever I posted something to sell.

  13. Hi, Carolyn. I said that emphatic “NO!!!” because, to me, that is like saying the free market should be only for masters of trades, established businesses, and best selling items. Let the public separate the wheat from the chaff; they know how to do that.

  14. Someone earlier posted this — “Many of them, like me, are “real artists” with degrees in painting or design who also sell their work in galleries or work as illustrators.” Am I right in thinking that because I don’t have a degree in painting or design that I’m not a ‘real artist?’ That although I spend time working on my craft, refining my designs, thinking about how to make things better, I’m not a ‘real artist’ because I don’t have “BFA” or “MFA” after my name? A degree doesn’t make someone an artist — hard work, vision, ideas, and the willingness to work at one’s craft or art (though I do think of craft as art – as presented, say on “Craft in America” or “American Craft”) makes an artist.
    I really hate this kind of elitist thinking.
    By the way, I was the one who mentioned Pollock – he had skill, vision, and talent – I just don’t like what he came up with. B-) On the other hand, I’ve been laughed at because I like Mark Rothko – a lot. To each his (her) own

  15. Lin, the reason I put “real artists” in quotes is because I DON”T believe you need a degree to be a real artist. I’m sorry if that was unclear. I was actually commenting on Carol’s first paragraph where she mentions her degree as part of the hard work it takes to be an artist. I just wanted to point out that, although Etsy does allow for people who dabble to try to sell their stuff, there are many artists, like Carol, there who take their work seriously and who work very hard at what they do.

    Great conversation, Carol!

  16. If I took it the wrong way, I do apologize. It was not at all clear that you were saying you didn’t think one needed a degree to be a real artist. I am sensitive about this because in Rhode Island the art world is dominated by the Rhode Island School of Design which is an excellent school BUT it should not be the determining factor of whether or not someone is a true artist. In the same city (Providence) we have another college, Rhode Island College, that also has an outstanding art department but it’s overshadowed by RISD. Basically if you are a RISD graduate you are automatically assumed to be a real artist. There are many, many talented and working artists who are not RISD graduates in Rhode Island. I see their work in galleries all over the state. I have been juried into shows and I do sell my work – but many people, when I tell them I’m an artist, ask first, “Oh did you graduate from RISD?”. The answer is no, so in their eyes the ‘value’ of what I do is lessened. It’s very, very frustrating and sad.
    So yes, I have a chip on my shoulder on this subject, but it’s come from experience. I think that in a larger state it wouldn’t be such an issue because there would be zillions of art programs to choose from. Here? RISD is EVERYTHING.

  17. Well, I try to avoid sites like Etsy and Tophatter that sell jewelry and crafts. Nothing against those art forms, but I paint, and I prefer to limit my art to sites that stress painting.

  18. “There is too much access to present and sell your work to the world. The value of it has been diminished.”
    Interesting post…. however I disagree.

    In fact, this makes me think of the refrain from some photographers, bemoaning the fact that phone photography is ruining their business, because anyone can pick up a phone and take a picture and – by the way “they aren’t really a photographer unless they carry around a huge DSLR, etc. etc”). It sounds like fear and resentment to me and, if I may say so, a wish for things to remain as they were in the past, whereby only a select few had access to art (both buying and selling) and, as has been mentioned gatekeepers and barriers were set up to keep all but the so-called chosen few out and control belonged not to the artist but other “powers that be.” As has been said – a degree in art doesn’t make one an artist, let alone a successful artist.

    An artist is one who creates art and works tirelessly at their craft. They don’t need to wait for someone to give them a title or give them permission to sell their work. And if they wish to go into business and sell their art and make it more accessible more power to them. The Internet is a great leveler. We all have access to technology that has opened doors and created opportunities for getting our art out to our chosen audiences without having to go through middlemen, and without being bound by borders. We can set up shop in a day (which I know is the concern that started the post). Artists need to embrace technology and find what works for them because the pace is going to increase and they risk being left behind. Personally I think it is good that more and more artists are setting up shop and being found online. People are increasingly looking online to find art, they are using tablets, and smartphones to look for new art. Whether there is a glut of art on the Internet may be subjective. Perhaps there is to artists… it may be different to people searching to buy it. Our business as artists is to use technology to help customers find us by being different, standing out in our particular style and educating them, not fret about how too many people can now access art.

    One thing is certain – technology is going to increase access to art even more and it’s going to be key for artists to be found online on several different platforms. At the same time I think even more opportunities will open up.
    As far as being an entrepreneur, yes it is risky and yes businesses fail. Every day.That is a risk for any business not just art businesses. Restaurants close and start up every day. And businesses also succeed. They need time and investment and determination. The thing is to do your homework and start where you are and with what you have, but keep building. There is never a “right time” to start, and there are always people who will provide reasons not to start. Here’s to success to all in 2014.

    • Thanks Nicky for your thoughtful reply. I understand your points, but from my view as an advisor and consultant to artists, I see things differently.

      If you came to me and wanted advice on creating an online shop for your photography – and if you had only one dozen photos that you had ever created – I would tell you unequivocally “You are not ready to start selling your work at this time.” It does not serve the artist to have an instant e-commerce platform. The development of any artist or fine craftsperson starts with learning, emulating, and working for many hours on developing a mature style, as I’m sure you know from your own experience. Somewhere along that continuum they venture out into the world of exhibiting, selling and growing their business. It takes time and hard work, and that has always been the case.

      Whether the artist has attended art school, taken classes of any type, or is self-taught makes no difference. My concern is for the long-term benefit of the artist, and my own experience is to see quite a few people who are beginning, and who feel that making sales is the validation for their work. A negative response, rejection and lack of sales becomes the barrier to them, not exposure. There are quite a few people out there who, with patience and preparation would have made a much better start and have better results.

  19. Great conversation and I think most points I would add have already been made. I will say that I believe a glut of art–meaning more and more people making art–is a good thing. Does it saturate the marketplace? Yes. But it’s still better than the way it was pre-internet, when only a few gallery curators owned most of the power.

    In my experience, an artist must work very hard to not only make great work, but also to build a great brand (reputation). Behaving professionally, making connections in the right places, marketing your work, and always striving for excellence. I believe these are the things that help separate pros from amateurs. And never giving up.

    By the way, I have work on Amazon fine art, and while I see the potential, my sales haven’t gone through the roof on there so far. Same as everywhere else, it’s dense and very competitive.

    Keith

    • I agree Keith. It’s increasingly about connecting with your audience so they know about your art, as you say build a brand and market consistently. While it may appear to some there is saturation I find many people I talk to still don’t know they can even purchase art without having very deep pockets. The other day I posted a link to Toronto artists from Fine Art America to a popular Toronto blog. I had someone email me later and thank me for sharing because they never knew there were so many local artists where they could visit their online galleries, see their work and even purchase prints if they wished. To them, some potential buyers I doubt they think the market is saturated. But even if we agree that it is, I feel people will find their way to the great art out there if we help them.

  20. Carolyn, thanks for your response. I see it differently too, my perspective comes from having been in business. I think at the end of the day it’s up to the individual to decide if and when they are ready. Obviously if they’ve only ever created 10 photos and hope to succeed without more work, development and some substance, it would be wise to ask questions as to their expectations, caution them as to the realities and risks and yes, such a person does need to develop their craft further and make more art to sell (have a decent portfolio of greater than 10 images) and learn how to market themselves. Learning about business however is through experience, making mistakes even failing fast and first but not giving up. Of course it has always been hard work and always will be.

    I think of people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and countless others, artists included, perhaps not as famous who were also told no they are not ready or they’d never make it… or they needed to wait and who in many cases failed before making what is now history but who by and large went ahead because they felt maybe they weren’t quite ready but they were going for it anyway. Not sure why artists should be different.

    I suppose it would be up to the artist to listen, weigh the advice and decide to take it or leave it, perhaps experience for themselves whether or not they have what it takes understanding the pros and cons. There is no teacher quite like experience. But I’m not talking about people with just 10 photos… clearly trying to make it with little to offer isn’t realistic. On the other hand perhaps they won’t take the well trodden path in a set certain order…maybe they will take a different path – as we have seen technology will break many barriers and create new challenges and opportunities for artists – e-commerce is just one of them and it’s actually the least of the challenges in my experience, because I don’t believe the problem is external. The artist can, after all easily go and set up a website whenever they wish and start adding their work.

    In terms of validation, if the objective is to sell your work and live off it then making sales is going to be a big part of that validation. If I understand you correctly you are saying that the artist needs to have rock-solid confidence in their creation and not base it all upon sales in which case I agree, also that patience and preparation is essential. But you can do all the preparation and have all the creativity in the world and you are still going to get rejections, negative responses, lack of understanding and lack of sales… in business it comes with the territory and it isn’t limited to artists. What is important is that the artist, as per any business person believes in themselves enough to weather set backs so they don’t become barriers and they can move on from strength to strength.
    It interesting though, that the article was about whether too much access to art ruining access to art for others. I still don’t find this to be the case.

  21. well – I think –

    and I think –

    and I think some more –

    and what I come up with repeatedly – over the years is that exhibiting and selling and creating over time is a development that is greatly aided by the ability to show your work to the public and get feedback and every see your work from a different perspective in different arenas like a Facebook fan page or a linkedIn post –

    I am absolutely positive that there is nothing at all wrong with a person who has taken only 3 – 10 – 20 photographs and turning around exhibiting them and then seeing them next to other people’s works (if it is a group showing) or seeing how people react – feedback is a really really really great teacher – experience and aid in growing as an artist – or simply a person who is not in the least bit sure of how much of their time that they want to devote to this activity that they might at any point in time wish to call a hobby?

    the great advantage of people being able to show all of their work – a lot of their work or a small number of pieces over time is that the viewing public can actually get to see the development over time of any number of artists – something that was never before quite available to the general public before and this can actually influence – inspire motivate others who might not otherwise feel that they have the same sense of how things are done now to step into the arena and begin a career as an artist – this in the long run (I feel) is a wonderful thing – and is in no way a threat to anything that I do – (whether anyone wishes to call me an artist or not) and so I simply would encourage anyone and everyone to show and share and show and share and work and create and work and create continuously and place your work and show and place your work and never stop developing what it is that you have inside of you to express – it is all good and it is all healthy and it all benefits everyone –

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