Surviving Art https://survivingart.com A place for anyone curious about the inner workings of the art world. Sun, 29 Sep 2019 15:59:31 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.2 https://survivingart.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Surviving-Art-Logo-500px-100x100.jpg Surviving Art https://survivingart.com 32 32 GETTING YOUR STORY ACROSS (MARKETING AND BRAND AWARENESS) https://survivingart.com/2019/10/11/getting-your-story-across-marketing-and-brand-awareness/ Fri, 11 Oct 2019 14:00:06 +0000 https://survivingart.com/?p=2357 It doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO of a design studio, a student at the Academy or working retail by day and creating art by night — a day only has 24 hours. If then you want to make something out of your life, time management is imperative.

While all of the people who work a 9-5 job have time management enforced into their lives by their workplace, those of us who are self employed don’t have a boss to tell us when to work and when to have our lunch break. And with no HR person breathing down our neck and telling us what to do and when to do it, we have to do this ourselves. 

From calculating taxes, checking contracts, planning meetings to learning about our craft and following some sort of news platform so we actually know what’s happening in our field. Oh, and making art, right?! Sometimes freedom can be quite constraining.

But where in this incredibly dense equation of the-things-we-should-be-doing and having-no-time-to-do-them should we squeeze in the most important job of all — marketing?

Not as cool as being a bohemian artist, not as rewarding as making a sale or signing a new licensing deal but probably much more important than everything else mentioned, marketing our work is the only functional way to propagate our ideas into the world.

And today’s world is already quite full — full of people like us, doing things that are similar to ours — so saying we need to have a strong game would be an understatement.

But while many of us think we need to be creating Hollywood-like movies about what we do or making some blown-up statements on how our work will “change the world as we know it”, it really could and should be much simpler:

Make your art simple to understand by making your process transparent. 

Not by showing boring two hour videos of us mixing paints and priming our canvases, but by maybe sitting down in-between the drying coats of paint and speaking about our work. We should be documenting our process — not by defending our right to have one, but by explaining our motivations with simple language and a good story.

Give those who are interested in your work a glimpse into your mind and your process. Document how you clean your brushes (or how you never do), why you use a certain brand or type of canvas (even if it’s because it’s the cheapest — sincerity is gold) or show pictures and write about the books you like to read.

There is always time for a short piece of content.

When you don’t have time to set-up a video camera; why not take out your phone and make a short handheld IGTV video or Facebook video or even a story on any topic that you like — connected with your art or maybe even just about what makes you tick. Lots of content on the platforms you feel comfortable with is the best way to go if you can’t afford to run ads on Facebook or Instagram.

Your work, life or personality aren’t boring, and they surely aren’t unimportant!

Some people religiously reread a few books that are special to them every year (something I could never do), and the intentions and the drive behind doing so are actually fascinating to people like me, who after finishing a book usually toss it away and find another one to read. 

My point is; even the minuscule things that we do in our lives can be immensely interesting to some people and in reality, usually exactly these minuscule parts of our personalities give others the ability to connect with us on a personal level. 

You don’t become best buddies with someone just because they like art as much as you do, because liking art is too broad of a subject to be relatable. You get close because of having or liking the same kind of artists and their works and only if both of you understand them in approximately the same way. 

To get there, both need to first share their personal aspirations towards a certain topic, and be sincere about it. Otherwise it’s like opening your Facebook news feed and looking at vaguely interesting ads about pant tubes — you kinda like them, but just couldn’t care less about them being there. 

In the end, we shouldn’t just be painting pictures on canvases and Fabriano paper, we should be painting mental images onto the minds of our followers and soon-to-be-followers. Only so can we ever succeed in expanding our reach to the people who really care and genuinely like our work.

CREATING ATTENTION 

Art is obviously emotional and as such its value is determined absolutely subjectively. The big question though is how, because even though ambivalent, subjectivity can still give us a lot of various starting points to think about our target audience.

How people recognise a good story in objects and experiences differs from person to person — that’s why it’s subjective — but usually we can find basic guidelines that can help us define this perception. The main idea behind this exercise is to find what is most important for each person, that we are trying to understand.

What are their needs? What do they wish for? Do these wishes and needs have a certain urgency? Do they provide pain or discomfort for them and can our art elevate or even completely fix their issues?

Even though art is seen as the complete opposite of utilitarian — especially is we look at contemporary art — it could not be further from the truth. If nothing else, the baseline of what art can do is to catch attention. To intrigue and incite curiosity about itself in those that experience it.

Art has to be interesting. It can be either “avant-garde” or challenging, but at the same time it can be personal and quaint; there is no “standard” that defines what interesting is, except that whatever it is we are creating should stand out in the context of everything around it.

An apple on the ground of an orchard is about as interesting as a grain of sand on a beach, but that very apple, placed in a vineyard will catch people’s attention, because they ordinarily wouldn’t have expected it to be there. The same goes for art; anything we do should aim to be exceptional, compared to the environment it resides in.

But this doesn’t mean that we need to run naked in the streets while reciting the Yellowist manifesto, because there are much more subtle ways to stand out, and truly great art is always made in a subtle, but disruptive way. Think about all the one hit wonders in the music industry — they might have been successful with one song, but after the initial boom, they slowly fade into the background.

Their problem is, that they have been trying to impress and communicate to the kind of people that need constant novelty and excitement to give them their attention. And because they focused on people that needed cheap thrills, they themselves become one in the end.

Only those that build their novelty and intrigue with a long timeline in mind and cultivate the attention of the people as a friend or acquaintance, not a passing circus or magician, are able to find true success with their creative business.

Because, while a magician may be able to entice and amuse us for a few hours, after we’ve seen the show, there’s really no point in going back another time. We’ve seen all of her tricks, laughed at all of the jokes and it just wouldn’t have the same novel effect on us as it did the first time.

But comparing it to our favourite book, that we have reread a thousand times, or our favourite TV show, that we know by heart and still binge watch from time to time, these objects and experiences never seem to really get dull. 

Quite the opposite, they get better and better over time.

QUALITY AND QUANTITY

A lot of people today speak of quantity as the defining factor in getting your message into the world — with Gary Vaynerchuk being at the forefront of this movement. 

But I think we do need to take a closer look at this model.

I still think quantity plays an enormous role in content production — especially as the amount of blog posts, podcasts and images on the web is increasing exponentially — but there is one important truth that many of us may overlook in this conquest of trying to reach the eyes and ears of the masses. 

Quality is king and quantity is his servant.

I get why the amount of information is being pushed as the most important factor; too many of us focus endlessly on tweaking and re-editing our content, too many of us spend hours making our images, texts and videos “perfect” and thus miss a lot of opportunities of growth and consequently reach.

The 80/20 rule still applies to everything in the universe; 80% of effect is produced by 20% of our effort. Of course, we shouldn’t confuse this with the idea that we only have to do 20% of the work and get 80% of the rewards. 

We still need to do all of the work. And regardless of how much “all of the work” actually is — 5 min or 5 years of input, it doesn’t really matter — the effect is always more or less the same; most of what we do will not bear any fruits, but a fraction will. And that fraction will create the most effect.

Here the real argument for quality begins to take shape; if 100% of what I did was only average or “merely” good, the effects of it will embody the same kind of qualitative force. Good things lead to good results, average work produces average products and services, but excellence, excellence can’t but create exceptionality.

In order for any one of us to reach excellence, we have to first begin our path with average tools, common techniques and boring (and many times tedious) practice. But after such a rhythm has been established, after the almost masochistic pleasures of repetition and rigorous practice become part of our being, I believe all of us need to again venture further into the unknown.

And this means reevaluating everything we have been doing up to this point. A child may have enormous dependence on his training wheels when learning how to ride his bike, but after they succeed in mastering balance, speed and manoeuvring, the support has to be taken away, exposing the reality that all they have done up to that point was mere practice for the real thing.

In the end, all we do — regardless of whether we write, sing, paint or dance — we do so as a form of diary, a succession of traces that we leave upon the world. It doesn’t matter if our creations ever get exposed to the public; even those of us that never publish our creations and keep our diaries, paintings and songs to ourselves , we inevitably all do the same. 

We create marks upon the world, knowingly or not, by accident or in order to be remembered. Regardless though of why we do what we do, I believe one thing is for certain. 

Such marks should be born out of the highest efforts that we can endure, if not to grow, at least to know that whatever we did mattered, perhaps to some, or maybe none, but always to ourselves.

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POLISHING YOUR STORY (THE ARTIST STATEMENT) https://survivingart.com/2019/10/04/polishing-your-story-the-artist-statement/ Fri, 04 Oct 2019 13:00:20 +0000 https://survivingart.com/?p=2355 Artist statements, even though they might appear like a load of pretentious art-talk (which many of them sadly are), serve a very important purpose: presenting your passion in a bite-sized package, to be easily consumed and understood by the reader or listener (you can, and should know how to pitch them too).

But what many of us present as an artist statement is usually exactly the opposite of what it should be; we focus on intellectually sounding words and sentences like this: “As wavering phenomena become rediscovered through subversive personal practices, the observer is left with an awareness of the boundaries of our era.”, rather than actually trying to communicate clearly.

And taking the time to create a great artist statement will also help you clarify your wording, so you can give a short and captivating presentation anytime you find yourself in front of an interested buyer, are giving an interview or just get asked by a random person at a party somewhere about what you do. 

The worst thing to do when casually asked about what kind of art you make, is to go rambling on about your work for half an hour and spewing random artist’s names and isms with no head or tail. Again, the goal is to start with small bite-sized pieces of information that are easy to consume and intrigue the listener to want to know more, not your subconsciousness going full monty. 

A FEW THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND:

Be genuine and sincere. 

This is the most important one of all. Never feel like you need to defend your right to make art; regardless if you only paint pretty flowers because you like pretty flowers or if you are composing some conceptual piece that will explain the meaning of life itself, what you do is your choice so tell it how it really is. There is absolutely no need for big words and fake concepts.

Short and sweet; 3 – 5 sentences is ideal. 

It can be longer if you really want to, though I couldn’t recommend it. The important thing to keep in mind is not to write half a page.

Clear and simple language. 

Regardless of who your target audience is and what you do, make your artist statement understandable to even the people that don’t know anything about art. Especially if your work focuses on being beautiful, rather than conceptual. Truth be told, nobody likes to feel dumber than the person they are speaking to and if your goal is to get them even close to as excited about what you do as you are yourself, it might be better to talk to them like you would to a curious friend rather than a judging professor.

Base your language on evoking emotions, not just intellectual concepts. 

Easy for anyone focusing on beauty or any other emotion-evoking art, but even conceptual artists can present their ideas by building on emotions. Think about it; your artist statement should intrigue the reader to become curious about your work and give them some sort of key to be able to understand it better. And curiosity is an emotion, not a mental state — nobody thinks they’re curious, they feel curious.

No comparisons to other artists, living or dead. 

The fact that you’re trying to make your work more understandable by comparing it to someone else — usually a more popular and successful artist — is a bad move. Not only are you passively implying unoriginality, but unless you’re comparing your work to Picasso (and you shouldn’t), there’s a big probability that people just won’t know the artists you’re mentioning.

Note that comparing your work to other artists is a wonderful and necessary tool when figuring out your style and creative toolkit, but as such, comparisons should be done in the studio and while doing research, not as part of a presentation or sales pitch.

Nobody cares about technicalities or tools. 

If you’re a landscape painter, talk about why you’re drawn to nature, not about the fact that you use oils instead of acrylics because they blend better. But you can always use materials to strengthen your narrative: oils are an old, slow drying medium and can allow for a much more mediative and relaxed workflow, thus complementing nature’s unhurried pace, compared to our fast-paced lives. But only if this is really why you chose to start painting landscapes in oil, don’t make things up because they sound nice.

Maybe the only time it actually is appropriate to talk about the tools is when you are using a rare, obscure or otherwise exciting process or material. It could be cutting edge stuff like Virtual Reality or blockchain tech or wet plate collodion photography (an almost alchemistic process that is quite hard to do and regarded highly by hipsters around the world).

Review your statement as you progress in your work. 

Be it quarterly or yearly or some other period of time, the point is not to write your artist statement once and then leave it be for 20 years. It’s also a nice reality check to sit down and think about what your work is about and if anything has changed since the last time you wrote it.

And for all the times you really want to go hot-air-ballooning with words, you can visit my Artist Statement Generator and experience the magic of semi-randomness in action. 

HINT: A good way to tell if your artist statement is OK or not; if it looks like the one you can generate in the link above, it probably shouldn’t be on your CV or portfolio.

GETTING YOUR STORY STRAIGHT (YOUR PERSONAL BRAND) 

Since the beginning of human creation, art has been evolving in a more or less linear fashion. This is especially obvious in the era of isms; starting with the old impressionists, evolved by Henri Matisse and the other fauvists, and the expanded freedom of colour and form that eventually lead to cubism, futurism and abstraction.

Due to a great lack of functional means of communication, artists all over the world took much longer to evolve their styles and to find new inspirations for their work. Picasso had no other means to come in contact with a totally foreign culture than by visiting a museum exhibit. And it took him a long time to get his imagination juices flowing enough to be able to produce his masterpiece The Young Ladies of Avignon, that eventually lead to a revolution in art.

But now, with the power of the internet our playing field has been broadened from a straight line into a worldwide area of everything goes.

If one wishes to decorate his or her home with some fine art — from bio art to classical realism — today one can find almost anything online. And with such an abundance of art, it does bring up the question of how to stand out from the crowd?

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

IF YOU WANT TO GET EXHIBITED: 

The art market is a volatile place for investors, and these are the people gallerists cater to, so there are certain check boxes your work has to tick in order for them to decide to sign and represent you and your work.

Having a regular production is the best sign for a curator to know that you’re serious about your work.

If you only create one work a quarter, your chances of being perceived as a viable candidate are much smaller than if you have a regular output of work. It doesn’t have to be one work a day — unless that’s your thing of course — but having a history of regularity is one of the most important traits an artist can have for a collector or gallerist.

Curators tend to look at the whole oeuvre — the whole body of work any particular artist has produced over the years.

Today, it isn’t as much about one work, or even one exhibition — what matters in the long run is the totality of our production. Rather than focusing on the importance of each piece we make, it’s much better to take a step back and observe it in the context of everything we have ever done. 

Questions you could ask yourself that could help you create a coherent body of work:

Does it brings anything to the story of who you are and what you’re are about? Does it complement or juxtapose the works that came before it? Does it maybe break a certain “tradition” of motifs you had previously been using in your work? Are you becoming more serious, more cynical or more playful in the way you tell your stories? …

A brand is only as strong as its presence in the lives of its customers. 

Regardless how much competition we face as creatives, how many applications, CVs and portfolios the galleries we all are trying to get in receive in a day (usually a lot), the decision of who gets signed and who is left on the applications pile of the gallerist’s desk is mostly decided by a simple question: “Do they know us?”

If we want to get into a gallery, it is imperative to be present at their exhibition openings and talks, to mingle with the people in charge and slowly become part of their circle. This is probably incredibly obvious, but a lot of us are guilty of not showing up in person, when this is actually what matters the most.

Build relationships with people, regardless if they’re the owner, head curator or just answer the phone.

When just starting out, our chances of just popping up at an opening of a gallery that we have been eyeing for a while and getting friendly with the curator or owner aren’t really great. There’s a social divide between freshly baked art students and prominent art world figures, and to say it takes courage to just get up to one and start talking is an understatement.

But we can start out by getting to know the people working there; maybe we know somebody who is now working the reception or handling their social media. They of course won’t be able to arrange a meeting, but could share some valuable information about what is going on inside the gallery. 

There’s really no better insider than an intern on coffee duty — they might not be in charge, but they do hear and see a lot about what is going on inside the institution. Also, having friends in the field is always a wonderful thing to have, so build sincere relationships, not just means to an end.

KEEP IN MIND: Public institutions, unlike private galleries, do not have to be profitable to stay afloat, so if you are living in an area where the art market isn’t as strong as in New York or London and most of the galleries are publicly funded, getting exhibited there requires a different tactical approach.

If for example you create more conceptual pieces, that aren’t as focused on being aesthetically pleasing but rather propagate a message — like political and other critical art — public institutions tend to be a better target as they won’t judge your work by the merit of how well it could sell, but rather on the power and importance of your message.

Be it public or private, before applying to any institution for an exhibition, the best thing is to first asses what their goal is; is it making more profit than last year, is it fighting some social injustice or just showing beautiful work. If you can find their basic intention, you will have a much easier time aligning your story and your work with theirs and finding the common ground from which to build your arguments and getting their attention. 

IF YOU WANT TO SELL YOUR WORK:

Similar to getting a show in a gallery, getting a sale requires us to be regular producers. But unlike gallerists, that care a lot about our work’s future worth, followers and collectors usually don’t buy our art because of investment reasons, but because they like it. So regularity here is merely a means to show up and build public presence. The more we create, the more we are able to be present on social media for example, and our chances to be seen by potential buyers greatly increase.

The same goes for having a coherent body of work. Here the emphasis isn’t on showing a maturely developed personal style that is important for being taken seriously by gallerists of any medium or large institution, but the mere fact that only by being consistent and coherent in our work are we able to create a personal brand for our customers. 

You don’t buy the new Stephen King novel because you are expecting a romantic comedy and you don’t read J. K. Rowling because of her knowledge of biochemistry. Each creator has their own body of work, distinct from everybody else and thus people learn to expect a certain kind of art from any one of them. This is really important, because it’s the cornerstone of any great personal brand.

And there are other things to keep in mind: 

Personal brands are almost as important as the products we produce.

It’s important to hone your skills, but working too hard on figuring out your style and technical skill without giving your audience the chance to also get to know you might not be the best tactic.

Each of us has a unique story to tell, a unique background of why we do what we do. Why not focus on that, rather than being just another still life painter or just another one using resin to make his or her work. In today’s oversaturated world it shouldn’t be the materials or the singular creations we make that define us and our personal creative brand, but the amalgamation of everything we stand for, everything we are.

The main point of any product, even an art piece, is to fulfil a need and satisfy a certain want that people might have. 

Either to make their lives easier, richer or to give them the ability to express themselves even if their own skills don’t allow them to, art should satisfy a certain want.

This doesn’t mean that you should stop doing what you like and focus exclusively on impressionist portraits, just because they’re in vogue right now, but that you need to focus your attention on the people that would like what you do.

HINT: Facebook Ads is wonderful, because it lets you target a specific audience — even to the level of “somebody that works at a particular company” — so you can really focus on only the people that you believe share your love towards a specific style of art.

Regardless of whether you wish to get signed by a gallery or attack the market directly via online stores and social media, don’t think too much about how your work looks compared to all the other similar creators, focus instead on your message and personal story.

The issue of uniqueness could once be resolved merely through personal style; Renoir was different from Matisse, Gauguin nothing like Cézanne … The number of artists an average collector or gallery visitor knew, was more in the hundreds and differentiation amongst them wasn’t as hard back then as it is today. 

Now you can open Saatchi Online and find millions of artists, many of them producing quite similar works, so style doesn’t really help as much as it once did. The only real differentiator between two similarly looking artworks is the story behind them and the artist who created them.

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STORY IS EVERYTHING https://survivingart.com/2019/09/29/story-is-everything/ Sun, 29 Sep 2019 15:52:43 +0000 https://survivingart.com/?p=2353 Be it online or in person, there’s a lot of competition in the arts. And the fact that the art world is much smaller compared to the world of business, law or medicine, only makes it harder for any one artist to succeed. While everybody online is telling us to “niche down”, and explaining why it’s so important, usually no specific tactics are disclosed, and the how is left for us to figure out for ourselves.

 This blunder is intended for anyone who wishes to find their focus and stand out in today’s oversaturated creative market by understanding the immense power of storytelling — especially when positioning ones creative skill and aspirations in the market.

Regardless if you paint, sculpt, make experimental video installations or are a political performance artist, the main goal for all of us is to express ourselves. 

We do so not because it’s the quickest or easiest way of making a living, but because it’s who we 

are. Most of us love our craft in some form or another and follow some internal aspirations that guide our interest and consequently the kind of art we make. 

But while creativity is a general term, it could not be describing a more colourful and rich abundance of personal motifs and ambitions of why we do what we do. 

For example, I could be selling skilfully crafted portraits because of my passion for creating narratives about beauty, intimacy and connection. But it could also be that I just really enjoy painting figures and fabric and am good enough at it to charge for my work. 

Both are great reasons to make a portrait and market ones skill, but even if the end product looks similar in both cases, their target audience couldn’t be more different.

So, let’s put the “art” in artwork.

I’d like to open this conversation with one of the hardest, but probably the simplest of all questions to answer, because we need to get it out of our way to really get the point of why story matters so much. But to find the answer we will have to go all in and drop the proverbial A-bomb. 

We’ll have to ask the big question. The one you can read about in 50€+ books, written by prominent and knowledgeable art historians and theoreticians, whose answers are mostly written so thoroughly, so extensively, that one needs a dictionary to find their point.

Ready?

What is Art?

Boom.

Unlike most other questions like: “What is carpentry?”, “What is music?”, even “What is philosophy?”, we artists and other creative souls appear to have an enormous problem — none of us really seem to know what the heck we are doing in our lives. Not because we are confused, undisciplined or too spontaneous, but because no-one actually seems to know what art is.

If you ask most academic professors, they will usually give you an academic answer. If they’re more on the liberal side, it will surely have to do with the freedom of expression and the lyrical power of images in the fight against social injustice.

Ask a person in the street — anyone you want really — and they might tell you it’s something pretty, something that looks good. And probably also something that is quite expensive. For a wealthy collector it might be freedom; a way of expressing themselves without the need to actually learn how to paint or draw or sculpt. 

A tattoo artist will tell you it’s tattoos. A barber will tell you it’s an exquisite haircut. An IT technician might even tell you it’s a perfectly sorted and laid out collection of ethernet and electrical cables in the server room. 

Just don’t ask an aesthetician — the branch of philosophy that researches art — and they might tell you a lot. Truth be told, they might tell you too much while saying very little. A wonderful example is Tiziana Andina’s prominently titled book: “The Philosophy of Art: The Question of Definition: From Hegel to Post-Dantian Theories”. Read at your own peril.

Art seems to be everything. And we all know that something that is everything is consequently nothing at all.

We have to take a closer look into the production of art; the making of paintings, sculptures, videos and maybe even haircuts and tackle the question by investigating the process of making something an art piece. 

So, let’s see if we can’t fix this mess of tattoos, pretty pictures and ethernet cables into a more workable definition by asking a better question: What makes something art?

In the 1960s the art world had a small crisis, caused by none other than the famous pop artist Andy Warhol. The root of the crisis was his artwork, titled simply: Brillo Box.

It looked exactly the same as a normal Brillo soap pad box, albeit being made out of wood. The question: What made Andy’s Brillo boxes art, but at the same time dismissed the original boxes made by James Harvey (the creator of the design) as mere industrial design?

Surely it wasn’t looks, and it couldn’t have been materials — the prestige of using silkscreen on wood instead of printing on cardboard was not the deciding factor after all. The only real difference that one could discern was the name associated with either product. 

You had Andy Warhol superstar and the other guy.

Apart from being a marvellous posh object to own, Andy’s Brillo box shines light onto an immensely important topic in art, namely that when push comes to shove, the classification of an artistic piece does not have anything to do with its physical composition — be it medium, motif, size, you name it…

This is immensely important, because if we distill the factors that make up art, we can get a pretty rough, yet quite precise equation, that looks a bit like this:

ART = Viewer + Art Piece + Artist

But why does it now seem like the art piece, the central point of the equation isn’t really important? Well, there’s another surprise coming up.

The artist has been regarded as a genius ever since the invention of the cave painting about 40.000 years ago. The master painter, listening to the whispers of his or her muses and transcribing the messages of the gods into reality, for all of humanity to experience the righteous powers of the divine.

As humans, we couldn’t have been more proud of the lineage of artistic mastery that our planet had created over the years, and we had every reason for it. From the Ancient Greeks to Giotto and Titian, then Caravaggio, Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso … all geniuses in the craft, that shaped how we perceive reality itself. 

But then came the trickster. The black sheep, the snake, the devil himself. Then, came Duchamp.

In 1917 as part of The Society of Independent Artists’ exhibition at the The Grand Central Palace, he unveiled his biggest joke of all — a urinal. And even though the organisation of the exhibition had promised that each and every art piece that was entered in the application stage would be shown, they decided to remove The Fountain (as Duchamp named his vertical toilet) from the exhibition. 

It was serious.

But the problem that Duchamp’s art piece created was minuscule compared to the big issue that was yet to come. His simple question : “Is this art?” didn’t just create a revolt inside The Society of Independent Artists, it started a revolution.

Thus, conceptualism was born.

The point he was trying to make was simple: Art is an internal human experience, not an invisible aura imbued into an object by some artistic genius.

The art world though, instead of getting his point, concluded that Nietzsche was indeed correct; the gods of art, beauty and aesthetics truly did perish. The murderer’s weapon was finally found — fully drenched in nothing but bloody ideology, the Fountain stood as proof.

Now, more than 100 years later, this narrative is still the bedrock of many institutions, both commercial and educational. And I feel it is about time we change this. 

Not only could more people start to appreciate art — instead of thinking of it as a pretentious playground for the rich, filled with expensive junk and weird intellectuals — but by removing some of the misconceptions that either artist or artwork are the origin of the artistic experience, we could actually improve the status of us artists in society.

How?

By educating the viewer. By making our artistic process visible to all via social media and other means. By not trying to overcomplicate our work descriptions and artist statements and ending the need to feel like we have to defend our right to paint, sculpt, dance or make videos, with big words and complex explanations.

By connecting with our audience and being strong, sincere and genuine people. And with social media exploding in a constantly connected world, the timing just couldn’t be better.

Art is a multitude of stories, each different from another and all created by every one of our viewers. 

And like good spelling and a decent vocabulary are the bedrock for any novel, we visual artists have a bunch of tools that we can use to build our narratives too.CREATING YOUR STORY (CONTEXT AND CONTENT)

In 1976, artist and critic Brian O’Doherty published his essay Inside the White Cube, that not only created lots of buzz in the art world, but gave this popular mode of displaying art in museums and commercial galleries a catchy new name.

While his wonderful critique of the White Cube is better to read in the original form, I would like to focus on one psychological factor that made his essay become so well known.

People experience things instantly and as a whole, rather than a collection of individual parts. When looking at a red triangle, we can’t just decide to see it as a triangle or just as something red — we always see both of its features at the same time.

Similarly with music; we can’t decide to hear just the tone of a note, while zoning out the colour of the sound (for example hearing the same note being played on a drum compared to a double bass or saxophone).

We as beings need context for just about everything in our lives — even our ability for differentiating object sizes and various temperatures is done by creating context from the surrounding environment.

Ok, but what does this have to do with art? Truth be told — everything.

As art is subjective, we can never really take full control over how a viewer of our show or a customer who bought one of our pieces will understand the work’s narrative. 

A description of the work might help, but some actually prefer to make up their own mind about what a particular art piece means to them on a strictly personal level, rather than listening to the artist describe what it should mean. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that in my opinion. 

But, while we aren’t able to control everything our viewer will experience, there are many aspects of our work that we absolutely can and should be thinking about. Because understanding them makes our job of finding potential buyers or getting a place in an exhibition incredibly easier.  

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Choose materials carefully, not just as a means to an end but as building blocks of your work’s narrative. 

A marble sculpture and a wood carving of the same motif tell different stories. Both may be a portrait of someone, but marble will always communicate prestige, longevity and may form subconscious connections to Ancient Greek and Roman statues of prominent individuals, making the portrayed look even more respectable and important. Wood on the other hand is softer and warmer in appearance and more suitable for creating intimate portraits emphasising emotion rather than status.

Evoke emotions, then seal the deal with a well prepared concept.

Nothing is worse than a conceptual piece that doesn’t also work on an emotional level. The appearance of your work will make or break its ability to convey your message, so regardless of how brilliant your idea may be, if your work doesn’t first captivate your viewer and make them curious enough to step closer, all is lost.

Presentation is really important when exhibiting your work. 

Adjust lighting, surrounding objects like tables, chairs, plants … to compliment your work, or at least not to distract your viewers attention.

Impressionists used a lot of green leafy plants to compliment the vibe of their paintings, modernists decided to completely remove everything (including the frame of a painting or plinth of a sculpture) to maximise emphasis on their work — hence the White Cube principle.

When showing work online, it is imperative to get it right.

Show your work not just as a clean, shadowless and speckless photograph with good colour correction (because the images should look identical to the real thing), but incorporate it into an environment — even a generic architectural shot of a living room will be better than nothing.

Give your online images enough context and help your visitors understand the colours, size, textures and other features of your work by providing enough visual information; a few detail shots, a side view and maybe even the back of the work (if it’s 2D). For spatial works, maybe make a 360° GIF by stitching together multiple angles — nobody wants to buy a sculpture only to find that they don’t like the rear end of it.

The venue is a big part of your exhibition. 

If you paint a picture of an apple being picked by a woman somewhere in a forest and hang it in an office of a juice company, people will probably see a nice lady picking apples. But hang it in a church community centre and people might see the highly complex concept of Ancestral Sin. 

Same painting, same communication, immensely different results — just by changing the context.

So whenever you have the chance — for example if you are invited to create a show in a certain gallery from scratch — work with the space in mind, or change it if you can to make it a better fit for your work.

Regardless of what kind of art you create, if you make a thorough examination of the materials you use, the message you are trying to tell and the environment you are telling it in, you can use all of this information to reverse-engineer your work to find your target audience. 

It should never be the other way around.

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PRICING YOUR ART THE RIGHT WAY Part III: Constructing and communicating your price https://survivingart.com/2019/09/14/pricing-your-art-the-right-way-part-iii-constructing-and-communicating-your-price/ Sat, 14 Sep 2019 07:07:38 +0000 https://survivingart.com/?p=2350 In the last two blunders we discussed the importance of calculating ones base expenses and all-around financial needs on a monthly basis and the concept of added value. Today, I’d like to combine the two and take a deeper look into how various models can help us to set fair and consistent prices for our work.

First of all, we need to acknowledge a very important fact; the pricing model we use to determine our value shouldn’t necessarily be the same one we use to communicate that value to others. Not to be misunderstood, I don’t mean that we should hide such info or act as we’re beyond money — the main problem here is semantics.

While it might be preferable for a contractor that comes to fix our heating or helps us build our house to disclose his or her hourly price and estimated expenses, so as we don’t end up either broke or hospitalised due to a heart attack after picking up the bill, doing the same in the arts isn’t exactly the best way.

There of course are bad examples of how prices are communicated (or even, not communicated) — some galleries for example don’t disclose prices because they never know if somebody would be willing to pay more than they or the artists would like to get from any particular work. 

But many techniques and practices in the arts revolve around a very important fact: the collectors and buyers of art are not looking for contractors and price breakdowns, they’re looking for remarkable experiences at (hopefully) reasonable prices.

And because of this fact, the communication of a price should not look like the tab of a restaurant, but more as an organic part of the whole artistic experience — even at christian churches, they have fancy rituals like tithing that are integrally connected with the whole ritual of mass.

So, first of all, we’ll take a look at the various internal pricing models to use for our art and then we’ll package them neatly and fairly so as to make our communication with potential collectors and buyers smoother and most importantly more professional.

PRICING BY THE HOUR

This model has a lot going for it — especially for anyone starting out — as it is the easiest to use in order to determine how we’re going to make the minimum amount we need to make, for our business and personal life to flourish and even eventually come to the point, where art becomes our full-time profession. But it has a lot of problems, too!

Setting it up is simple; we find a fair hourly wage (we calculated this in the first blunder of this series) and calculate how much time we spent on making the work. Then we just multiply both  and hopefully what we get is a decent number that won’t make us starve to death. Easy.

This option may be good for any classical portraitists or realistic style painters and sculptors, as it reflects the labour intensive work of creating realistic depictions, and communicates the sheer number of work hours that one puts into making such works.  

But it gets problematic for anyone that makes abstract paintings that only take about a day or sometimes a few hours to complete (especially if they’re big ones); this isn’t a realistic approach and a different pricing structure should be used if you work quickly — especially if the speed at which you are able to work is based on a lot of years of training. 

Though you could brag to your fellow artist friends that your hourly wage is 400€! Just don’t tell anyone how many hours there are in a work day — or year for that matter! 

There’s an issue with such an approach to pricing art though; you just don’t base the price of a Rothko on the number of man hours he and his assistant put into any particular work — and you don’t compare him to Raphael or Tizian either. 

Also, if we just compare a Pollock vs. a Rothko; the Pollock’s price is inflated solely because of his story — let’s face it, the art part isn’t that great — but a Rothko actually is exceptionally well made and the concept behind his works only enforced his quality, effectively making him one of the most expensive painters of his era (and in my opinion rightfully so, but I’m a blotchy painting fan boy, so I’m not being unbiased here).

My point is: Any pricing model that depends solely on the work and/or materials input, but does not consider the added value of the artist’s skill, background, or any other trait of the creator, that differentiates them form anybody else who could’ve attempted to create a similar work (and the varying levels of success any one of us could have had — compared to the original creator), must be taken into account when pricing our work.

Art is a commodity (at least in our price bracket), but it’s never without the added value factor that actually creates the experience of it being art vs. just a pretty picture. If indeed all were making were pretty pictures with no stories and no added value to be uncovered by the right audience, we would be artisans — I’m not saying this is better or worse, but our goals and pricing structures should absolutely be different from those that don’t actively produce narratives around their work.

To put it simply; a decorative pretty flower print is worth as much as the paper and colour it was printed with, combined with the work that went into it and maybe a 10% mark-up because, I don’t know, the printshop manager felt like it. 

A flower painting made to embody the profound sensual experience of the flower petal and that was actively imbedded into the then contemporary flow of culture and time — like Georgia O’Keeffe’s work for example — will be worth as much as the market deems this particular experience of artistic expression valuable in the context of not only her time, but ours and the totality of what we think has happened in human existence and how it all relates to the story her work is telling us. 

As we have figured out in the last blunder on added value and worth, the reality is, this is how art is valued. To be honest, it’s how everything ever made is valued, at least by any average human that has their basic needs met — a person dying of thirst will indeed not give one damn about the perceived difference between generic tap water and a crystal flask of pure Evian. 

(Fun fact: Try reading Evian backwards and think about this particular product being extremely overpriced — compared to other, similar quality products.)

So, pricing by hour is great if you work a decent amount of hours, but bad for anyone that works quickly. But there’s a variable we can use to adjust this issue: 

PRICING BY SIZE

Similar to the hourly-based model, pricing by size focuses on the physical aspects of ones work, but unlike the former, does not base the value on the time spent creating the work and as such only focuses on the finished product — rather than on the process.

I find this perspective especially useful when making my abstract paintings — they usually take less than a day to complete but are equal in quality to anything more realistic in my opinion, because the time spent on one such work is incomparable to the effort spent on something as complex as mimicking natural forms.

But just because abstraction doesn’t take that long to create, doesn’t mean it’s crap compared to realism (my guess is, we’re opening pandoras box now); both realism and abstraction require a lot of learning, skill and attention to detail in order fo any one artist to produce a quality product, but often a realist work will take a long time to complete (especially if you put a lot of effort and energy into shading and texture work).

And because it takes a long time, the process is divided into a myriad of small steps — easy to do and simple to fix if done incorrectly (unless you spot a mistake in the proportions or composition only long after you’ve painted 80% of the work).

But the process of abstract painting (or sculpting, drawing, etc.) isn’t as segmented; you really only do maybe 10% of the amount of steps compared to a realist portrait, but as such the steps you have to take are larger and harder to fix if done incorrectly.

It’s not hard to fix weirdly painted eyes (even though it might have taken you 60 minutes to get them to that point), but it’s incredibly hard to fix a badly executed bold brushstroke — think of Cy Twombly’s pantings; I don’t like his work, but one can imagine that if the last stroke on his white canvas was badly executed, he couldn’t just correct it by painting over it — he’d have to start all over again.

You can think of it as risk, really; a slow, controlled process like realistic portraiture isn’t risky, just time consuming (think of all the videos of people drawing realistic portraits; they always segment the work into small batches and almost never work on the face as a whole). 

But a fast-paced process like abstract expressionism (again, think Rothko, not Pollock), is quick, semi-controlled and chaotic; the percentage of bad paintings that are created and then binned by abstract expressionists is exceptionally high, but quite low for realist painters.

So, what the price-by-size model compensates for is exactly this difference; time vs. amount of risk. It would maybe even be better named as the risk-evaluation model, but I think such a funky name wouldn’t really cater to us creatives as I guess it makes a convoluted topic like compensation even more foreign — we’re not financial analysts, our games are played with crayons and paint tubes, not Bollinger Bands.

To give an example of a price-by-size approach: In Slovenia, a 50 x 70 cm painting averages about 400€ (I know…). 50 x 70 cm is 3.500 cm2 and to make it short, a square centimetre costs about 0.10 € total. 

This 0.10€ can now be used to define prices of any other works we do, so a 100 x 100 cm painting would then cost about 1000€ (and yep, again that’s the average price in our beloved country).

But while prices for larger works are easy to calculate like this, it gets tricky for smaller ones; an A4 work would cost about 63€ (if calculated like this), but the average is about 100-150€, because to sell a work for 60€ is effectively akin to giving it away.

That is why a good practice for this model is to start with a base price; a set amount to which we then add our price calculations. Call it studio fee, or base cost or whatever you like, the point is to always start at 50€ or 100€ (or any other number that works for you) and then add to that the size calculated price (I usually make an average of my material costs and call that my studio fee — mine’s 100€ — then add the total material costs for that particular work and the size calculated price on top (effectively doubling my material cost reimbursement, which has many times helped me cope with unexpected material expenses I forgot to calculate into my price, but as it was my mistake could not add to the final sales price at the end). 

The point is: Never forget to add you material costs to any model you use!

The smaller works will always cost more than you spent on them and as such, selling them will make much more sense, but the base price won’t affect your larger work as much (an A4 sized work will cost 200% more if a studio fee of 100€ is added, but a 100 x 100 cm sized work will only cost 10 % more if 1 cm2 is set at 0.10€).

Now, there are other ways of calculating price, these two are the main ones I use and therefore the only ones I feel adequately comfortable discussing as I have tried them extensively throughout my time working as an artist. 

You could also price your work by value to the customer for example, but such a structure is more commonly used in design (because with design, the value created for the customer can be much more easily measured). So as far as visual art is concerned, I myself like to stick to size and time variables form my pricing structures. 

But if you work with a lot of advertisement agencies or businesses that create a lot of value form you work, value based pricing is probably the best way to go; think if you worked on an advertisement campaign that used your paintings or a licensing deal, where a company would use your drawings or paintings as designs for their products.

If this is the case, the best way is to have a long and thorough conversation about what the company you’ll be working with has in mind, how much the audience size will be and what they wish to make (they might not give you this information on a sliver platter, but most will be willing to talk about it if you’re persistent enough and ask the right questions — or more importantly aren’t afraid to ask such seemingly unrelated and direct questions.

To really establish a good price based upon the potential value created by our art, we need all of the info we can get, because without it, it’s impossible to pinpoint the ballpark of how much we should charge — let alone an exact number.

COMMUNICATING OUR PRICES

We’ve talked about setting our prices by the hour and calculating them via size and base fees, and touched upon value based pricing. Now it’s time to tie it all together and package it up into an easily communicable and (this is important) easily replicable model.

The easiest and most straightforward way is to just add-up all of our expenses, base fees and pricing model of choice and end up with some rounded-up number, but a bit of tweaking can make our prices a lot more understandable and transparent to our customers.

I always divide my prices into two main segments; the value of the materials I use and the value I bring to the table (so the price of me making a painting, rather than somebody else).

To just touch upon material costs; it’s a great idea to talk about the materials we use and to give a little bit of context about how much they actually cost. 

A lot of people do not know that high-quality acrylics cost a fortune and if we can explain to them that the paint we use is future proof (most brands say that they won’t crack or fade in direct sunlight for at least 100 years if not more) and the canvas of a high quality. 

So, just quickly describing the value that such materials have, compared to the cheap ones, can not only make the higher material costs understandable to anyone who may not be aware of their prices, but also provide a lot of peace of mind to anyone, that has never bought art before.  

From my personal experience, people do value the information that the work they are buying is made with quality materials, because while they are of course buying you and your story, that story has to be embedded into something (the art work) and it’s preferable that it ages better than an open milk bottle on a summer day in Florida.

As for the artist fee; this is where I use my price calculations and base fees to determine its amount. The important thing to keep in mind here is that nobody cares how you structure your prices — and as we said, usually telling people the exact mechanics of your pricing will actually devalues your work!

We all know that prices need to originate from some place (preferably a consistent one), but I feel that as soon as somebody tells me they charge 500€ for their work, based on some simple size calculation, it subconsciously devalues the experience of their art for me.

What I mean by this is that while all the pricing structures we use focus solely on the product and thus make determining the price much easier for us (especially when we need to give a quote on-site), the end goal of our art isn’t just to make a product. 

The main factor is actually the experience that it provides for our customers. And if we do not address this experience as part of our evaluation for the customer, they will deem it unimportant — when in reality, it’s the most important one!

How I tackle this issue is by roughly calculating my price via one of the two models I use (mostly I do price-by-size, as most of my commissions are abstract paintings) and add my base fee and a varying markup percentage — this only changes if I am doing work for a friend (because I know they won’t sell the work and as such I don’t fear such price inconsistencies affecting my market price as a whole), but thinking about sales to friends and family and having a “discount” preprepared for such occasions just helps me stay consistent with my pricing.

So, after I have my price, I tell them the whole number as my fee; I don’t discuss the ways I calculate it, I do not defend it or try to persuade them in any way if the price quote I gave is too high. We might sometimes haggle a bit, but usually I only do so when making more than one work.

I feel a large order deserves a bit of flexibility but I would never give discounts to my customers (especially on commissions) — I might let some older work go for less than what I want if it turns out there’s no demand for it though. 

Giving discounts only teaches people to ask for one every time we make business and nobody wants to be known as the discount artist.

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PRICING YOUR ART THE RIGHT WAY Part II — Value and Worth https://survivingart.com/2019/08/28/pricing-your-art-the-right-way-part-ii-value-and-worth/ Wed, 28 Aug 2019 16:12:44 +0000 https://survivingart.com/?p=2321 Oscar Wilde once wrote: “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.” 

A true artist therefore should be the exact opposite, but not due to ignorance towards the ever-present concept of money; the real truth of the matter is that putting a price tag on an embodiment of love, hate, reminiscence or longing (and all the other messages that art can communicate) just isn’t as easy as adding up ones material and overhead costs and slapping a 20% markup on the sum.

At least not to those that really understand the depths of their own work, because they know that while symbolism allows us to represent temptation by painting apples, temptation itself cannot be sold in the same way as apples.

Because unlike this common tree fruit, temptation cannot be grown, packaged and distributed (even though the media will tell you otherwise). True temptation, unlike her watered-down cousin, lack of self-control, does not come in chocolate or vanilla flavours, it does not make you giggle and say: “Oh, I’m bad, but I’ll have another piece.”

True temptation destroys kingdoms, not waistlines — something corporations still haven’t figured out how to manufacture on an assembly line (or perhaps just decided not to do). But it’s exactly what the best of us are doing, and people like us have been doing since before the Dutch invented oil paints.

We create altars to truth, to the essence of what makes us human, and just as there is no universal truth to speak of, there are no all-in-one solutions of valuing it. But there are intimate, personal ways with which verities are created and in today’s blunder I would like to explore them and try to shine a bit of light upon the convolution that is added value in art.

As its name implies, it is a form of worth that is added, not inherent to the object, and because our time is defined by value as no other time ever was, all of us know that added value is present in all human creation, not just in art.

From bread loaves to trousers; because of the abundance of stuff that is floating around us, the value proposition or the amount and type of added value that any one product has, has become the defining factor by which people decide to either spend their hard-earned money or keep it in the bank.

Back in the day — by which I mean mid nineteenth century Europe and before — this wasn’t the norm. When Zara and H&M didn’t exist and a clean pair of un-tattered cotton trousers was more of a luxury item than a commodity for many people, you could make trousers for everyone because added value hadn’t been invented yet.

Of course you had to measure your customers, so that they’d actually fit the person, but the question of: “Do you maybe have these in salmon red?” had absolutely no chance of existing. Not because the idea of red trousers was too abstract for people to get back then, but because the demand for “trousers” was far from being met. 

There were no electric sewing machines and fabric was hard to come by. It was only after many technological advancements and the continued outsourcing of child labour into places, where labour laws could not reach, that the idea of “trousers” became a commodity. And by doing so, the ideas of “red trousers” and “blue trousers” and soon “light khaki skinny-fit jeans” replaced “trousers” as the only available option.

Every time a quicker, cheaper, or better way of producing something (the same goes for service) is invented, the thing being produced slips a bit more into the oblivion of commodities — making it possible for more and more people to be able to afford it and consequently producing a need for more sophisticated versions of that particular product for those who already had the means of buying it in the first place.

And while there are no real technological advances in painting (at least not compared to bio tech or computers) the basic ideas of supply and demand are the same. 

Art in its core is the polar opposite of what the idea of commodification is to trousers — though print-on-demand services and the overflow of uneducated artists painting pretty flower pictures have taken their toll on the market.

Because, while any other form of creation is roughly limited by the means of production on one side and the specific tastes and capital of the consumers on the other, paintings don’t behave like trousers or laptops. Because no work of art is the same as the other, scarcity is next to infinite (well, it’s precisely one, if we’re not counting editions).

This is the first and most important added value that a work of art has — scarcity. While philosophically one could even argue that it might actually be the only human creation that has inherent added value (I’m not, because I don’t believe this to be true), scarcity defines art unlike any other trait it might possess.

In any art economics book (and there sadly still aren’t that many), you can find at least one long paragraph that glorifies art as the ultimate product; one can have a bunch of villas, a dozen yachts and hundreds of beautiful old cars, but lose all interest and excitement about them eventually, because it’s not that hard to add one more into the collection. 

Vintage wine, like all the “good” things in the world, tastes the best when we first try it, then it slowly but surely slips into the oblivion of commodity. The only real thrill then is to own a Salvator Mundi, Picasso’s Boy with pipe or Pollock’s No. 5, because there exists (and ever will exist) only one of each in the world. The one we have. The one others cannot possess.

But scarcity has to arise from somewhere, because nobody just wakes up with a sudden urge to buy our art. Scarcity needs an ecosystem in which it can exist — it needs demand. But to really understand demand, we have to understand need first, and there’s no better place to go than the nineteen forties, 1943 to be exact, when most of the western world was at war and people’s demands for almost everything were far from being met.

While the zeitgeist of the fifties created many questionable things, it had also sown the seeds for one of the most important scientific papers of our times, titled: “A Theory of Human Motivation”.

Maslow’s paper would become the bedrock of the social sciences for many decades to come, because it stated something groundbreaking; namely that all people share a common hierarchy of needs that follow certain rules and influence our lives as never thought of before.

He found that people do not and cannot experience certain needs — located higher up in the hierarchy — without first satisfying the more basic ones, like hunger, sex and security. Thus he concluded, that without first giving priority to the basic securities of life, like food, water and shelter, we humans are unable to even feel the urge to want something more complex; the need to have a family or the need to be respected in the eyes of our peers for example.

The trick is that demand for art, unlike trousers or bread, isn’t as popular amongst the masses, and we can find a clue as to why in Maslow’s theory: unlike most of our physical needs, that could be described as being a reaction to a certain deficiency — needing sustenance, love, affection, camaraderie, etc. — the need for collecting art comes from abundance and the need to grow.

Be it as a person, a society, a business or a local community; art gives us the tools to express ourselves and to connect, create a common identity and express our power. And if we see it as such, it gives us a much easier time understanding why the majority of people don’t collect art or just don’t give art the same importance in their lives as we do. 

They just don’t feel the need for it.

Imagine you’re working two jobs and supporting a family of four; the chaos of having to put food on the table, paying the electricity bill and god forbid a mortgage on the house with less than 100€ in the bank to last you for another two weeks of grocery shopping, while your child is telling you she will be needing a new textbook for next week’s class that costs 50€. 

No sane person under such conditions will ever think about how the empty wall space in the kitchen could use a nice still-life with a bunch of flowers or maybe an impressionist seascape in the colours of the living room couch. 

Ever.

But on the other side of this equation are the people who are privileged enough to live in abundance; those who strive for power, fame, beauty or morality. Here, in a place of abundance the demand for art has a chance to sprout, but because there’s millions of artists around the world (1,2 million just in the US), it takes a bit more than a vague demographic analysis to find ones fertile soil. 

We need a niche. Without it, we’re no more valuable than a no-brand drill bit at the local hardware store; forgettable, replaceable and most likely dull.

Think about it. There are many different companies that sell drills and accessories, all competing for the same customers. Some differences do exist, of course; you have different sizes, varying quality of the bits, their intended purpose — to drill into wood or metal or stone etc. — but apart from the obvious, there is one that is equally important, but resides on the customer side and is quite often overlooked. 

Perception.

What I mean by this is that when a person goes to their local hardware store and buys drill bits, do they really go there with the sole intention to own drill bits or do they buy them only because it lets them make a hole in their wall to hang a painting of their dad? 

Even then; did they buy drill bits and the painting for the sole reason of owning it, or did they maybe see in the portrait of their father an object that would remind them of what a wonderful person he is? Maybe he recently passed away and the painting means a lot to them? As does the process of commissioning it, receiving it, unpacking, framing, … and especially hanging it.

And in a world full of drill bits, more or less similar in size, quality and defined usage, would a drill company that focuses on evoking a certain emotion in their customer like pride, or a feeling of usefulness or maybe even self-actualisation, not only have an edge over their competition, but provide a lot of value to anyone with such a need?

Imagine your dad was somebody that made you feel like you needed to be useful in your life, like it was your duty as a person to do good and create great things with your hands. To pride yourself on a simple job well done.

What if the company that makes drill bits tried to enhance this experience with their products? They could invent a great advertisement campaign to place their products in such a demand niche, reinvent the packaging so that is helps enforce this feeling, maybe as simple as a slogan that says: “Nothing like a job well done.”

Maybe they could put a small chip inside their drill bit boxes (and call them Drill Beats) and make them play Ain’t No Mountain High Enough by Tammi Terrell & Marvin Gaye every time you open them? The goal would be to help you actualise your wish for feeling proud, helpful, self-reliant and in charge when you are preparing the wall to hang your painting, and a good tune goes a long way for a lot of us. 

Would you not buy these bits over the competition if this was this exact experience that you are searching for? You might just pay a bit more, maybe 10% or 20% because you would see the added value that they embody. 

Or, you might laugh at the sight of them and take the cheapest ones — preferably returning them after you don’t need them anymore and persuade the cashier or manager that you never opened them and just bought the wrong kind.

The difference is, that there would be a lot less people willing to buy Drill Beats, of course, because they would only sell to those that identify with the added value that they provide. But at the same time such people would probably cherish the added value immensely and may even talk about their newly-found novelty drill bits with their friends. All in all, they would be deemed more valuable than the other, generic bits, if the right people got their hands on them.

The cheaper ones on the other hand would still be bought by folks that need a hole and don’t mind the quick and dirty way, if they can save a few cents because of it. The difference wouldn’t even be connected with the functionality of either drill bit — both make holes and nothing else.

All that would be different would be the customers perception of them, their ability to connect with the core need that made them go into the hardware store in the first place. And with drill bits, it’s usually never to buy drill bits.

People don’t buy drill bits, they buy the ability to create holes. But even then, they don’t need holes, they might need to hang a painting of a loved one, to pay respect, to remember, not to forget … to feel proud that they did it themselves. 

The real question for us then, is what do people really need when they buy our art?

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PRICING YOUR ART THE RIGHT WAY Part I: Expenses and Resources https://survivingart.com/2019/08/21/pricing-your-art-the-right-way-part-i-expenses-and-resources/ Wed, 21 Aug 2019 12:09:59 +0000 https://survivingart.com/?p=2312 Creating a beautiful work of art is hard by itself, but when it comes to putting a price tag on whatever we made, it does tend to get even harder for most of us artistic types. The question for today (and a few future blunders) is therefore: How much is creativity even worth?

If you ask somebody on Fiverr, well, it’s about 5 € give or take, on UpWork they’ll probably up that excuse of a pay-check to about 10€ or 20€, but I reckon (or at least hope) we can all agree that making whatever it is one does for a couple of beer’s worth isn’t really going to make anyone financially independent in the arts — or any other profession for that matter. Unless you’re literally selling single beers for the price of a couple of beers — this is, as far as I know, the only sound way of using this kind of business model and actually making a decent profit.

So, unless we decide to open up a barter brewery or intend to create a drop-shipping platform and/or beer exchange, there are better ways of tackling this issue and actually making enough to be able to sustain our lives and artistic production in the long run.

And today I’d like to share the method that works best for me; and please don’t worry, there’s minimal maths involved, and the few equations that we will mention are of the sweet, money-generating variety, that — in my opinion — makes them much easier to understand.

Let us therefore put on our green accountant hats (if you have one) and get down to business.

The core idea of calculating value of anything that we make is to first figure out the expenses that making art creates. The premise is quite simple here; we first need to know how much cash we’re actually throwing at a painting or sculpture or performance we’re making, because then we will know the bare minimum of how much it should cost for anyone interested in said artwork, to acquire it. 

In short; the goal is not to starve to death in the long-run.

But that’s also where the first big issue arises; it’s not just materials, studio rent and other “operating costs” we have to take into consideration, it’s our living expenses too! And this is where a lot of folks get it wrong and end up losing money on their work. 

Because, were we only to calculate based on our operational expenses — the expenses we have due to making our work — our sales would only reimburse that segment of our lives. Our eating, sleeping and not-freezing-in-the-winter demands would not be part of the equation — unless you’re living in a place where food is growing on trees all-around you and you’re also living in said tree with 365 day long summers to support you, this quickly becomes an issue.

To adequately adjust our price, we therefore need to think about us as a being; everything we need to survive and thrive on a daily basis needs to be accounted for, because without it, over the span of a few months or maybe years, we will not have the required energy to produce our art.

To start it off, the best way in my opinion is to first put down all of the basic necessities of life; food, water, rent/mortgage payments and all the inevitable costs of being a homeowner (if you are actually one), the cost of transportation, kitchen and bathroom essentials — like a bottle of Main ’n’ Tail shampoo, made for people and/or horses (just as a reminder to never take life too seriously) — and everything else in between. 

The point is to really take your time and figure out everything you spend your money on and a generous estimation of how much money per segment is actually being spent on a monthly basis.

My calculations look a little bit like this:

I divided my costs into a spreadsheet with the following segments: Longterm Investments (this is first for a reason, because 70 year-old you will thank you for it when the economy goes haywire and your pension payments start bouncing), Rent, Food and Health, Home Necessities, Car and Transportation, Digital Services and Telecommunication, Computer and Tech Equipment, Photo and Video Equipment, and Holidays and Fun Things (you’ve got to have those).

All my expenses are adjusted to a per-month basis; this means that anything I use every month (like rent, computer and camera equipment) is divided up into monthly segments. With rent, this is quite straight forward; you pay it every month and therefore you full payment should be in the spreadsheet.

With computers and cameras it gets just a bit more tricky, because — unless you shower with your laptop — you won’t be needing a new one every month; therefore you need to set a realistic amortisation period (the stretch of time any piece of equipment lasts you).

For my Mac I have an overly-conservative 3 year period (it’s my 5th year currently, but this way I can adjust for being a knob and accidentally pouring coffee over my laptop’s keyboard down the line). Then I divide the cost of a new computer by the amount of months (36 in my example) and what I’m left with is the monthly cost of my computer (for me it’s about 100€, because Apple is currently being lead by blind, money-hungry idiots).

When you’re done, you just made an analysis of your “fixed costs” — the costs or expenses you have, regardless if you use the space(s) and equipment for making art (and consequently money) or just binge-watching Netflix. 

The other kind of expenses are “variable expenses”, as the shirt and tie people like to call them. These are all expenses that occur only if we use up the materials they provide; paint tubes are variable for example, because you need to actually use them to run out of paint and therefore having the need to buy more.

Similar to fixed expenses, variable expenses can occur on a monthly basis (like toilet paper and shampoo) and over different periods of time (like fuel for your car if you live in a city with semi-developed infrastructure and only fill it up a couple times a year, but still have to have one, because the buses take an hour to travel 10 km distances).

Here, we again need to calculate each expense and then adjust its price by dividing the total price with the total amount of months that particular expense will last us.

You can even simplify it, and not think about fixed and variable expenses that much; just figure out all the various ways by which your cash is leaving your wallet or bank account and adjust each one of the various streams to a monthly amount. 

And don’t forget to include the not so obvious expenses like gifts, insurance, drinks and nights out and everything in between; the more in depth your expenses are formulated, the better and especially the more exact your final result will be (you don’t want to figure out down the line that you actually spend 300€ more per month on bagels than you thought — tough delicious, both finically and health-wise, this can obviously become an issue in the future).

Now that we have all of our expenses (living and working expenses that is), we can get to the real juicy part of our analysis: we need to figure out our resources and we’re starting with the one that all of us have in abundance (unless you’re 80, then you still have a decent amount left).

Time is the only really scarce resource we have and the most important one for all creatives; the point of making creative work is putting our time and attention into a problem and figuring out the best way to solve it.

You can’t outsource your creativity, because you can’t really outsource your own time; you can surely outsource your non-creative work, like writing emails, taking calls and making appointments. But the creative part, that’s impossible. Otherwise the value of creativity would drop to zero, because everybody could do it — there’s a reason why Seth Godin, Chris Do, Spike Lee and the myriad of other propagators on the importance of creativity speak so highly of it.

Also, we creatives always tend to be short on cash, so focusing too much other types of resources doesn’t really make sense for now.

Back to our calculations!

We ended up with the total amount of expenses (mine for example, because Slovenia’s living standards aren’t that high — at least compared to London or New York — are in the 1.500 € – 2.000 € per month ballpark, yours will depend on where you live and how much stuff you want/need in your life).

Now, we need to figure out the value of our time; for me, it’s by the hour, because it makes it easier to calculate my expenses for each particular project, but if you want you can also use a day as your variable — especially if you can’t easily switch between working on different projects and actually need to segment your work on a per-day basis to stay focused.

To give a bit of context, the calculations we are making now serve two purposes; one is to define the minimal value of one hour or day of our work, and the second one is not to starve.

But, because we are not machines (unless you’re one of the 14 bot accounts that I have found so far, which are for some reason subscribed to my social accounts and mailing list), we cannot work 24 hours a day or 7 days a week. Not in perpetuity at least.

We therefore need to set a maximum amount of time we are prepared to work. This time also includes all research and “non-making” activities, like taking long walks and thinking about your work, because they are all needed to create the finished work.

For me — because I fear boredom and leisure time like medieval folks feared bathing — it’s about 80-90 hours per week, for you it’s however much you are prepared to work and wherever your work/life scales are tipping towards.

By the way, there are 168 hours in a week in total and about 720 in a month, if you’re calculating that way.

The goal is to be realistic, and I can’t stress this enough; it has to be realistic, because if you just want to work 50 hours a week but end up doing 20, you’re not going to get by in the long run and will not be happy with your pay either!

Let’s say you decide to work 40 hours a week and enjoy the other 128 by socialising with friends, eating, sleeping and everything else we humans like to do. That’s 8 hours per day, excluding weekends.

There are about 4 weeks in a month, so 4 x 40 is about 160 hours of work per month. If we now take the total sum of our monthly expenses and divide it by the total sum of hours we are prepared to work, we end up with about 10€ if for example our total work hours are about 160 per month, and our total expenses about 1600€.

We are now left with our own personal minimum hourly-wage requirement.

Note, that if like me, you’re not only working on making enough money to survive, but as well as working on your own project to eventually be able to stop working for food-money (financial independence), you shouldn’t divide your total expenses by your total work hours — only with the amount that you are willing to put into making enough cash to survive during the time you are working on your future.

In other words, it’s the difference between how much your day job or whatever commercial projects you do take up your time, and the total amount of time you spend working. For me, it really depends from month to month; sometimes you get a high-paying project that you can live off for a couple of months, but only need a few weeks to complete, and sometimes you’ll work 40 hours a week for a month, just to pay the bills.

If we now get back to our personal minimum wage, we can of course modify it to be higher (but, by the love of logic and/or any deity you’re fond of, not lower), than the average hourly rate in our industry is.

For example:

If you’re a frugal website designer monk that works 40 hours a week and only need 400€ per month to survive (and for some reason have access to the required web design tools and equipment), your time shouldn’t be worth less than comparable web designers in your area or market segment, that have higher monthly expenses.

You can always set your price to about the average price of everybody else and use the surplus of cash to fund your other goals (like having LAN parties at your temple or getting high-speed wi-fi to all the monasteries in your country).

But you could also do the same by just knowing you are (and actually being) better then most other professionals in your field; a good painter should not charge less than a bad one, the bad one shouldn’t charge at all if you ask me. 

To conclude this maths-heavy blunder (I apologise, but it’s incredibly important to understand these things to flourish as a creative) the point is simple: Know how much you need to survive and thrive and how much you are prepared to work to get it.

And in the next one we’ll take a look at the way other resources interact with our way of making art, how we can use added value as a variable to get more for our work and how to apply our personal minimal hourly-wage to calculate consistent and fair prices for our art.

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NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL SYMBOLS https://survivingart.com/2019/08/13/natural-and-artificial-symbols/ Tue, 13 Aug 2019 19:49:17 +0000 https://survivingart.com/?p=2298 Just as with sweeteners and coffee, you have natural and artificial options to spice up your art, too. Both sweeteners and symbols are created by moulding reality to our will, but unlike aspartame and the like, artificial symbols don’t have negative health side effects (unless we count war and propaganda, of course). 

It does though open up your work to the possibility of being misinterpreted, and in today’s blunder, we’re going to take a peek at how we can at least guide our audiences into the right direction as well as take a jab at the underlying question that many of you might be asking yourselves. Namely, if there even is a “right” direction with art — we might just as easily say that any perspective is a valid one and that there are no “wrong” ways to understand a work of art. 

Well, let’s find out!

First, let’s take the basic idea of a symbol and — using our tiny mental equivalents of surgical equipment (our thoughts) — try to see if we can’t find a good and workable definition of what a symbol actually is.

The problem isn’t that symbols are amorphous blobs that evade scrutiny every time we try to observe them closely — this isn’t quantum physics — the real issue comes forth because of the exact opposite: 

You can’t but see something in anything you observe attentively.

Symbols really are just neatly assembled and wrapped ideas that were made presentable and therefore intriguing enough to stand out from the crowd of everything else the world has to offer us as far as experiences go.

To be clear, we’re not going to talk exclusively about visual symbols, because the experience and inner workings of symbolic structures are more or less the same regardless if we look at them, hear them or smell them — albeit our focus will be visual arts, because, well, my numbers say most of you lovely souls reading or listening to this are visual artists just like me and evaluations of sheet music just don’t ring as true to us as a nice, juicy-red Barnett Newman painting. 

And, I also have to address all of you philosophy and linguistic aficionados: When I say semantics, symbolism (but I never use the term semiotics) — as far as I’m concerned — all three mean more or less the same. 

This isn’t due to ignorance, but because semiotics, being the study of symbols, and semantics, being the study of the meanings of words, in the end combine into one, big, splashy field of study. 

And that’s exactly where we’re all going today.

Symbolism is to words like water is to rivers; you could have a river of oil or ketchup, but when you read the word river, it’s just more likely that water is going to be involved. The same goes for symbolic structures. 

You have non-linguistic symbolism — we will talk about that — but the majority of symbols we encounter in our daily lives that actually do spark our interest (especially our intellectual interests) are all built on language and operate by its rules.

So, symbolism:

The human mind is a wonderful piece of meaty equipment, especially one part of it, residing somewhere in our prefrontal cortex, that not only makes us the apex predators on the planet (if we do not count the penis fish or Candiru of the Amazonian rainforest — that creature scares me to death), but also gives us the ability to be attentive.

And if you’ve been part of this channel for a while, you know how I love attention and the old myths regarding its importance.

Attention is the cornerstone of the human condition; it’s the starch or agar-agar that holds our fragile whipped cream-like amalgamation of anxiety, fear of death and other basic drivers at reasonable bay and in a homogenous enough shape so that we can (even though nihilism is just a thought away) still enjoy the finer things of life. Like ice cream, art and thinking about things.

Attention is also the basis of how symbolic structures and understandings are formed in our brains; without us being attentive enough, we could never learn the meaning of something and therefore would be forced to uncover meaning in things, people and other phenomena every time we’d encounter them — rather than how it actually works, where we have a basic concept saved somewhere in our meat noodle and use it to manoeuvre through the world.

Take a stop sign for example; it takes attention to be able to focus on a red piece of octagonally-sheet of metal, painted on with four white scribbles of lines, and see a prompt to stop.

It takes even more attention to learn that said collection of red and scribbles is actually a universal prompt that can be found almost all around the world and that every time we encounter it, we have to stop.

Were we not to posses this ability to memorise certain collections of either words, images or even sounds and smells into systems (or to say differently symbols), we would have a panic attack every time we sat in our car, go to the supermarket and probably every time we turned on our tap at home to get a drink of water (especially if your tap is actually a faucet and most likely doesn’t produce clean, drinking water).

Without our ability to think and experience life via symbolic structures, causality would be a cruel and completely foreign mistress indeed.

But, that’s (luckily) not the case. 

We do learn to manoeuvre through life via symbolic structures or ideologies, and my favourite example for how symbols work is Beethovens’s 9th symphony — I lied, there will be a bit of sheet music analysis after all — more commonly referred to as The Ode to Joy.

Since its creation, The Ode to Joy has been used by a myriad of different, even contradicting causes, to propagate their ideas. Used by both governments of Nazi Germany and Communist China, by the protesters in Chile, demonstrating against Pinochet and the then ruling class. 

It was played at the fall of the Berlin Wall, by christians, buddhists and all sorts of other religions — it was also the theme song of the USSR (old-school talk for communist Russia), picked by Stalin himself.

In short; everybody and their fascist grandma used to relate to that song while just over the border the same tune was played by diehard communists — and now it’s the unofficial hymn of the European Union. 

It’s a lot like if the song Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees was used by both sides of any conflict (the concert itself would probably be aired in some neutral country like Switzerland with the speakers faced into the direction of the fighting countries) and just blasted onto the battlefield with everybody, regardless of side, religion or mindset, relating to the same thing; the beauty and sheer amount of grace 3 pairs of airtight trousers can unleash in a society without autotune. 

If they only knew what was coming…

While my example is based on music, it works in visual art all the same. There’s a wonderful story someone told in a video somewhere on YouTube (might be Peterson, but it could also be Žižek or any other philosopher/sociologist fond of either lobsters or other people’s toilets, so I couldn’t say for sure):

He said that he owns a portrait of Stalin that he proudly hung on one of the walls in his home. But, being someone that despises the horrific deeds that man was capable of doing, that portrait doesn’t hang there as a token of reminiscence or a symbol of some old, partly-forgotten way. 

He keeps it there, because of the sheer fact that he can watch the ideology of the painting slowly crack and fade away. 

Meaning; now it might still be a portrait of Stalin, the horrible person, but over time — in 100 or 200 years, when nobody that actually remembers what happened firsthand is alive anymore — he’ll just be another “old important guy on a painting”. Just like the rest of them, probably exhibited in some museum and sorted on the merit of date or technique, not deeds.

He might even be hung next to some old Russian icon of Jesus — when ideology vanishes from people’s hearts and minds, it leaves its products empty and only the technical traits like size, colour, texture, motif and composition stay. 

So, ideologies or structures of symbols are empty of meaning when the context is removed form the equation. The only things that stay regardless if a painting is presented inside a religious, political or plain-old white cube context are natural symbols.

Natural symbols, unlike their counterparts — symbols of the artificial variety (sounds like a tittle for a Philip K. Dick novella) — are timeless and non-linguistic. As their name implies, they originate not from any man-made context (like language), but from a wider, much much older context of nature itself.

For example; nature is more than 4 billion years old. People one the other hand have only existed for about a couple of hundred thousands of years — even just a couple of thousands, if we only start counting from the first known formations of civilisations, when a lot of the artificial symbolic systems we all know and love (like the Bible, Koran, Talmud, and other religious texts, that shaped western society) were formed.

But I’m sure all of us that ever spent at least a few hours studying visual art theory (or went to any school, really) are more familiar with a different name, that our field has given to natural symbols: basic artistic elements — or design elements, if you studied design.

There are seven of them, to be exact: line, shape, space, value, form, texture, and colour. Other natural symbols include the second basic assortment of artistic tools, the principles of art or design: unity or harmony, balance, hierarchy, scale or proportion, dominance or emphasis, and similarity or contrast.

All of these basic features that anything in the world (especially in the world of art) has, are not manmade — they are the features around which our perception and interaction with the world evolved.

On the opposite side are artificial symbols; these are all manmade structures, like symbols for love or hate or appreciation. Think of how various differences between cultures (especially the east and west) create an incredibly disparate context around the same symbol, like the O.K. sign. 

A gesture where the thumb and index fingers are connected and the rest left to form a kind of mohawk, but with fingers, is more or less known to communicate agreement or content with something; like in Japan, where it means wealth and is therefore a good thing.

But in the Middle East, it usually represents an anus and is meant as an offensive gesture, pointing towards the recipient not only having an anus, but also being one. In Kuwait for example, the same gesture is understood as an evil eye, a course laid on the recipient.

And in places like France it gets even more convoluted, because of the cultural diversity of the country, it can mean both a good and a bad thing to different people. The point to take home is to have ones hands under control when traveling and that artificial symbols — unlike natural ones, that always mean the same thing — depend on their context to give them meaning or their semantic value as it is also called.

And you can also combine natural and artificial symbols together (that’s more or less the majority of all symbolism — an amalgamation of both).

While a line will always be a line and a dot will always be a dot, we can make an amalgamation by drawing two dots and writing “sesame seed” under one of them and “butt hole” under the other. The point is that understanding the difference between natural and artificial symbols is imperative if we wish to help guide our viewers through the labyrinth of experiencing our art. 

While of course even the most basic of shapes and colours can become imbued with subjective, extremely personal meanings for some people (winning 100 million Euro in a lottery while being dressed completely in baby blue clothes will leave an imprint on the mind for example), natural symbols usually have similar meanings and offer similar impulses to most people.

But it’s also not impossible to predict how certain groups of people will read a certain artificial symbol either. 

Punks will usually see the symbol for anarchy when confronted with the letter A painted onto a wall, but it could just as well be a badly painted logo for a new Avengers movie and Marvel fans will most likely only see that meaning. And many won’t even notice it, because they have no deep relation to the symbol; that’s why some people see something in art, that others don’t. They are just projecting what they think is important to them onto the work they are experiencing. 

And that’s also why art is such a wonderful and powerful medium; when confronted with a good, layered and complex work of art, it will eventually show us — just like the mirror in Harry Potter — exactly what we are striving for, whether we like it or not.

Our job as artists therefore is not to produce blindly and unconnected with our environment, but to carefully craft our products in such a fashion that they become part of our zeitgeist — of the now. 

Only then can both artificial and natural symbols work in unison, forming a strong and easily legible communications channel with our audience and giving them not only the ability to see what is important to us as creators, but also what is most dear to them.

In the end, we merely facilitate the artistic experience by making art, the viewers are the true artists, creating the artistic experience by immersing themselves into our work and opening up enough to internalise it as part of themselves. 

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ART AND ENTERTAINMENT https://survivingart.com/2019/08/07/art-and-entertainment/ Wed, 07 Aug 2019 08:05:42 +0000 https://survivingart.com/?p=2296 More and more you see art shows being coupled with support programs that, to an art goer from a couple of decades ago, would resemble more a visit to the local club than an actually gallery — albeit a club that, for whatever reason, seems to also have some “art” on the walls.

But why is that?

I hear a lot of people in the business say that the market has shifted and that — just like with any other commodity in today’s competitive business environment — the target audiences have changed, so the products and presentation have to change, too.

Well, I don’t believe that, at least not to the extent that such galleries describe the state of the “casual art consumer” to be.

The main issue I have is that a lot less energy and commitment is being given to figuring out where exactly the art market (or the art world in general) is going, but quick and careless decisions by people who operate in these “middle ground” segments cause weird and probably quite negative effects on the all-around well-being of the arts precisely by blatantly coupling arts with entertainment.

And here, it’s time for a very brief history check:

If we take a peek at what has been happening over the last few decades, it’s quite obvious that art  used to be whatever the antonym of commodity is (I am yet to find out and I find this incredibly fitting for the times we are living in), where the production was scarce and quality was judged on actual craftsmanship and “objective” skill — like being able to paint a person’s portrait to the point where one could hardly distinguish between the painting and the real thing.

After science and society evolved, this merit upon which good artistic expression was evaluated had to go, at least for a while (it comes back in cycles and my guess is, it’s slowly coming back again), and exploration of “What art can be?” lead the development of both taste and the markets.

Picasso and Braque, the Futurists and Dada sealed the deal of what the Impressionists, Fauvists and Expressionists began and both the industrial and societal revolutions during that time correlated to it: the defining factor for great art became philosophical and political reflection in all its glory.

After Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven’s urinal (that by a combination of chance, old-school misogyny and the influence of Marcel Duchamp is still being fought over as to who really “made” the artwork that would forever change contemporary art), well, things changed.

The question of “What is art?”, or more precisely “What can be art?” was answered just a few decades after the 1917 exhibition by the Society of Independent Artists in New York, when people began to talk and discuss the oddity; while people still love to quarrel about the real definition of art, the objective fact (if there ever is one) is that art can be and therefore is, everything we decide.

There’s no heavenly blueprint of what art looks like and as such anything can be art.

This was a turning point for our business as suddenly anyone could become an artist. But one can imagine such a lack of functional barriers to entry (there’s really no official national exam for becoming an artist anywhere in the world) could not stand for long, and a merit by which artistic status was to be decided upon had to be drawn up.

And so it happened.

Economic growth and the long periods of abundance caused a lot of new money to appear and (depending on your country) legislation on tax-cuts and other subsidies for art offered the affluent a wonderful mechanism for not only saving money, but making it.

A lot of money to be exact.

Art that sold for 800€ in 1920 now sells for tens of millions — a prime example to such rising prices is the current record-holder, the alleged Da Vinci painting titled Salvator Mundi, that sold for a humble 450 million. And the best part; the art world is already happily chirping away about the first billion euro work of art coming soon.

The top end of the market has risen to heights where one can’t but start to wonder when the sun will burn down its wings and send it tumbling into a depression.

But, this is something for another blunder, today I’m focusing on a different segment that came to be exactly because of this rise in contemporary and modern art sales (and prices), but in the end could not be more disparate.

It’s the well-off but not rich folks in their 20% bigger-than-average apartments located 20% closer-to-the-city-centre-than-most-others that drive just a bit better cars and eat just a tad healthier.

I’m talking about the high end of the middle class.

This “target market” is the playground for all the primary beta galleries (the bottom feeders of the art world) as well as for some of the top players (like Saatchiart, or Saatchionline as it was once called, when it still belonged to Charles Saatchi). And this part of the market is also where more or less most of us are currently located.

But it’s not a shabby place to be, if that’s what you’re thinking.

In fact, it’s the most common place where the majority of all artists in the world can be found and, the ineffable amount of competition aside, for me a very interesting space to work in.

Let me explain:

I believe we are in the midst of an enormous change, the era of a new and dare I say never before seen market is about to unfold (the beginnings of which have been happening for almost 10 years). 

Soon, a new kind of collector will arise, because her messenger — the art buyer — has already appeared.

The art buyers, distinct from the art collectors and as the name already implies, do not collect nor do they wish to use their art purchases for the same means as those that do; they only wish to be part of the action, the money action.

Art buyers are more or less real-estate flippers with a tad more cash and maybe a semi-functional understanding of art (no offence to anyone, but basic psychology agrees). They rarely care for the product they flip, and even rarer appreciate it. 

All they appreciate is to buy low and flip high. And such a view is symptomatic of a degradation in standards or rules by which any game is played, because one gets a bunch of new players that completely forwent the rule-learning stage and just came to have a blast.

It’s the trust fund and second generation oligarch families that tend to appear in this group; the people in power that never learned, but more precisely understood, how power is earned, maintained and lost, and that came to lead a highly complex and decades long chess game their parents and sometimes parent’s parents started and plunge it into a gradual and slow oblivion by playing checkers.

But the art buyers are just the beginning, now we’re going to see (and already are in more developed markets) that because of the sheer amount of purchasing power and capital, floating about in our wonderful world, something’s happening with the middle class, too.

And the best part, the model for what is happening is as old as society itself, and anyone of us that wishes to ride the coming waves of potential abundance is welcome to do so with more or less a step-by-step guide lurking in every history book — all one has to do is replace carriage or copper pick-axe with computer and wi-fi, really.

The middle class is getting more and more affluent and the same thing that happens whenever a segment of the population grows in purchasing power is happening in the arts — and it’s not just more art sales in that particular segment (300€  -1000€ give or take), it’s a more specific and more refined taste in the art that is being bought that is accompanying them.

That’s why Instagram shops, Etsy and Facebook Marketplace are working so well for a lot of artists right now. And, to finally get to the main, juicy part of today’s blunder, it’s why arts and entertainment have risen as a spectacle in many a gallery and will eventually fail as a model of operation for most if not all such galleries. 

People think that mid-tier art collectors need DJs and beanbags to buy art, while the main issue really resides in the fact that nobody wants to be looked down upon — especially not by a shabby, 2nd or 3rd tier gallerist that was never allowed to sit at the adult’s table and whose rooster of artists were never accepted to an evening sale at Sotheby’s.

Of course you have people that come to such openings that genuinely enjoy the lights, music and the superfluous conversations about art that happen at many an opening, but as the gallery owners are slowly beginning to find out, such people really do come for the music and wine, not to actually buy the art that’s being displayed.

This, coupled with the fact that playing in the big league now requires tens if not hundreds of millions of liquid cash in the bank, it’s no wonder that galleries are closing by the hundreds.

What the art world in this segment currently lacks is humility and understanding for the newly formed segment and a business model to back it up. 

Many of them behave like textbook examples of what no to do: 1st) Dumb down your product and marketing so you’ll reach “everyone”, 2nd) package it in shiny, superfluous glitter and do a circus act to try to sell it and 3rd) magically reach a strong market saturation and expect the sophisticated buyers you’ve been targeting all along to just magically become interested in the light and music show, because a couple of hundred folks came to your opening and drank your cartoned-up Cabernet Sauvignon.

It just doesn’t work like that.

That’s why my personal belief is that a lot of us artists that have either not been born into a well-connected family or are incapable of becoming well-connected (more or less because of introversion or some other form of inability), to completely change the way we think about the art world and stop dreaming about ever getting representation by a gallery.

It’s not that it’s impossible — more than ever, our chances of getting signed are quite strong if indeed we are up to the task of delivering a quality product and are capable enough in getting to know the right people to deliver it to — but it’s improbable that such a model will work in the lower segment of the market, where more or less all of us will stay, forever.

The facilitators of art just aren’t up to the task and it will take a long time before this changes (if ever).

It’s much better to partner up with a friend or acquaintance that can help you out with marketing and finances and split the profits, because they are much more likely to actually know what the hell is going on with the people that are really going to buy the work in that segment, than many of the so called gallerists in the primary beta segment of the art market.

And to be honest, there’s a lot of good social media marketeers and a lot of fresh economic graduates to go around, many of them squirming at the thought of becoming another cog in their perspective industry’s machines in order to either sell a few more knickers or getting the cost basis for said knickers down by 3.2 percent in the next quarter.

People need and want fun and excitement, they yearn for a purpose and by god if a possibility of someday becoming professionally involved in one of the most subjective and creative industries in human existence doesn’t present itself as the universe stretching out an olive branch amongst the bleak and pointless populist nihilism of today, I don’t know what can. 

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ART HAS NO PURPOSE, ONLY CONSEQUENCES  https://survivingart.com/2019/07/29/art-has-no-purpose-only-consequences/ Mon, 29 Jul 2019 19:15:13 +0000 https://survivingart.com/?p=2293 An interesting sentence, uttered by a friend of mine while we were chatting over drinks, was that “Art has no purpose, only consequences.” and these six words really struck a chord with me. In today’s blunder therefore, I’d like to explore this statement, because I think a lot of us may posses a misconstrued understanding about our artistic production that could (and probably does) influence our ability to reach the right audience and consequently grow as artists.

But why does art not have any purpose? If you’re a regular of this blog, you’ve probably noticed me state several purposes pertaining to art throughout my writings and podcasts, and so the idea of art without purpose might seem a bit off. 

To be honest, this fact is precisely why I had to write and explore this novel perspective, as it seems that just such a misrepresentation or miscommunication could be the culprit of a lot of convolution among us artists (not to say the art world in general)!

My personal view of life is that everything has either purpose or capability; the later being a given, as physical reality cannot be without capability (if nothing else the capability of being or existing), and purpose as the basic conception of said reality, projected upon it by beings.

An art piece, regardless of whether it is a painting, drawing, installation or any excuse for a real work of art, like the stuffed shark that made headlines decades ago, seems to posses some form of purpose. Were it not so, how could one possibly explain all the weird works that serve no utilitarian function, have no real graspable concept of what their purpose was (except maybe to be sold at outrageous prices on the secondary market)?!

And such riddles can — as with anything in our beautifully convoluted world of art — quickly be explained away by some form of concept. All we really need to understand even the most unintelligible work of art, possibly even completely void of meaning at the time of its conception, is just a glint of meaning that can be quite easily provided by just expanding ones context regarding any particular work, and eventually ending up at a feasible (albeit usually quite banal) explanation of what it should be representing.

A wonderful example for this is the function of an artwork’s title, and who better to direct our attention to as an example than the famous taxidermist of the art world himself, Damien Hirst. 

Hirst’s work has always been accompanied by incredibly poetic titles and this was by far no coincidence or merely a reflection of the depths of his romantic, world-pondering soul. His decisions to name a rotting cow head with flies and an insect zapper, incapsulated inside a glass tank with the title: “A Thousand Years” was almost genius.

Maybe not in the sense of the renaissance idea of genius, and definitely not in the sense of master craftsperson, but fitting to the times, Hirst’s work was exactly on point: 

Make art that creates a spectacle — preferably based on shock factor, so you can divide your audience into two disparate factions — and let people quarrel over your work until full media coverage saturation has been reached. Then repeat.

Anyone fond of Guy Debord’s book The Society of the Spectacle will quickly notice that such an approach cannot be sustained indefinitely (and alas, after Hirst’s worldwide Gagosian show and most prominently after his last Venice gig, even history itself stands as an undeniable statement of such logic). 

Let’s therefore look at how and why Hirst’s career took such a turn (and why a lot of contemporary art will face the same music eventually):

Let’s start with why it failed, because his why was actually interlaced with what interests us the most — purpose. Damien Hirst’s work does not have any purpose, but what is even more problematic than that, it had no capability to ever have a purpose — at least not in the usual sense of how artworks become integrated into society.

While nothing really has purpose on its own, things achieve purpose because people project function upon them. If done individually, such a mechanism produces singular tools, like hammers, spears and axes, and if done communally (meaning by a group of likeminded people), such mechanisms create systems.

These systems are more or less just collections of particular tools and their interrelations, that, exactly because of these interrelations, produce much more complex and profound meanings and usage scenarios, than if the tools weren’t part of a singular system (think Gestalt theory) .

Simply put, the fax machine when it was invented was useless, just like the phone was useless, because such a tool’s only purpose was to connect to other similar tools. If you’re the only guy or gal with a fax machine, it just doesn’t make sense to have one. You need others to have it too, and only by a myriad of other fax machines in operation does you own fax machine become a valuable asset — the more fax machines there are, the more valuable yours is.

And it’s similar with art, too. A painting is only as valuable (in monetary and historical/cultural terms) as the amount of people that share the belief of it being valuable.

You can also think of the amusing joke that used to circulate the internet (and probably still does in some places), where a distinction between religion and clinical insanity is drawn by comparing how many other people also believe and can communicate with an imaginary man, living in the sky. If you’re the only one one, you’re most likely crazy and should be hospitalised, but if it’s thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people, well, then it’s OK, because it’s a religion.

But I don’t wish to press any buttons here, religion has its place in society (take it from a no-nonsense atheist).

But to get back to our example about Hirst; his works, while incredibly amusing, profoundly shocking in their nature and extremely well done, did lack one important part — a perpetual common ground amongst the art goers that saw them.

Without it, they would (and did) vanish into oblivion, because if a work of art does not possess the ability to latch-on to a particular aspect of its contemporary cultural context (or in hindsight the same context, but viewed in retrospect), the work cannot hope to stay significant after the initial shock has lingered and the magician turning the knobs and leavers behind the green curtain gets outed by the public.

To propose a more general example, imagine a portrait painter of the 18th century — anyone really, it doesn’t matter — because our hypothetical (or real) portraitist will be of the “crowd pleasing” verity, meaning his or her (but let’s not kid ourselves, it’s the 18th century, it’s his) art will most not be created to embody any deeper meaning or message, apart form the obvious goal of portraying his commissioners in the best manner possible.

Such works will most likely be shunned by his contemporaries and the only possibility of ever attaining significance in the grander scheme of things will be if after let’s say one hundred years or so, historians establish our crowd-pleasing artist’s era as a time of empty shenanigans and meaningless debauchery.

In the grand image created, his work might become a prominent example of his time, because the merit upon which quality has been decided has changed for the usual “how much impact does any particular thing or person have on its society” to “how much of a particular thing or person is (or was) present in society” — to say differently, quality has morphed into quantity.

And this phase of understanding Hirst’s body of work is still to come, as much more time has to pass for the collective thought to become detached from what has been in the context of what is now, to notice and propose such an understanding of art (and everything else we produce).

But the gist of the starting remark was that art has no purpose, only consequences, so let’s explore how that fits into everything we’ve talked about so far.

Art — like everything we create to be part of our society — has purpose, because everything that is observed intently by a being ultimately has some purpose.

Even if just a tiny, insignificant one, like the purpose of a pebble that was moulded by millions of years of environmental change and turmoil, only to be tossed into a lake by a child at one time in its existence. 

It’s really the system in which art is exhibited that helps it attain some form of purpose; as we’ve stated, for anything to have “a purpose”, it first has to be noticed, and with an ineffable amount of things floating in the universe, noticing any particular thing is quite the statistical miracle.

Galleries (and museums) help here, because they serve as undeniable locations where art and art-like objects can be found. After any object has been placed inside a gallery or museum, it kinda becomes art — if nothing else, it gets a chance to be scrutinised by members of the inner sanctum of any particular art society (or even the whole art world if we’re talking mega-exhibitions).

The way such progressions form is by first attaining the status of “maybe it’s art”, then evolving to “yep, it’s art” and sometimes to “magnificent art”. In rare cases, a work will even become “the best of its time”!

Here’s a rough draft of how that happens:

The art-like objects can usually be found in galleries (especially lower tier ones). Because they are located inside of the gallery (sometimes they can also be found outside), they get the status of “maybe it’s art”. After the show opens, they are judged primarily by a smaller group of people, and if they pass, they are given the “yep, it’s art” stamp of approval — albeit a tiny stamp to be honest.

But the journey doesn’t just end there, now, if a person of higher status and stature finds them particularly interesting, they might get another chance at a bigger gallery and for a larger, more important crowd (usually they judge how well they can be incorporated into contemporary society in the context of not only the “now”, but also the past and sometimes even the future).

If they pass that part too, they might become “good art” or “magnificent art” and if eventually they end up in any permanent museum collections, they attain the label of “certainty” and such artistic objects usually go on to become “the best of their time”— that’s why artist’s works grow more important if they become part of any museum’s permanent collection.

But, all of this is still only talking about purpose though, there is still no sign of consequence. My personal take on why this is so, is because the consequence part is only true at the initial phase of the artistic process — when we are creating art — and we haven’t been talking about that at all.

We rarely even see that part of the artistic process, it we’re being honest! The problem is, that at the end of a long painting session or after the completion of a sculpture, the status of the finished object transforms from personal and intimate exploration of self, into a public trace of the process that has unfolded.

This of course doesn’t ring exactly true for performance art, happenings and the like, where the process of personal exploration itself becomes the literal (and ephemeral) trace — the artwork — but regardless if anything you create has a physical body in some way or another or if it’s just a fleeting moment in time, it’s all the same as far as questions of purpose and consequence are concerned.

The process of creation bears as its consequence the trace; that’s the art work. This is the intimate part of creation, the part that no-one can really explain away by saying “You did it, because of this or that.” 

Its existence is not a consequence of any particular concept or desire, it is a consequence of being. This is the place where no-one can judge a good or bad expression, what matters is that whatever it is that needs to go out is actually expressed, and that it’s done so fully and without constraints.

This is the space where play happens, where we let go and enter into a state of just being.

But after playtime is over, after we regain full consciousness and contextualise ourselves again in the grander scheme of society, time and space, our creations, the traces of our free expression can become imbued with purpose, but only if we so desire. If we do, we present them to the public and insert them into the system that we call “The Art World” (though sadly it’s now more or less referred to as “The Art Market”).

If they appreciate our creation and we have the right combination of good timing and luck, our creations beget purpose, because people create it because of them and project it onto them. If not, they stay consequences, consequences of pure will, determination and the ability to let go and synchronise with the moment.

In either case, it’s always a combination of courage, skill and craft. Without courage, artisans create empty shells, without skill and craft, artists create bollocks. But in the middle, there lays the promised land of not only appreciation and monetary independence, but also of a life fully lived.

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HOW TO MAKE ART THAT TRANSFORMS PEOPLE https://survivingart.com/2019/07/16/how-to-make-art-that-transforms-people/ Tue, 16 Jul 2019 21:28:45 +0000 https://survivingart.com/?p=2290 Creating art is a two step process; first you obviously have to make it, but then you also have to show it and present it to the public, and hopefully leave an impact on the world (preferably for the better).

But these two steps could not be further apart in both their methodology and all-around nature. The real problem is that making art is a predominantly personal and intimate experience, but showing and presenting it requires an entirely different skillset.

So, in today’s blunder I would like to explore the act of creation and presentation and — with a little help from psychoanalysis, theory of mind and history, all sprinkled with a few down-to-earth examples — show that even though it seems like they are two very disparate things, in order to master either of them, we really “only” need to master one thing: ourselves.

But first; let’s talk about making art.

First we need to figure out the basics and touch upon what we are actually making: Art is an experience, embodied inside an object or subject (like a painting or a performance piece). Its sole purpose is to communicate something, anything, and this purpose always stays the same, whilst the core message and even how it is conveyed changes constantly (think how different styles, motifs, art eras and political ideologies change the purpose of any particular art piece, but the basic idea of any one piece still stays the same — propagation of ideas).

But, at the beginning of our path as artists, art is primarily an exploration of self and not that much about communicating anything. We first have to find our message in order to then concern ourselves with communicating it, and this is where a strong distinction occurs: the distinction between artisan or craftsperson and artist.

The artisan or craftsperson does not posses a message, they do not wish or know how to communicate whatever it is they would like to propagate into the world with their creations. They only create.

Be it out of an urge to make beautiful things, to make functional things or just to play and create for the sake of creation, I’m not really saying that their creations are void of anything — beauty is a message, and so is play — but there exists a strong difference between those that imbue their creations with life, and those that merely bring into life whatever they create as a consequence of creation itself.

To create a table for example, I do not need much in order for me to make my object become a table. I can take a few planks of wood and at least three (but preferably four) sticks and attach them to the planks and call it a day.

Most people would probably agree that I have made a table — albeit a horrible and probably even dangerous one if it were used, but the point is, it could be used as a table and therefore it is one.

So, making a table isn’t that hard and it’s the same with making a chair, a sink and so on. The only difference in making any utilitarian object is the amount of technical expertise one needs to adequately make one (let’s call that part 80% of any particular object).

It is of course harder to make a car or an aeroplane, but as we humans know how to group-up, roll-up our selves, and since Ford demonstrated the incredible efficiency of labour division, even such a feat is doable in the long run and given enough time and resources.

But what about the rest? What about the extra 20% of anything we make, and that basic mathematics so eloquently describes as being quite important for any thing to be a whole “thing”, rather than just a work in progress?

The extra 20% is the semantic value, the meaning of a thing. That part cannot be fully constructed individually or in a group when the object is being built. It can only be made collectively; it needs creators and spectators to come together and ponder over whatever has been made and how it relates to their surroundings and themselves.

And even without the creator present, the object always has a certain semantic value, but it is never present in the object itself. While a bit convoluted, the point is: a chair is not a chair because there exists a heavenly blueprint of “The Chair” somewhere in god’s warehouse of stuff, with IKEA, OBI and MÖMAX fighting epic battles in order to obtain that immaculate rendition for the perfect chair to up their quarterly earnings.

A chair is only a chair because people have collectively decided to call it that and give it its now defined specific purpose — to be sat upon. It is a part of our belief system, and when that system changes, so does the semantic value of the chair (and all other objects, that are part of that system).

If we look at old pottery for example, the first time white long-necked vases were found in Greece, they could’ve been considered to be just that, vases. But as researchers explored them over time (and because they weren’t ignorant people), more detail and context was uncovered pertaining to these peculiar yet ordinary objects. Soon they found that such vases were actually urns, originally filled with the ashes of deceased children and were painted in white, because they symbolised their innocence at death.

And exactly this is the punchline: to symbolise. Only by uncovering context (we could also say the collective amalgamation of beliefs that the researchers uncovered from that time and of those people) could the function of those vases be determined — even if only approximately, because one can never be 100% sure about anything that has happened, especially if it happened in the distant past.

So, in order to find the meaning of anything, we first have to find the context in which it was created. Only by understanding how any object is connected with its surroundings (physical, cultural, etc.) can we really know what that object is.

Without context, you get a Plumbus (the Plumbus is an oddly shaped imaginary object that has no functional application or description of what it is useful for, that appears throughout the popular animated series Rick and Morty on Adult Swim). 

And what is most important for us artists, we can also create context for any one object or subject yourself, either by taking something that has an already established function and purpose in society and reappropriating it for our own means, or creating something new entirely (the best way is usually to combine both worlds, so as to make our art seem novel while still being accessible enough for people to understand the newly created object).

And one of the parts that is incredibly important for us is exactly this process of creating, because it is the process itself that actually stands as a temple to the human condition and capability — without our ability to create, we would have gone extinct as a species a long time ago.

In his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell describes this process as an ever-present, ever-revolving wheel that just keeps turning throughout human existence.

From Genesis, the Bhagavad Gita to the stories of Buddha, Jesus Christ and Muhammad, the Babylonian and Mesopotamian creation myths, Egyptian and Greek mythology; all such stories tell us more or less the same thing: How a person can become the hero of their own world, or to say a bit differently; how a person can acquire the mental and physical tools to bend reality to their will and become a true creator.

Starting ones journey because of the call to action, stepping into the unknown and even dying (albeit a metaphorical, spiritual death, rather than the non-amendable physical variety), finding the demons that dwell in ones mind and soul and slaying them, only to rise again into the world forever changed; such is the evolution of The Hero archetype.

I butcher Campbells book by only giving it this much space in today’s piece, so please read or listen to it if you’re interested, because it is an incredibly amazing piece of literature — almost as incredible as the guy who wrote it (just type his name into YouTube and enjoy the ride).

But my point in mentioning all of this is that the process of creating art is nothing else than the reenactment of what Campbell describes in his book: the Monomyth. In order to create any one art piece that can actually have an impact on people, it has to come from a deep place of understanding and a strong foundation of courage for its creator to even be able to get to that place of knowledge (or enlightenment if you will) in the first place.

It’s not a coincidence so many artists go crazy, commit suicide or just sink into the depths of depression, alcoholism and drug abuse. It’s not that artists are incompetent alcoholics and junkies, it’s the process of making art that takes such a toll on many people.

And the irony of this example is in the fact that most “outsiders” view art as a safe heaven from the “real world”, where adult children can play and not be fretted by words like job security, pension fund and mortgage. But we all know (or at least I hope we do) that there is no such place, and what may be even more important, there is absolutely no such place in art.

Art is a mirror to the world, but not a gross mirror that directly shows a copy of what is in front of it, it’s an exposé, a dissection of reality that takes what it is pointed towards and rips it apart, exposing the bare flesh and inner workings underneath. And it does so without prejudice, without presuppositions and without constraints. Even if we’re not prepared to see what really hides inside ourselves and the objects we are studying, the mirror does not care.

This is the part where one ventures into the abyss, into the dark forrest where the ogre lives, that devours people whole. And this is also the place where many loose a part of themselves — the truth is, we never know how courageous we are, until the time comes when we are tested to our limits.

The point here though is not to stop and never even dare to peek inside the dark places of life. The whole idea is only to be self-conscious and humble enough to know that whatever was, is not all that can be — regardless of how horrible or great we think life is, nothing is static and everything can be changed. If, and this is a big one, if we are willing to pay the price (and as so eloquently described in any old myth or story, the heroes never know the real price, the only thing that keeps them going are their courage and their iron will to go on).

And sure it sounds easy and maybe even stupid, but Basquiat, Van Gogh and Modigliani thought so too. Or maybe they didn’t; regardless, the real point is that we all should respect the process of making art and not take creation lightly, at least if we’d like to one day have a steady and comfortable life, paid for by our art.

Because only the courage to stand and fight in the darkest of forests and in the deepest of nights can conquer the demons that inhabit our hearts and souls. And even if one thinks there are none there, I can assure you we all have them; leeching on our hopes and dreams and silently turning childlike awe and wonder into despair, depression and the monotony of the 9-5. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next year. But all of us, if left to our own devices, eventually end up there whether we like it or not.

It’s a choice that is undeniably hard, but righteous and well worth it in the end.

And the best part: the same courage that we can use to create art can then also be used to show art — or better put, is absolutely imperative to show art. Because when we create that piercing mirror and put in into the world, we inevitably become reflected inside of it too. And when that happens, when our exhibition has opened and the spectators come, it’s not only our creation that is judged, but all that we are, even all we wish to become.

And to stand pure judgment, to weather the storm of anonymous critique and the potential of being seen as a failure in the eyes of the people we care about, those we strive to impress, we have to be strong. 

To be frank, we have to stop impressing completely and ourselves become the impression. And the only place to find the strength, courage and the tools to even try to do so, is in the darkness that lives inside of us all.  

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