During a conversation I had with a friend of mine about a show I got invited to in the summer, she mentioned ROI and how her goal was to produce the most effective show with the least amount of capital. And while the last 15 years or so have been predicated on me making as much as possible for as little as I could afford, something clicked and it really got me thinking:
ROI or Return on Investment is a term used in business to represent the quality of an investment, meaning how much capital, energy, time or other resources have to be used to produce something or invest into something, compared to how much we will get out of it in the end. The goal is to get as much in return for as little as possible.
It’s kinda like minimalism vs. kitsch art really, as the former was all about using as little formal effort as possible to achieve the most results, whereas the latter is all about going as big and flamboyant as we can. But the question I asked myself was: How much energy and time should I spend on one work?
The process of making art can and should be viewed as an exchange of goods and most importantly its products should be understood in the same way as any app, designer product or tech device made today; all of them serve a certain function and need to bring enough value to their users to be deemed functional and viable to be produced.
It’s a simple equation really; trying to minimise any energy, time and money spending to as low as possible to achieve as much as possible.
But I’m not saying I’ll stop using quality brushes, colours and a good, hefty canvas if I’m going to paint, because the end result will suffer as a consequence. Either the colours will fade (unlikely, but possible), I’ll definitely end up with a canvas full of loose brush hair and mixing cheap colours is a surprisingly horrible experience, if compared to a quality product!
What I mean is to think about how much I have to invest to produce a good or great work of art; material cost, time and effort, composition, the importance of concept vs. execution … all these questions can in the end help me not only to find a good price for my work (as I can calculate all my expenses and asses how much I need to make a living), but more importantly allow me to focus on the aspects that produce the highest returns.
If you’re like me, and produce more than one type of art (I mostly do photo-collage work but a lot of commissions I create are painted — Slovenia is quite old school as far as art consumption is concerned and mostly only paintings and sculptures sell), a good usage scenario would be to figure out which medium gives you the best ROI.
But looking at what sells doesn’t have to sway us to change our style or anything else about our art. I only exhibit my collages and only show my collage work in my portfolio, because it’s the kind of art that is best suited for gallery and museum shows (large, glossy and semi-approachable pieces that look best in a white cube environment).
On the other hand they have little chance to be bought by an average collector, because even the fact that to hang them correctly, one would need an apartment with at least 3 if not 4 meter high walls and about 3 meters of said wall space, brings my target audience numbers down considerably and material costs and the fact that I can’t produce that many a year makes the price too high for a lot of people (at least the ones I know).
I base my tactics of what to sell, what to show and where to show it on such factors, but ROI is also an incredible mental tool that can and will help me decide whether or not to continue painting in the future or just focus on my collages (or to stop working on my collages completely).
If it turns out my paintings become more popular and nothing happens in the fine art world for another 5 or 10 years and leaves me and my collage works hanging, the ROI of collages will become more or less 0, while painting will become much more lucrative for me. And as I enjoy making both more or less equally, I might just stop making collages and focus only on my abstractions.
ROI is a wonderful tool that can help us define what works and what doesn’t. It can give us the ability to assess the quality of our strategies and tactics and even help us understand where to double down and what to leave behind. While quite a corporate sounding acronym, I believe it has it’s place in the arts as well — nobody should be wasting their energy and time on something that just doesn’t work, if they could be successful with a different approach that they would equally enjoy but get much more in return.