Art as a Business

September 09, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Art for our purposes is any creative exchangeable products (a photograph, MP3/FLAC, painting, etc.) or service (performance, performing the actions that contribute toward the product, etc.) that a person or group of people do or produce. It generally has an aesthetic value, though all art isn't aesthetic nor does everyone like all art. Art is subjective. Thus we have taste and how some pieces of art can really resonate with some people whereas with others there is nothing there.


This is an article about art as a business. It's a fantasy for many artists to be able to make money from the thing they love to do. Get paid for creating aesthetic products. Sounds great and beats any 9-5 in a cubicle.


So what about this? Why do I always hear about people who tried to get into the field as a business (any art field) and then have to go back to what they were doing before because they weren't successful? It's not that they didn't or couldn't strike the right cords or move the right buttons around to produce something awesome. Read on.


It's simple. In psychological terms it's referred to as the left brain and right brain. One consists of creative aspirations – your drive to be an artist and all that encompasses. The other side is the logical, thinking, calculating side that business owners tend to be in tune with.


Factually though, every artist that is successful uses both their technical know-how of their art AND business skill.


Business skill is not native to 90+% of the population. Just as a technical skill is not native to most people. Very rare that a person can just pick up an instrument and lay down the beat. Most of us human beings have to learn a skill before we can start using it.


I have observed, in myself and others, an imbalance between the technical or creative side of the art and the business side. One without the other doesn't work. You can fake it with good business skill but not for very long (or you won't get repeat work and referrals). And with great creative/technical skill you generally don't get hired because you are 1 person in millions doing the same thing (more or less).


So what about the people always clamoring about how the photography industry is going to shit because everyone owns a camera and they are so good now that anyone can take good photos? I challenge them to think differently.


Because 20-30+ years ago film was the golden standard and photography was a highly technical skill so you could be mediocre as a business person and eek by. Photography still is highly technical despite promotions and ads by camera companies stating otherwise. The difference between now and then is you can instantly see your results. Back then film took time. Thus everyone is a photographer now.


But that's fine because not everyone is a business person. The lowest echelon of photographers crying about being undercut by the “free” or weekend photographer isn't being a good business person. It's that simple. There are a dozen business tools you can use to your advantage to gain the upper hand. My first advice is to stop targeting the demographic of bargain hunters and cheapskates. In addition, stop being the cheapskate if you are. Your business may require some good investment in both money and time to be professional. Unless being on the bottom rung is totally cool. Carry on.


The graphic.


As you can see this is the left and right concept.


You've got to be able to hit consistently with your art to even consider being in business (never mind the people “ruining everything” with their cheap cameras. Stop caring.)


Once you have your art down, whatever it is, you've got to become a business person or you will fail (unless of course you are so good it attracts business people to you who want to do all the business aspects for you.)


This seems to have worked for Annie Leibovitz who by all accounts is considered a great photographer but not so great when it comes to business and specifically finances. However most of us cannot expect that type of support right out of the gate which leaves us with learning how to become business people.


The graphic here gives you a clue on what you need to know about. (Note that you must tailor this to your needs but don't neglect any points because you don't know about them.)


The smaller you are as a business, the smaller this [business points] needs to be adopted but it NEEDS TO BE. I believe it's the missing ingredient - these things are either missing or insufficient. Some of these things are more important right up front such as having a professional website and marketing. Of course your legal requirements, business license, insurance. These are no brainers and are vital.


Nearly immediately though one should become expert at marketing themselves and their work to potential clients. You wouldn't market to a homeless guy so don't go chasing bargain hunters either who just want to nickel and dime and treat you like “just another commodity” instead of a valuable service.


Anyway, I am merely grazing the tip of the iceberg and I hope it opens up a thought process that leads to your success.


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