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Selling your art (and avoiding starvation) Selling your art (and avoiding starvation)
by Joseph Gatt
2020-09-20 07:44:01
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How to make a living with art, without being the stereotypical starving artist.

-I can only speak from experience.

-My artist friends who make a living from their paintings or sculptures usually live in a nice cozy house, and they have a nice cozy gallery somewhere in the house.

art01_400_01-That is those artist friends will paint or sculpt, a lot. And then they'll invite guys like you and me for a cup of coffee and a chat. We'll chitchat about this and that.

-Now that's when they're going to try to sell me (or you) their art. The haggling resembles carpet sales haggling with more zeros in the figures.

-If you're an artist and that you have a gallery at home, people are going to visit you (you need to know those people) and some will leave with a painting or two, others with several paintings, others will leave empty handed, and you'll invite them to come back next time for a visit.

-So as an artist, your networking skills will be as important as your painting or drawing or sculpting skills. You will have to take client concerns into consideration (you can't just paint or sculpt what you love).

-How do you go about networking? If you get invited to a cocktail party, you show up. Get invited to an exhibition, you show up. Get invited to a classical (or modern or pop) music concert, you show up. Get invited to a conference, you show up. You mingle with people, mix, get to know as many people as you can, and leave your business card with the address of your art gallery.

-Now because many people can't afford a nice big house with a separate area to nicely display their art work, many of the younger artists will share a studio, or work at a private studio.

-Just like if you walk into a grocery store you don't want to see the juice and milk spilled on the floor and all the groceries lying on the floor in a state of anarchy, you want your private or shared studio to be clean. Very clean. Art work displayed perfectly.

-What should you paint or draw or sculpt about? Some guys like to focus on historical events, others on international folklore, others on modern events, some use certain techniques, others use other techniques and so on.

-The most famous artists are the ones who make exceptional artistic depictions of current events. Jean-Michel Baquiat's work perfectly reflected the New York City atmosphere of the 1980s with all the crime, graffiti, crack cocaine addiction and so on. Andy Warhol depicted perfectly the 1960s and the advent of advertising and retail stores that displayed thousands of items on the shelves. Keith Haring depicted perfectly the 1980s gay scene and HIV pandemic. Picasso and Dali were masters of depicting the World Wars and uncertainties during the reconstruction periods. Frida Kahlo became a symbol of the Mexican revolution and the ideals that came with it. The Mexican revolution of 1911 was the first socialist revolution of sorts.

-Now to entertainment. Theater and music. Just a few notes on that.

-A ton of people are great at theater and music. Hundreds of thousands of beautiful voices and funny people. But they're not on the stage.

-Theater and music are full-time professional jobs. You have a concert or play. You plan, you execute, you show up on time. You perform. You finish on time. The band works together in harmony. You give your audience a good time. You don't cancel concerts at the last minute. You don't show up drunk. You don't show up irritated. You don't fire your best drummer because you “don't like him.”  

-I've said it before (which is why I'll keep this short). You can't control 100% of the creation process in theater and music.

-That is, you should work with reviewers and composers and in some cases authors and writers.

-That is, either you are a writer/composer, in which case you should try to get someone else to direct/execute/perform. That will multiply your chances of success by 1,000 or more.

-Or you are a director/performer, in which case you should leave the writing and composition part to someone else, someone with experience, someone who knows how to get the job done.

-In sum, you can't produce/write/direct/coordinate/perform all at once. Not only will you be working 70 hours a week, but you will also perform poorly.

-If you're writing, write about anything other than yourself. Just like in painting, your writing and composing needs to reflect the realities of our times (or historical realities relevant to our times).

-Finally, to get ideas for your writing, you'll need to hear lots of stories, including in some cases insider stories. You can't just lock yourself up in a room for a year or two and think you'll come up with a great story.

-Question I get a lot. How come Yossi Gatt is a starving “artist” (if you want to call me that). I've been ordered to stay where I am, and I'm following orders. The orders are harsh and cold, but I have no other choice.

I did try to go out and meet people, and the reception was very cold. I tried visiting local newspapers and publishers, and was not allowed to say a word. I tried to put things in writing, but my resumes and letters ended up somewhere in a drawer (or trash bin) without being read.

Why am I saying this? Some circles are more interested in art than others. I spent 2015-2020 mostly in the Middle East. Not a single conference was organized since I've been here. Movie screenings and art galleries are advertised under the table, and when you show up, no one asks you who you are or to introduce yourself. Social clubs are not advertised. And people don't carry business cards. Hell, people don't even tell you their real names.

In sum, art is more valued in some countries than in others. If you try to sell art in Asia or the Middle East, you're going to have to penetrate very sectarian circles, and you're going to have to refrain from offending those parochial elites.

Art works better in open societies. In closed societies, it can take years to reach your audience.

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