Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Passing the Bucks

Ouroboros - ZooLNArt
I was just invited to join another Artist Group on Facebook. This one will make the umpteenth such assemblage of artists who clump together to share opinions about how to make art – and how to make a living doing it. The latter is almost always an absurd notion, first because so few of us have managed to figure out the business side of art, and second, even if one of us does find a way to become successful, very little of that artist’s business model or marketing strategy will translate to another artist’s work. (If it did, we would probably dismiss the artist and his money-making process as something that sullies our artistic integrity. But that’s another observation for another day.)

Artists are not like musicians. We’re mostly loners, not joiners. When musicians master a new chord, or polish a new tune, they can’t wait to find other musicians to share it with, and jam until the cows come home. Artists get a new bit of inspiration, and we disappear into our studios and nail the doors shut behind us.

But that doesn't stop us from congregating, in virtual arenas at least, to compare notes, and of course to judge each other’s work. When we do get together, we bring truth to the old saw that in private discourse, bankers talk about art, while artists talk about money.

The sad part about this observation, and the sick kernel of humor in the long-running joke, is that bankers probably know what they are talking about. Artists don't.

The proof that we artists have no business talking business lies in the very make-up of our sales clubs. The only people who sign up for these groups are artists, most of whom are struggling, and desperately in need of a sound market strategy. So we show our work to each other – mostly artists without a strategy of any kind, other than to advertise to other artists. With luck, we hope to wrench a lousy twenty bucks from someone who can barely afford it, in order to purchase something we cannot afford from another artist we like, and so forth, until each of us has sold something, and everyone feels like a professional.

Of course nobody really wins in these serial transactions. They make us feel good, but no one gets rich, or even gets ahead. The ouroboros eats its tail, because there is nothing else in the cupboard for it to dine on.

I’m not saying that artists should not congregate - to share ideas, to celebrate successes, to support each other when the going gets tough, especially when a lot of artists find it tough to keep going at all. Yes, it’s okay to buy a piece of art from a friend if you like it, and it’s even okay to lend or borrow a few bucks from a fellow artist now and then. But the idea that somehow we’ve each ‘succeeded’ because we all keep recycling and re-celebrating a single sale, ad nauseum, is just silly.

This circular autophagia is actually promoted as a viable sales strategy among, for example, Etsy-ans and other online sellers of creative goods, where dealers form geographic and stylistic groups in order to sell items among themselves. These so-called BNS (Business Network Systems) clubs encourage their members to purchase something from another group member, then wait patiently until someone else comes around and returns the favor.

This inbred approach to networking, as promising as it sounds, leaves most of us standing alone holding the bag – and the bag is empty. Until we can each find a way to get our creative work out into the real world, and gain the attention of a wider appreciative audience, we’ll be stuck looking to our peers for mutual approval, and the thinnest illusion of commercial success.

I’ll still be checking in to the artist groups from time to time, but mostly for creative inspiration - not sales tips.  

Wait – I just got another idea.
Gotta run.

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