Too Many Hats, huh?
Over the years I've had the privilege of meeting many different types of people and of learning what some artists are finding out right now; in the art business you'd better be ready and willing to wear alot of hats because you'll be wearing all of them at some or another in your career. As a commissioned artist, my favorite is the Sales Hat. It took time back in the beginning but it's definitely my favorite. Other hats you'll likely be wearing include: The Marketer, The Administrator, The Para-legal, The Manager, and The Webmaster. My assistant wears quite a few these days.
Typically, gallery represented artists create work under the plan that the gallery owner will sell their art for them. That's actually the model they use. For many professionals in the art world, that model is very old school. Even with prestigious introductions and "excellent work" (their words), when I tried entering the gallery system in the mid-1980's I got absolutely nowhere fast, leaving me to invent a new model. I went with the Independent Model and things began to move very quickly.
Ever Had a Model?
Although the term didn't exist then, the model I created became the early 2000's business model called 'Outsider Art'. Important lessons helped me create that model:
1) If you want to make things happen, you have to make them happen yourself, at least for awhile.
2) You've got to offer something unique and different if you want to survive, and more importantly, succeed as an Artist.
3) You have to overcome your fear of being a strong salesperson.
The first two points are pretty self-explanatory. The third is so important that it can't be overstated. So...how do you overcome the fear? Start by understanding the people you'll be meeting.
Meet Your (Possible) (Future) Patrons
TYPE 1: The Life-Loving Professional
This type of patron focuses on truly enjoying life. They are on the go, even when at home. Because of their fast-paced lifestyles, what they value most is time. Respect their time. And remember, respect their time.
From experience: As artists, our friends sometimes become emotional and cause us problems with our work that most other people don't have to face. (For an extreme example read about Soliere.) Sometimes these problems can temporarily damage even the best reputation.... I paid to be driven to an important painting I was creating, and got a very long detour through some beautiful neighborhoods on some very famous boulevards only to arrive very late. Ended up being upset with my 'driver' and looking into the face of a very upset patron waiting for me so she could leave. The cost: The beginning of friction because of perceived disrespect of time. Watch for Soliere types.
TYPE 2: The Aesthete
This type values the beauty in life; they value what is beautiful, both literally and figuratively. You'll see it in how they present themselves -- their dress, their manner, their speech, etc. You'll see it in their surroundings -- their beautiful neighborhood, their home, their interiors, etc. The Aesthete (ass•theet) derives pleasure from the things that beauty provides, one aspect of which is order. Because the creation process is anything but orderly, this type will focus on your completion date (to maintain order), the beauty of every moment of creation (be it in your studio or in their home), things that keep the continuity of beauty going. The person who seeks beauty seems to have a strong dislike for what the rest of the world would think of as the-problems-of-life, so the facade of beauty hides the distress. Their distress is private. When you see it, be very respectful of it. Very.
From experience: While creating a painting about a terrace I hurried to near completion (Hint #1). I was so focused and so into it, many hours a day, for many weeks. Just before I neared completion, I was asked what else I was going do with it in such a way that I answered, in my most pleasant voice, "Look, I'm not Rembrandt or Michelangelo." I finished the painting, which was very well received by all who viewed it. The painting was Fifth Avenue Terrace. It turned out that my patrons were going through a very difficult and stressful time.
TYPE 3: The Artistic Patron
The first thing to learn here is that this type of patron secretly wishes they were you. They have a similiar personality type, and as such, will get along famously with you -- at first -- as long as you learn quickly to keep things light. This type appreciates beauty and has a taste for the unusual, giving you a little more freedom in the creative process. (As an aside: Whether you are a studio artist or you work on site, this type will usually reveal themselves through disrespect of your work, your studio, you yourself, or all three.) Remember, they do love the artistic way, and who understands that way better than you. Play up the elements of creativity, and stay away from anything that might bring up their envy.
From experience: I created a painting for an attorney and his wife once. During our initial meeting the attorney asked me who put together the very well-written description about what to expect during the painting process. (Perhaps he thought someone did if for me.) When I explained I had, the whole tone of the meeting changed from great to groan. (Not a highly charged question. Hmmmm...) I was invited to stay at their lovely home, which I declined, and later invited to dinners. They asked to give me a reception, which was later converted into a Christmas party / reception for myself and another artist. His actions, like the actions of others that so many artists face, in a political sense, were to try to knock down an artist who seemed threatening. (Note: If you're really good, this will be a recurring theme.) The lesson here is 'jealousy', which comes part and parcel with the Artistic Patron. As you've probably figured out by now, the jealousy issue is hard to tackle. You have to wade through it, and just stay focused on your creativity. In the end, your creative output will far outweigh these types of encounters.
TYPE 4: The Investor
This type looks at art as an investment. Period. That makes you, the artist, the producer of the investment. This patron is a dollars and cents type, with little true appreciation for art, other than collecting it to make themselves look cultured. A patron like this can feign a love of art, however, when push comes to shove you'll see the real person. Again, what matters is your creative output. Period.
From experience: A recent painting brought with it The Patron from Hell. The trick here is to see the type coming, because you really don't want to create art for this type unless you have a penchant for masochism. So, what do you look for? During your initial talks you'll notice odd comments, which you may be tempted to overlook. Don't. The comments are red flags telling you not to proceed. If you do, things will escalate into the 'personal arena', at which point you'll want to bail. (Make sure you have paperwork which allows you to do just that.) This type is in it for the 'personal', not for the art. My experience was that everyone loved the painting except for, mysteriously, that patron.
Now you have a greater understanding of the art world and of the types of patrons you'll meet along the way. Go out and meet them!
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