Sunday, April 19, 2009

The business of art

This painting contains a rhythm in colour and composition. I visited a gallery where I show paintings, and the comment was, "people like your painting but they don't know what it is." The owner was referring to an abstract painting called September (shown here) with colours of fall.

I have met others who don't understand abstract art unless they can connect it to something representational. Abstract paintings aren't like still life or wildlife paintings but instead the interplay of the structure, colour, balance and tension in the painting may evoke intellectual, psychological or emotional responses.

I went to an arts symposium yesterday, where there was a discussion about artists and marketing. One speaker I learned a lot from was Chris Tyrell, the author of Artist Survival Skills: How to Make a Living as a Canadian Visual Artist. He said that art is a business not based just on ability or talent. It means hard work. It may mean painting for a market which may not be the artist's first choice. But if it means one can profit as an artist, is it worth it? He said if you start a business and don't make money in five years, you shouldn't be doing it. That goes for artists too. This was interesting for me to hear because I've been painting since the eighties, but don't necessarily have a timeline for my art.

Marketing oneself is key to making it as a professional artist. Creative maturity to me means making successful art and polished writing. He said that most art purchases were from buyers who knew or had some type of relationship to the artist.

I have sold to people I know or who got to know me through my exhibitions. I have a mailing list to announce my shows and sales. I also have paintings on consignment and sell art cards with images of my paintings. Another speaker said that marketing yourself as an artist also means developing an elevator talk, something you can say in a few minutes to tell what you do. If you downplay your abilities, how will others take you seriously?

Many people have told me the colours in my paintings are notable so that's a strength I can talk about. So now when I talk about myself as a public speaker, artist and writer, I say it with confidence. Most people don't want to hear about mental illness. I fight stigma by talking about mental health in the work I do.

As a writer and an artist, I don't really want to choose one over the other. As a result, my focus is mixed. But I think they complement each other. I go through phases of writing and painting which are part of my creative process.

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