At some point, many artists must confront the successes and struggles that come with balancing between the creative and practical aspects of their process. By now, most of you are probably familiar with Jane Dávila's regular Quilting Arts business column, which addresses the considerations that one must keep in mind when taking a career-oriented approach to art quilting, and the competencies and know-hows that this requires.
Given the wide variety of issues that arise when dealing with this topic--Jane discusses everything from establishing art resolutions to working with a gallery--we're excited to announce a new addition to the Quilting Arts community: a Minding Your Business forum (found under Art Quilting Topics) where you can discuss how you approach your art from a career-minded perspective and get advice from fellow artists. This is a great resource for those of you interested in the professional life of an art quilter; any topic is fair game, so go ahead and post any of your questions, advice, or thoughts on the subject.
And who better to kick off the discussion than Jane herself? Here, she talks about her experiences as a professional artist, and her thoughts on the business of making art.
Was there a particular moment when you started thinking of your art as a “business”?
Pretty much from day one! I married an artist, who comes from a family of artists, so it was natural to think of art as the way you earned your living. As such, it's a “business” with all of the promoting, paperwork, marketing, and more that goes along with that label. The examples I had in my husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law were excellent in terms of having a pragmatic approach to art as a career. Being business-like about your profession affords you the opportunity to pay the rent or mortgage and put food on the table on a regular basis. The model of the starving artist toiling away in a lonely garret is romantic on paper, but is a terrible way to live!
How do you balance taking a business-minded and creative approach to your work?
Finding that balance is hard. I struggle with it every day. Both the business and creative aspects must be well tended to for your career to flourish. Sometimes the business side wins out and sometimes the creative wins out. If you neglect one or the other for too long, everything suffers. I try to set aside one to two days a week just for working in the studio and then fit in random hours in the studio the rest of the week, in and around business stuff. If you don't make the time to be creative and produce work, you won't have anything to promote or sell. If you produce wonderful work but don't market it, you won't be able to support yourself or even buy more supplies. It's a definitely a double-edged sword!
What tips do you have for portraying yourself as a professional artist?
Be consistent! Don't change prices according to venue. Create a signature look or style for all of your presentation materials (business cards, blog, website, postcards, etc). Remember that the people you deal with on the business side of art--publishers, gallery owners, or curators for example--are there to make a living too. Profit is not a dirty word, it's what allows all of us to prosper and to continue doing what we do.
What promotional mediums do you think are most important (websites, blogs, galleries, etc.)?
I think they all have their uses. As an artist, you have to decide where best to spend your time and resources. That said, if you don't at least have a website or blog, you are at a serious disadvantage compared to other artists. I use a combination of website, blog, direct mail, e-newsletters and social media (Quilting Arts forums, Facebook and Twitter) to promote myself and my work. Knowing what your ultimate goals are as an artist will help you direct your marketing efforts. For example, if you're interested in getting corporate art commissions, then working with a gallery that sells to corporations will be helpful. If you want to write a book, proposing articles to magazines and writing tutorials on your blog can get you there. Stepping back every few months to assess your goals and how and where you're promoting yourself can help you decide if you are getting closer to those goals, and if your promotional outlets are helping or if you need to re-direct or re-focus.
If you could give an artist one tip for establishing a successful career, what would it be?
I think the most important tip is to be true to yourself. Don't worry about what's "sellable". Don't try to change what you do to fit some idea of what the market will want. Create your own market. If you concentrate on what makes you and your work unique and special, you will be successful. When you are first getting started you have to experiment and try out a lot of different things--media, subjects, techniques, etc.--to find what makes your heart sing, where your passion is, and what works for you. Once you've found it, focus on sharpening your skills, building up a body of work, and presenting yourself in a consistent, professional way. That old saw by Thomas Edison that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration is absolutely true.
What would you consider to be the definition of a “successful” artist?
That definition will be different for everyone. If your goal as an artist is purely to communicate with an audience while making a living at it is irrelevant, then your definition will be different from someone who has to pay the rent with sales of their art. Both are valid definitions, no better or worse than the other. For me, a successful artist is one who creates work that fulfills the need to express oneself in as true and real a way as possible while earning an income to help support one's family.
Do you have thoughts or opinions on any of these questions, or other business-related subjects? Go to the Minding Your Business forum and let us know!