Yesterday I wrote this column for Fine Art Views. It’s about the excuses we make when it comes to selling our art. (It’s part of a series I’ve written about why you should do open studios.
One of the comments caught my attention big time. To paraphrase, the reader said, “Making art is so very different from selling it.”
It may seem that way. Many artists believe it.
But actually, no. It really isn’t different.
Art-making is a circle: You make the art, you get your art into the world in all kinds of ways and manner…to connect your to an audience.
Selling is simply one way of connecting your work to an audience. It’s part of the creative process.
As artists, we think of the “making” as the creative part–often our favorite part! We’ve learned to see what others may not see. By capturing a moment, a trick of the light, a feeling, we urge others to look more closely. By sharing an image that sparks a memory, an idea, an insight, we connect that spark to others.
Yes, we may make art for what it does for us. Perhaps we feel more human, or more whole, or simply happier.
But art is bigger than us. Art is bigger when it connects to others.
When I create work inspired by ancient cave paintings, there is a deepening in myself I can actually feel. But what really breaks my heart wide open is when others see what I see, feel what I feel. For a brief moment, the “I” inside me connects to the “I” inside you.
Art is meant to be shared. (Only when we fear being ridiculed, or punished, or ignored, do we hide it. Because that could be painful for us in so many ways!) We make it, but for the real work to happen, it has to get out into the world. (Did I say “work”?? I really mean “miracle”! Bear with me….)
When our world was much smaller, it was pretty easy for others to see what we made. We knew who the artist/shaman was in our little community. We knew who made the most beautiful weavings, or carvings, whether functional or pure adornment.
The difference now is, the world is a lot bigger, our communities more diverse. We just have to work a little harder.
And so we do exhibitions and shows. We have websites. We send out postcards, and catalogs, and mailings. We create publicity with press releases and events like art receptions, open studios and installations.
And we try to sell our work. (Not all art is sold, of course, nor does all art have to be sold. But when it is–oh my!)
Some of us hate this entire connection process, especially the selling part. Others find it just as creative as the actual making. I do! I love how much people enjoy my postcards. I like welcoming people into my studio. I enjoy reading people’s reactions to a post I’ve made or an image I’ve shared on Facebook.
Where most of us get stuck is getting people to actually buy the stuff.
But if you look at selling as a creative process, too, it becomes a logical outcome of our entire creativity circle. Hopefully, recognizing it will make it more enjoyable–or at least less frustrating!
“Selling? Creative?!”, I can almost hear you say. “What the….?!!!” Bear with me again!
First there is the creative process of story-telling: What we choose to tell people about our work. Some focus on the “how” and the “what”–How did we come to do this work, and how did we get here? (We focus on our resume and credentials.) What did we see, and how do we did we try to capture that? (We focus on our technique and skills.)
For me, the “why” creates more power: Why do I get inspiration from this cave? Why does making this work bring me joy? Why do I use the techniques and materials I use?
But that may not be enough. So here’s where the next creative process comes into play….
We create ways for our audience to make their own connections.
They are the ones who will assign new meaning to what we’ve made. They will fit it into their lives, their homes.
This is where we let our audience tell their story.
Now it’s time for us to ask them questions. Now we ask them the “why”.
Ask your buyer: What attracted you to my work? Why does it bring joy to you? What do you see? What does it remind you of? What does it say to you? And why do you desire to have it for yourself? What place in your home would you hang it, and why? If it’s a gift, why did you select this piece for that person? Who is this person to you, that you are giving them such an amazing gift?
And when they come back to you next year for more, they will have even more to tell you. What else they’ve noticed. How it’s influenced, or even changed them. What other people have said about it. How much the friend enjoyed it.
These are the foundation blocks of the selling process. We establish a way for our audience to connect emotionally, spiritually, to us, and to our work.
When I first started getting my work out into the world, it took me awhile to get this concept. I thought it was all about me, the artist. And so I talked as much as people let me. I sold quite a bit of my work, so I figured it was what worked.
But one day I realized something was missing.
I was focused totally on my experience. I was not giving attention to my customer’s experience.
When I stopped talking and started actively listening, I was astonished by what I heard.
People saw things I hadn’t seen. They told stories I hadn’t thought of. Their connection to what I’d made was just as powerful as the connection I had through making it.
People always ask me what the markings mean on my artifacts. I had my thoughts. But I was astonished what other people saw–sometimes with profound possibilities. Some folks saw musical notation–and now we know how important sound was to ancient people. Some saw a map. A child saw constellations.
None of these had ever occurred to me. Yet now I can’t see those markings without a ginormous sense of wonder. A miracle has occurred….
My world was changed and enriched by their connection.
Now when I sell a piece of my work, whether it’s a $50 pair of earrings or a $2,000 framed piece, there is a satisfaction way beyond the actual money transaction. (Although when someone exchanges with me their hard-earned money for my work, that is high praise indeed!)
The satisfaction comes from my feeling the circle is complete.
So why did I mention miracles earlier?
Because miracles are a shift in perspective, from fear to love.
Here is the final miracle:
We can lose the fear of selling. And instead, we can embrace the deep, powerful connection with the world, it represents.