There are a lot of reasons we tell ourselves why our work doesn’t sell.
But not all of them are true!
(9 minute read)
Where do I get my ideas? All over the place!
Today, I read Clint Watson’s post about why we should always work to improve our creative skills. (True dat!) An artist who assumed their work was excellent was so obviously not, and so did not gain representation in Clint’s gallery.
I also read Car Talk in our daily newspaper. (Yes, I’m old. I still read newspapers!) It’s a radio show and weekly article that answers car questions. It was a great radio show with Tom and Ray Magliozzi, two amazingly wise, funny, and sarcastic brothers who own(ed) an auto repair shop in Cambridge, MA. (My husband actually saw them once on Charles Street in Boston one day, while I was inside a shop looking at antique jewelry.) They offer advice and entertainment while answering people’s questions about car problems. (Tom has passed, but Ray carries on the tradition.)
Today’s Car Talk article is “Post Hoc Fallacy”. It’s based on a Latin quote, Post hoc ergo propter hoc: “after this, therefore because of this”. That is, “Since event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X.”
This is sometimes true, but not necessarily true. (From Wikipedia): A simple example is “the rooster crows immediately before sunrise; therefore the rooster causes the sun to rise.”
How did I get here from these two articles?
Because on one hand, what Clint said is true: The artist did not get into that gallery because their work was not very good.
On the other hand, there might be a hundred reasons why a gallery may not take our work on. Earlier this year, I covered just some of the hundreds of reasons a gallery may not want our work in “Let Me Count the Ways”.
This, for me, is the artist’s Post Hoc Fallacy:
We don’t think our work is good (or someone tells us that.)
Then, we don’t find our audience. No sales, no gallery representation, not getting juried into shows, etc.
That must prove that our work really isn’t any good.
And that may not be true at all.
Now, I whole-heartedly agree with Clint’s article: If our skills aren’t great, that will wreak havoc on our ability to show, market, and sell our work. It can be a blessing, if we are able to listen, when someone gently points this out to us. Constructive criticism can be a powerful force for improving our work and improving our sales, no doubt about it.
It’s always hard, as an artist, to hear that truth. Some of us refuse to hear it. Clint did not tell the artist that, but as he described the artist, it’s pretty likely they would not have listened anyway, based on their behavior.
It’s also impossible for us to be perfect. Even extremely talented artists, the ones who are honest with themselves, and us, concede that while achieving perfection is a worthy goal, it may be impossible to get there, and stay there. All of us can do better. Hopefully we all try. We may have to accept we may never actually get there.
But there is power in the trying, and it’s admirable to never give up.
My on-the-other-hand-point is, it does not serve anyone if we believe we will never be good enough—and walk away. The Post Hoc Fallacy has wreaked its destruction on our soul….if we let it.
In fact, I also wrote about how sometimes even really really bad art can have its own power, in my June column on Regretsy. Being authentically “bad” can have a place in the world.
We’ve all seen vendors at art-and-craft shows, on websites, in shows, even in galleries, that are….well, “meh”. Not awful, but not that great, either. We’ve seen people win awards for work we don’t think is that much better than ours. We’ve seen people whose work is twice as expensive as ours, while ours languishes.
The worlds of making art, buying art, exhibiting art, selling art, and honors awarded for art are as wide and varied as the people who actually make art, and certainly as varied as the people who judge it.
I believe that making our work as good as we can, and then striving to do better, is indeed an excellent way of increasing our chances of being “successful”, however we choose to measure our success.
And yet, I’ve seen amazing artists being rejected from shows, from events, etc. Many talented artists whose work doesn’t sell.
In fact, artists have been long judged for their gender, their race, their nationality, their success/sales, their subject matter, their technique of choice, their name recognition, you name it, it’s been done. We’re getting better, I hope!
Many artists get discouraged, sure they are doing something wrong. And many artists believe they simply aren’t good enough, so why bother even trying?
I’ve been there. I’ve been at every stage of this in my art career.
I’ve been told my artistic aesthetic is immature, by the very same person who, a couple years later, demanded to represent my work. (I guess they forgot what they said the first time. It was the same body of work!)
I’ve been told my work is not “real art”.
I’ve been told I make the same “tired old work” with the same “tired old techniques”.
I’ve been rejected from shows, galleries, etc. since the very beginning. I’ve been told my prices are too high since I first started selling my artifacts, even when they were priced at $18 for a horse pin. I’ve gotten into galleries and then pulled out because my work “just wasn’t selling”. I’ve been told I need to focus because my work takes “too many media categories” (fiber, jewelry, sculpture, assemblage, etc.)
But here’s the thing: I don’t care.*
Even as people where making these judgments (and statements) about my work, there were even more people who said amazing things. Like, “I’ve never seen anything like this, and it’s beautiful.” Like, “I can recognize your work anywhere!” I have won a few awards, and I treasure them. I have been juried into some of the top fine craft shows in the country. I found my story about my work, and that made it a cohesive body of work.
In fact, I fully believe that when I finally said, “I have to do this work, or I’ll die. I don’t even care if I’m a good artist anymore, I just have to do it.”, THAT is where my power came from.
The short story? If you can do better, do better.
But if you can’t, or won’t, and yet you love what you make, then make it anyway.
Something that is innovative may be so different, we don’t even know what to think of it. It may be before it’s time. Success can depend on where we live, who we know, the opinions of others who have very narrow definitions surrounding creative work.
At the end of days, there will be no sure-fire, solid, indisputable list of who the “best” artists are, and no permanent place where we fall on that list.
And at the end of our days, we may have regrets. Regrets that we didn’t achieve the recognition we craved, the sales that would have proven we were doing it right. We may regret we didn’t try harder, or do better with our talents.
But I hope and pray you never regret that you didn’t try at all.
It’s true, we might be able to improve our success, and have more sales, if we work in the favored medium, or with the most respected subject matter, if our techniques are really, really good, if we find the right galleries.
But it all boils down to finding the right audience, doesn’t it? Even a gallery must focus on what they think they can sell. And if their audience is not the right one for your work, even if they give us a chance, in the end, we’re taking up precious wall space that they depend upon for their own success.
So even if we really aren’t good enough, it’s still our choice. Do we want to bring this work into the world? Or do we walk away?
We can believe that there truly is an audience for the work of our heart, and it’s on us to make it, get it out there, and find that audience.
We can believe that knowing the “why”, the story that got us to this place, is a powerful factor in our success.
We can acknowledge we can do better, and then make it better. Or accept that it may not be as good as everyone else’s but it makes us happy, and that can be enough. If we need more, we can look at other ways for our audience to find us.
At our own end-of-days, we will look back at our choices. What will we regret?
I have a vision. Even when I am discouraged, even when it feels the world doesn’t want or need my work, I know I want it. I need it. I want it to be in the world somehow. Because my art is one way for me to be in the world.
My art. My words. My voice.
I would mostly regret walking away, especially if it’s because a) I don’t believe I’m good enough, and b) I allowed success, here and now, to be the only measure of its value.
There will be regrets, for sure.
But not that one.
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* If I’m being totally honest, I do care! I wish people didn’t think that about me, or my work. But I also know I shouldn’t care, and that’s how I choose to act.