The Art Business

Many artists are adept at self-mystification. We like to feel that our best works come from some mysterious well (call it the unconscious or God, your choice). We hope to visit that unconscious well often, and we fear that if we pay too much attention to the mechanics, to the nuts and bolts of art, the path to the well will be blocked.

I’ve been practicing self-mystification with great success (though with a slightly different motive) for years. It has gotten me precisely nowhere. Out-of-print novels, a few mp3s that are free downloads from my website, and I make most of my art bucks teaching cello to kids.

I love teaching, don’t get me wrong — but helping little fingers learn to negotiate the tricky bits in the Gossec “Gavotte” for the tenth or twelfth time is not high on my list of the creative satisfactions to be found in life.

As I burrow through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, I find myself intrigued by the notion of a vision quest. If I were to envision a creative life for myself, what would it consist of?

Though it may strike self-mystifying artists as alienating or crude, I’ve started analyzing my alleged art career in exactly the same terms that an entrepreneur would use to plan the opening of a new restaurant. I’m not going to provide full details here, because I might want to turn it into a book, or at least an article. Briefly, though, a savvy entrepreneur will ask himself or herself lots and lots of hard-edged, practical questions — about the nature of the competition, possible locations, setup costs, and so on.

Almost all of those questions can be ported over, with only minor revisions, to the concept of an art career as a “storefront” enterprise. Supplying tasty treats to your customers, and having them eager to come back for more — it’s pretty basic.

If we think about the difference between someone like Madonna or Elton John, both of whom have enjoyed enduring success, and bands that have one big hit and then fade from view (Fine Young Cannibals, anyone?), I’d be willing to bet that the difference is not in the raw talent of the artist.

It’s not because they have privileged access to the unconscious well of creative expression: We all have that! It’s almost certainly because they had a practical, detailed business plan.

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1 Response to The Art Business

  1. You are completely right about that. Making things that sell for a long time makes people think that what sells is completely creative (some are, some are not, and some are borderline). We have to make sure that we are not forgotten if that is our goal.

    Keep positive!


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