I recently overheard a conversation between two professional photographers. One emerging; the other well-seasoned — both artistic. The seasoned artist is fabulously known for a certain genre of photographs, with a few variants, and is quite successful. The emerging artist utilizes a wide-range of subjects.
“I admire your dedication to your subject,” says our emerging artist.
“Don’t worry,” says the seasoned artist, “you’ll find your niche.”
“I hope not!” says the emerging artist.
And I said, “Bravo!” I was witnessing, and admiring, a sense of adventure in the emerging artist that was too strong to be extinguished by good sense.
Years ago, I participated in a 10-month art marketing salon that really made me step up my professional game. I’ve also read books and attended seminars to help me better manage the business side of my creativity. Through it all, I found that most marketing gurus insist you focus on a single style and genre in order to promote work that clients can recognize as yours. Lovers of art feel good when they recognize a painting as being created by Pierre Bonnard or Georgia O’Keefe or Tara O’Neill; it means they know something. They’re smart. They’re savvy.
Furthermore, the gurus tell us, marketing and promotion take a lot of time away from the studio, and if you’re going to try to sell two different products — let’s say wildlife sculptures and abstract paintings — then you will need to come up with two different marketing plans, mailing lists, promotional materials, web-sites, etc. Want to add impressionist paintings? Well, that’s a third business because it’s a third target audience, so you best get yourself a manager.
Is all this true? Well, sure, but what happens when you allow the truth of business to stifle your creativity? One thing that can happen is you get dull, flat and uninspired; not good when your stock in trade is originality and perspective. Art is not a business for sissies, but for some of us, it’s the only business. Of course, the battle between creativity and consistency exists in all industries — or at least it should.
What to do, what to do. First, don’t try to hide from the conflict. Jump in there with the rest of us and resolve it in a way that’s aligned to your nature. Can you commit to only one initiative? What sort of recompense would it take to forsake all others?
I’ve spent most of my career promoting myself as a painter, but there has always been so much more, artistically, that I’ve wanted to investigate and experience and share. I keep track, take notes, make sketches and plan. I even dare to dabble — privately. The result? My mind is open. It’s alert. It’s alive. Creative thinking solves most of my life’s dilemmas, not just the professional ones, and someday, when I feel I have both a quality — and a quantity — of off-canvas works, I hope to astound myself and you.
I also plan on thanking that emerging-but-wise photographer for inspiring me to shake things up a bit, indulge myself, and get on with it.
I’ve always been perplexed by the prevalence of “I’d rather ____” bumper stickers. “I’d rather be sailing”! (or “fishing!” or “skiing!”) exclaim car bumpers throughout the land. Why are these people driving around boasting of their discontent? I’d like a sticker that says, “If there’s something I’d rather be doing, I’d be doing it!” So, take THAT, you marketing gurus!
Anybody know any good business managers? I’m probably going to need one.