Mystery of Making It
Excerpt from Book
The phone was picked up before the first ring finished its cycle. The lady calling, not expecting such a quick answer, spoke in a startled tone, "Hello." Her voice was unsure, because never before, when she phoned her best friend, had the answer been so prompt.
A tiny whisper came from the other end of the line, "Yes."
"Is that you Craig?" she asked with some hesitancy. In an even more faint reply the muffled words answered, "Yes maim."
"Is your mother home?" she asked.
Again little Craig replied in his soft tone. "Yes maim."
"Could I speak to her? The lady replied. It seemed like an eternity before young Craig responded. She could barely hear what he was saying. "No maim."
"Well, is your father home?" she asked as confusion began to set in. Again, the same faint answer, "Yes maim."
"May I speak with him?" Craigs whisper was even softer, "No maim."
A little frustration began to build. She asked, "Why not? Once more the small boy waited to speak, his words just hanging on his end of the receiver. What seemed for an eternity, he replied, "They are busy."
She was not sure she wanted to know the next answer. Knowing the father had been away on business. She waited a moment, but curiosity got the best of her. "What are they doing?".
This time young Craig whispered immediately. "The policeman and the fireman are here talking to them." His voice was so faint she was not sure she heard him correctly. "Did you say the police and firemen are in your house? Is there a fire? What are they doing?" as a sense of urgency came through in her speech pattern.
When her heart got still enough to listen, Craig said in his patented whisper, "They are looking for me."
In North America (Panama, Canada and in between) there is an estimated 22 million plus people who, by definition, are called artists. Less than 10% of those earn $1,000 a year from the proceeds of their art. Are you one of the millions hiding where no one knows how to find you?
There are several reasons artists remain in the group earning less than $1,000 a year. Here are a few:
- No one can find you. You are like little Craig hiding in the closet whispering. People who care are looking, but you are so well camouflaged not even those closest to you can find your location. I hope you realize I am speaking metaphorically. Not that they cannot see you as a person, but you have been able to hide your light under a basket for years. You do busy work and play artist, but you have yet to lift the cover and expose your ability. One of the things I hope to do in this book is show you how to let people see your talent, so you move past the masses earning under $1,000 a year. Thus, affording you the opportunity to walk among the top 10% in your field. Many of you are hiding in broad daylight and, you have done such a wonderful job, you have managed to escape selling enough to pay for your supplies. No one plans to reach in and grab you by the nape of the neck. I will show you the route, only you can decide to travel this path.
- Focus. More artists fail for lack of focus than any other reason. I know a wonderful artist who changes styles with the flip of the calendar. He tries contemporary, representational, impressionistic and tromph o ele. He cannot stay focused long enough for any one style/voice to be heard. He ends up whispering like little Craig in the family closet. Until an artist can find a voice/style that connects with the buying public and stays with it long enough for it to take root, they will always be way back in the pack of failures and angry because they have not been discovered. Whiteism: You will face boredom and frustration your entire career as artists. You will be very frustrated seeking a voice/style that collectors can connect with. Once you accomplish that voice/style people are clamoring for, you will become bored doing it. Many begin the course, find a medium they love and a style/voice people are willing to pay to own. Just about the time the noise from their hiding place is being heard they get bored and go literally back into hiding by changing mediums-style/voice-subjects. The most negative statement I hear from artists is, "I get bored." Then my suggestion to you is get a day job. Earning a living is not something you should try to do in the art field. The reason is this, you must be able to remain focused and stay the course to reach the other shore. No sailor would start a trans-Atlantic voyage and get bored about half way there because of the doldrums. He would hoist canvas and keep plodding along until a fresh wind filled his sails. Focus or fail. You cannot serve a multiple of masters.
- Distractions. Artists see movies of fellow travelers sitting around sipping wine and eating bread, exchanging ideas. The great ones barricade themselves in their studio and work. Those who fail find excuse after excuse not to produce work. "If only I had a larger studio," is an enormous excuse for distraction. I often tell the story of how Bonnard had to paint in his bathroom, because it was the only blank wall large enough to thumb tack his un-stretched canvases. I remember in our travels living on the 25th floor in a Condo, downtown Honolulu. My mate painted for a one-artist show and I completed a life-sized portrait, where we both painted and lived. The entire complex including a tiny lanai was only 670 sq. ft. We met a local painter who was complaining he could do nothing in his cramped quarters. When we asked him how large was his apartment, he sighed, "Only 1900 sq. ft." My mate blurted out, "How many live with you?" He said, with sadness wanting sympathy, "Me and my cat." We jumped on him with both feet. We hired a taxi and took him immediately to our home/studio. A month later he was a happy camper talking about what a wonderful space he had to work in. Our space was so small I had to crawl under my vertical to get from the painting side to the eating side. Before we started traveling, my studio was over 6,000 sq. ft., with 18-foot ceilings, hardwood floors and a wonderful north light. The portrait I executed in Honolulu was equal to any I had ever painted in my Masters-sized artist loft. If they are not complaining about where they work, they are out chasing rabbits. The one thing a foxhunter does not want in his dogs are those who chase rabbits instead of the fox. Artists let the telephone, friends, family, children, excuses, depression, substance abuse, addictions, and things I could never think of distract them from working on their craft. I call it running all over looking for Mars Orange. (Later in the book, I tell my Mars Orange story.) Hemmingway said, "Man starts to succeed in his art and then decides to build a house, which will be his demise." Some artists build knives, others buy boats and a few just chase rabbits. Anything to keep from working on what they must do in order to succeed.
- Business knowledge or the lack thereof. The one thing I admire about those artists who do crafts for a living, they see their art as a product. They understand they are in business to earn a living from what they produce with their hands. They have no problem being commercial. Those, whose minds are warped by the art talk schools, see selling what they make as prostituting themselves. Another big reason artists remain in the less than $1,000 per year income bracket is they never build a business plan. No business plan means certain failure. They get hung up on creating, not figuring how they will sell all the stuff they make. Unless you can see your art as a product and a businessperson selling that product, then you will forever remain at the bottom. Art is a business, just the same as clock making. The only difference, there is a need for clocks. What we make there is not need; we are selling wants.
- Jealousy. I read where Picasso was jealous of Braque and Braque was jealous of Othon Friez. For those of you who have never heard of Othon Friez (18791949), never reached much fame. However, when he and Braque painted together for a few years, he had a much easier time executing his skill than Braque, thus the jealousy. I heard an artist say one time that he himself was jealous of the young children artists becoming famous, so young. I explained he only knew part of the story. One of the young superstars I know came to America with her parents from the war-torn country of Bosinia. She was eight-years old when they got her books on the above named painters, put her in the basement and told her to paint. They found a promoter who decided to market this child as a prodigy. He invested $200K, and began the process of setting up a marketing plan. The first five years, he took 75% of all the money earned. The young lady became a star and the promoter got filthy rich. "Why be jealous of a child who has been robbed or her youth?" I asked. I said, "We have met her on two occasions and find she has sadness in her eyes. The only person who is hurt by jealousy is you. To my knowledge my mate and me harbor no jealousy. Eliminate that word from your life
it may not make you unsuccessful selling your art, but it will destroy your happiness. Happiness is more important than money any day.
- Pricing. Art is only worth what people will pay to own it. Art is not something you do by the hour. We received an email from an artist who told us she had done two paintings. People were telling her to charge $50K for the larger one. My thoughts were, she should be able to paint 12 of those a year. If so, then she could be earning some serious money fast. The only problem I could see with that program is, "Where in the duce will she sell the first one?" We look at our art as something we do where people are paying us to learn a trade. Each time a piece sells we need to replace it. We can use the money received from that sale to live to paint another one. Collectors are paying for our education by purchasing our art. So, the price we sell things for, really is not important. What is important is we sell art that has to be replaced. You become good in art by doing art. The more you sell, the more you must produce. Artists fail because they get a skewed idea of their worth. As long as your art is selling too cheap, then you will be selling. I suspect the lady who had the price at $50,000 may have been wiser to reduce it to $500.
- No direction. Let me pose a question to you. "How are you going to know when you get there, if you dont know where you are going?" Successful artists just dont get up and think because they hang that tag around their neck one day, they will make it. I write in great detail in the book about a marketing plan, spelling out where you want to go and how you plan to get there. Failure to set goals on where you plan to go is at the foundation of most failures.
- Attitude. How you think about things is more important than the events happening around you. Artists develop a syndrome taught in art schools. It is a malady titled, Artistic Temperament. With this temperament, comes rudeness, excuses, slovenliness, laziness, clutter, addictions, non-commercial attitudes, un-professionalism and a good reason for failure. I do spend a great deal of time addressing attitude and the pseudo-sickness of Artistic Temperament in the book.
- Art that Connects? What sells is art that connects. There is an exception. When art gets to the level auction houses, like Christies, are handling, it then has more to do with ego of ownership, than the art making a connection. Artists whose work does not sell are simply not producing a product that connects. If you want to do your own thing, then keep your day job and fill your garage with your creations. Once day your grandchildren will hire someone to catalog and record your art. Who knows, you may become famous fifty to a hundred years after you are dead. People will praise you for not compromising your artistic integrity. Your great grandchildren will have loads of funds to live it up on. On the other hand, if you would like to enjoy some of the fruits of your labor while you are living, then you need to pay particular attention to what I am saying in this paragraph. Those who do not make art that connects with people will not earn a living with their craft. I once saw a man making a chicken call out of a paper cup and a rubber band. He had people lined up to buy his creation. He had a product he made that connected to people. When we send a painting to one of our galleries and it does not immediately sell, we know we did not make one that connected to the buyers. The reason people buy art is because they feel connected to the piece. It may just be one color in a painting or the feel of the alabaster in the sculpture, but there is a connection. Connect or fail
this is the reality of our business.
- Failure to produce. This sounds on the surface like something you would not have to tell artists. Yet, the failures never have artwork to sell. Isnt this amazing? As we say in Texas, "You cannot sell out of an empty wagon." Failures suffer from an ailment known as "Im going to." Another name is, "I plan to." This is not like cramming for a history exam the night before. Artists must produce, if they plan to earn any semblance of a living from their craft.
- No fun. Fun is the key to success. If you cannot have fun, then this is not where you need to be. Great work comes from great joy. Leave the angst for the movies; do art that is fun. This life is not a dress rehearsal. It's the real thing. Select art you enjoy. If you love what you are doing, there is a good chance others will feel your happiness and connect with what you are producing. We purchased a clay pot from an artist at a craft festival because she was telling everyone who entered her booth how much joy she got feeling the clay. We later gave the art piece to an admirer who commented how warm inside it made them feel. The clay artist was able to project her joy into the clay and it remained locked in the hardened dirt so strongly that it was still present when our friends saw it. They connected to her happiness and fun.
- Artist Suicide. Im not talking about putting a rope around your neck and jumping off the balcony. Nor am I referring to leaping off the Golden Gate Bridge. I am talking about things like this- we were helping direct an artists career. We were seeing some nice results. In one of our emails to him, instead of sending it "Bcc", we sent it with all the names and addresses exposed. He took our mailing list and began an aggressive marketing program. What he failed to realize was two different parties on our list are dying of cancer and three others are in recovery. My mate is a cancer survivor. (Bladder cancer at age 19). As a result, he lost a marketing coach because he wanted to commit artistic suicide. We were helping him succeed. In another instance, I know one artist who has continued to try to develop an art form and use oddball mediums at the expense of producing a product he could earn money from. He has done all he can in his power to sabotage his own career. We never tell anyone directly what to do. We gave him suggestions, but they were never heard. He had a mind-lock on doing something different instead of making a product, which would connect with the buyers. Once we saw he was not going to take our suggestions then we tried to help him develop a program to make, what he had in mind, work. There are times we must abandon the sinking ship and jump into the dinghy. At least the little dinghy will stay afloat. Other examples are: artists start selling well and then start changing styles or subjects; or they cheat the gallery by selling art directly to customers who first saw their work there. They avoid paying the gallery a commission. When the gallery finds out, they are dead
thus Artistic Suicide. Professionals will produce, and failures make excuses. The list of myths, which help develop the artists self-destructive mindset, is endless. Negativity reigns in the art world. Earning less than $1,000 per year off your talent is in itself murder at your own hands.
The book is an expanded manual showing you, step by step, how to avoid these twelve steps to failure.
There is a story that I want to share. A crow was sitting on a tree, doing nothing all day. A rabbit saw the crow and asked, "Can I also sit like you and do nothing all day?" The crow answered, "Sure, why not?" So, the rabbit sat on the ground below the crow and rested. Suddenly, a Bobcat grabbed the rabbit and ate it.
Moral of this story: To sit and do nothing, you must be sitting very, very, high up.