Many artists are career professionals and many of those full time artists are art school graduates, although not all. Some of my artist friends work in their fields in art such as museum art restoration, engraving currency, or as graphic artists. I’ve certainly done gigs as a draftsman both hand technical drawing and using AutoCAD, but it was not what I would call creative art, tradecraft maybe. I did study technical drawing in college, let’s just call it drafting.
Tradecraft is an interesting term though and harkens back to historical guilds, workshops and apprenticeship. Art or at least painting was once a trade. Back in the day there were court painters for royal patrons, salon shows and galleries, or art dealers, and to be fair, art schools. Today we still have court artists, although it is in the justice system, and it seems video technology is overtaking that industry, and digital art is overtaking police art of what suspects looked like, although DNA has taken on the lead in evidence, and face recognition AI software may overtake that even. But there is no guild, per se. there is still a degree in art, mentorship and trade shows... cons, the conventions. There are still online salon shows, competitions, and galleries are still a state of the art, and there are art auctions for the famous paintings.
I recently read an article in the Atlantic about artists having become entrepreneurs. My Mentor, Walter Bartman, once told the class I was in that there are three things you can do as an artist to make money; teach, in which case you can paint what you like and still get paid; paint what you like and you might get a patron who collects your art; or paint what will sell and you may not love it but can make a living. He added that there was a one in a million chance that you could create the next smilie face and get rich. There are artists making a killing, conceptual artists like the fellow that did a whole show of pirated Instagram pics blowed up and selling for $90,000 a pop, or the Art Basel dude that duct taped a banana to a wall and sold it for some obscene sum.
For the past few months, I have turned my attention towards marketing my art, not to galleries, but directly though social media. There is a whole industry and profit center around it. People have channels on YouTube, pages on Facebook and Instagram. You can have commercial accounts on these platforms where it’s okay to sell, to do commerce, and advertise, for a fee. There are powerful analytics and advertising tools with algorithms to get your ad out to the right 90% of all the eyeballs on the internet. And, there are those selling the secrets of how to navigate and optimize these resources. There are streaming services, Twitch, Discord, where patrons can tip and subscribe, and subscription services like OnlyFans and Patreon where you can support an artist with a chosen monthly amount $. Some adult models are clearing $8,000 a month, Kudos! There are even virtual assistants that will manage your email marketing campaign with MailChimp or one of the other email management softwares. There is software to help you stream, do graphics, banners, credits and sound, stitch stills and moving pictures, all very professional looking and computers, microphones, studio lights and green screen backgrounds, lions, tigers, and bears, ha ha!
One of the new era of prerequisites is that an artist have a website. Not that anyone uses anything but phones, laptops, and tablets to wilf around the internet these days, but these website services are optimized for mobile devices. It’s all quite overwhelming to navigate. Some smart folks have simplified the world of Wordpress and SquareSpace so that all you have to do is upload photos of your art, write a bio, and viola... website. No more coding or programming, they have done all that for you. You get a domain name $, pay them a monthly or annual fee $, and they make you look pro: places like FASO, FineArtAmerica, or in my case Wix. They even handle credit card transactions, and in the case of Saatchi they arrange shipping. All with an underbellly of keywords, tags, SEO’s (search term optimization) registered on Google. It’s incestuous, powerful and powerfully seductive.
I’ve studied and practiced painting for over twenty years trying to get good enough to be in galleries, I’ve participated in competitive plein air painting events, submitted paintings to online Streamline Salon shows and won awards, held solo gallery shows and sold paintings, but I’ve been told, 80% marketing and 20% creating until I learn to navigate this quagmire and set up structures to make content... videos, streams, email newsletters, funnels, blog posts, like this one weekly.
So, I have been taking an art class to structure time to learn, paint, and get feedback (critique). I’m also teaching my first online classes in 2021 and have been offering private lessons, but even that is for a fee through a third party website. I’ve tried hosting outdoor painting events during the lockdown when the weather was better, but again on a commission, the gallery takes their cut, 50%. I spent $40 on advertising that event on social media and made $50. That after two hours driving each way and a 12 hour day. I doubt the $10 covered gas.
I should also mention affiliation. It’s a thing... I mention a company’s name online who’s paintbrush, paint or canvas I use, post a link, and get a commission. It’s a process, I’m sure, and haven’t tried it yet, but even Amazon is possible. Some popular streamers even have sponsors, sweet! Building followers is it’s own whole marketing art... solve a problem for people, they need art for their walls they said, want to learn how to paint they said, or want to learn how to make and stream that content... content, that thankless taskmaster.
And lastly, there is the business model of artist and brick and mortar gallery, or perhaps more online gallery these days, that and commission portrait
art. For every five businesses, I imagine maybe one survives, but some of them have perfected the art of marketing, are great painters, and charge like $60,000 for an oil painting. Paint large they said! Dream big!