Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A formula for success?

I do like these three small pieces I recently reconfigured from an existing idea that wasn't working so well. I don't know if they could be considered "a formula for success" - but they look more successful to me than they did!!! I'm thinking of them as "canyons" because they remind me of a long ago trip to Brice and Zion in the SW...amazing country!  some landscapes just attach themselves to the brain don't they?

A friend passed onto me recently a very interesting article about a formula for success...it's based on an interview with a ceramicist Curtis Benzle of Huntsville, Alabama.  He's a retired art professor.

He considers making a living as an artist to be the iconic 3-legged stool and is continually surprised that students aren't taught this.  To be frank I think this approach should be considered for many majors - all the arts certainly , but music too.
The three legs are:
1. making excellent new experimental art
2. making products to sell
3. teaching in a community setting

He feels that is is possible to make a reasonable living (probably in the south rather than on the coasts or in the North East!) if each leg is solid.

He had observed when he was a prof at Columbus Art college (Ohio) that the program really seemed to be focussed on the top few students - the one percent who were obviously extremely creative, talented and clearly very self motivated.  They were actually going to be successful artists with or without help from their college profs!!  Despite that fact that was where the focus was and not towards the other 99%.  The 99% were good but not exceptional, success was not going to be falling into their laps...as fine artists only.

He realized that the students needed to know about how to make a living, not just how to make art.
One of the keys was to help the main body of students develop their spatial intelligence to produce marketable skills. He instructed them in product development.  He gave the example of a sculptor who was unable to get any commissions for his big outdoor 5 figure sculptures who had the idea of making large metal flowers...very attractive and very affordable.  Another student was able to develop wedding bouquets made from origami flowers...not only very pretty...but totally sustainable!!

At first the art school itself set up a booth to sell the products, but as word of mouth got around and networking ensued, sales took off.  Meanwhile the students could work on their Major Pieces too...but they were having fun with the products.

They then got instruction in how to teach at a nearby art center, and other community related teaching places....this was actually hard for them, but again it paid off.

One very good point he made was that in both developing small affordable products and in teaching you are also developing a market for your larger more important work...and, as a result, everything grows and avenues open up.

I wonder how much of this is applicable to our art form?  Quilts take such a long time to make when made traditionally, but do the public respond to quick little fabric collages - which would probably be the nearest thing to the large metal flowers and the origami bouquets?.....well - while I don't particularly like them personally and would never dream of buying one.. I have seen art work particularly from Northern Europe that is fun, cheerful, colorful and eye catching and people do seem to lap it up.

So I think the debate is that unless you know that you are in that top 1% destined to be a fine artist come what may, are you willing to develop all three areas:  fine art - probably in our cases destined for the major shows, products to sell (and what might they be??? any ideas?) and teaching.

 I actually began teaching little kids in a summer camp!! that was pretty wild!  then adults in a night class and so on up the ladder....and I have really enjoyed that aspect of the 3 prongs.  I never thought much about the middle "products to sell" prong...maybe I should!!

So what are your thoughts?  Are we all trying to convince ourselves we're in the top 1% destined to be discovered as major concert artists very soon??? or are we part of the 99% trying to make an all round honest living from our art.  

If you have been, thanks for reading.     Elizabeth


Gerrie said...

Interesting. My daughter makes an excellent living following those exact principles. She just finished a residency at Fullerton College where she exhibited her new experimental fine art paintings. She writes and illustrates books and also does client illustration work and numerous other products for sale. She teaches on a couple of web platforms. She amazes me.


For a few years I've been following Austin Kleon, author/artist of Show Your Work and Steal Like An Artist. Show Your Work does not address your thoughts directly, but indirectly discusses the synergies between continual creation, sharing of process, and sales. I guess this is art, teaching, and product creation/sales.

I do think quilts can be difficult to market. Because most people think of them as home decor (like a couch or coffee table,) there is less layman's appreciation for process and time involved. And that makes it harder for them to see the value of the quilter's time, and imbue the quilt with that value. Smaller pieces created/sold as ART (not as placemats) are probably easier to market in some ways. (Note on placemats -- if you value a "homemade" or "crafter-made" placemat including the amount of time of the artisan, they would cost far too much for anyone to use them on the table. I've written about that on my blog. Here is a link: https://catbirdquilts.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/how-much-are-those-placemats-worth/ )

And a link to Amazon about Kleon's book