Hugh MacLeod wrote a piece the other day in his blog entitled “Beware of turning hobbies into jobs“. His thesis is that everyone needs a hobby and that if you turn your hobby into a job… then you’ll need to find another hobby. This adds on to what he calls in another post the sex and cash theory. Basically you have one thing you do for fun and/or thrills and another to pay the bills and you need to be careful about mixing business and pleasure if you want to make money from your business and enjoy your pleasure. It is not often you find something that allows you to do both.
My children have a book at home (yes another children’s book review – maybe I should start a blog just reviewing children’s books) call Metaken HaHalomot (that’s “the dream mender” in English) by Uri Auerbach (who is a distant relative of mine, but that’s another story).
The story is about this guy called Alex who who fixes dreams. He is kept busy by all the people in his village who come to him to have their dreams repaired. His troubles start when he decides to turn his hobby into a business. A newcomer comes to the neighbouring town and opens a flashy dream mending service, undercuts his prices, wows his customers and leaves him with no clients. In the end he packs up and leaves town in order to go back to his simple anonymous existence.
When the village folk eventually realize that the flashy dream mending guy is not all that he’s cracked up to be and long for the personal touch of our Alex, they come back looking for him, only to find that he’s already gone. He left a note saying that in order to fix your dreams all you need is to listen and care for each other. Nice story.
This story sums up an ambivalence towards turning a hobby into a business. All of a sudden people expect value for their money, growth, consistency – and you need to translate what you are good at doing into cash flow. You no longer answer just to yourself, you are under scrutiny and you livelyhood depends on it. Can you make money and continue to enjoy what you’re doing or will you need to find a new hobby?
I think that at the end of the day the question is whether you can play and get paid for it? The answer is personal and may not just be related to markets. Maybe, the mere fact that you are getting paid will spoil the enjoyment of the game.
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I saw this blog post today where she highlights this humorous but serious article about obfuscation that appeared in The Journal of Political Economy (not something I would have read generally). This is how many scientists, economists and experts work and nobody knows what they are talking about. When talking about art there is also a tendency to talk in big words and intimidate the audience. If you want to sell your art you need to learn to avoid this and engage your buyers.
A whole lot of good articles on this can be found at artbusiness.com. They have several articles on exactly this subject, for example “people need help buying art so help them”.
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This is what most bloggers and other self-proclaimed web publicists are all about. These terms have been coined (here and here) by Hugh MacLeod in his blog gapingvoid.com, and the idea is to differentiate yourself (or your product) and become a brand, not a commodity.
That he says is why people write blogs and why people read them. By writing a blog you get your ticket to eternity. You get read and known by people all over the world, you’re not just another X you’re a world expert.
In terms of marketing products he talks about a concept he calls the “social object”. A social object is something that can become the hub of social interaction. It is the node in the network. His example is his “Blue Monster” branded wine. You may say “gimic”, but what’s the gimic? Not the blue monster, the wine is the gimic here. The guy’s selling blue monsters. He got you to buy one by putting it on the wine bottle. This is merchandizing.
The Blue Monster wine is also part of the “Smarter Wine” conversation. The main thesis is that it’s not the wine per se that is interesting, it’s the conversations that happen around the wine that is interesting. And that is true for all social objects. People matter. Objects don’t.
OK I sell paintings not blue monsters. How do you turn a painting into a social object?
If the blog is the social object then the painting is the wine. However the analogy is not complete. The blog is free, it is the teaser… and I get back to where I started. This is going to take some more thinking.
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Generally I have enjoyed reading articles on EmptyEasel (and I even include a link on my Blog Roll). However I just read this article and it seems to me rather strange advice.
Basically what he is saying is work out how much money you want people to pay you for your paintings and charge that, otherwise you won’t be able to make a living. Yeah… and… what if noone is prepared to pay that much for one of your paintings? Well there is an answer to that as well: start painting faster to produce more cheap work or take classes to improve your quality so that people will pay your asking price.
The basic idea of working out how much money you need to make and then making a plan how to get that income does seem a good idea. However I think that the idea set out here is kind of simplistic. Your art has a value that is dictated by how much people will pay for it. How do you find out what that price is? Well, what do people pay in your area for similar work and what have you sold for before? That marks your price point.
Prices need to be logical and you can’t just put them up and expect people to pay them because you want more money. This doesn’t work for any product and all the more so for art, which is a luxury item for most people. If you overprice then noone will buy.
What he also leaves out in his article is that a lot of artists I know make a lot of their money teaching children and adults and others make money on prints. If you need to generate income then you need to diversify and find new products and services and new markets. You will also spend a lot of time on marketing. I have seen the widely-quoted figure of a full 50% of your time as a professional artist taken up just with marketing and selling.
Personally, I did the math and realized that I cannot support my family as an artist at the same level I do now in hi-tech. Well, that’s unless I can sell several paintings every month for thousands of dollars. So far I haven’t proven that I can.
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I just read a thought provoking article on EmptyEasel entitled “Why Sell Limited Edition Prints? Art Should be for Everyone!”. The article challenges the practice of making limited edition prints and says that prints should be unlimited and cheap so that everyone can enjoy art.
I certainly support the idea that there should be affordable art in the market place so that anyone and everyone can buy something to add some beauty to there home or wherever. However, on the other hand I defend the artists who need to make a living.
I support a model where art “products” are offered in different price ranges to different markets. Want an original? Pay the full price. Want an almost original? Buy an expensive numbered giclee reproduction. Want one better? Have a signed, touched up and numbered giclee. No money, but want something beautiful to put on your wall? Buy a digital print.
I have been told in the past that if you offer digital prints then that cheapens your art, because people won’t want to pay more for the quality giclees. I’m not in the print market, because I don’t have the time and I need to be there because I make my living from my day job. So while I don’t have any personal experience, that doesn’t make sense to me. Discerning people will always pay more for a quality product.
My art is priced cheaply. However, when I show my art to people it is still often more than they can spend. I offer the option of digital prints for the Israeli market (sorry, it’s in Hebrew and yes, I know I need to update the number of prints offered).
Please don’t forget the customers who don’t have big budgets. It’s not altruistic, it’s good business.
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