Listening to the Advice of Jack White by M Theresa Brown
I have admired the advice of artist Jack White for a long time. He is not one of those online marketing artsy gurus who blows smoke at you. He tells it like it is when it comes to the real life of the real working artist. He never went all glossy and high tech and showered his readers with a fantasy “artist’s life”. But if you are a working artist (as in paying your bills with the sales of your art) you know immediately that he speaks the ral truth. And one of the real truths is that self employment in any field is hard work. But if that is your excuse for not creating your art, then maybe it’s not the profession for you!
The following article by Jack White was recently in the Fine Art View site that many artists love to follow. None of the foundes are artists. They are business people and promote their services. Nothing wrong with that. But don’t let Jack’s folksy, entertaining style fool you. He is the real thing. This is an excellent and eye opening article taken from one of his 5 marketing CD’s.
Do any of these 12 steps apply to you?
12 Steps to Failure
by Jack White
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, ma’am.”
“Is your mother home?” she asked.
Again, little Craig replied in his soft tone. “Yes, ma’am.”
“May 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, ma’am.”
“Well, is your father home?” she asked as confusion began to set in. Again, the same faint answer, “Yes, ma’am.”
“May I speak with him?” Craig’s whisper was even softer, “No, ma’am.”
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. After what seemed 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?” A sense of urgency came through in her speech pattern.
When her heart got still enough to listen, little Craig said in his patented whisper, “They are looking for me!”
In North America, there are an estimated 20 million people who, by definition, are called artists. Less than 8% of those earn $1,000 or more a year from their talent. Are you one of the millions earning less than $1,000 a year? Are you in hiding?
1. No one can find you. You are like little Craig, hiding in the closet, whispering your message. People who care are looking, but you are so well camouflaged not even those closest to you can find where you are hidden. 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 my books is show artists how to let people see their talent. Many of you are hiding in broad daylight and you have done such a wonderful job, you have managed to escape selling enough of your art to pay for your supplies. I want you to move past the masses earning under $1,000 a year; thus, affording you the opportunity to walk among the top 8% in your field — nay, I want you to walk in the rarefied air with the .005% who earn over $1,000,000 a year. I will show you the clear route, only you can decide to travel this path.
2. 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 trompe l’oiel. 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 stay with it long enough for the foundation to take root, he will always be way back in the pack, frustrated and angry because he has not been “discovered.” 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 literally go back into hiding by changing mediums, style/voice and 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 as an artist is not something you should try to do. 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.
3. Distractions. Artists see movies of fellow travelers sitting around sipping wine and breaking 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 with enough light and large enough to thumb tack his un-stretched canvases.
I remember in our travels, living in a condo on the twenty-fifth floor in downtown Honolulu. My mate painted a one-artist show and I completed a life-sized portrait. Our entire space, including a tiny lanai, was only 590 square feet. Our space was so small we had to crawl under my portrait to get from the painting side to the eating side. Before we started traveling, my artist loft was over 6,000 square feet, with 18-foot ceilings, hardwood floors and wonderful north light.
If artists 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. All too often, artists lets the telephone, friends, family, social networking, children, depression, substance abuse and addictions, distract them from working on their craft. Art is a jealous lover; she wants all your attention.
4. Business knowledge or the lack thereof. The one thing I admire about those artists who do crafts for a living is 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 yourself as a businessperson selling that product, 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. There is no need for what we make; we are selling “wants” not “needs”.
5. 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 (1879–1949), he 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 was jealous of the young children artists becoming so famous. I explained he only knew part of the story. One of the young “superstars” came to America with her parents from the war-torn Bosnia. Alexandra Nechita was eight years old when her parents bought her books on famous modern painters, stuck her in the basement and told her to paint. They found a promoter to market her as a “prodigy”. He invested $200,000 and began the process of setting up a marketing plan. The promoter took 75% of all the money earned. The young lady became a star and the promoter got filthy rich. I ask you, Why be jealous of a child who has been robbed of her youth? 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. We harbor no jealousy. Eliminate that word from your life. Happiness is more important than money. I talk a lot about money in my books but only to show you wealth can be achieved. I don’t suggest you covet filthy lucre.
6. Pricing. Art is only worth what people perceive it to be. Fine art is not something you do by the hour. A Van Gogh sold for $80 million because someone believed the painting was worth that amount. We look at our art as something we do where people are paying us to learn the trade. Every time a painting sells we need to replace the piece. We can use the money received from that sale to live to paint another one.
Collectors are paying for our art 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. 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 that is the price point you will be selling at. Like water, your price will seek it’s own level. Artists think they should raise prices every year or so. Not so, raise your prices when you are selling more than you can produce.
7. No direction. Let me pose a question to you, “How are you going to know when you get there, if you don’t know where you are going?” Successful artists just don’t get up and think because they hang that tag around their necks one day, they will make it. I write, in great detail, in my books 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. If you plan to drive from Carmel to Naples, chances are you will mark the route on a map. Make an artist career map.
8. 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 follows rudeness, excuses, slovenliness, laziness, clutter, addictions, non-commercial attitudes, un-professionalism and a perfect reason for failure. I do spend a great deal of time addressing attitude and the pseudo-sickness of “Artistic Temperament” in my writings.
9. Art that Connects? What sells is art that connects. There is an exception: When art gets to the level of auction houses (like Christies or Sotheby), it then has more to do with ego-of-ownership rather than the art making a connection. My doctor spent $70,000 to buy a Nicolai Fechin. It’s not one of his best, but my doctor can say he owns a Fechin.
Artist’s whose art is not selling is 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. One day your family will have the unhappy task of burning those masterpieces.
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. At an outdoor show I once saw a man who made a “chicken call” out of a paper cup and a rubber band. He had people lined up to buy his creation. I recall a couple drilling a hole in a big rock, sticking in some flowers and selling out the first day of their show. Their stuff connected. 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 linked 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 correlation. Make art that connects or fail…this is the reality of our business.
10. Failure to produce. This sounds on the surface like something you would not have to tell artists. Yet, their failure is never having artwork to sell. Isn’t this amazing? As we say in Texas, “You cannot sell out of an empty wagon.” Failures suffer from an ailment known as “I’m going to.” This is not like cramming for a history exam the night before. Artists must produce constantly if they plan to earn any semblance of a living from their craft. Of the two eBay artists I’m helping, one makes a dozen paintings a week and the other two or three. Guess which one will earn $40,000 this year.
11. No fun. Fun is one of the keys to success. If you cannot have fun, then art is not where you need to be. Great work comes from great joy. Leave the angst for the movies; do art that’s fun. Your life is not a dress rehearsal. We only pass through one time. Select art you enjoy making. If you love what you are doing, there is a good chance others will feel your happiness and attach 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 the little pot 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 the joy was still present when our friends saw the piece.
12. Artistic Suicide. I’m not talking about putting a rope around your neck and jumping off the balcony as my dear friend and master artist, A. D. Greer did. Nor am I referring to leaping off the Golden Gate Bridge. I am talking about things like this: Mikki and I were freely helping direct a young artist’s career and seeing some nice results. I sent a blast email to friends, including him. This was early in our computer days when we didn’t know about Bcc. The young artist took our mailing list and began an aggressive marketing program. What he failed to realize, two parties on our list were dying of cancer. As a result, he lost a free marketing coach because he committed “artistic suicide.” Never cheat anyone, especially friends.
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 with. 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 he never heard us. He had a mind-lock on doing something different instead of making a product that would connect with the buyers. There are times we must abandon the sinking ship and jump into the dinghy. At least the little vessel will stay afloat.
Other examples of artist suicide: Artists start selling well and then change styles or subjects. Another is the artist cheats the gallery by selling art directly to customers who first saw their work in their gallery to avoid paying commission.
Professionals will produce and failures make excuses. In one of my recent blogs, I talked about the importance of honesty. I got a scolding response telling me how arrogant I was and that I was a horrible critic. To set the record straight, I’m not a critic. I’m not arrogant, I’m confident. I simply speak of things I’ve learned after 40 years in this business. Take what works and toss the rest.
The Portraits: www.mtheresabrown.com
The Journey: www.mtheresabrown.blogspot.com