Saturday, May 26, 2012

Flogging Art

Paradise Sky (2012)
The list of labels (or keywords) at the end of this post should tell you a little about the complexity of this topic. Sure, those of you still making art the traditional way (by hand, in meat-space) still have your traditional markets: art fairs, galleries, solo shows, etc. The rest of us, who, like me, have taken to the computer like a duck to water (how does a duck take to water? Is it really that natural? How would a duck take to water without mom around?), are having a different sort of experience.

This has all led me to the question: what is art anyway? Is it something we hang on the wall and perhaps forget about a lot of the time? Is it something we like on our (ooops!) CD covers? Is it just for decorating the desktop?

Once upon a time we all knew what art was: that stuff made out of canvas and oil paint hanging in a gallery. This is no longer the case. Now art is everywhere on everything. And with the tons of free art programs out there, anyone can make art. And I'm all for that.

My dilemma is how to make money flogging my art.

Once upon a time, there were originals. They were lithographs on stone or drawings on paper or a water color or oil painting that you could reproduce as a printed copy. That kind of art was not very expensive because it was easy to produce. You could make a lot of those and the fees reflected that. Art gets it's value from rarity. There is only one Mona Lisa and they ain't makin' any more.

Art also gets value from history. Old art is generally more valuable than new art. Mostly because no one knows what new art is really worth. It is, basically, worth what someone will pay for it. This is how old art gets it value. Over time a work becomes increasingly popular and so we have the old supply and demand law kicking in.

Art gets some value from art critics. Some. Friends ask me how to determine what is good art. I say, "If you like it, it's good art." Sure, a ton of "good art" gets bought and put into storage as an investment. But that's not how most artists make a living. In fact, most of that "good art" was made by dead artists.
Yellow Stones (2011)
When I make art, technically I don't have an original because I create on the computer. This means I have a file which can be endlessly copied without loss of quality and from which I can make an unlimited number of prints - also without loss of quality (depending, of course, on the output device).  Since value depends on originality, a lot of buyers have questions about rarity. Who wants to buy something you think is one of a kind and find a millions of them in Target?

One solution is to limit production and never sell or give away the original file. It would be nice to have just the one file, however, this is why backing up was invented. Also, as an artist, it is nearly impossible to keep just one version of a work a art when you discover that you can make endless non-destructible variations.

I can limit physical reproductions. No one makes prints or derivatives (versions) from my files unless I say they can. And I can limit the kind of reproductions they make. Although, technically, since you can't (yet) really display the original file, each reproduction is an original. Hence the title: multiple original. So, what I'm really doing is limiting the number of original prints. (Prints - not reproductions.)

So, here's the real issue: if anyone anywhere can view my art online how do I charge for it?

Digital Blasphemy has found a few ways. He chooses licensing. Licensing let's third parties sell art by giving the artist a percentage of the sale. Since the licensor bears most of the cost, they take most of the money. Typical licensing fees are about 10%, often less. Simple math: if I want to pay my mortgage with 10% fees, I have to sell about 400 pieces of art. Or the licensor has to.

This works really well for Digital Blasphemy because he's a high volume producer, kind of like Thomas Kinkade. He has a lot of outlets and he's been at it for a long time. He's also not bothered by how or where you use art. He even gives it away for free; a part of the new internet marketing model.

Which brings up marketing which still works traditionally and always will. As Kickstarter participants have discovered, you have to have a crowd for crowd fund sourcing to work. One way or another - on the web, at parties, on the news, through word of mouth - you have to get fans for you work. People interested in owning your work. Which is why artists are plentiful but rich artists are few.

Art is a solitary endeavor and tends to appeal to those who enjoy spending a lot of time alone. Which means most artists are introverts and tend to not engage in large quantities of group time. Although, artists can be happily sociable - see Whistler, Renoir, Rubens, Goethe, Oscar Wilde, etc. This is not the rule.

Which brings me back to how to flog my art. I have posted art on a few licensing sites. I haven't marketed those sites much. And, harshly, I don't care. What I really care about is being able to make art. Tangentially, it's nice to be able to show it, to have others look at and like it, and sometimes make a sale.

Few of my circle are interested in owning original art. Most are happy with posters or nothing. Many are totally satisfied with snapshots taken on family vacations. Where does the art go? It goes on packaging. Mostly. It goes into ads, on tee shirts, bed linens, web sites. It's disposable. As in, not long lived. Even my son has free desktops that change daily.

So, I'll go on making art and wondering what it is really - more than a concept or idea; more than execution; something between dialogue and a kiss; a conglomeration of color and form. Perhaps some day, somewhere in there will be something I can (ahem) monetize.
Bomb Shelter (2010)

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