For creatives, sales and marketing can be a thorn in the proverbial side. Not only making sales, but motivating ourselves to get into that particular mindset: it can feel like a genuine chore. Often that resistance is within us, and something we need to overcome in order to promote our work effectively. After all, roofs need to be kept over heads and food on tables.
The ‘starving artist’ paradigm doesn’t really help anyone to achieve industry respect, or a viable income. Recently there has been criticism of this clichéd view of artists in garrets, with commentators calling for creatives to professionalise their approach and expect to be paid properly for what they do. Currently there is a campaign for artists to be paid for showing their work in publicly-funded galleries, supported by leading artists such as Jeremy Deller, and major organisations such as the Arts Council.
Creatives often struggle with selling
The problem that creatives experience with marketing is understandable, as we tend to be modest people who hate blowing our own trumpets. Sometimes creatives struggle with selling because, to be honest, it isn’t what we feel we were put on this planet to do. Our calling is to follow our craft and make work, rather than to be the next Apprentice. Those who are both naturally entrepreneurial and creative are indeed gifted!
There is also some resistance around the notion of creativity and its monetary value. When art is made for purely commercial purposes, a dark element comes into play: it feels soulless and out of touch with the purpose that artists, and indeed all creatives, aim to achieve.
As I mentioned last year, much as we creatives love the thought of people coming to us to discover the fabulous things we’re making, the fact is that we have to go to them to let them know: (a) that we exist; (b) our work is available to buy.
Selling does not have to be pushy
If we view selling as egotistic, in your face or ‘just not my thing’, perhaps it’s helpful to reframe our understanding of what the process actually involves, so that we can do it differently.
First, we need to recognise that marketing ourselves is not greedy or attention-seeking; second, that selling does not mean having to be pushy, boorish or slick.
I like this idea of combining creative capability and financial nous into a mutually supportive framework. So many creatives leave art school or university having received excellent support and education in nurturing and developing their practice, but so little real help to get them started in a competitive world.
Some of the creative arts are geared towards more obvious and ready commercial application, such as design and illustration or fashion, while other disciplines may need to find their niche and market to a particular audience. If every art school were to include marketing or commerce modules in its degree programmes, creatives might leave the safety of higher education better prepared for the task that lies ahead: showing and selling their work.
I went to a seminar once in which the facilitator, an experienced salesman, described selling as ‘just a conversation’. Perhaps that’s a bit simplistic – as is any process in the hands of someone who’s mastered it – but the idea of a conversation is useful to bear in mind.
When you walk into a gallery or craft shop, have you noticed anything in particular about the staff? They don’t talk money – they talk about the art. They may hand you a list, but finance is off the table.
What they do is ask you what you like about the work, what attracts you to it. They’re engaging you in conversation. What they are doing, in fact, is being skilful at leading you towards purchasing a piece that has caught your eye. They’ve noticed how you look at it, what you’re saying. The human response to art is emotional, personal and direct – and they’ve picked up on those cues.
When we connect with an artwork, we want to possess it
When we form a connection with an artwork, we are likely to want to possess it – and this is a powerful bit of knowledge in an artist’s armoury. We should never underestimate the power of art to touch people.
If we don’t have innate sales skills, this is something within our power to learn. Not many are born entrepreneurs, but we can develop those skills and apply them to serve our work. It doesn’t have to make us harder or unlikeable. We don’t have to go to the Dark Side. We can remain authentic, keeping the creative aspects of ourselves while being clear about our own value, and the value of what we do.
Look at your own collection: you’ll find a piece of art that you treasure, whether it’s a pencil drawing, canvas, pottery or sculpture. How and why did you acquire that piece?
Ask yourself, and remember – and you’ll be more than halfway there.