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July 2008

What does your Art Avatar look like?

My daughter and son-in-law bought one of those new video games and I've become addicted.  Not to the games - they're fun, but what I really like is building the avatars.  Okay, perhaps I've taken too much pleasure in grasping the head of my husband's avatar, dragging him off, kicking and screaming to the avatar workroom, where I turn him into something resembling a large pumpkin with feet.  But I get to decide what the avatar looks like, clothes, gender, size - tall or minuscule - and put him or her out into the virtual world.  Then, if I want, I can catch my avatar and drag it off again.  Great fun, and an effective stress reliever.   But also an effective business concept.

Ask any business person what their demographic target is and they will tell you.  Ask any novice artist and you might just get a blank stare or a vague description.  But the more you know what your art avatar looks, sounds, and acts like, the more effective you will be in operating your art business.

This is my art avatar:

He or she is between the age of early 20's to early 60's, well educated, comfortable purchasing artwork between $500 and $5000, visits galleries, and has contemporary tastes.  My avatar likes things that look unique, is willing to take chances and is not afraid of mixing styles.  Usually my avatars are couples with  enough knowledge of art trends to feel confident in their decisions, and often have home environments that balance natural elements with things of beauty.  They like to know as much about the artist as the artwork, are totally engaged in their art purchases, and tell me they still love the artwork even years after the purchase.   

My avatar is interested in all aspects of art, and will visit art fairs, but will probably reserve major purchases for paintings they find in a gallery or open studio environment.  This means that I must create art for the gallery market.  My marketing should reinforce this and be designed to appeal to those venues appealing to my avatars.  While art fairs might be a tempting alternative, with my current body of work I can see that my efforts would be better spent approaching my avatars through the gallery/open studio pathway.

My avatar wants to know about me as an artist, so I will make a point of generating local publicity as well as applying to juried national shows, gaining entry into juried national artist associations, and looking for ways to build my list of credentials.  While my avatars will not purchase art they don't like just because of the artist's pedigree, they want to know that the art they like was created by someone acknowledged by their artistic peers.

Having a good understanding of my avatars makes the decision-making easier, functioning as a way to check my efforts -- will this help me with my avatars, or am I dragging them off kicking and screaming thinking I need to change them?  And if I am thinking about change, which is merely another word for growth, knowing how my new avatars function is simply part of the process.  But if I don't really want to change, seeing how a new plan of action might or might not appeal to my avatars will keep me focused and ultimately more successful.

Most artists already have a vague understanding of their target demographic.   What does your avatar look like?  How does he or she behave?  If your avatar seems too vague, pick him or her up by the head -- kicking and screaming -- and take a good look at all the attributes. You might gain a deeper appreciation of the type of customer you want to target.  And that knowledge will make it easier to decide your plan of action as you progress in your art career.

1,123 Reasons To Embrace the Recession

Reason #87  Extra time to rediscover what you wrote in your journal 8 months ago.

Here's an entry I found in my journal  - actually, I was sitting on the floor of my studio, surrounded by stacks of paper and panels, trying to find the vision that will magically stimulate the economy and get me back to painting.  This entry was listed under "Art Career Visions."

    What does money mean? I guess it means "struggle and never enough." This needs to change.  I need to find a healthier way to think about money.  Visualization/affirmations...

    "I will always receive more than I need"  -  what is this thought, actually?  A negative expression that reveals the idea I don't deserve what I receive?  Because I'll get more than I need?  What -- I only need enough for Top Ramen or something?

New Affirmation: "I deserve money and abundant wealth.  I earn this money through my unique creative contribution that is vital to the success/enjoyment of others."

Trust in the positive outcome!  Have patience to allow the positive outcome to materialize.  Let go of expectations tied to your personal timetable.


We're having Chicken a la Top Ramen for dinner this evening, with a single olive sliced to release it's piquant flavor, and shaved lemon peel to garnish the top.  Guess I'd better work on those positive affirmations a little more vigorously...

Have You Thanked Your Gallerista Today?

I'm a gallerista.  I'm the one who sells your art.  I'm the one who greets the clients in the gallery and walks them around the exhibits, who watches to see if they are engaged and then tries to cultivate them toward making an acquisition.

I'm the one who explains your work, who describes who you are and why your art should be part of their collection.  I'm the one who takes it down from the wall and holds it close so they can see, who walks back to the easel and sets it up while keeping an ongoing witty repartee about the inspiration that lives behind the sometimes obscure nature of your brushwork.

I'm the one who stands -- sometimes invisible to you -- when you come in to the gallery to see the gallery director.  The one who takes your empty glass and refills it when you are busy at your opening, who finds interested clients and calls their attention to where YOU are, standing in a circle of your admirers.

Have you thanked your gallerista?

Galleristas are human, you know.  We love art, otherwise we would not be in this business.  In fact, I am an artist myself, which is why I can sometimes do a better job of explaining your work than a non-artist.  And, being human,  I find that the artists who come in to the gallery and actually acknowledge me, who -- gasp! -- remember my name, suddenly become "my favorite artists" and their paintings become "some of the strongest work to date."  And when I hear back from my gallery director that an artist was thrilled that I sold her work and actually thanked me....

As an artist, I identify with the reticence many artists feel - perhaps shyness keeps them from acknowledging that many people work toward making their career a success.

That said, wouldn't it be nice that the next time a gallerista sold a piece of your work, you sat right down and wrote him or her a Thank You note for working so hard to make your career a success?

An artist -- no matter how talented -- cannot create a career on their own.  As the old Beatles song goes, "I get by with a little help from my friends..."

Sunday Salon: Sitting Down With Pan Yuliang

This summer I have been indulging in some guilty pleasures instead of working in my studio.  This past week I finished reading Jennifer Cody Epstein's fascinating book, The Painter From Shanghai.  Epstein weaves a fascinating tale of Pan Yuliang, now regarded as one of China's most loved modern painters, a woman who faced degradation, prejudice, near starvation, heartache and triumph, and whose work - even to this day - stirs controversy.

Whenever I am feeling unsure about my choices, I find great comfort in reading about the experiences of other artists.  Despite cultures and times, these very human experiences contain a familiarity that I often recognize.  Knowing that other artists struggled, doubting their talent and their choices, helps me keep me balanced and optimistic even in the most disheartening of times.

And there will always be disheartening times, just as there are wonderful times.  We would not be able to fully experience one without the other.  But finding the "guilty pleasures" that help keep you grounded will allow you to weather the ups and downs that come with artistic endeavors. 

So why do we often have difficulty taking the time for pleasure?  We even call them "guilty pleasures," as if this is something we should not be doing.   If you are having a hard time with this, here are a few ways to give yourself permission:

1.  Call it research.  If we attach a "meaning" to what we are doing that somehow sounds legitimate, this will satisfy the inner voice that chastise us for wasting time when we could be working on that new composition.

2.  Tell yourself you need new fodder for the conversations at your next art opening.  If you're often stuck for something to say to strangers, asking if they've read about a certain artist or relating a humorous story that might segue into a discussion of your work might be just the right touch.

3.  Do it to keep yourself balanced.  There's truth in the old adage "All Work and No Play...."  You don't want to be boring, do you?  Besides, a balanced outlook keeps everything in perspective, and your stress levels under control. 

4.  Use it to identify fears.  If you notice a consistent message every time you start to do something other than creating art, stop and write that inner conversation down.  You may discover that you have some assumptions about how and why you work that aren't in your best artistic interests.

5.  Because it's just plain fun.  And what's the worth in living if you aren't having fun?

 There is a crucial difference in being dedicated to creating the best art we are capable of producing with the talent we are given, and thinking that every waking moment must be dedicated to our artistic practice. 
When we develop a willingness to let our creative energy breathe into a space that has nothing to do with creating art, we become stronger and more energized.

A goal worth achieving. 


Summer of Big Dreams

Summer is for dreamers.  Sitting in a hammock, or by the edge of a stream, your toes floating in the cool water, tilting your head back to watch the clouds float and change and open up the possibilities of the world...where does your mind wander?

Are you dreaming big dreams? 

Your creative life begins in dreams.  In the endless "what if?" questions that hover just beyond your reach.  What if I used that Opera Pink instead of the Permanent Rose?  What If I changed my brushwork from meticulous to broad, thick strokes?  What if I tried painting from life?  Changed my style? 

What if I approached that gallery, or submitted to that national show? 

Can you imagine your dreams like an ever expanding spiral, gently turning from the small, quiet, safe ideas into the grand, multi-colored Big Dreams? 

According to Martin S Lindauer, in Aging, Creativity, and Art, one of the benefits of Mature Age is the tendency to think more holistically, to view all experience as part of a greater whole.  Small dreams are just the lead-in for bigger dreams, bread crumbs pointing toward our unique destinies.  Of course, it will always be up to the individual to discover what that destiny might be, and to work through the challenges that come with increased risk-taking.  But if we will commit ourselves to nurturing our dreams, if we honor the internal drive that keeps us at the easel, or potter's wheel, or drawing pad, then we will manifest the lives that we dream about, recognizing...suddenly...that we've been living them all along and simply did not know it.

And if you think you're too old to dream...I would like to share a brief story about Isabel that I found in another wonderful book called Aging Artfully, 12 Profiles: Visual & Performing Women Artists Aged 85 - 105, by Amy Gorman.  Isabel was born in 1916 and has been an artist her entire life. 

            "Isabel pauses.  We share some ripe figs and cream cheese.  'Art is what interests me.'  She continues, thinking of food and art.  ' I'm the one who organizes picnics with my fine, talented friends.  Two years ago I organized one a la Manet's 'Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe,' in the Redwoods.  We made a tableau as in the painting.  Over lunch we wrote stream of consciousness poetry.  My idea was that the women wear clothes and the men not.  The men decided we were just too close to the public road - but they did take their shirts off'  (p 144)."

Life is what we make of it...the stuff dreams are made of.

                      "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."
                                                                                                           - T.S. Eliot