The New Professional: Part 2 of 3

Some visual fine artists are bewitched by the creative process. Everywhere they turn the creative muse is egging them on: a painting here, some pottery there, maybe today it’s jewelry.

Other artists feel an urge to say something; it may be all visual or have a layer of language, but the message hums throughout.

Some artists have a strong need for beauty over message, for others it’s message over beauty. And some find a creative groove where pattern and color and repetition become a visual drum beat.

And it’s all good. And it’s all fine, until…

You Factor In The Audience

At that point the game changes. Now others are kicking around in the creative stew with you. And, this I’ve noticed, is where artists often stumble.

Once upon a time, the major face-to-face with an artist’s audience was the opening reception at a show. Now we have to navigate a world where connection dogs our every step: cell phones (now smart phones), iPads, email, net surfing, social media. It’s as if you can’t turn off the opening reception – it goes everywhere you do.

In some ways, we have an audience moat all around us and we can’t even pull up the drawbridge. In other ways, the audience we want or need to have for our art seems invisible, if not completely mythical.

The good news, as a New Professional, is that your chances to connect with people, who will love and want your art, have gone from one, narrow channel to a raging river of possibilities.

Now it’s not “Is there an audience,” but “Who is my audience?”

Who Finds Who… and where?

When you first wake up to the world of audience, the instinct is to focus on them – if you only knew who they were. Or where to find “them.” And you worry that all the best ones have been taken. Or maybe they’ve flown to the second star on the right when you weren’t looking.

What if, instead of focusing on the audience, you focused on yourself and your art as a way to find that audience?

I’m going to take a page, here, from another genre of artists, writers–and from the artist/psychologist Carl Jung. They say that all writing is biography (well, maybe not owner’s manuals), and all dreams are aspects of self (gulp).

What if I suggested that if you looked in the mirror, or at your artwork, you’d find at least one segment of your audience staring right back at you?

“Know Thyself” Is A Good Place To Start

For this perspective to work, though, you have to step away from “how am I different?” (could be tricky for an artist), and become a sociologist asking “how am I the same?”

Consider yourself part of a group of like-minded people. Describe yourself from a sociological perspective: gender, age, education, hobbies, where you vacation, what you read, how you spend your leisure time, what kind of friends you hang out with, etc.

Then look at your art and ask  yourself: If I bought this piece, where would I put it? What would I tell my friends about it? What would it add to my life (or prevent)? If this piece had a story to tell me, what would it say?

This kind of knowing assumes that you can articulate what you know, which assumes there is something to articulate.

And here’s where your artistic fingerprint literally points the way because it represents  your authentic self, which – after your art – is the very next thing your audience will resonate with (or not).

Authenticity Counts

Until Social Media took the Internet, and the New World, by storm, authenticity was something the woo-woo people got all hyped up about. It was a fuzzy buzz word that stood for real value to one group of people and was stand up comedy for another.

Now authenticity has become the bedrock of the New Online Professional (woo-woos of the World unite!).

For an artist, authenticity – the kind you need for success – translates into your artist’s voice, your artistic fingerprint: that which is unmistakably yours and only yours.

And it is the single most compelling reason that your audience needs to reach deep into their pocket and pull out the green backs. Long before the Internet (even before the telephone!) this has been true, only now that truth is hitched to the ever-expanding world of technology.

When you create in a consistent style, you send a signal to your audience’s brain that registers as familiar. And humans love familiar because familiar is safe. This is the same principle behind having someone you know introduce you to someone you don’t know. The second person is more inclined to be receptive to you because they know the first person; it’s safe, you’re safe.

Artists can be wary of anything that feels like a prison of sameness or repetition, so it’s really important to understand that a consistent fingerprint does not limit you, it defines you. Think of it this way: Imagine turning up for coffee with your best friend, and every time you had a different face.

That is what it’s like for your audience to keep up with you shifting styles on them without some consistent fingerprint. Picasso was  a master at this. No matter how wildly different his different periods were, they had a consistency and a fingerprint that was only Picasso – even when he mimicked other artists!

For The New Professional: Artist Voice + Authenticity+Articulation=Audience

For your audience, it’s all about their resonance with your work and their bond with you.

And resonance and bonding only come when what you do strikes a chord with your audience as they experience your work. If your work is interchangeable with a dozen other artists, in that moment you may have a sale based on aesthetics and execution. But what you won’t have is a bond, a long-term relationship, since your audience can get the same experience from a dozen other artists working in a similar fashion.

Your work is one layer, you are another layer, your artistic voice/fingerprint another, and the connecting tissue for your audience is how well you articulate it all.

For the New Professional, being able to articulate your artist voice is fast becoming as critical a layer as having an artist voice. All the options we have for connection via the Internet are 100% based on language: written or spoken.

Images are powerful and play a strong role, but they never do so without words.

In Part 3, we’ll look at how bonding is only one step on the path to a successful connection with your audience. With the New Professional, it’s critical to recognize that you have the responsibility for bonding upkeep. We’ll explore that in the last of this series, so keep an eye out!

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Having an artistic fingerprint will only go so far in the New World. Being articulate about your uniqueness is the magic key to unlocking your relationship to your art for your audience. Nothing does this as well as your artist statement. Isn’t it time you stopped putting it off? Click here.

7 Responses to “The New Professional: Part 2 of 3”

  1. But what if I’m the kind of person that can barely afford to buy any art at all? Trying to sell art to ‘other people like me’ doesn’t seem to be such a good idea…

    • Ariane says:

      Oona, the point is not your financial status, it’s all the other markers I lay out in the post that are important. What is it about your art that you value? Does it make you smile. Reduce stress? Tell a story you think is important? If you can’t identify the value of your art for you, then it’s going to be very hard to identify the value for others.

      Understanding what value your art has is key to selling it to the right audience. Does that help at all?

  2. Ariane, I have started a “page” on my primary artist website that is called “Discussions About Art”, where I put some of my blog posts that are particularly good at articulating my artistic philosophy, the motivations behind my work, etc. This could be called a more comprehensive version of the artist statement, each post is a few paragraphs, and I intend to keep it fresh with new material. This is also separate from the blog links that are also offered on my site – I do this because I think the audience is different for blogs (more artist) than it might be for discussions about art (collector potential).

    • Ariane says:

      Oh, I like your thinking here, Sue, segmenting your audience. AND…don’t underestimate the value of your art and process for your collectors.

      Figure out a way to move people between the blog posts – and be sure to have images of your work in both places, yes?

  3. Sari Grove says:

    Three things I want to say:

    1) In reference to: “Images are powerful and play a strong role, but they never do so without words.” I want to say that I’m not sure I agree with that statement…

    2)To Oona: In reference to: “But what if I’m the kind of person that can barely afford to buy any art at all? ” I want to say, that maybe you should examine what kind of art people like you can afford & maybe target your art to people like you…As an experiment…Maybe if you start with selling to people like yourself, then you & your friends can grow together, then one day you all will be the kind of people that can afford more expensive art…Most artists started out selling to their friends & family…It is a good start…

    3) To Ariane: I’m glad you survived your huge Smartist project & am thrilled that you are still around for free here…& I still think you are the cat’s pyjamas! Sari

    • Ariane says:

      Oh, Sari, I’m so happy to be the “cat’ pjs!” You’ve no idea…

      And, good tip for Oona.

      As for images+words, I’m gonna push back here. The reality of our human brains is that we are hard wired for language. So, even if someone looks at an image and doesn’t say a thing, guaranteed they are having a conversation – with words – in their brain.

      And online, where all our human interaction markers aren’t available (tone of voice, hormones off of skin, flick of our eyes, etc.), it’s even more critical to give humans both ways to bond and interact: visual+words.

      Where, online, do you ever see an image that isn’t paired with words (except artist websites where, I’ll bet anything, they aren’t getting sales)?

      Artists handicap themselves when they depend solely on the visual language of their art. They absolutely lose the next layer of connection and bonding with their audience, and the critical advantage that gives them over their competitors.

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