The title of this piece is meant to challenge the view held by many emerging artists about their place in the world. Creative people are often driven by a need to express innermost thoughts and feeling through art. This can lead to some serious disconnections when it comes to making a living as an artist.
Frank Zappa said “…art is making something out of nothing and selling it.”
Professional artists desire to create something that will last, and use it to pay their bills. It is an interesting concept, to say the least, if we can manage to look at this from the perspective of the end-user. Why would someone pay for art?
As artists, the emotional connection to our art often falls prey to a myopic perspective; that is, we think the world will stand up and take notice of what we have to say and how we say it. The problem is, not everyone wants to listen. Our target audiences are bombarded with competing offerings from a veritable plethora artists vying for their attention. We might never be accepted, acknowledged, or appreciated, regardless of how important or meaningful we believe our art to be.
How can we deal with such disconnect? I’d like to offer an alternative view.
Some years ago, I had an epiphany that completely changed how I look at my role as an artist. Eventually it led me to a pragmatic approach to creating art and getting it out to the consumer. As opposed to focusing solely on the creative aspects I made a conscious decision to view my art as a commodity. This simple step changed everything.
Commodities in the marketplace are subject to the economic law of supply and demand. When there is more supply and less demand, the price of the commodity will fall. Less supply and more demand will result in higher valuations. There is an exchange whereby commodities are bought and sold. We call this a market, and each market has it’s own psychology, mechanisms, and behaviors.
Looking at art in this way, whether music, paintings, films, literature or poetry, one immediately realizes that the supply usually outstrips the demand. This explains why artists are often paid so little for their work. There is a stereotype of the poor, starving artist, and like most stereotypes, it has some basis in fact. It isn’t that way for all artists. There are some extremely wealthy artists, and many others who earn a good living from their art.
If we examine the commodities markets, we can see that there are other factors involved in pricing besides availability and competition. For example, perceived quality is important, and people value good service and reliability as well when purchasing competitively priced products. Regional and cultural preferences can play a role; there is even such a thing as consumer nationalism (people like to support producers in their own country for patriotic reasons). Of course, effective marketing has a crucial role to play as well, to influence decision-makers.
To speak of art as a commodity does not necessarily take away anything from its creative worth. Throughout history some of the most commercially successful artists also produced bodies of high quality work, though not all did. This is also the case today. We must fulfill all promises we make to the art consumers in order to be perceived as consistently delivering high quality. Even when we turn into savvy business moguls our art has to sparkle and shine with verve, content, and style. After all, people are entitled to what they pay for. People want good art; they want to be entertained and provoked by art, and professional artists have an obligation to give audiences quality and value.
Gaining understanding of what artistic audiences want, and how artists could provide it as a commodity, changed my thinking on the subject of art versus commerce. Seeing art as a purpose-made product or service, with a constantly shifting supply and demand ratio gave me a working model for getting an audience. Attention and consideration needs to be paid to effective marketing, dynamics of market pricing, and to leveraging economies of scale, competitive advantages, and innovative modes of delivery.
If all this sounds like the language of business, it is. Before going into any area of creative business, it is highly recommended to understand business. Viewing art as a commodity like any other might be an alternative view to some artists, even distasteful, but it reflects the reality of the world we live in, and can influence the success or failure of an artist. Even the greatest creative artists realize and understand this point.
Tom Stein teaches professional music at Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA, is an artist development consultant, and has passed the FINRA Series 3 Exam (Financial Industry National Regulatory Agency, Washington D.C.-Commodities, Futures & Options).
The opinions in this article are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher or editorial board of Turkey Tribune
Please direct comments or questions to Tom Stein at firstname.lastname@example.org