TITLE: Not Just Thriving, but SURVIVING
DATE: 8/10/2005 05:58:00 AM
It has been a rough summer for so many artists and craftspeople I care about.
At times, I’ve questioned how many more summers I’ll continue to hear stories about “bad shows”, “slow sales”, and a “lack of buyers”. It seems this has been the art/craft buying experience since 2000, a slowly eroding river bank that we keep trying to help each other from falling into.
In many ways emerging and already emerged career artists are sharing the same struggle. When you truly step back and look at the landscape, there are still buyers. They are still buying. They are just being far more delicate about where they invest their money. Risk is avoided. Chances are taken with less frequency. Whims are placed on the endangered list.
So, what can those having “bad years” really do? Well, I think we ALL should be doing so much right now – Not leaving anything to the weather. Bad year, bad show, or otherwise, there is one mantra we should all be chanting. It should be written on the threshold of our studio doors, causing us to confront and step over it every day. It should be hummed all the way to and from a show. It should become the song we all work to in the studio.
I can cite specific examples of what tactics have worked for others and I often do here – mailers that helped, certain shows that provided prominence, and on and on. But the true question of who will succeed comes down to simply who can best weather the storm. Then weather the next and the next and the next. It’s a simple concept that we brush over. Actually we usually PUSH and SHOVE past resilience, running toward something more concrete that we can point a finger at or hold up as explanation. When, really, isn’t art market resilience just the same as nature’s “the strong will survive” resolve? Isn’t studio resilience also similar to the way wooden homes that sway with the wind are often the structures that remain standing after hurricane forces clean the slate?
In my estimation, resilience in the art/craft marketplace is about:
- Not surrendering to anger. Bend to it on occasion, but then bounce back and keep your professional exterior.
- When the anger of a “bad show” or poor sales subsides, set aside emotion and run the numbers. Review sales stats from the past several years (if possible) and identify the holes. And, a quick note… We ALL have HOLES. You may have been selling work for 25 years, but the market has not stayed unchanged for 25 years.
- When you identify the problems, work to resolve them quickly and with minimal drama. Let the numbers guide you, not nursing sentimental hope that natural bouncing back on your feet will work this time like it may have in past rough years. A “sticking it out” perspective just will not do. This leaves your future to chance and there are small things we all can do proactively every day. Like a plumber, your job is to find leaks, fix them, then move on. Find another, fix it, then move on.
- Then begin rebuilding by trimming the fat. Make fresh steps forward with new measures that will be more cost-effective and efficient. We would like to say we always do this. But, for example, have you ever thought to improve show success by increasing your energy level when you sell your work? Gym memberships and exercise classes are effective ways to improve this area of your sales plan, but it’s one of those often forgotten (or avoided?) solutions. How about looking at software to shorten bookkeeping time, sending a survey to customers to receive actionable feedback, or re-evaluating your suppliers from printing materials to raw supplies? Plan one day, every other week to brainstorm new ways of working that could turn over better results.
Two common features of resilient artists is their consistent grip on what brought them to make and sell work in the first place AND their persistently flexible approach to success. Do you find yourself falling back on these qualities?
Reacquaint yourself once a month (or more!) with the simple joy you receive from making and sharing work. Maybe for you this comes in the form of a PLAY DAY that you mark on your calendar. Perhaps you create one page on your website to sell these experimental pieces. Or, maybe you commit to give work away to a worthy cause regularly. Keeping your focus on your work does, in the end, become a key strategy to staying afloat. When your artistic spirit wakes again after a long sleep, it’s like a reunion and this energy boosts us to keep the whole cycle going over and over and over again. Rediscovering your simple business beginning IS a place for emotion.
As to a flexible approach? Well, we all have ways we think success should look when we get there. We assume it should be the same from year to year and have all the same markers we've seen in the past. We also presume it will be concrete and be based on rational factors. The simple fact is business is business. Some years success will be in numbers. Other years success will come in the form of contacts or private commissions. Some years luck is on our side. Other years it seems as if no puzzle piece is fitting. Our unfailing flexibility will help push us through this, guiding us to try new things, take things in from a fresh perspective, or overturn the apple cart entirely in favor of a new result from radical change. Flexibility is about controlling emotion and using it for ideal benefit.