One of the most profound things about the Internet is how it has disrupted the way that people communicate. These profound changes are readily apparent in business, where the music and publishing industries have been turned on their respective ears. iTunes controls more than 26% of US music sales. Amazon sells more books through the Kindle than it sells hardcovers.
By this time, we all know that musicians and writers are consistently finding ways to run around gatekeepers – their labels and publishers. The internet enables individual artists to cultivate their own fan base.
Unfortunately, the Fine Art world hasn’t quite caught up just yet.
That’s not to say that there aren’t a few painters and sculptors who are making a grand living without the involvement of galleries and agents. There are some who are doing a fantastic job building a fan base and marketing to those fans – but they are the exception, not the rule.
Here are a few things that the painters and sculptors of the world can learn from musicians and authors.
1. Direct-to-Fan. Bands like Radiohead and OK Go have gone the independent route and sold their music directly to their fans without a label. It is possible to take your art directly to the people through their websites. You don’t need an art curator to get people to see your work. That doesn’t necessarily mean that galleries are useless, but it’s never been easier to connect with individuals directly than it is right now. If I were a new artist I would build a website, set up an email list, Facebook and Twitter account, and have hundreds of people looking at my art within weeks, for free. Setting up payment systems that work to your advantage are only slightly more challenging.
2. Distribution. Bands have proved that you no longer need major record labels to get mass distribution. iTunes and Amazon are every bit as effective at getting music to places where people can buy it, and search engines allow people to find whatever music they want. There are dozens of online galleries that will show your work for free. On top of that, sites like Etsy, Imagekind, Red Bubble, Art Fire, and Fine Art America will drive traffic to your work to get you started. Not every site is going to be a good fit for your work, but a few of them will drive excellent customers who will be with you for a lifetime.
3. Less is More. When you don’t have to pay royalties you can sell far less of something and make a more money. An art gallery will take 50% of your sale price on each piece of art. If you build a direct-to-fan relationship you may sell fewer pieces of art, and you may sell them for less than a gallery would get, but you’ll end up making more money because you won’t be giving away half of the sale price. As a side note, you may actually end up selling for more. Two artists that I worked with recently sold works for $20,000 and $30,000 recently, and they got to keep the whole check!
4. Connect Online to Offline. Musicians have started to become very savvy about allowing people to listen to their music online and then bringing those people to their live shows. You can do the same. Gain attention by showing your art online and building relationships through social networks and email – then get those people out to a showing and sell them something beautiful and moving!
I fully expect that the art world will evolve to the point where this is second nature to most artists – but right now it’s still a major hurdle in the minds of the Art establishment. How do you get the word out about your art?
Cory Huff is an actor, director, creative consultant, and digital strategist. He works with artists to help them dispel the Starving Artist myth and turn their passion into a lifestyle. Cory also helps businesses incorporate creativity into their work. Past clients include ADP, Universal Music, MTV, and many small businesses in the Portland area.