A decade ago, I composed a foreword to a book called “Business Skills for Creative Souls.” A corporate primer for artistic types put out by Montreal’s do-gooding Youth Employment Services, the guidebook outlined the fundamental business knowledge every artist needed—and probably overlooked—to ensure that whatever money they made, they kept the lion’s share of. In one of my more memorable sentences, I urged readers to “Consider this tome a chastity belt for your psyche; use it properly and you won’t get screwed.”
Last week, the Y.E.S. folks reached out and asked if I would provide them with an updated foreword for their new edition, and in trying to come up with one, I realized how much things have changed since I wrote the original.
Back then, there were no iPads, iPhones or eye-wear like Google glass (in fact, 2004 was the year Google went public). Cutting-edge printers were laser, not 3D. And while artists today still need a perfunctory understanding of accounting, law and marketing, there are business tools now available that even the most Dali-esque amongst them couldn’t begin to fathom 10 years ago.
So with that in mind, this is what I wrote…the last line of which comprises this week’s major learning. Enjoy!
As one who was, and as one who did, Apple’s Steve Jobs once famously said that “Real Artists Ship.”
With all due respect, let me point out that he missed a step.
A valuable one.
Because before Real Artists Ship…
Real Artists Sell.
Many self-professed “real” artists may have gagged a bit reading the previous sentence, as authenticity in the space once meant a Berlin Wall-like separation of Church and State between art and “the art of the deal.”
Selling is not about the cash; it’s about the distribution. For without being sold, art is merely the silent tree falling in the forest.
Art is only fully completed when seen outside the solitary confines of an artist’s studio.
Art becomes art through others’ eyes.
Art comes alive in homes, galleries, museums or offices; on brick walls, t-shirts, billboards or biceps.
And to get there, art needs to be sold.
Ultimately, the job falls on the artist.
He may not everyone’s cup of tea, but the late Steve Kaufman—a disciple and former Factory assistant of Andy Warhol—was an artist who understood, and mastered, the job of selling. At every one of his exhibitions, it was as if Santa Claus had come to town.
A giant of a man, Steve would parade about in an un-missable, custom-painted jacket, hands adorned by thick, glittering rings (that's him, me and my family above about seven years ago). He’d insist that parents bring their kids with them to galleries, and made sure that each would go home with an original, signed 8” x 8” Kaufman canvas. And if their parents actually bought something, there would be surprise gifts ranging from hand-painted Coke bottles to guitars…all built into the purchase price, of course.
Ahh, Steve’s mentor would’ve been proud, as Warhol himself said:
“Making money is art,
and working is art and
good business is the best art.”
And that said, welcome to this book.
Yes, consider this guide a tool box, where timeless business basics are supplemented with today’s timely cutting-edge equipment like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Etsy, YouTube et al things digital.
But tools unto themselves are worthless. A hammer can bluntly crush a skull, or deftly ping the finish of a brass sculpture. It’s how you use them that counts.
So if you want to make this book count, I urge you to use it to create.
But not to create art.
That you already know how to do.
No, I urge you to create something way more important to an artist.
Use this book to create demand.