What brought me here today:
Over the years, I’ve received a lot of advice regarding my artwork. Some advice has been solicited, and much of it has not. I’m pretty good at weeding out the unsolicited bad advice from the good. However, bad or even confusingly empty advice has a strange effect on me. When this type of advice is given to me while I’m in a particularly depressive state it pisses me off to the point in which I can begin to right my mental health, so to speak.
It’s not that the advice then is suddenly seen was good. No. Not that at all. The advice was very bad. Or perhaps even full of hollow platitudes. Maybe it was even dismissive of me and my work, or feelings. The point is that the bad advice pisses me off intellectually. Once this happens, the bad advice can be seen and understood for what it is. And, what it isn’t.
Sorting it out:
When I receive advice, both solicited and unsolicited. The advice gets put into one of two different categories. One is business. The other is creative. Then I have to consider the source of the advice. If the source is knowledgeable, or perhaps has a high degree of personal and professional experience regarding the type of advice they’re giving, then I feel as though I can consider the advice.
Sometimes, It’s not possible to gauge someone’s knowledge regarding their advice. Many years ago, a man who was at a craft show I was selling my work in told me that I should “...make Minecraft stuff…people would love that…” or something to that effect. My interactions with him were mere seconds long. There was no way I could know one way or the other if he were knowledgeable about art, businesses or being an art-based business.
I could make inferences regarding his knowledge of handmade, original artwork. I could gather that he knew little about copyright infringement. Or about my personal drive to create my own, original artwork. His assumption that making a lot of money being my sole goal was also incorrect. The advice didn’t even get separated into one of the two aforementioned categories. It was dismissed outright.
Critique is different:
It could be argued that the man who advised me to make Minecraft dolls was offering his personal critique of my artwork. Opinion is part of critique, but not the only part. Critique, in the artistic sense, implies that the person offering it has a degree of personal or professional artistic knowledge and arts education to back up their observations and opinions.
Being critiqued as an artist is nothing new for me. I’ve participated in many of them as a student, and supervised them as an art teacher. Those offering their critique of a specific piece of artwork are either artists themselves, or arts instructors within the workshop, classroom or arts gathering.
When a person who is an artist, artisan or craftsperson themselves critiques your artwork. And by critique, I mean, tells you the good and the bad things about your artwork. Their critique comes from a place of greater understanding than say, a randomly selected person off the street who has no practical experience with creating artwork. Or the tools, techniques, history and culture of art creation.
Personally, I have to have a degree of trust and faith in a person before asking them for advice regarding my artwork or entrepreneurial endeavors. I ask people who I see as more successful that I am, because they must know more than I do. Because of course they do! Right?
The answer to that isn’t clear cut. Sometimes they know more, and gladly offer you advice. There are other times when you discover that they don’t know as much as you think they do. Which can be disappointing. Especially when proffered advice is at best some hollow platitude. And at worst, something that gives you DeForrest Kelley face.
I think what this kind reaction does something very important for me. It makes me realize that I am not as inept an art entrepreneur as I think I am. I don’t know everything. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
What I needed was to step back and take a look at who I am, and why I’m doing it. In the end, I came back around to David Bowie’s advice for artists. You can read them here in a post I wrote almost three years ago. Bowie’s not offering any entrepreneurial advice. Only artistic advice for creative people.
For me to follow his advice, compromises on my part have been made. One them is that actually selling my artwork is alway going to be a challenge. I make my artwork primarily for me. And finding the people who are somewhat like me, who want to purchase my artwork, has not been easy. The result is that I have low sales.
This is my trade-off. I make the artwork that I find creatively fulfilling, but struggle to make enough money from the sales to pay my way in the world. When I think about creating art to satisfy someone else’s wants and needs. It feels so incredibly wrong to me. This may be one of the key identity traits that made me a not-so-great graphic designer.
While there are repetitive elements within my larger body of artwork, I don’t continue make art that no longer holds any creative interest for me. I may return to them from time to time. But I don’t simply crank-out artwork with the sole intension being for it to attractive to potential customers. Nor do I make work that mimics other art creators successfully selling artwork.
Sometimes I need to stop and remind myself why I’m creating my small art business the way that I am. Just because someone has a larger audience and/or more customers, does not mean that they will offer any advice to me that is in any way helpful to me. Either in the creative or entrepreneurial realms.
So, now what?
I go back to work. There are several different things that I want to do, that are currently in a holding pattern. Things that I can’t start work on until other things are sorted out and settled. My asking for advice from someone was due in part to feeling as though my business plans are stuck in the mud. Getting pissed-off at the bad advice made me go back to my long-term plans. And realize that I know who I am and where I’m going. It’s just going to take me a while to get there.
Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday.