7 Simple Advice for Inspired and Entrepreneurial Artists

Thomas Brownlees

Thomas Brownlees

CEO and Founder,
440 Industries

Introduction

Starting a career as an artist presents a wide variety of challenges. It’s almost unfair. However, we dare to argue, it is fair, meaning that art, like many other forms of creativity, needs to acknowledge that they belong to a marketplace, and as such there are some inescapable rules which apply. This could be somewhat comforting we hope because by looking at our advice it’s possible to see how much can be done to make your talent profitable. 

In this post, we list a series of 7 simple pieces of advice for inspired and entrepreneurial artists.

  1. Understand your role as a self-promoting artist
  2. Delve deep into the meaning of your work
  3. It’s not selling out if you are being sustainable or even profitable with your work.
  4. No two artists have the same needs
  5. You cannot escape the internet
  6. Be accessible
  7. A business model is your friend
  8. Conclusions
experiential branding

1. Understand your role as a self-promoting artist

If you are a one-man-band it’s necessary for you to realize that your job is not limited to expressing yourself creatively. In a best-case scenario, that would account for about 30% of your work. As a self-promoting, one-man operation you have at least three hats you should be wearing at all times.

  • The Artist. Of course, we do know that the reason why you chose this career is to find a creative outlet to express yourself and articulate your unique observation of society. This is great, and there is no need to spend too much ink upon it, however, your artist hat is in fact delimited by the other two roles you should be exercising as well.

  • The Marketer. As you create your art you should be very well aware of the fact that the product of your work is going to meet the demands of the market and be subjected to the laws of supply and demand. Just like anyone else who wants to maintain economic sustainability, you know that your creativity will be subject to limitations, as you need to make your art sellable. But that’s not it. There’s yet another hat which you’ll be wearing, and we’ll discuss it in the next bullet point.

  • The CEO. If you think about your work more holistically, by taking into account the cost of your work, the cost of the products you’re using, or the scalability of your business, you’ll see that there are many other factors which you’ll need to bear in mind as you create your artworks. As a CEO, you are not simply thinking about the content of the art or its marketability, but you are also taking into consideration where your project is going. You are taking into account, with a certain detachment all of the realities and challenges of running a business. This will to some extent limit you, but as an entrepreneur, you should feel how all the limitations that are pushed into your work, ultimately become factors of motivation.

As a result of this reflection, you should then realize that you need to think about a much greater picture than the one that goes into the canvas. We’ll discuss this concept throughout the post, but first, let’s single out a very important matter, the reason you’re doing this.

2. Delve deep into the meaning of your work

We are not here to challenge your motivations. We understand how art is an existential necessity and for many, something that needs to be expressed in the world. However, as you look at your situation from a professional standpoint, you need to really understand that your work needs to embody something which goes beyond yourself. It needs to really involve other people, who will follow you or appreciate your work for reasons which are totally their own.

In this sense, you should always start with why. Delving deep into the motivation of your art will allow you to understand how to allow your work to embody values that will make your artistic output contemporary, current, and most of all relevant

A lot of artists spend a lot of time understanding why their work matters for them but very little time at all is spent on understanding why it should matter for other people. Moving this argument one step further we encourage you to reflect on another essential question: how does your work actually help the cause, message, or issue you are embodying. Nowadays, art does not have to be practical, but it needs to really deliver a meaning which cannot only be self-directed or aesthetic. On the contrary, an artist needs to show a degree of commitment and belief which is backed by a coherent personal and creative trajectory

As an example, think about artists who started creating their pieces by recycling waste. This type of output shows not only a commitment to environmental sustainability but an actual effort to recycle.

Artists need to do a lot of self-research to develop what matters for them, but again, very few of them do go the extra mile and find an overlap for a cause which extends their mission to include a wider chunk of society.

There’s also another important point when it comes to an artist’s journey to discover their own stylistic identity. You don’t have to have it all figure it out. Actually you could also find that you need to change and evolve anytime you realize that the identity you found does not fit anymore. Your journey is a great opportunity to create a following. Your pathway to your artistic identity will allow you to tell a story. If you are not telling a story if you are not creating a narrative you’re missing out on a great opportunity, that of creating a following of like-minded people who will draw inspiration from your challenges, attempts, and successes.

In a way, this is somewhat comforting, if you are open enough to show your struggles and scars, you’ll find a lot of people willing to share the burden of entrepreneurship with you.

3. It's not selling out if you are being sustainable or even profitable with your work

We get this all the time. Whenever you think about selling your work, it immediately loses purity, it becomes contaminated with capitalistic greed. We don’t think this is true, and we’d advise you to steer your life clear of people who have such radical opinions. Many artists in the history of art, music, and cinema have been limited by the demands of challenging and bossy patrons, but this did not prevent them from creating extraordinary work which was appreciated by critiques and the masses alike. Mozart for instance, because of his talent never composed music for ‘art’s sake’ he was constantly commissioned work, from a very young age, and nobody could call Mozart a sellout. 

The truth is that the rules of the market have been codified to help us navigate a human landscape comprised of billions of people with diverging interests, values, demands, needs, and opinions. If you think that your work does not follow any of the principles which have been identified through decades and decades of research, know that in reality, you have to come up with a strategy on your own. Don’t think that it’s impossible, but if you do succeed your approach will turn into a marketing strategy nonetheless.

What we mean by this is that if you live in society, you cannot abstract yourself from society, you need to realize that if you want to create a project which will actually deliver value to other people – rather than simply celebrating yourself – you need to care at least a little bit about what other people need (not what they like, there’s a big distinction there).

4. No two artists have the same needs

As you start making your first sales, or even as you set up your “operations” you will be tempted to resort to a series of scapegoats to justify completely normal failures as you develop your work. Some blame it on not finding an agent, some blame it on not finding a gallery, some blame it on not having the right people by their side.  The truth we need to accept is that no one person can really help us. Any professional help coming from the industry cannot really contribute to our lasting success. On the contrary, spending too much time or money looking for professional help to sort out issues that we can ‘bootstrap’ our way out is a terrible waste of time. In Italian, we have an expression: arrangiarsi. It means to do what you need to do with what you have available, and be happy with it. The benefit is that, as we’ve discussed already there is a lot for you to learn if you want to be successful, as you’ll need to merge your artistic skills with some business fundamentals. Moreover, you don’t really know what type of help you really need unless you have actually tried things on your own first. No two artists have the same journey and are equipped with the exact combination of talents, so before you look out for help, do the hard thing, see how far you can stretch and how much you can really do on your own, maybe also with the help of a few tutorial videos.

That’s also because the internet is here to help and in the next section we are going to see all the ways in which technology can really help us achieve amazing results very inexpensively, or in many cases for free.

5. You cannot escape the internet

Phrasing the title like this might look threatening, but in reality, all we are saying is that digital technologies allow for digital distribution. Digital distribution is a form of distribution, meaning that you can both create your products and sell them to your final customer over a few clicks. 

This is nothing less than utterly amazing, and new entrants in the art business cannot miss this opportunity. The internet levels the playing field for all the players in the industry, providing everyone the opportunity to compete, or at least have a fighting chance.

Websites can be started inexpensively and managed with little or no effort. At this day and age, you simply have to learn how to set up your own website and get an eCommerce section running, all it takes is patience and a little bit of curiosity. Technology has lowered the threshold for non-tech people to pretty doing anything that up to a decade ago required a computer science degree.

The digital world requires passion and persistence, but it does reap high rewards for all of those who put in consistent and creative work. It’s so easy to get started that we can tell you the steps necessary in less than 100 words.

  • Pick a domain name, pick a hosting service.
  • Install WordPress, the most used and loved content management system ever.
  • Install a theme, or create your layouts from scratch with a drag and drop builder.
  • Install all the plugins you need to create all of the features you are looking to offer. 
  • Install an e-commerce plugin.

It’s a 5-step process. For each section, let’s say you’ll spend two hours. You can get it done today and start selling tomorrow. It’s not going to be easy to sell online, but what you can do is put effort into it, and that will always bear results, especially if you understand your customer. 

This leads to our 6th piece of advice, concerning accessibility, making sure the value you are creating can be seen and understood by your audience. A great artwork can be inaccessible when it comes to pricing, but it should always be accessible when it comes to its meaning.

fashion hook

6. Be accessible

Everybody is telling you to find a niche in the market. We don’t think that this kind of advice can apply to everyone, but we understand where it is coming from. With so much fish in the sea, even focusing on a small, long-tail market can help create a profitable business. At the same time, however, this approach can be also misleading.

As an artist, you should be able to be a great communicator, meaning that people should always be able to understand what your art is about. This does not mean that you need to do all the talking, in fact,  those artists who speak too much leave nothing for the art to say. On the other hand, however, artists should always make sure that those people who are interested in understanding an artist’s production should always be able to find a way in. 

This is important because going back to some of our previous points, art should be able to be useful, and it can only be useful if people understand its meaning. 

Accessibility, as we mentioned should also relate to price. Art has a value that can be really hard to be determined, especially for young artists. In any case, however, in our opinion artists should make the conscious effort of creating at least some pieces which are able to attract buyers who are not looking for an investment, but a simple furnishing purchase. We know this might seem provocative, but there are many ways in which very famous artists were also able to create price-sensitive pieces to allow a much wider range of people to own something they made. Creating something with value at a low price point is the essence of what we call disruptive innovation, and that’s the best type of innovation there is because by expanding a market it creates growth. To create an affordable piece, you need to take into account your own costs in terms of resources, and that can be done by thinking about your business model. We’ll discuss this in our next post section.

business model

7. A business model is your friend

All in all, we’ve seen that each piece of advice is an invitation to reflection. As you find your place in the art world you need to ask yourself many questions. In particular, when it comes to your business there are 9 essential questions you should answer in a coherent and logical manner, and this is explained by the business model canvas. The BMC is a tool to identify and attempt to answer 9 essential questions to help you understand the business you’re in.

We have a full article devoted to it in this link: Understanding the Business Model Canvas.

In a nutshell, what the business model provides, is the opportunity to be wrong. You can try answering all of the essential questions you need to sort out and put an answer to practice to see whether it works or not. In business, there are many visual tools to help you simplify a problem, but the BMC does not only allow you to make mistakes, it expects you too. And that’s what business is. As an artist, you need to realize that what makes a great businessman is not the knowledge of the market, it is just the courage to try and try again until things work out. And that’s the same kind of courage an artist needs to speak its mind and share his own vision through his work. So as you can now see, business and art are not so far from each other after all.

Conclusions

In this post, at the cost of seeming controversial, we wanted to share with you some essential elements that need to be compounded in an artist’s life equation. In our blog, we decided to focus on the overlap between creativity and business, and as such we like to use our blog to balance out the relationship between art and money. For those who are too focused on the bottom line, we recommend studying art history, history of fashion or even go more often to a museum, so that they can honestly embrace the transcendental experience that great artists are able to deliver. On the other hand, as we talk with people who already understand the profound meaning of the artistic expression, we try to provide some business common sense, to let go of misconceptions and to keep their work grounded in reality.

We hope you enjoyed our post, and don’t hesitate to comment and ask questions! We’ll be happy to answer them!

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Thomas Brownlees

Thomas Brownlees

I am an Anglo-Italian business consultant and lecturer. In 2017 I started 440 Industries, a consulting company focused on assisting businesses in accessing international market opportunities through the design and implementation of digital strategies. And cultural awareness.

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