Make Good Art… and Sell it Too!


Prince – whose tragic and unexpected death rocked the music world in April – was incomparable on-stage talent.

When asked what it was like to be the best guitarist alive, Eric Clapton is said to have responded, “I don’t know. Ask Prince.”

But, he was also an uncompromising innovator off the stage as well. And it would be short-sighted to view his career simply through the lens of the musical notes he sang and played. He also pioneered multi-media album extras, online ordering, and subscription services, to name a few, many of which became mainstream practices soon after.

From the jump, he was almost maniacally focused on ownership and worked tireless to ensure that his music remained his own. What he understood better than most was that “delivering the music was just as important as making it.”

The same, it seems, must be said for visual artists as well as performing ones. Making the art is only one piece of the puzzle, though admittedly an important one (and often the one which pulled us into this profession in the first place). Finding an audience for it and delivering it to them is equally and, at times, more, important.

In days gone by, wealthy families commissioned artists to create fabulous works of art. In this model, the financial arrangement precedes the production. And while this tradition may continue for a select few (from da Vinci to Warhol and, more recently, Jeff Kooms), the rest of us are forced to flip the equation on its head.

That is, first we create the art… and then go looking for a patron.

This leads to fear and uncertainty which can unravel a project and, too often, become paralyzing. So, how can you flip the paradigm? Here are a couple of ideas we’ve found to be useful in walking this tight wire.

– Identify your audience. If the piece is for you and you alone, that’s great. Just don’t expect to sell lots of it. If it’s for larger distribution, draw a clear picture in your head of who might buy it and why. Incorporate elements of their needs, wants, and taste into the piece.

– Get some feedback. As an artist, I know firsthand how hard it can be to submit your work for feedback. Your work is an extension of you and, by doing so, you’re opening yourself up for criticism, which never feels good! But, remember, the feedback is intended to make your product better. And, a better product usually leads to more sales. Seek out people who fit the mold of your target audience and ask them what they think… honestly!

– Don’t stop when it’s done. Making a good product is great, but once it’s done is no time to sit back and wait for the Benjamins to roll in. It’s actually time to hit the gas and to get this product to the world. Social media has given all of us a diverse and exciting platform to share our work. So, take advantage of it. But, don’t think that a Facebook post is enough. Get out and engage people with your work. Offer workshop, set up a tent at craft fairs and art shows, contact local retailers about selling into their stores, and attend networking events. Obviously, these aren’t easy to do, but they are mission critical to your product’s success.

Have an idea of your own?  Please share it below.  And, check back next month.  We will make a follow-up post which spells out the second half of the battle— delivering your art to your patrons.