Artists in a Transitional World

Artists are learning to embrace a new, transitional economy and business model, while becoming more independent and self-determined than ever.



What’s changing in the world of art business these days? A better question to ask is “what’s not changing?” If you aren’t acknowledging the quick pace of change and keeping up, you may find yourself wondering what happened.

Artists, like performers, are in a position (like it or not) of being much more independent and “self-employed” than ever before. Remember the old days, when actors were “owned” by studios, kept in a stable of other performers and signed to contracts requiring them to complete a certain number of films? Times changed, they became more independent, and were free to work with studios on individual projects. These days, actors form production companies, and often produce and direct their own films.

Likewise, many artists who worked within the gallery system and had their marketing and sales taken care of, are now finding themselves more independent and self-determining than ever.

Gone are the days of one employer for life for most Americans. We have moved from earning the gold watch to having a series of jobs or careers during our working life. Generation Y is more focused on their own goals, typically moving from one employer to another in order to increase their status and income. Lifestyles have changed to accommodate personal preferences, relationships, flexible scheduling and family responsibilities.

What’s next? People in many industries may find themselves working more like freelancers, creating multiple streams of income to live on, and being in control of their own careers and destiny, whether they feel ready to do so or not. Those in the creative class are in the center of this change. The art community, straddling two generations, is coming to realize that they must adapt.

During the 1970’s to 1990’s, craft artists got ahead of the curve when they received the message through periodicals such as The Crafts Report and books like Crafting as a Business, that they were entrepreneurs and needed to embrace a business mindset. Fine artists were next. Rarely did they get adequate business training in universities and art schools. Even today, it sometimes is delayed until graduate programs.

With the decline of the gallery model, artists are required to rethink how they will make a living. Although this may feel like a loss, the opening of a global 24/7 marketplace actually expands options and offers an opportunity for artists to grow their businesses in ways they never before imagined. Additionally, ever-expanding technology offers options such as working in digital mediums, self-publishing and giclee printing which affords the artist a chance to work lean and run more of a self-contained turnkey business.

Widespread use of the internet has become the most important factor in changing the face of the business of art today (along with every other industry out there). This huge transition, which is crashing sectors such as brick and mortar music and book stores, has also transformed commerce for the arts.

Customers have instant access to online content for shopping, comparing, and educating themselves. A website is now de rigueur for artists as well as other professionals, who know that they are virtually invisible without one. Older workers of all types who are caught behind by trying to do business using an outdated model have become frustrated as they find that the old ways of marketing and selling no longer work.

Cheap and easy access to internet templates has vastly increased the number of art and craft vendors in the online marketplace. Virtually anyone can open an Etsy shop or offer their designs via a print-on-demand venue such as Zazzle. This crowd of vendors contributes to a level of “noise” in which an individual who is a serious artist can be lost unless they develop strategies to distinguish themselves. Thus, the artist who embraces their entrepreneurship must come to understand marketing and sales themselves, or work with a partner or spouse who will do so for them.

It’s important that artists stay current on shifts in buying trends and innovative ways to market and sell to prevent costly business missteps. As they embrace their role more fully as businesspeople, artists will become more confident and capable of determining their own success.

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