In my last post I shared my experience talking with artists who become curious to adopt the art brand mindset to frame the way they think about their business goals. This week I want to look at some of the benefits and challenges of making that shift.
First, I want to be straight with you: thinking about and positioning yourself as an art brand is no more of a magic trick to improving your business’s bottom line than any of the other great practices you’ve inculcated. In its simplest sense, it’s merely a framework for thinking about what you’re doing as an entrepreneurial artist. I promote it because I believe that it can, over time, help you create a more sustainable art business. And when I say sustainable, I mean at an energy and enthusiasm level more than anything else. Yes, hopefully financially sustainable; but from my perspective the more important goal is that your business protects, nurtures, and continuously recharges your calling to create art. To achieve that, you’ll want to ensure it doesn’t become “just a job.” The art brand paradigm can bolster your feelings of ownership, leadership, and creative freedom.
I also believe the art brand mindset encourages you to think of your business itself as a unique creative work—as much a reflection of your interests and passions as any other art you create. So, when I talk about building an “art brand” (or better yet, “art lifestyle brand”), I’m talking about defining your very particular (and perhaps even very peculiar!) vision and way of expressing yourself in the world. It’s about bringing your whole self to the creation and management of your business, rather than housing yourself and your artwork within someone else’s predefined standards for what an art business looks like.
As with any artwork, seeing your business in this light will require a willingness to stay attuned to and trusting of your own instincts. With so much information coming at us every day about how we ought to be conducting ourselves and promoting ourselves in business, it’s very easy to get caught up in the notion that there are right ways and wrong ways. You’ll need to take information in and become adept at assessing it against your internal compass—incorporating those tactics and practices that you know are right for your business and confidently bypassing those that don’t truly resonate.
It’s a process—as with any creation worth your time and devotion—that will take patience and perseverance. You’ll be building the house while you’re living in it, learning what works and what doesn’t work and making adjustments as you go along. It also means letting go of perfection. Doing business in the internet age can sometimes feel like being the star of your own reality TV show. It’s easy to believe the whole world is watching your every move! So, just as sharing your art can feel vulnerable, shaping your own unique business model and defining your own brand voice will almost certainly feel a little messy and uncertain at times and this is an especially hard pill for perfectionists to swallow. It helps to remember: even though everything you put on the internet is public, the reality is that you'll probably be flying comfortably under most folks' radar for a while. In that space, you can use the process of internet show-and-tell as a laboratory for exploring and refining your voice and presentation.*
Thinking of yourself as an art brand doesn’t necessarily include or preclude any particular revenue model for your business. You can have your own shop, license your work, illustrate books, take editorial assignments, and more. What it will do is put you in a much more confident position when deciding where you want your work to be seen and what kind of companies and people you want to collaborate with. Marquee names and money may hold less sway in your decision-making. You’ll be attuned to your own personal and enduring values and you’ll likely find that your choices come with a greater sense of peace and certainty because of that attunement.
* Take it from one who knows! I'm a recovering control freak and I'm still pushing myself outside of my comfort zone every time I post a new piece on this blog. Nevertheless, I am seeing how the process of blogging helps me refine my message. Through these posts, I’m trying to articulate some long-simmering ideas about how to build a meaningful and sustainable career as a commercially-oriented artist. So, in a sense, they're my artworks and the somewhat tentative building blocks of my brand.
I'm wildly grateful to those of you who’ve been writing to let me know you’re inspired by my posts. You make the awkward vulnerability bearable. Knowing that I’ve connected with you and helped you is a gift to me. Thank you!