September 28, 2007

Perhaps one of the advantages of getting older (and I hope wiser), is that one can hold two opinions simultaneously even though they appear to contradict each other.

A friend from my online artist group has recently had well-deserved success with her book, ‘Bets and the City’.
She has just written us that as a result- at least in part due to her marketing initiatives- her book entered the Amazon Top 50 bestsellers list which has led to interest from some big-name literary agents. Encouraged by this  she will leave rainy, cold London this winter and stay in Spain to write her next book!  It is so wonderful to hear this news; for the last 5 years our group has been following her dogged commitment to writing , and her many rejections of a previous novel. She has struggled and is now reaping some rewards.

She writes, ‘I’m essentially a commercially-fixated writer who’d like to make a living out of it’, which seems to be exactly the opposite of what I’ve been writing in my musings here about marketing. But it has been so gratifying to see her find her voice, (intelligent, wry and full of humour) that I can only cheer!  I mean, if someone is gifted enough to write things that sell and have a ball doing it, more power to them. 

I guess what I am saying is that my own exploration for more meaningful ways to interact with the world through my art isn’t meant to discredit those on different pathways.

The intro is in the previous post.

I would say that the commercial world is based on several of the following precepts:

  • there isn’t enough to go around
  • the business is more important than people
  • you have to fight to get your share
  • it is a hard world, you have to be hard to survive in it
  • the worth of something is based on its marketability 
  • money is the bottom line

The commercial world’s values have become society’s values. As Suzi Gablik has pointed out in many of her books, these are the criteria that artist’s too are expected to adopt.

But I want to take a look at the real function of art and artists in the society, the one that is not defined by the current market system.

Artists are not only makers of pictures to hang on walls, we are guardians of a powerful force for renewal. We use symbolic language to express inner realities. We regenerate old systems by questioning the assumptions upon which they are based and creating creative chaos to break them down and help to build them anew.

And more tangibly, we teach children how to use their imaginations, we teach the society by example how to be creative thinkers, we create beauty, we show aspects of the world in a new way, forge new directions for societies, raise difficult questions. We operate in the world of vision, soul, myth, symbols, enchantment and the sacred. And we bring these back into the mainstream so that others can be nourished and inspired. 

Artists create culture and this needs to be valued as much as computer or banking skills.

During an exhibition opening I once attended, someone quoted a Dutch Parliament member as saying :

‘Artists are on the extreme fringes of the entertainment industry; creating for a few by the few, with no real justification to exist’.

This exemplifies an attitude which lies at the very roots of our Western society. Our structures and beliefs are based on the rational, scientific and commercial.  If you look at the want ads, you will see that the highest paying, therefore most valued jobs, lie in the areas of management, finances and technology. 

On the chart I made on this subject, the ‘rational’ etc are in the page’s middle. Next, in a ring around that you have what is now fashionably called the ‘creative sector’. These are the film makers, museums, advertising agencies, festivals, galleries, theaters, creative software companies, etc.

And way out there on the ‘fringes’ are the artists. What else is floating out there in the margins with us creatives? Ie, what does not have an immediate commercial or otherwise exploitable function in the society?

Beauty, Reverence for Nature, Fantasy and Imagination, the Child, Chaos, Mystery, Imperfection, Enchantment, Emotion, Intuition, the Sacred, Rituals, Things that take a lot of Time to make, and finally, things that are Different and don’t fit in.

I call these ‘soul’ values as opposed to commercial or market values.

Staying with this comparison between attracting a date and atttracting buyers for our work, I’d like to suggest that there is a way out of the chase.

To me, it makes more sense if you want a relationship, to focus on and develop your wholeness in such a way you can share that with someone else. In so doing, your starting point is satisfaction with your situation. We instinctively feel this attitude of giving and self sufficiency in someone and are just naturally attracted to it.

In creating an income from our work, the same attitude can be used. If there is genuine love and dedication to excellence in your work, you will have the incentive to also learn how to direct it into the right channels where it can create a livelihood.
I recently read a book where the idea of ‘doing what you love and the money will follow’ was seriously challenged;  
and the authors could be right. But I’d like to believe it and it is one of the principles I work from.

Also, on a more difficult note, to support creatives adequately, there has to be a shift in values in the present society. A shift in values brings about a shift in structures (not the other way around!).   And I feel that many of us are pioneering these changes. Oh gosh it is time for the ‘Marketing versus soul values’  lecture.   I’ll try to get to that today.

When I was dating, either I was too stupid or too self-centered to consider the sheer numbers of women that might be after the same guy I had set my eyes on.  Usually there was a mutual chemistry, and the relationship grew naturally out of that without much effort on my part.

I think there are parallels with marketing here. Think for a moment of the overwhelming numbers of people trying to sell their products!  In every little city, village, outback, or metropolis, there are masses of clever, talented created pepole making beautiful things. Popular card companies get dozens of card designs submitted a week. Publishers are swamped with manuscripts. ‘How can one person ever make it with all this competition?’, we ask ourselves.  So we do everything we can to stand out and be noticed.  And if you are operating within this set of givens, then there doesn’t seem to be much choice.

I would compare this to actively trying to attract a partner.  The person spends time and money on making themselves as attractive and interesting as possible. They go to dating sites and those 30 second dating parties. Everything is narrowed down to that one lack and how to fill it.  Like marketing, they need to attract someone to them in order to feel whole.

 There is a way out of this.   

As I write about marketing, I realize that there is something deeper I am addressing. It keeps getting clearer with each post. Please bear with me.

In the early 1970’s when I graduated from college, I simply began to work as a free-lance artist. There was no need for any form of marketing or advertising.  Through my calligraphy, fine art, graphic design and teaching I was able to support myself comfortably.  

The factors which assisted the success of my work in the states and my husband’s here in Holland were/are;

  • being embedded in the local community
  • work that is valued and in demand
  • good quality work delivered
  • organic growing of the business
  • a commitment to the work
  • enthusiasm for the work
  • competitive pricing
  • an economic and cultural climate which supports the work

The reasons why talented, creative people, artists or not, generally have to struggle to survive financially are deeply rooted in the imbalances of the present society. These need to be brought to light where they can be seen, reassessed, and changed.
I think these core issues are probably the ones my blog is really about.

Marketing alternatives

September 16, 2007

I meet more and more artists (and others) who are reluctant to embrace the current marketing hype. I am referring to the assumption that in order to ‘be successful’ you can’t do without a website and blog, a marketing strategy, advertising and PR.

So what are the alternatives? In essence there is nothing wrong with letting people know about your product or service. That is marketing in its purest form- communication.  I’ll call it ‘clean’ communication- without any manipulation or pressure to buy.

In the example of my husband’s woodworking business we can see a number of factors which  make it work despite his disinterest in active marketing.

  • he makes a functional product
  • the product is in demand
  • he does high quality, original work
  • his prices are competitive
  • he has good relationships with his customers

For the rest of us who may not have all of these factors working for us, I feel that the solutions lie in retrieving or recreating community and other non-commercial influences.  To be continued.

There is an artist/craftsman I know who embodies for me, an ideal. He does his work beautifully and with integrity, his pieces fulfill a needed function in the society, and he is rewarded for it. He is almost always booked up with commissions 4 months in advance, he works alone despite urgings from others to expand his business. He lives a simple but comfortable life, his work brings joy and improvement to the lives of many people. He has never advertised, never registered with the Chamber of Commerce, and never tried to exploit his talents for more money than his modest hourly fee.

I have seen from close-up for over 22 years how this craftsman enriches the lives of the people he makes tables, beds and music stands for: because he is my husband. He makes furniture for handicapped children and institutions, as well as fine cabinetry for private clients.

Everything about Rende’s business reinforces the idea that quality work done with integrity will draw its own clients and rewards. Year in year out, he resisted the fast guys telling him he had to employ the latest marketing techniques and go into production in order to make more money. Rende followed his heart from the beginning; his was an ‘authentic business’ before these words were even used.

More on marketing

September 16, 2007

I don’t mean to dismiss ‘marketing’ out of hand.  But I feel that some of the underlying assumptions that come along with it need to be examined.

In fact, I took an excellent marketing workshop not long ago.  Stephanie Ward  was a wonderful presenter who radiated joy and integrity. I learned a lot about ‘attracting more clients’, ‘education based selling’, and ‘creating a magnetic marketing statement’, plus other useful tools. But still, it felt like another planet. Even though I went home and implemented some of the strategies, I eventually bogged down.  Because there it was again, despite the workshop’s emphasis on opportunities and self-empowerment, the unavoidable assumption that one has to do everything humanly possible to stand out and attract clients in order to survive. And this is based on the fear that there is not enough to go around. Not enough work, attention or money for everyone. Our whole Western society is based on this. (See ‘The Soul of Money’ for a more in depth treatment of this subject).

So how do we sidestep this paradigm and survive financially as well?  Well, I can already think of one example of how it could be done differently. See next post.  

Harpsichord 6-flower by flower

September 15, 2007


Decorated harpsichord sound board completed, photo Rende Zoutewelle

It was truly a delightful process, perhaps because there was such a warm contact with the clients and instrument maker. It is always a pleasure to work for/with someone rather than deliver a finished work to an anonymous buyer. (One of the reasons I stopped being a gallery artist).

Also, my husband documented the whole process on his photo site and there was a lot of wonderful feedback and encouragement from that group (thanks folks!).

So my studio is gloriously empty, but more importantly, after an intense 6 week involvement with a project like this, so is my head. 

Although I must say that having a concrete project to do was a welcome break from my current focus; getting a new idea off the ground (in this case creating work for myself as an artist in healthcare) involves so much headwork. And all the planning, following up contacts, writing proposals is so abstract and up until now has not led to anything structural. While painting the sound board flower by flower eventually led to tangible results and a FINISHED PROJECT! 
Well, for me anyway. Herwil now has to do his magician’s work and conjure the painted wood into a singing instrument.