Art, Work, & Business

April 19, 2009 at 10:34 pm (Uncategorized)

 I recently took a new job and surprisingly enough, I’m really liking it.  The time had come to bring in some steady income until there seems to be some clear signal that the economy is picking up. While I considered the job as a temporary gig,  I can already see many lessons to be learned on management, budgets and business. They are lessons that are not only NOT taught in art school, but lessons that we feel are not necessary to artists and how we do business.

 Maybe it’s the fact that it is so opposite is why I am enjoying it, and seeing it all as a new challenge. Pushing me onto a conservative business model is the polar opposite of where I have been the last few years, and working within  very strict parameters doesn’t seem as confining as I thought it would. In fact, it feels quite cozy at least for now.

I have to admit that as I am looking over spreadsheets, sales reports, and the proper way to set budgets, I am staring at all this information thinking “Shit, had I put these types of procedures into place, my life would have been a hell of a lot easier”.  The paper and forms in front of me seem to come to life with the names of art clients screaming at me saying:

 “If you did this, you could have made an additional $800 off the Collins job”

 “Didn’t you realize that the large job that sent you out of town would cost you an additional $900 in marketing since those three weeks out of town you were not able to market and were required to take two full days to catch up with bill paying and paperwork? You never calculated the true cost of your lost time”.

What I am seeing is a distinct difference between how the rest of the world does business, and how the artists do business.  As artists we are great justifiers, and can easily create a thousand reasons why we need to have a new set of brushes or a new brand of paint, an how our work will suffer without it. If the money is available, we feel we need it and buy it. After all, it’s professional development.

 Art schools should include business school with classes on maximizing profits, reducing costs, projecting budgets and payroll. We might think that a program like Quickbooks is effective, but it is only as effective as the information we plug into it.Most of us have found ourselves on large jobs with large price tags, and at the end of the job looked at the total profit only to find that the profit was far less than we had anticipated. Somewhere along the line, through labor costs, materials, job time, or another reason, something ate into the profit of the job and left us with the same amount of money as a smaller job would have but with much less aggravation. 

I’m not saying that my life would be much different if I had all those business skills, but more than likely, I would have received much more sleep, and been able to effectively charge my clients based off the true cost of doing business, not simply what the square foot price seemed to be.


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Nine Lessons To Learn The Hard Way

April 13, 2009 at 5:18 pm (Uncategorized)

If you enter into a creative field, there seems to be a list of lessons that artists always learn the hard way. At first, I thought it was a bad thing, but in retrospect, learning these things early, by living them, is far cheaper than learning them later down the line.

Putting your artwork in restaurants and model homes is a great way to get our name out there. Go ahead, try it. And after 6 months, try and retrieve your tomato sauce stained painting, or your cracked sculpture from the model home. There’s a good chance also that it is gone, and nobody knows what the heck happened to it.

First off, these people are not your market. Sooner or later, you need to spend the time getting your work in front of people that are looking to buy it. If you spent a year putting your work in restaurants, its a full year you didn’t market to the right people.

Local boutiques and speciality storesEvery town has a few boutiques and speciality stores that will hang artwork on a commission basis. Are they out trying to help artists? No, they are collecting free inventory to make their shop look better. And most think they are justified in charging outrageous commissions, up to 50%! For any commission larger than 10 or 15%, they should have a background in art marketing and promoting artists. If not, they are just using you to get a freebie.

Artist co ops are a great place to hang my work and make friends. Not all co ops are bad, but the majority are filled with insecure drama queens who love being the big fish in the small pond. They are full of politics, and are very friendly until your work sells better than theirs. Then, look out, which leads me to the next item.

Collaborating with other artists is fun and great networking. Let’s face it. This is a business, and it’s filled with alot of people who will never be able to get their business off the ground. Instead, they try to ride on the coat tails of others, thinking its an easy way to jump start their careers. Be wary of the friendly artist, chances are, they are out to use you.

To be an artist, I have to look the part. Cool, go buy a beret and walk around town wearing a smock. The truth is, if you stop being yourself, and begin wearing all black because “that’s what artists do”, then you have already sold out your unique vision, and will have a hard time creating anything worthwhile.

Take work based on what’s “to come”.Every creative person runs into potential clients who promise tons of future work and tons of referrals if they are happy with the price and quality of the first job. Your best course of action? RUN!!!  There is a very specific personality type that throws this type of comment out there. You will never get a referral and never get any future work from a person who makes this claim.  And they will make you jump through hoops to get paid off the original job.

Borrowing money from yourself against future work. You may have the work lined up, or have an agreement for future work. The reality is that you have nothing until it is in the bank. Borrowing from yourself thinking you have work lined up can easily send you scrambling or directly to the poor house. It only takes one time for this to happen. It’s not a done deal until the money is in the bank.

When times are lean, offer more services. There are many artistic business practices that operate the opposite of regular businesses. This is not one of them. When times are lean, you may have the idea to spread yourself out, and offer new and exciting services. The best course of action is to take your best selling, proven items and effectively market them. Every new item or service you offer requires marketing, time and money. And if times are lean, do you want to focus on learning how to market a new idea, or market something that is proven to generate cash and you already know how to market?

Online communities are great networking tools. Every field has an online community. And online communities all go through different phases and growing pains. For most fields, online communities play a vital role in professional development, NOT marketing. While it’s nice to create relationships with other people in your field, this time does not market you to your potential clients. Watch where you spend your time.



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Frescoes, Erotica and I Modi

April 12, 2009 at 10:31 pm (Uncategorized)


imodiThere used to be a show on PBS along with an accompanying column in Scientific America magazine called “Connections”, where the host took the viewer on a historic journey that connected, through events, people and technologies, people and inventions from the past, and created a road map that showed how seemingly unrelated items and people helped develop new technologies and artistic movements.

 There is a large part of Renaissance history that goes unnoticed, and minimizes many important aspects of art, connections, and technological advances. The main reason for the revising is that it deals with erotica. By leaving out or minimizing the erotic in Renaissance art creates a large gap  in technique, artistic theory, and how murals and frescoes played a vital role in the advancement of other artistic techniques. 

 While many are familiar with the erotic frescoes of Pompeii,  fresco painting in Italy during the Renaissance included a substantial body of erotic depictions. Mostly in private residences,  these depictions became the basis of future sculpture and painting in Italy, including Church commissioned pieces. One large commission in particular, in Palazzo Te, is a great case of collaboration between art forms, and in the theme of connections, helped further the art forms of engraving and print making.

Gulio Romano was an Italian artist working in the studio of Raphael, assisting Raphael in the commissions of the Vatican, and after Raphael’s death, took over the studio and finished many commissions, including  Coronation of the Virgin and the Transfiguration. To give a timeline perspective, much of his work alongside Raphael in the Vatican was done at the same time Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

After the death of Raphael, Romano was left in charge of Raphael’s studio, including finishing incomplete works, and carrying on the studio. After 4 years, Romano left the studio, which in many ways is rather odd. Of all the Renaissance painters, Raphael had business sense, and had his studios finances down to a science, and left a solid business plan in place.

 After leaving the studio of Raphael, Romano was commissioned to work in Palazzo Te, the recreational home of Federico Gonzaga. While much history is written that Romano left after the Sack of Rome, which diminished artistic patronage, there are writings that indicate Romano was planning on leaving Rome as early as 1521, with the blessing of the Pope.  It might seem a bit odd at first, considering Romano’s work in Palazzo Te would consist of large erotic frescoes. The reality is that the position of Pope was very much a political position, and artists were typically used as ambassadors of goodwill, and lent out for future political favors.

The frescoes at Palazzo Te would consist of erotic depictions of sex and sexual positions. As a sort of cover story, the individuals in the depictions were made in the form of the Roman gods and goddesses. Therefore not human, but deities, the sexual acts within were now slightly outside the realm of humans, and elevated to the gods, making them more acceptable.

The frescoes at Palazzo Te would become the inspiration for I Modi, a collection of sixteen engraved prints showcasing sexual positions and each accompanied by a sonnet.

   In the popular history, engraver Marcantonio Raimondi acted either on his own, or in collaboration with Pietro Aretino, a poet who created sonnets to accompany the individual prints based on the earlier work of Romano. The collection quickly became popular, and caused such outrage that Raimondi was jailed and Arentino was forced to flee Rome. Romano, on the other hand, was depicted as a victim, who’s work was appropriated by Raimondi and Arentino.

I Modi quickly became a commodity, and is considered one of the important documents in the history of reproductive prints. It’s popularity in bound form and  loose form as art prints signaled the beginning of reproductive prints using engraving, and was reprinted in various forms over the next 30 years, in many cases in the black market.

 There is evidence to the theory that Romano, Raimondi and Aretino collaborated from early on. All three had a history, with Raimondi also working in Raphael’s studio alongside Romano. Looking at Romano’s early plan to leave Rome and leave the fate of Raphael’s studio to fall, it’s more than plausible for him to leave Raimondi with sketches and drawings of the Palazzo Te project and in some form acted to either leave Raimondi with a plan for the future or plans on how to use the sketches. Only within church history  is Romano treated as the victim,  and this is the popular history we have today.  It seems more than likely for Romano to be spared by Pope Clement VII for political purposes, as Clements relationship with Romano was close, and would have caused Clement much grief if Romano was seen as a conspirator in the I Modi saga.

I Modi is still considered a pinnacle document in art history, and the concepts of collaboration of various art forms , fresco, poetry and printing, that would help create new technological advances in art and printing make it more valuable, especially for modern day artists.

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