This Post is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for
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If you sell or hope to sell your artwork, then you must accept the notion that you are also a business owner. There are many artists who cringe at the idea. To many, adding business to the equation somehow commercializes art. Admittedly, it doesn’t sound as romantic as the carefree, eclectic artist. Oh, to just spend your life concerned with nothing other than your artistic expression; getting lost into the zone to emerge hours or days later!
The reality is, though, that if you are serious about a career in art, you must accept that it is also a business. I believe very strongly that you can create meaningful art – art which is true to you and your expression – AND properly treat your business as a business. Consider many of the successful companies around the world. Many (perhaps most?) of them are passionate about their products or services. Your art business need not be any different.
Some people are blessed with more business savvy than others. Some don’t know where to start. How should your business be structured? How do you own and operate a business? I certainly am no expert in the field of business. I would highly recommend taking a small business workshop in your area. You will learn a lot. Even better, take a business workshop geared to artists. If investing in art education is important, why not invest in business education as well?
We won’t discuss all aspects of business in this article, but let’s look at a few things.
Basic Business Structure
Most businesses have a variation of the following structure: Administration, Laborers, and Support. Some people may have a different model for a basic company, but this serves only as an illustration.
This includes owners, managers, presidents, CEO’s, CFO’s, and other executives. These people look at the overall picture of where the company is poised and where they want it to go. They also must have a clear idea of tasks necessary to accomplish the larger goals. They manage and delegate to those who are in the trenches.
You are the owner of your business. You have all the risk, but also will have the rewards of a successful business. You must have a clear business plan. You must see the bigger picture, yet also understand the smaller steps needed to achieve your goals. You are the decision maker. You must also manage any employees you might have. Additionally, there will be relationships that you must build with others. Networking is important.
These are those who do the work. They are in the trenches. For service companies, they are the ones who provide the service. For product based companies, these are the people who produce or manufacture the products.
Most artists create their own work; at least the original. (Yes, some artists, especially ones who do monumental works, have a crew of artist who assist. Even so, these artists are usually extremely involved in the creation of the piece.) You are the laborer (or primary laborer) for your company. Many of you also teach, critique, or consult. For those of you who do this, you are also providing services. You labor to provide the products and services unique to your business.
These workers do all of the other work, including sales, marketing, accounting, mail room, secretary, shipping and receiving, ordering supplies, janitor, etc.
It is the rare artist who can delegate all of these responsibilities to others. Some can. Some of you may have a significant other or even your children who can help. Some of you may also hire a bit of help. But I suspect that for most of you, you wear nearly every hat yourself.
Do you take each of these roles seriously?
A business cannot succeed if a myriad of jobs remain neglected. Artists are no different. Do you take the time to balance your books? Do you regularly communicate with collectors, dealers, etc.? Do you keep your studio and office clean and organized? Do you set aside regular time to assess your art and business in relation to where you want to be? Do you spend enough time in the studio creating? Do you spend enough time with all the other necessary jobs?
Yes, many of you would rather spend 100% of your time in the studio. I would rather spend more time creating than doing bookwork or marketing. But consider the alternative – I would rather spend a third or even half of my time taking care of my business than to spend 100% of my time doing something other than art! When viewed with a proper perspective, it makes the tasks seem less of a chore. Learn to enjoy the work involved in building up your business.
PS Even those of you who do not do art full time, the same principle applies if you wish to eventually make a career of it. The time that you do set aside for your art must be divided between creating and the business tasks. Otherwise, it will always remain just a hobby (which is fine if that is your goal).
PSS Alyson Stanfield suggests spending about 50% of your time on marketing. This seems perhaps a bit high to me. I would adjust this to be 50% of your time on the business tasks – with marketing being the lion’s share.