I’m not trying to sound scholarly or ‘fake smart’. My football education immediately exposes my educational limitations. I became interested in Occam's Razor when I was about 35 and in the construction business. It’s my understanding that it means using simplicity to solve a problem. The uncomplicated path is the best; the shortest route between two locations is a straight line. I suspect the term is much more complex, but since I’m such a uncomplicated man I can’t even think in terms of the law of frugality, law of economy or law of succinctness. I eat vanilla ice cream and love Tex-Mex over a five star restaurant. As Forrest Gump said, “Simple is as simple does.” My approach to marketing art is to keep it simple. I use the Common Sense System. Thomas Paine would have been proud of my style of marketing art.
I was one of the first in the building business to use the Critical Path method. The Critical Path is when building a home or commercial structure there are times when everything comes to a halt to wait on an inspector. I deducted if I put all of my efforts into making sure that every phase needing an inspection would be ready about the same time we could cut days off the entire construction period. The contractor pays interest on the money borrowed to erect the building. When the group of elements is inspected, we could move in unison to the next inspection stoppage. I was able to cut a month out of the time needed to construct a medium sized home with my hand drawn flow chart. Before I became a building contractor or artist, I earned my living as a consultant to the homebuilding industry, with clients all over the country. I showed their superintendents how to speed up construction projects with my Critical Path flow charts, how to buy in bulk, trained their salesmen and ran their advertising programs. I picked a company color theme with flags, direction signs, brochures and business cards all in harmony. I even had the salespeople dress in company colors.
I’d like to share a typical Jack White promotional story. My homebuilding client from a mid-western town wanted something sensational on opening day for his newest subdivision. I ran ads on radio, TV and in newspapers promoting we were going have a helicopter land at the opening of the model homes with a beautiful blonde stepping out for the ribbon cutting. Here’s the kicker. The blonde would arrive topless. In the sixties, that was scandalous. Local churches came out in unison against my proposal, as did the district attorney. He wrote that what I was planning was against the moral standards of the city. The sheriff told me if I pulled that stunt, he would be there to arrest me. On opening day we had cars backed up for six to eight miles. The parking area was overflowing. The town had never seen such a turn out. At exactly 3PM on Sunday the owner of the subdivision stepped out of the helicopter with his 3-year-old blonde “topless” daughter. He handed the baby to the sheriff to hold while he removed his scissors. The big, red-faced sheriff broke down laughing so hard, he had his deputy hold the child. Television stations, radio and newspapers all did a story on my promotion. If there had been YouTube, the stunt would have gone viral. We sold the subdivision out in record time. That project gave me more clients than I could service.
Wikipedia says William of Ockham was the inventor of the Occam's Razor Theory. He lived in Ockham, England during the 1300s, serving the Church as a Franciscan Friar and scholastic philosopher. William also produced significant works on logic, physics and theology. The Church of England still celebrates his day on April 10th.
The German term Ockhams Messer is translated to Occams Razor (or knife). The system is said to cut thoughts in half so the truth is easier to find. We had a dear friend and one of the best football coaches in the country say to me, “Jack, I just run five plays and I stole two of them from Tom Landry.” Vince Lombardi, of the old Green Bay Packers, basically had two running plays, power sweep to the right and power sweep to the left. These great coaches found success in simplicity.
If you want to become successful as an artist I can help you cut through all the hogwash and false stuff being thrown your way. I recently read some information that was put out by an art career coach and lifted from one of my books, but they got it all wrong. They couldn’t even copy the truth. It’s not enough just to take the proven theories of others and try to make them your own. If you have not walked the walk, then don’t try to talk the talk. Those who know; KNOW! One of the reasons AA is so successful is because those in the meetings can spot a phony the moment they open their mouth. I can read a few lines and tell if the writer is hoping what they are saying will work. You either know or you don’t. If you don’t know, then spare others with hoping your theory works. It’s hard enough to MAKE IT doing everything right.
At the apex of marketing art, you must make stuff that connects with people. I remember seeing a group of wonderfully executed paintings. The detail was perfect, but the subject matter smelled up the place. He had chosen to paint sea gulls on a landfill. Not only did he paint one, his entire series was on waste management. He was trying to push being green. He didn’t ask, but had he actually spoken to us at his big show, I would have given him some free coaching. Needless to say, the gallery sold nothing. They tried to get him to do things they could sell, but he became angry. He screamed at the owner, “You are trying to make me a prostitute.” He stormed out in the middle of his opening night. The gallery dumped him after the show and found a more agreeable artist. That guy needed to know about Occams Razor.
I don’t care if you do stick figures, if the public loves them then continue and find ways to improve. Senkarik, my mate, started out painting equine subjects. She was working on a commission of Secretariat for the International Museum of the Horse in Lexington, KY. That was a big-time project for a young artist. I could see her frustration, trying to make the horse perfect. I was trying to learn to paint with my left hand after I injured my right arm in an auto accident. My paintings were big colorful flowers slapped on and, I felt, very poorly done. I suggested she take a break and paint one of the tons of California Mission pictures we had taken. The gallery sold the new piece while it was still in the box. We sold ten of the mission type pieces and not one horse painting in the meantime. I suggested we need to put the horses out to pasture, they weren’t earning their keep. In our case the Occams Razor theory worked. We went simple. Missions and flowers were much easier, faster and more fun to paint than horses. They also connected with people. Folks loved the new stuff. A word of caution: You cannot trust your friends and family to be honest about your work. They think all you do is great. Your test is in how total strangers react to your art.
Her portrait of Secretariat is prominently displayed in the International Museum of the Horse.
Several of you talk about asking art curators and show judges to give you critiques on your art. Art curators are really smart about the history of art and what works for their collection, but they don’t know sic-em about what sells to the general public. Jury judges are the same. They might do a great job picking the best work for the show, but what they select may not connect with or be loved by the general public. If you want to make art for judges and Museum curators then there is nothing wrong with that. You can make art “for fun” if that’s your desire. It’s important you do what pleases you. If you want to make art that sells, then your work must be loved by enough people to pay your way. It’s really hard to walk both paths.
The Chinese say, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” I look at Juried Shows as feeding a man a fish. You go to a lot of effort and take a great risk, hoping to sell your entry piece. Think of how much more you could earn if you put the same effort into marketing what you make to the buying public. Argue until you turn blue in the face, but your pretty ribbons offer no solid help in building a selling career.
The Bottom Line: If people don’t LOVE our work, we will not be able to sell what we make. It’s your choice, if you want to make art for art’s sake, then I tip my 10-X beaver hat to your efforts. I don’t know much about recreational art. All I know about is marketing art for money. If art is your avocation, then that is indeed wonderful. We make art our vocation and avocation. Art is our fun time as well as our money-earning program. I think both of those can walk together. The bible says, “How can two walk together unless they agree?” Mikki and I find perfect harmony in both earning money and having fun making art. We see no conflict.
Do you need to be different? I have read a lot lately about artists having to do unusual things to be noticed. If you feel it’s necessary to be different then paint feathers like Gail Savage, Kelley Patterson, Julie Thompson and Barb Curtis. I don’t know the names, but two female artists from the UK pick up driftwood along the beach, making some amazing equine pieces. I remember a feature on an artist who assembled tree bark into pieces of wall art. Charles, a FASO reader, is an excellent artist who makes art on crushed cans. In art, you are omnipotent. You have the power to attempt to make what you envision or dream. I don’t think you have to be different, great art still sells and sells well.
Size is important. On the East Coast homes have smaller walls. People in cold country are smart enough not to cram their homes full of giant windows. We energy pigs of the Southwest love mammoth chunks of glass and great big walls. Size of your art is also important due to the continued recession we are struggling with. When you are doing shows and festivals, make sure you have plenty of inexpensive pieces. You need small things so people don’t have to think to buy. I call these impulse purchases. These little gems will pay your overhead. Also art galleries are limited on wall space and several very large paintings will fill up a lot of selling areas. They are reluctant to carry very large pieces from an unknown artist.
Many of you know about my double primary palette that uses two reds, two yellows, and two blues plus white. I guess I should call this system Occams Razor paint mixing. The scheme prevents an artist from ever mixing muddy colors. All earth colors are mixed rather than squeezed from a tube. My idea is to make learning to mix colors an Occams Razor experience. Here is the link to the palette:http://mikkisenkarik.wordpress.com/2011/02/19/double-primary-palette
I know you don’t want to hear this, but people buy paintings to match their carpet, drapes, walls and bedspreads. I recall an amusing story told by our Napa Gallery owner. He delivered a large Senkarik and the people told him the art didn’t match their carpet. He looked at the carpet and answered, “Your carpet is old and looks a little worn. It’s time you purchased some new flooring.” They agreed and took the painting. You can fight me over color. Or you can believe me and see your sales improve. That’s your choice. Until you reach the major, major, major league then color is definitely a factor in sales.
Some of you spend far too much time blogging, doing newsletters, Facebook, Myspace, Linkedin, tweeting, gabbing on the phone, texting and other social stuff that I’ve never heard of. You cannot improve without putting miles on your medium. Think about the Occams Razor approach in relation to being connected with people. Choose the top people in your friends and family list. Eliminate all the needless chatter. Pick the three things that work best. Improve on relationships that matter and put your heartfelt effort in making the best work ever. It’s not about how many people you talk with daily, but rather if you improve your art. No one can do everything. Focus on what you do best and make that superior. Don’t be a Jack of All Trades and Master of None. This is the quickest route to failure. Minister Ockham knew this 800 years ago.