- Laura Blackledge
Well. I am now officially qualified to Art in a professional capacity.
Lol, jk. Literally everyone is, and don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise. I was always allowed to do it professionally if I wanted, but now I have a piece of paper saying that I'm resilient and stubborn enough to survive four years of doing it on demand, and to a schedule. Which is pretty useful to know about myself.
So what now?
Eagle-eyed viewers will have noticed that I didn't post a blog last week, and this week's entry is a day late. This is because I've just got back from a week in London with the rest of my class (3D Design, 2019! The Pawnee, Indiana of classes ❤) at the New Designers Graduate Exhibition in London. This was billed to us as an unparalleled opportunity to have our work seen by influential industry insiders and experts, and to meet fellow graduates in similar disciplines from all over the country. These promises turned out to be almost exactly 50% accurate. (Shout out to all the fabulously talented, friendly, funny, and welcoming fellow graduates we shared the week with, you guys are ready to rock the world!)
So, while the graduates who hadn't had the foresight to develop a passion for designing dinnerware sets that can be mass produced in china and sold in middle-to-upper-tier supermarkets and department stores were spending their long, emotionally draining days (which they incidentally paid a significant amount of their own money to be allowed to experience) being vigorously ignored by influential industry insiders and experts, they had a lot of time to contemplate their future.
Among the conclusions I reached during this long, hot, trade-show of the soul, perhaps the most important to take forwards into a developing career in Professional Arting was: you can't please all the people all the time, and you're just going to have to get used to that.
Making original art, putting it out into the world, and then having the gall to demand money in exchange for it, has got to one of the most soul-baring and emotionally flaying ways to legally pay the rent that we've yet come up with. It's hard. Because when people don't like it, they're saying they don't like you. When people say its not quite what they were looking for, and suggest ways it could be better, they're saying you're not quite good enough, and people might like you more if you just changed a few fundamental things about yourself. When people scoff at the prices you're asking for this small piece of your soul, they're saying that you're not worth as much as you thought you were, how hilariously presumptuous of you to think so. It's tough, is what I'm saying.
But this is what we signed up for. It's not going to go away anytime soon, so we accept it as part of the job, and figure out ways to work with, and around it.
What are some of the ways we can do this?
1. Figure out where your market is, and direct your efforts accordingly.
Going back to "You can't please all the people, all the time", don't waste your time, energy, and resources in trying to. If your work has a natural "audience" put your efforts into making sure they're the ones who see it. If - to pick an example at random - your work leans heavily into Creepy Doll/Fairy Tale/Medical Curiosity territory, you would definitely be well served to focus your efforts into the Goth-ier areas of the market, be they on the internet (websites, social media pages and groups, online publications, etc), traditional media like magazines, or real world events and gatherings. To be sure, there's always the chance that the occasional creature of the night will happen to waft past your stall at a mainstream event, but you have to work out before agreeing to take part whether the odds of this happening organically make your participation worthwhile, or if you should focus instead on sticking to places where this kind of wafting is more of a guarantee than a happy coincidence.
2. Be vain (or "confident", whatever)
Its lovely to think that we could be the busker heard by a record executive and catapulted to stardom, or the street-artist spotted by a big-shot collector and suddenly thrust into the centre of the fashionable art scene, but the chances of this actually happening are vanishingly slim. Instead it's more likely that you'll have to start out by metaphorically cornering people at parties or sticking your foot out in front of them and then thrusting your work into their faces while you help them up. Your work is good, so act like it. Show it, share it, shout about it! It's never been easier for artists to share their work with the world without leaving the house, so make the most of this. People can't love (or buy) your work if they haven't seen it, and that is 100% in your hands. I've tried leaving work out overnight for the Social Media Elves to share for me, but it hasn't worked yet (YET), so in the meantime you just have to bite the bullet and say "I made this and I love it! LOOK! You could love it too! Also, while you're here, check out my other stuff..."
Other people can't have faith in your work unless you do. (Or convincingly pretend you do, until it becomes real, they don't need to know which it is)
To put it another way: you definitely could go viral, but you need to walk up to someone and sneeze in their face first.
3. Experiment, and don't be afraid of change.
In evolution, the species that survives and thrives over the long term isn't necessarily the strongest or the fastest, it's the one that adapts best to changes in conditions. Nothing in life is static, particularly not art. If you want to stay successful as the continents shift, you need to be willing to always be exploring new possibilities and discovering new strengths that will help you keep your creative foothold in an ever-changing landscape. Having some safe pieces, or standards, that you know are successful, and you can keep revisiting is fine, but once everyone in the world who loves that piece has bought one, you need something fresh and awesome to wow them with again. (And if an experiment doesn't take off and take the world by storm, that's fine! The platypus may only have a very small ecological niche it can survive in, but by god they're adorable. It's fine to make the occasional platypus)
So these are some of the thoughts I've had while contemplating the prospect of going it alone in the big wide world of professional Art. Currently they are based on several years of dipping my toes into it on an informal, ad hoc basis, and the last four of having actual, seasoned, currently practising professionals trying to make me listen to them while I played with noisy machines and cried about approaching deadlines. I did take more of it in than you think, I promise.
I fully expect these points to change and develop over time (See point 3), but for now, with these tucked firmly into my belt, I think I can almost, possibly, probably, believe that I might actually be able to make a go of this...
Lets find out together, shall we?