IAM Encounter: Art as business
6 March 2009 4 Comments
One of the more interesting seminars I was able to attend at IAM Encounter 2009 dealt with art as a vocation. It was given by Mark Meehan, a professor of business at Nyack and president of the IAM board. As such, it was a very practical and business oriented lecture.
Meehan started out by acknowledging the disgust most artists feel for the idea of business, but countered this by suggested that business is creative. Semantically he’s correct; by no means is creativity limited to the arts. Regardless, business and marketing are generally the last thing sculptors and painters want to be spending their time on. We’d rather be in our studios working with our hands. Marketing and spreadsheets call out in the night, though, to artists desiring to make a career of their craft.
Artists Need to Be Intercultural
Meehan continued by talking about a number of businessmen he knew who 1: Are wealthy 2: Want to patronize the arts but don’t know how to go about it. There is a gap between the artistic and business subcultures; business culture with its suits and ties doesn’t know how to communicate with the dyed hair and piercings of the artistic world. For artists who want to be successful, the responsibility falls on painters and sculptors to move out of their comfort zone by dressing more conservatively and keeping somewhat regular hours.
Thomas Kinkade or Castrated Donkeys
In other words, define your target market. Do you want to be the next Thomas Kinkade, a veritable marketing machine whose paintings are aimed at the lowest artistic denominator, or the next shock artist creating castrated donkeys for a very niche market (in the case of said donkeys, a Turkish community in New Jersey Meehan used as an example).
This is very basic business but is likely to ruffle the feathers of many art school graduates, purists. The fact is, however, if you haven’t given any thought to your target demographic you’re not likely to be very successful selling your work. Meehan pointed to a Christian radio station in Jersey with one of the largest potential markets in the country that failed to define their target market. They expected everyone to be a potential listener. Consequently, Meehan rightly points out, the station was marketing to no one. After he convinced them that only 30-50 year old Christian women actually listen to Christian radio, the station geared their programming to this particular demographic. Listenership went from 80,000 to 300,000 in a year (on a weekly basis, as I recall).
Artists need to realize that things like installations and performances aren’t really marketable like paintings or small sculptures. We need to define the people we expect to purchase or view our creations.
A Process, Not an Event
Another of Meehan’s points was that the business side of art, coming up with, in his words, a Creative Act Plan and putting it into motion, is a process and not an event. Creating art is also a process; even though a painter may have a finished canvas in front of him after five hours, that canvas is only a sliver of a larger body of work spanning a lifetime. Our craft, both imaginative and tactile, is always being refined. As impatient Americans we constantly need to be reminded of the process that is life.
This was the kind of seminar I went to the IAM Encounter conference for, one with practical insights as a way to spur on (or actually launch) my own artistic career. So what do I do with the information from Meehan’s seminar?
I sit down and create a business plan, or Creative Act Plan. It won’t be easy, in fact it will probably be more painful than working on an artist statement. But it will focus me artistically, which will in turn help me define a target demographic and bring some realism to the idea of a career as a sculptor.
As a final note, this seminar was actually a trial run for a day-long seminar Meehan has in mind to be held at IAM headquarters later this year, and podcast to the rest of us who won’t be in New York at that time.