Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
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01/25/2006: "Give the people what they want???"

I started spot reading that Business of Being an Artist book last night and got pretty disgusted early on. I mean, I'm sure there are some excellent nuggets in there but they had some quotes from artists who admitted that their art dealers would actually tell them specific things to change in their work in order to make the pieces sell better...AND THEY WOULD! Another artist said that she finds out what's selling and then that's what she paints...her theory was that people who buy art know what they want more than the people who make it and artists can't foist their work onto people who want something else (paraphrased).

I think I'm done reading these marketing tomes for awhile, they just depress me and seem to have the ultimate attitude that if your work isn't selling it's because you aren't working hard enough or willing to compromise enough or aren't being manipulative enough or working the system enough.

Blah, I feel like I need a shower.

Replies: 16 Comments

on Wednesday, January 25th, Howard said

In todays market I think there's room for every type of artist and every type of art that's made. The trick is finding your audience and that can take some time to happen. You have to keep in mind that there's two art markets out there. One of genuine artist trying to challenge themselves and their audience and another that really more or less resembles any other consumer market where the artsit respond to consumer whims. The first group has to build their market from scratch and the second steals their market from somewhere else. Don't get them confused! You're selling work so you have a market for what you are porducing. It might be small now but over time I'm sure it will grow.

on Wednesday, January 25th, Rob Roys said

I wrote this big comment and then stepped away and it had gone away!

The book I thought was pretty good is called "How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist." It was definately geared to a creative artist as opposed to the Moose & Spruce artist.
The way I figure it-and others in JNU- is that about 3% of people like real art. About 10% of them might buy your art. The trouble is getting them to see it!
The great thing about JNU is we get almost a million people every year. That is about 3000 potential buyers! Coupling that with the web (which you do very well) is the best way to go.
I think you are doing a very good job with it. You know what your missing piece is-a gallery-and are doing something about it. I do not think the JAG is the place for you, but that is just my opinion of co-ops.
The “giclee” thing scares me. It is sooooooo tempting to sell an image over and over. I tried an experiment with one. The person who I gave it to kept calling it a “painting” and not a print, poster, or archival ink-jet print.
We really need to get together. Let's have breakfast at Costa's Sat morning and then go look at that space I told you about.

on Wednesday, January 25th, Elise said

Hi Howard, I like looking at things in terms of those who build their market from scratch and those who "steal" a market that already makes me feel better.

And Rob, looking at our situation as having a potential 3000 customers a year is pretty inspiring as well (as long as you get into a space downtown)...

Breakfast at Costa's sat. morning sounds fine...sorry I didn't call you back last said "call me back" and I heard myself say "ok" and instantly knew that I wouldn't...

on Wednesday, January 25th, Daniel said

You mentioned in another post your reading of "Art Calendar". I actually dropped my subscription for the points you mentioned bugging you in this book. When I was getting the magazine, there seemed to be a continuous run of articles about only creating "work you KNOW will sell". That combined with crappy cover art selections was too much for me.

on Wednesday, January 25th, Elise said

Good point Daniel! I have only read a couple pages from this book and I'm sure there's a lot of other bits of good advice that don't involve compromising your work...I just found those first statements (I'll try to quote them tonight because the actual statements are actually very frightening) to be so blatant...

You're right about Art Calendar putting the same amount of emphasis on what will sell, but they also have articles on other topics like art law and other stuff that makes it worth it...

on Thursday, January 26th, Maria said

I have never "blogged" before. Please send me an email, if that's permitted, just to let me know this works. I did type a message in the other area of your site...this is the first time I have actually replied to a web site, so I am unsure of the protocols & mechanism of action. Thank you. :satisfied: :) :D!!What fun!

on Thursday, January 26th, Maria said

okay, I see what I wrote goes on here. Well, I have not read this book being discussed but, when I paint, the paint leads me. I have tried painting what someone else wants but it only works if that's what is in me and the paint to begin with.

on Thursday, January 26th, Jackie said

E: I have known plenty of artists who didn't hesitate when it came to 'selling out' (or as I prefer - prostituting themselves) to make what the consumers want. That ain't me. I had a classmate from H.S. who married a friend and another classmate - they live in Juneau, I think. He has raked in the dough painting photo-realistic 'Fin, fur & feathers' paintings. At our 10-year HS reunion, they bragged about how much money Ed was making. Now I see he does 'artist -onboard' tour ship gigs, and sells alot of his work to Asian tourists.

Of course, I've had other people want to commission a piece, and then proceed to tell me how to make it, or what it should look like, etc. I had some patrons who left me with such a bad taste in my mouth, I'll never deal with them again. Hey - they moved to Juneau too!

I generally stay far away from literature that advises artists how to 'sell sell sell'. But the business end of selling art is important, and often not well understood, by artists.

on Thursday, January 26th, Elise said

Hi Maria, welcome!

Blogging is a lot of fun, if you're interested in starting one of your own it's very easy. Just go to the free blogger website at:

From there you can click on the link called “Create your blog now”…it will guide you through the process which is easy and doesn’t require you to know any html etc. Good luck and let me know if you do start one so I can check it out!

on Thursday, January 26th, Elise said

Oh, and hi Jackie! You’re right that it’s a fine line between giving artists helpful tips on how to market their work (plus legal and tax advice etc.) that goes along with the business part of being an artist (the part that most of us would rather ignore)…and dictating the best way to make money by whatever means possible.

I suppose it really comes down to what your personal goals and objectives are as an artist. The way I see it we break down into roughly 3 categories.

1. Those who see art first and foremost as a way to make money.
2. Those who do art purely for personal reasons with little or no desire to show/sell what they produce.
3. Those who do work for personal fulfillment but also want to share that work with others and hopefully sell it to people who also connect with it emotionally or intellectually.

I think the majority of us probably fall into the third category, though I hold no ill will for those whose top priority is to sell, or those who purely do it for themselves.

on Thursday, January 26th, mick said

Hi Elise - long time no post hehe heh. Dont change a thing - what you do is unique and seems to be getting better all the time. I keep promising myself that one day I will own one of your paintings or at least a giclee print of one lol. Sadly art has become an accessory to furniture and fittings - it has to fit in otherwise it ends up in the downstairs cloakroom.
Perhaps you should find out what sort of people really enjoy your art and market directly to that sector - so intead of changing your style to fit in with a mock tudor dinette you would be matching it to the people who have the sort of room that would be complemented by your beautiful work.
Lots of love from that quirky guy in Cornwall UK. btw we are crossing the pond later this year - wishing we had chosen alaska instead of Florida LOL

on Thursday, January 26th, Elise said

That's so weird Mick, I was *just* thinking about you today, wondering what you've been up to since I hadn't heard from ya in awhile!

I think that as much as we might loath to admit it, the reality (even for me) is that some art that I really adore, would just look completely out of place in my home. If I buy someone's art, I want to hang it where I'll see it and enjoy it everyday and if the painting has a lot of red in it, for example, it just won't go with the rest of my house which is (ironically) all earth tones.
I try to leave some walls in my house white so I can hang stuff that might not go anywhere else.

I remember this guy who came to one of my shows and said he really loved my paintings but they just wouldn't go with anything in his house and I remember feeling really indignant but in the end, he was just being honest.

I'm not going to change how I paint in order to increase sales...I hope that as my painting improves that might happen on its own. And the more people who get to see your work the better, because as rob said earlier, maybe 10% of the population buys original art and of those maybe 3% would like any given style, so the more who see it the better.

Anyway, I got some new, smaller giclees done recently...I'm going to post them in my prints gallery soon...

ooh, and hope you're not visiting Florida during hurricane season! At least in alaska you only have to deal with volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, mud flats, avalanches and bears!

on Thursday, January 26th, ann said

I think if you do something you really love then it will not only be rewarding during the experience but that good things tend to come out of putting that positive energy out in the world.

So, fooey on selling out.

Oh, and I'm personally happy you are doing the prints now, because that means one day I'll own Fire & Ice as well as Under the Devil's Club, since I missed the chance to buy the actual paintings... :)

on Thursday, January 26th, Elise said

Cool Ann, that does make me feel better.
:) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :O

on Friday, January 27th, greg said

IMO Howard really nailed that one, and Elise you do a good job refining those catagories with the hobbyist.

Just wondering tho' is it necessary or helpful to separate "business" from "genuine" (he)art??!

Practical matters say us boys 'n girls still gotsta eat! ... lotsta think about! :)

on Friday, January 27th, Elise said

I think that if we're lucky we'll be able to make (he)art and still eat!