Since starting this little venture of running a studio/gallery just over a year ago, I've been surprised by the extent to which I've really had to start thinking like a businessman. In the very beginning, I had some very strong and set ideas about how things would be done: We're going to have this kind of paintings, and they're going to be such-and-such a size, and they're going to cost that much, and people are going to snap them right off the walls, and everything will be great...
Now, I have sold from day one, so from that perspective I've been successful all along, but in reality the first six months were more disappointing than I'd imagined they would have been. At a certain point I started to realize that perhaps my initial viewpoints were mistaken. I could have been obstinate and clung to my original plan -- it seems that many artists do exactly that. While I take tremendous pride in the quality and value of my work, that pride fortunately does not lead to total stubbornness. It was when I started to think flexibly about what we were doing that things really started to change.
As an example, in the beginning I had a lot of large, fairly substantially priced work on the wall, yet most of what I was selling were the small pieces. There is a well-entrenched prejudice in the art world favoring bigger pieces, but I was not benefiting from it. I decided to alter the ratio, foregoing the larger for the smaller. Now, between 60% and 70% of the paintings on the wall are 8x10 and smaller.
Art is of course, a funny commodity, since so many factors integral to the creator get bound up in the mix, not the least being the artist's pride and ego. But in the end, it is exactly that, a commodity. The most important factor determining success is that it be high-quality work that engages both the artist and the audience in an honest way. Beyond that though, the artist's ability to think in terms of the marketplace is paramount; openness and flexibility, attention to customer service, and salesmanship. I imagine these are ongoing learning processes even for those with an innate business sense, which unfortunately I lack -- I need to work hard for these things.
It would be radically premature to talk about the secrets of my success, but if I've learned anything so far, it's that I have to constantly question assumptions, be open to different ideas, and exercise as much flexibility as I possibly can. In other words, check your ego at the door and keep trying new things.
At least, it's been working for me so far...