But I’m an Artist! or Understanding Art & Business 101

This morning I caught a post by @Landailyn over on her blog Janinealogy. I felt the opening dialogue made the point:

Question: I am: a) retired, b) bored, c) unemployed, and I’m looking to work from home! I’ve used Photoshop for years!

Does anyone have any ideas on what I can do to: a) start my own business, b) make extra money

Answer: Photo restoration!! It’s so easy, even an anencephalic monkey can do it! You have everything you need! Photoshop! Good luck! 🙂

Janine not only beats the proverbial dead horse, she makes sure the poor thing is ground & chucked, and served as a violator’s last meal. I was going to leave a comment, but then I thought, “What a perfect opportunity to blog.” So yeah for you my loyal readers.

If you haven’t discovered Janine yet, she does some truly outstanding work as a photo restoration artist, and she rocks `cause she’s her in Texas. Lately, there’s been a resounding theme over on her blog, “Photo Restoration IS art DAMMIT.” As a creative I can empathize with her message, and I believe her frustration is shared by others in various industries. But here’s the rub…

We’re not mad at the people trying to be “artists”, we’re pissed at the consumers who don’t appreciate, e.g., spend money on our art.

Whoa. Did you just see an elephant walk by?

OK, it’s not just about the money, let me explain. We have all experienced the person who wasn’t interested in the same things that interest us. If you’re not a sports fan, you really don’t care who’s playing in the Super Bowl, and therefore winning tickets might be “nice” but not a life altering experience. So it goes with us as artists, and how we perceive your reaction to our art. My wife, God love her, has supported me in so many ways, but she doesn’t drool all over herself when I show her my latest Photoshop piece. Her reaction is reminiscent of my mom, “That’s nice.” What? Don’t you understand I just spent the last 12 hours working on this piece, which when posted to the NAPP forums will change people’s lives and actually make @NAPP_News weep? OK, maybe a little overly dramatic, but you see my point. It can be devastating when our perceived value is not immediately recognized by those around us. Not that Michelle doesn’t appreciate my Photoshop skills, but I’d go crazy if I expected her to have the same level of enthusiasm I do when I finish a piece.

“Get back on point, what about customers?”

I have two clients. Bob is REALLY successful. Frank lives a modest lifestyle. Both write publications. Bob has more customers, and a decent product. Frank has a superior product, but not as many customers. Frank feels frustrated because potential customers can’t see how great a product he’s selling. Bob seemingly blinks, and people wait in line for his product. Frank spends all his energy trying to make his book look perfect. As an artist, he’s constantly tweaking the colors, layout, design, in fact he changes the book every year it’s published. With the exception of the cover, Bob hasn’t made a change to his book in over 10 years. I asked Bob once why he hadn’t changed his book to be more like Frank’s. He told me, “Because it’s just a book. That’s what my customers want, that’s what they get.” Frank is too personally attached to the art of his publication.

And this is where we learn that art is separate from business.

The truth is anyone can start a business in photography, graphic design, photo restoration, and charge next to nothing, because there are customers out there who will buy their product. Janine’s original post on this topic was on point in that the public needs to be educated, and I would add education is important for any industry. But I would say as an artist AND business person, you have to market yourself to the right customer. Really, it doesn’t matter to me that Joe bought a digital camera, and calls himself a wedding photographer. If Joe wants to do weddings for $300 a weekend, that’s fine because I’m not trying to win those clients. As a business person, I also realize that in some instances a client will be more than happy with minimal post processing on an image. As I wrote in a previous post, Know your business, know your customers. Which brings home the final point.

Technology is not art.

No matter how easy technology makes it for anyone to create a quality image, that same technology does not turn a person into an artist. Today’s digital cameras capture great images, and I know working professionals who shoot everything in the camera’s automatic mode. But the camera is just an extension of the photographer. The fact is Tiger Woods can beat you on the golf course with any set of clubs you give him. In class, I share techniques with students all the time. I was once asked, “Aren’t you afraid someone will use your technique, and steal business from you?” Well first off, they’re only stealing business from me if they’re doing something unethical, but if they want to compete I can’t stop them. As an artist, I’m am not just a list of techniques. A person can emulate my style, improve upon it even, but they can’t do what I do. As an artist, I welcome the challenge of my students and technology to push me to be better.

In summary, as creatives our work should give us internal satisfaction first before we look to external praise. To make money as a creative means you have to work even harder, be even better, and understand that technology is changing the landscape of our profession not erasing it.

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12 comments

  • As a former freelancer myself, I can both your and Jeanine’s POV quite clearly.

    In Jeanine’s defense, allow me to say that every time I see a “marketer” selling a “How to write Million-Dollar Copy” books. I throw up in my mouth a little. “You mean to tell me, I didn’t have to “pay my dues” for all these years, endure he unease of low-response pieces, and hone my craft to an award-winning status?! All I had to do was buy this book?” You get me, right?

    In your defense, when I crank out an article or email that has the entire office laughing, or when one of the partners here pulls me aside and says “Great Job Nancy!” I know that, sure, there are ~plenty~ of writers that could do this too but it’s my years of work and absolute love for my craft that earned that laugh or that compliment… Anyone can use Microsoft Word too ya know. =)

    Great post!

    NAPP_Newss last blog post..NAPP_News: @sonatacreative Aww! Well, Thank you for tweeting about the awesomeness that is Photoshop World! Funny that it’s still a secret to most, eh? on [site]

  • OMG. I got a Nancy comment. Cool beans.

    I wasn’t saying Janine’s statement was without merit. Really my point is that as frustrating as those “artists” and customers can be, they will always be around. You can’t define yourself simply by outside influences.

    I know plenty of untalented SOBs that are doing really well, and it is teeth-grinding to think, “Why isn’t that me?” The fact is you can’t control other people. You can only take what you see, what you learn, and try to be the best that YOU can be.

    Everything else will fall into place once you get your energy focused on the right task.

  • Agreed! Hrmmm… I think I’m the one who wasn’t clear on that, not you. =)

    Yes. It is ~supremely~ frustrating but yes, eventually, the cream ~does~ rise to the top… but boy oh boy, the waiting truly is the hardest part.

    … and BTW – That beautiful post you wrote about your wife ~did~ make me tear up. =)

    NAPP_Newss last blog post..NAPP_News: @sonatacreative Aww! Well, Thank you for tweeting about the awesomeness that is Photoshop World! Funny that it’s still a secret to most, eh? on [site]

  • (I’m another Janine, not the one from Janinealogy.)

    I think this is really a marketing problem. Marketing is not showing your work to the world randomly, it’s finding a need and filling it. The people who don’t appreciate the quality of your work are not your target customers. They don’t care how much experience you have or how many hours of hard work you put it. They won’t pay you what you’re worth.

    The customers you’re looking for appreciate quality and creativity and are willing to pay for it. So how do you find them? By getting your work shown as much as possible, to the right people. One photog I know gives each client a stack of her business cards, with their photo on it. Genius. Her already-satisfied clients are glad to pass out the cards with their photo. I know Janine does volunteer photo restoration for disaster victims, maybe she could get that story in the local paper, with examples of her work. Joining professional associations or online forums can help.

    But I think everyone is agreed that the most important thing is to do the very best work you can do.

  • Hi, AJ! Thanks for the mention (s)! I don’t think the horse is quite that gross, just yet (lol!), but I’ll lay off that particular rant, at least for a while. I know those types won’t go away! What I was trying to get across was the lack of respect for a certain art form, the “chia-pet” syndrome, from fellow artists, *and* the public. I’m not concerned with people being competition, I actually welcome the competition! That just makes me want to be better at what I do! But I want the competition to really, genuinely BE competition, not just Joe Bored who wants to make extra cash and has no idea how to restore a photo! I want Joe to learn and do it well, first! Does that make sense?

    Janines last blog post..The Fascinating Mr. Flipper on [site]

  • Janine – Totally. Your post has been a hot topic, and I’ve read variations on this theme on Scott Kelby’s blog. Usually, it’s “Photoshop is evil, be a REAL photographer.” or “Mac suck PCs rule.” but the bottom line is technology has made creating quality images accessible to everyone.

    I agree with your points that if Joe Bored really wants to be in the mix, then he should study like the rest of us. I also think plenty of folks are content to take their own digital picture, or do their own touchups, not as art, but simply because it’s good enough for them.

    Nancy – That’s awesome. Glad you liked the dedication to my wife.

  • I love your blogs and have been an avid reader of yours and Janineology since I discovered you both! Keep it up!

    I agree with this topic discussion whole heartedly!

    My question, comes from reading all of the blogs on professionalism and quality (and personal experience) that have been popping up lately … HOW do you educate a self proclaimed “pro” and the public that is suckered into purchasing their crap?

    I know a “photogrpher” who charges more than some of the “pros” I know, who is making a reputation of being the photographer that makes brides CRY (not because they are happy either) whenever their wedding day is brought up in conversation. She has all of the right tools, but NONE of the right attitude or talent. She has no desire to get better, because people pay her what she asks (because she somehow knows how to sell herself), but with the worst possible outcome of the product, NO ONE will stand up to her and pitch a fit about the CRAP they ended up with. If I had paid that much $$, and ended up with CRAP for my wedding pictures, there would be a serious court case.

    So how do you educate the unwilling? I made friendly comments about professional dress and conduct (she showed up to my brothers wedding in sweats and sat with the guests through 98% of the event), quality of the images (she shows lab printed photos in her very limited portfolio and gives the customer home printed inkjets), and the prices she is charging (suggested hooking her up with a few Pro’s so that she could gain insight, learn process and quality, while still making $$ while learning and getting better)… etc.

    I always ALWAYS tell my students that cameras, computers and Photoshop are just tools, and that like anything else it takes loads of time and practice to make things come out looking great and the way we want them to, so practice, practice, practice and if you can’t get it to look quite right ASK for help, because there are hundreds of people online and in the community that will gladly give crits and suggestions.

    Cheers and keep up the great work! I apologize for the rant, the unprofessionals really irk me!

    DurbinDigital ~TYEs last blog post..Technorati & randomness on [site]

  • Tye – Thanks for the kind words, I’m glad you enjoy the blog, and I’m sure Janine appreciates your patronage as well.

    I don’t have a specific answer to your question, however, I find it surprising that the “pro” you spoke of is able to continue working if that’s how she treats her clients.

    A lot of what we do as creatives grows from word of mouth. If this “pro” was shafting clients, specifically by misrepresentation during the sale, that would be a breach of contract.

    I can’t imagine someone like that lasting very long here in Dallas/Fort Worth. And big money people talk.

    As you know someone who was personally affected, you may encourage them to seek a refund, or report her to the BBB.

  • ThanX for responding A.J.! It was more of an irritated rhetorical question. The people that I have talked with, won’t turn her in to BBB or small claims court, reason? because they don’t want to “offend” her. My response was how can you sit back and let her sabotage someone else’s wedding/birthday/prom/important event like that? It is frustrating because I have tried both parties to make things better for everyone. The “pro” so she can learn and be better, and the other people so they get quality results. I’m not a “pro” photographer, but even my shots are better. (Probably because I have formal art/design training, therefore a better “eye”) *so whenever this person is mentioned, all I can do is shake my head* And I have no idea how she manages to get more clients… no idea!

    As far as my brother is concerned, I am “fixing” keepers that the wedding guests and I took & am salvaging what I can from what they do have, so they at least have a few to hang on the wall. There are NONE from the ceremony, because the “pro” made a bad move and announced on the “bride and grooms” behalf, that no one is to take pictures because they “paid” for a professional…. so sad! Hopefully my work will ease the disappointment and let them have good memories and not cry whenever someone mentions their wedding.

    ThanX again!

    DurbinDigital ~TYEs last blog post..Technorati & randomness on [site]

  • Asitha   Reply →

    “…technology is changing the landscape of our profession not erasing it.” It explains everything.
    Thanks for the great post. I appreciate all the great work you are doing for the community. Keep up the good work Sir. God bless you!

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