In this series of Art Business 101 posts, I have written extensively about showing and promoting your art. But we haven’t talked about the more fundamental thing, which is creating a high-quality product.
It is difficult to give specific advice, because there are so many different kinds of art. Each school of thought (Expressionism, Minimalism, Pop Art, etc.) has its own goals and standards. Furthermore, the results of an artistic endeavor are largely subjective. Two critics might look at the same piece but hold completely different opinions about it.
Nevertheless, we are united by one goal: to make a kind of art that we and our audiences are equally excited about. Here are a few tips that will apply to every artist.
Be a Kid Again
Try reaching back to your childhood interests for inspiration. According to at least one study, an individual’s personality is totally developed by the age of 7. It stands to reason that the things that fired up your imagination when you were a child should still fascinate you today. It could be as simple as smearing colors on paper or as elaborate as drawing skyscrapers.
When I was growing up, I would draw or paint for my own pleasure. I created the kind of imagery I enjoyed seeing, which was almost exclusively inspired by popular cartoons and comics. I liked drawing human (or superhuman) subjects, which just kind of floated in a blank space like characters on an animation cell.
As I matured over the years, I absorbed other pop culture influences, such as logo design. I still draw what I love, and I still leave my subjects floating on an amorphous background!
Think about the artists and art movements that inspire you the most. Buy some books that will give you in-depth information about the artists’ objectives. Study their works up close, both in books and in person if possible. Search for documentaries about their stories, many of which you can find for free on YouTube. Try to emulate their techniques, but don’t be afraid to let your own sensibility lead you in a new direction.
When I was growing up, my mom had a series of hardcover books about famous artists, and I would look at them all the time. The series covered the Renaissance through Cubism. One of my favorite books was about Picasso. I loved his bold use of color and form, which reminded me of cartoon animation.
Eventually, art school exposed me to many more art movements and artists, and I continue this education by reading art books all the time. I find that I relate to aspects of specific movements, like Aestheticism in its focus on sensory harmony over didacticism. These discoveries enrich my artistic process by clarifying my values and what I hope to achieve.
Churn It Out
At least initially, think quantity over quality. Make, make, make. When you have done that, make some more. Expand on an idea by making a series of pieces rather than just one. Experiment with every technique and medium at your disposal. You will discover what you like, and you will stumble upon mistakes to avoid. You will also begin to build a body of work. Later on, when you are ready to exhibit, you will be able to pick only the best examples of your work.
I constantly have ideas for new art, but not all of them work out. There are experiments in my studio that will never see the light of day, because frankly they suck. I didn’t know they would suck when I began to make them. The only way to evaluate an idea is to make it, step back, and try to take an objective look. By the same token the best and most successful pieces I have ever made began as an idea that I decided to try.
Adapt For Survival
Pay attention to work that sells, even if it’s somebody else’s art, and take note of the stuff that gets passed over. You can improve your chances of replicating success by assimilating aspects of the work that sells. Be willing to modify the work you make to meet consumer demand.
When I graduated college, it was enough for me to just make art. I learned a lot by simply producing. After awhile, my mantra became, “Make better art.” I sincerely want to connect with my audience and to share with them my experience of beauty, and the only way to do that is to offer them a package that they will want to buy.
You can be true to your vision and still be responsive to the market. You can have integrity in your art practices and still meet consumer demand. Just remember: there is a difference between a sell-out and an artist who sells.