The Independent Artist 2019

The Independent Artist in 2019


The Independent Artist 2019



Each week I write a brand new article to support members of our three wonderful art groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, and The Artist Hangout. This week following a relaxing festive break we take a look at the often unpredictable art world in 2019 and what we might have to do as artists to thrive throughout this brand new year!


I know I said I would be taking some time off over the holidays but as with all the best plans, I hardly had a minute because there was so much that needed to be done to prepare for the year ahead. Preparing new blogs, finishing artworks, and setting up some new technology that I have been promising myself I would set up for weeks, and I even gave up smoking thirty days ago today. 2019 is going to be the year of video for me and I will hopefully be creating a few short videos showing my process of creating digital works, and maybe a few tutorial videos too and all in glorious 4K! Let me know if there’s something you would like me to cover!


So the holidays were a good kind of busy and I managed to eventually carve out some time to think about what 2019 might look like in the world of art, and I even went to the cinema to watch Aquaman. As an independent visual artist everything we do is usually within our gift, but if we are to thrive as independent artists and not only get our work seen but to sell it too, we do have to think about what our markets or more specifically, what the people who buy our work really want from us. So this week, let’s take a look at some of the things we definitely need to think about over the coming year. 


No one knows for certain what 2019 will bring to the art world. It’s a world that is unpredictable at best and just when you think you have finally figured it out it changes faster than the weather and the changes are often way more turbulent. We have storms and sunny periods and we have snow days when nothing sells at all, and we get those snow days in the summer too. At least with the weather it is possible to predict what will happen over the next few days with a certain degree of accuracy, in the art world, not so much. Predict sunshine and you will usually end up with lightning. Estimated sale price $5-$7m and it goes under the hammer for $40m or $1. 


What we already know about 2019…


What we do know is that every year another one of the big players of the art world will either release their latest report on the state of the art market or will make predictions based on crunching lots of numbers and studying lots of art. Sometimes these reports nail it, other times they don’t even come close and sometimes those reports are written with the sole agenda of gaming the art system. One thing is certain though and that is that the markets in 2019 will be very different to the markets of the past decade when it comes to marketing, buying and selling our art. 


We live in a visual age where art is easy to consume. Art has become infinitely more accessible with the age of Facebook and Instagram and social media more broadly. Corporate teams carefully craft social media posts to stop us from scrolling beyond them with the intention of getting us to click on one link and ultimately convert us from casual browser to buyer. Many of them will use the power of artistic design to get us to click on a link to buy anything, art is everywhere. For marketing teams around the world it has become a digital hunt for new eyes in a marketplace that is very different to the marketplace of yesterday. Today there doesn’t need to be any human face to face interaction and even the most expensive art works are now being found through a Jpeg image. Mind blowing. 


2018 was a shaky year in the retail world, but at the very pinnacle of the art world we watched as a painting from Banksy was shredded the second the hammer fell, and other works sold for millions above the estimated guide price and we all kind of wondered why anyone would spend that much on that piece. We also witnessed troubling times in some of the smaller galleries and many shuttered their doors and placed their final red dots on remaining works or shipped them back to the artists. The high street reached an all-time low and we not only lost some very good galleries but some of the huge retail giants from other sectors went under too, bleak didn’t even begin to describe the decimation of the high street that many had to endure. 


Here in the UK we have that mess going on we call Brexit, and the rest of the world have their own issues, their own problems and each of those issues often interlink with someone or somewhere else. Times are uncertain in most markets so if we are to thrive as independent visual artists in 2019, we probably need to start looking at what’s going on more widely in the world and start to figure out where we and our art fit in, in this new landscape, but above all else we certainly need to find our people. 


Small galleries that went under had to give way to a new breed of mega-gallery where art is obsessed with money. Buyers from the 1% flock into them and buy the equivalent of a pair of Nikes because they don’t know how to buy anything else, and I don’t say that loosely. History is ruthless at disposing of things it no longer needs and the mega-gallery bubble I think, I actually hope, will be temporary. The reason for that is that it is becoming less and less about the art and more and more about proving and showcasing wealth of the few. 


The art world is changing and at some point there has to be a seismic shift in its thinking and hopefully we will eventually see the point when the excuses used by the big players to not regulate the art world are ignored and the art world becomes a lot less opaque and fairer to every artist. A pipe dream maybe, but there is no doubt that the bubble will eventually burst, and the stars need to realign.


If you are a new to the arts and think that it is an easy ride following a predetermined route to greatness, then there is something you really should know about 2019 and that is to not waste all of your time chasing the unicorn we call the major gallery gig. 


The gallery system works extremely well for some artists, it did for me for a while, and there are still a few decent galleries remaining, but we have a scenario currently where 100 artists maybe even a thousand, are trying to fit into a space built for one. Find your own people first, if the gallery gig happens later on, it happens, but not every artist dreams of being in, or wants to work in that space. It might work for some artists and for some art, but the system doesn’t work for all artists and doesn’t have a fit with all art.


2019 will also be the year when fewer of the smaller and the more savvy galleries still managing to stay afloat stop wasting their time at some of the world’s biggest shows that have lately turned into nothing more than the comic-con of the art world. Where the event experience and the launch of a new vodka takes precedence over the art which is usually pre-sold, and all of this is happening in a world where the majority of working artists are working longer hours for less and hoping that they can cover the cost of rent and food. 


Too often both artists and galleries are chasing the other unicorn we call the serious collector and completely overlook any opportunity to forge a relationship with new people. Even the most serious collectors were once first-time art buyers. Collectors are important, and at the very tip of the art world they are even more so, but a majority of working artists don’t feed that tip of the iceberg and the collectors sitting at that tip are unaware of what else is out there. It’s a very different market, and there are very different types of collector, some collect out of a passion for the arts.


So instead of chasing the unicorn in 2019 it’s time to find your people. The people who will support you and who connect with you and your art. Those people are from the other markets away from the likes of Basel, because these are the people who will help you to thrive in 2019. These are the people who will become your advocates, and then they will become your collectors. 2019 should really be all about finding them, engaging with them and connecting with them because these are the very people who hold the key that might just eventually open the door to that very tip of the art world. 



Happy New Year



So what might we need to do?


Over the past few years I have seen way more originality and innovation outside of the major art fairs, and it is here where a passion for the arts still exists. The art where I see the real innovation isn’t coming from the big fairs or the mega-galleries, it is being produced by independent artists who have a story and connect on a much deeper level with their people. The ones who have to take the chances and the risks. 


What we have seen over the past decade, maybe longer at many of the major fairs, are works that are the same old, same old, being churned out by the top-tier gallery system to feed a market and entertain. As independents we can stretch our creative muscle however we want, there are no linear paths that we have to follow but we have to be less afraid of putting our work out into the big wide world, even the weird stuff. 


I can’t begin to tell you how many pieces of truly weird art I have produced over the years, yet I rarely if ever release any of them because somewhere inside a voice is telling me that people won’t get it, or they will react to it. Those are the reasons we should never be afraid of putting our work out there whether it is weird or not. 


It’s our job as artists to set out on canvas the vision that we have, it’s not our role to tell people how to interpret it. This mind-set of creating safe-eager to please, more entertaining, less like art, art, is something we definitely shouldn’t be afraid of stepping away from. New art movements were never created by rehashing last year’s trend, they were innovative and different and that’s what the art world needs to see again.  


2019 is also the year when we have to dig in and figure out not only where our people are, but what our people are saying. We need to be agile and responsive and provide an experience that goes beyond what the mega-galleries can give, and as an independent artist this too is wholly within our gift. What we need to be doing more of in 2019 is asking our people the questions, what did you like about this piece, why did you pick this piece over that piece, because then we will have a baseline we can start to really work with. We will have metadata that will shape and guide us and we will become less afraid to stretch those creative muscles. 


Telling the story…


I am really conscious that by now you are probably tired of me saying that you should be telling the story, but telling the story is vital to selling our work. I was reminded recently by a dear friend and collector that there’s one thing that artists need to do to sell more work, and that is to be more interesting. Stories will make you infinitely more interesting than simply writing 24x30, oil, IM me for details on a Facebook post.


But we also need to remember that stories have multiple characters. You are a character in your story and so is your art, but there is one character that only rarely if ever makes a cameo appearance, and that character is your people. 


2019 is definitely the year we should be totally focussed on user generated content. Look at the big players such as Amazon who realised long ago just how valuable user generated content can be when it comes to influencing purchase decisions. Whenever I buy anything from Amazon I read the reviews and whilst they along with other online platforms have had their fair share of fake reviews, the technology is getting better at filtering them out. 


Opinion and authentic dialogue from real people is where the real value sits. Over the past few years we have seen a surge of influencers appear on social media, usually celebrities who are paid mega-money to say “I love this product”, but people are becoming savvier and will always trust someone who lives closer to their world than some celebrity living in the Hamptons who has been paid to wear a pair of jeans or use this or that shampoo. But where do we go and what do we need to do to get this user generated content?  We have to ask. 


Paid advertising on social media as I pointed out before the festive break is becoming increasingly expensive, and then you have to sustain it to continue getting results. User generated content does the same job and arguably way better than paying to play, and what it also does is bring with it an organic audience of your people’s people who will be closer to you.  


The best examples of user generated content are simple things such as your people showing photographs of your work hanging on their walls, but the Holy Grail is still engagement. When your followers start to engage on your social media posts with each other and without a prompt from you, that’s when the algorithms on platforms such as Facebook start to take real notice. 


We all know the frustration of social media, you set a posts privacy to public in the hope that the public will see it, but they rarely if ever do. Most of the time your posts will collect loves, likes, and wows from your friends list, and then the post fades away until such time as someone else comments on it and resurfaces it in the future. It’s a lottery, but one we can win. 


The algorithms are becoming smarter and better at determining relevancy and authenticity, and that is kind of what we have asked the social media giants to give us. Yet we still get frustrated when our new release only reaches a handful of people. Six people or seventy people reacted to your post, art needs way more eyes than that on it to sell unless those eyes are exactly your people. 


So in 2019 we need to make sure that our posts are even more carefully crafted than ever before, and that they are contributing to telling the story of us and our art, but above all else they need to be engaging. 


What we need is for a post to be seen by the first set of people who are most engaged with you, for them to be engaged enough to comment and ideally for them to then be engaged enough to share your post without being prompted by you. That’s important because the algorithm is all-knowing and can figure out when you try to game it. We don’t know too much about what it is, how it works or when it strikes, but we can pick up triggers and queues by looking back at past post performance. 


Once engagement and relevancy are detected it is at this point when the post will reach a new set of people, or your people’s people, and if they are also engaged enough they will share it with their people too. Those people might just be engaged enough to share it with their people and eventually your people’s people’s, people may become your people too. 


The social in social media should give us a clue, it’s a social platform not a “me” show and the potential for cross pollination of audiences is social media’s most powerful feature, yet it’s also the one we rarely harness.


The alternative is to pay to play but pay to play works in a similar way too. A badly crafted paid post will do only slightly better than a badly crafted unpaid post unless you pay to boost it even more. Take out your wallet, think of a number, double it, and then add a contingency and pay even more. A badly crafted paid ad can become even more expensive than you would have thought. If you are going to pay to play, do your homework first, find your people and then pay to play in the right playground. 


We need to engage in our communities much better than we have done. I see this a lot running my own Facebook groups and friends who run them see the same thing too, where members will share a post from their timeline without ever visiting or engaging with the group. Marketing 101 is about forging some kind of mutual trust, a sale is a relationship between a buyer and a seller, and to forge that relationship takes a little interaction. Some people don’t want to engage at all and that’s fine, each to their own, but that should never stop you doing what you know you need to do for you and your art.  


We need to have a better presence…


We definitely need to consider having a better online presence, that’s the lowest price of admission to the art world but that presence shouldn’t be limited to social media. Having a website that people can visit is still one of the most useful tools that you should have in your toolbox. 


Last year I wrote about this a few times and identified ways to create a professional looking website for very limited outlay. Anyone who subscribes to Photoshop on even the basic plan will have access to Adobe Portfolio. Even setting yourself up with a site and a domain name through this system is way better than having no web presence beyond social media at all. 


We need to use the power of the tools that we already have and learn to use them better,  things like using Facebook pages rather than a personal profile. Yes I hear you when you say that organic reach has bottomed out or business pages are dead, but it has bottomed out everywhere and with Facebook Pages you have free access to other tools that are not available on your personal page, and it keeps you within the community standards of not using a personal profile solely for business. Even with a low number of page likes I still average a few thousand views each week on my business page even though I know I should do more with it. Facebook pages aren’t dead, you just have to put the time and effort into them and create engaging posts. Ironically even though I know I need to do way more with my page, my audience is growing slowly, and my visits are on the up.


Having a better presence also means going outdoors and switching off the phone and the social channels. It means getting your work seen locally and attending the right events. There are some exceptional local fairs that don’t just pretend to be art fairs, they are about community and the art and it is here where those relationships you start building online can be solidified offline. 


never be afraid to be weird



And we need to have a better presence part two…


We also need a better presence across multiple price points too. One of the biggest lessons I learned over the past twelve-months was that when I asked the questions of my people about what they wanted, many of them told me that they wanted to see different price points. 


This is the usual place where the question of how do I price my art is asked. The thing is that there is very little transparency in the art world so other than the results we see from the sales and auction houses which are the one’s that usually make the headlines, there is no way of easily baselining our work and coming up with a price point that works for our markets. It’s complicated more by subjectivity and everything else, but once we do have a price we can work from that. 


One thing I would never recommend is running constant sales and offering deep discounts or massively lowering the cost of your work. What you can do is introduce other price points which will give you the ability to test out what your market is willing to pay and the lower price points will provide at least some income while you wait for the original work to sell. You don’t have to reduce the cost of your art, you just need to be smarter about what you make available. 


With the economy as bleak as it is this should have been more obvious, but one of the biggest take aways for me was that many of my people were put off purchasing multiple new works by simple things such as the cost of shipping. It wasn’t the price of the art, but the fact that shipping a poster almost doubled the price. I was surprised too that some of my people were eager to see some of my typography and graphic design work made available as instant downloads. We live in an instant age so again this is something that should have been way more obvious but what surprised me more is that they said that they wouldn’t mind paying a similar price to the artist’s commission I would have received through my usual sales channel. The price is lower but my income has a better chance of becoming higher. 


One of the things I really hadn’t thought about was that I sell a number of pub chalk sign prints each year, mainly to restaurants and pubs but it never occurred to me that most restaurants and pubs need to access things like this in time for special days and events and most of them have a printer. Another long-time collector had said that he had recently downsized his home and no longer had the space for large format art, but wanted to create a gallery wall of smaller pieces. That’s no devaluing your work, that’s making work more accessible without alienating existing buyers. 


So 2019 is the year we also have to start to think out of the creative box and become way more entrepreneurial. We have the power of the internet which we didn’t have back at the start of my career which was at a time when huge corporations had the monopoly on marketing and distribution. That was a time when reaching customers meant posting a handbill to a telegraph pole or advertising in the local press, and markets were limited to the local area. Today we can scale campaigns without leaving our homes, unthinkable even in the early noughties, and today I sell more work overseas than I do in my local area. 


That pace of technological change has redefined how people view, interact, discover, and buy art and we have the gift of having our work exposed to wider markets. One thought occurred to me over the festive break and that was why on earth has no one introduced a viable Netflix alternative to the art world?


Just maybe there is a business model in there somewhere. Sell a frame and a service and the subscriber receives a new work each month/week/day/quarter, to place in the frame. If they love the work enough they can buy discounted second frames without the service fee. A model such as this would be a great collaborative project between a collective of artists so that the subscriber has a variety of art to display. As we move into an age when subscriptions are needed for pretty much everything we need or do, it makes sense to look at how we can disrupt the market. It’s this kind of thinking that can really give your sales a boost. 


The take-aways…


As I said at the beginning of this article, the art world is unpredictable at the best of times. There are so many markets within this world that there is little wonder why it is frequently so difficult to sell or at least market our work. We have to juggle so many variables that someone who sells a widget doesn’t always have to juggle. 


There are many things that can affect sales in the art world although at the very pinnacle, external factors become less and less relevant because the market way up there is still largely predicated on the gatekeepers expertly controlling their space and protecting their assets. 


But for the art markets outside of the top tier galleries and in the markets where a majority of the people who purchase art, and who are not classed as high-net worth individual billionaires reside, there is no shield in place to protect those working and selling or even buying at all. External events which are totally unrelated to the arts can sway people’s decisions to make or not make a purchase.


Another key take away this week is that we really do have to start asking the questions that we have mostly avoided asking in the past, and not just asking our people but asking ourselves too. I don’t mean the “am I good enough” or “am I too old” questions because they are questions that will completely disempower you as an artist. What I mean is that you firstly ask yourself who you are, why is doing this important to you, and why should people give a hoot about what you do, then you will have the beginning of your story and you can really start to tell it. 


So in 2019, trust your creativity to lead and guide you, don’t ask the questions that set you up to fail, and start thinking a little more deeply about your people’s pain points. Think outside the box and whatever you do, don’t worry when another front page headline tells us that someone just paid a bazillion bucks for whatever, because if they were busy drinking that new vodka they probably didn’t know what they were doing. 


About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger who has a serious addiction to art, independent artists and good coffee. You can purchase my work right here: https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com  

Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contributes towards to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website ensuring that I can continue to write new articles each week and support other independent visual artists. 

You can also follow me on Facebook at: https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia where you will also find regular free reference photos of interesting subjects and places I visit. You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest at https://pinterest.com/beechhousemedia 

If you would like to support the upkeep of this site or maybe just buy me a coffee, you can do so right here

Check out my latest art, Gone Fishing! Visit my Pixels store at the link above for details!

Gone Fishing by Mark Taylor Artist


Comments

  1. Thanks for the reminder Mark. Given a lot thoughts about it. Kind of lost sight of my intentions.


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    1. You’re more than welcome Jane! Absolutely loving your latest works by the way! X

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    3. Thanks so much MA...music to my ears :)
      Glad you have a nice break and congratulations on quitting the smoking. I've done it twice, first time for four years and the second about ten now back to square one :( So don't be like Jane.

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    4. I gave up for a week once before, that was about 25 years ago so this time I’m determined to not go back, although I’m never going to say I have truly given up because it could all change tomorrow or in five minutes. Still keep a packet in my bag, that way I know that I could have one if I wanted one, but have managed to resist so far! Just keeping myself really busy so there’s no time to think about it!

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  2. Don't give up MA. Go cold turkey.

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