Rules of Engagement

Rules of Engagement

Rules of engagement in art, art rules,
The Rule of Engagement

I regularly write new articles for members of our four wonderful art groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, The Artists Lounge, and The Artist Hangout. This week, there is some useful practical advice for artists and we look at the rules that surround the art world and ask, do we really have to follow them?


Thinking back to my mentor…

What exactly are the rules of engagement here, I remember asking that very question to my mentor around thirty-something years ago. There are no rules, just a series of expectations. You are expected to do this, do that, be this, oh, and be consistent about doing what you do, that’s really the only rule slightly below being prolific. You have to create a lot of art to get any good at it, and if you think people are going to buy it, you are going to have to create quite a bit more.

He was paraphrasing, there are heaps of rules, I remember reading them when I first exhibited my work in an exhibition. But those were the rules of engagement for that particular exhibition. Another exhibition I took part in had very different rules and another one seemed to have no rules at all beyond just turning up.

When I took a formal art class, I still didn’t find a set of rules etched in stone in the three years I attended. Circumstances and environments had rules, shows and exhibitions had rules too, galleries from the past experience I had seemed to make up their own every other day, but I couldn’t find any rules that categorically applied to the act of creating art.

Art itself is a testimony to the freedom of humankind, a series of preferences and opinions, and no one forces any single one of us to accept them. Ernie was quite right, there are no rules, so I think we can all take away from this that you only need to follow the rules of the circumstances you voluntarily sign up to comply with, the creation of art, I guess so long as it’s original it’s fair game.

Mark Taylor artwork life collection
My latest 'Life' collection is available now from https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com

My mentor Ernie was a fan of being prolific over being original, he said that being prolific made you more original even above having any talent, I had no idea what he meant at the time but I have seen it a lot since. He explained it as this vital need to get a lot of work in front of a lot of eyes and to keep doing it over and over. He was a believer in production, constant production, paint until you can paint no more and then repeat the process over and over and learn to be very, very, patient. I had no clue back then at just how patient he meant.

The point Ernie was making was that he didn’t believe that an artist existed who could create a hit work every time the paintbrush touched the canvas, at least not in the beginning. They produced many more works than they had hits.  It really was about volume and variation, a little like spread betting on the lottery numbers, at some point, you have got to get the right numbers in the right combination on the same ticket but you need as many tickets as there are permutations to guarantee a winner. The only thing beyond that was making sure that both consistency and quality don't fall to the wayside. How do you produce more art, get faster at doing what you do. Ernie never was one for mincing his words.

Another thing Ernie was a believer in, was that it really didn’t matter how much time you put into a work, collectors don’t really care. What they care about is how they feel about the work and what it means to them, not that it took you six months solid, that’s on you, you should work faster. Ernie was old school before old school was even a thing, it just took me twenty-years to remember some of his words and start to understand the rest but as soon as I did, I noticed how his words had influenced me.

So this week is a combination of the advice I gleaned from Ernie along with quite a bit of me sharing my experiences, there are ten pieces of advice, each of which has served me well. Ernie wasn’t some God-like character with wisdom bursting from every word, he once told me to go and demand that my portfolio was seen by a local gallery who promptly took my new-found slightly older than a teenager assertiveness the wrong way and asked me to leave and never return. Maybe that was his intention all along, he just laughed when I told him what happened. Turns out I should have followed some rules.

Pool Party art by Mark Taylor
Pool Party - no rules applied here and available from my store!

The FAQs…

I covered some of the questions today in my recent Artist Survival Kit series of articles, written well before we knew we would probably be needing a survival kit. Some of the questions you will already have found the answers for, and if you’re happy with the results, no point fixing what ain’t broken, but this article will still serve as a reminder, a prompt, something that says there are no right and wrong ways, we're all different, all unique, and hopefully, all striving to be iteratively better each time we pick up a brush.

Who are you creating art for?

If you really think about this it will tell you so much about who your market is, or who you wish your market was.  Figuring this out is right up there in the top ten of things to do on day one of an art career, even before you think about pricing your art. How can you know what the market will pay if you don’ know who they are?

Why do some YouTubers make millions and others never get to see a dime, because they have found their tribe and they have worked up the hype, giving their tribe exactly what they want. Create great content and always ask yourself who you are creating it for then create that content just for them!

Should I market to everyone?

Yes, everyone who is in your target market but you should forget even trying to reach everyone else. This is one of the hardest lessons to learn whenever you are trying to sell anything, you can’t be everything to everyone. It’s tempting to want to say yes to everybody and offer the broadest range to cover all the bases but what happens when we do this is that we begin to water the business proposition down and we dilute the market. Instead, play to your strengths and get specific and offer the best to your buyers, and besides, this being everything to everyone really is exhausting.

Don’t try to reach seven billion-plus people when you market your work, keep everything zeroed in on your tribe!

Join the right online communities! Reach your audience by participating in the same activities they do, join the same groups, and visit the same places! If you are creating pet portraits become the pet owner groups, resident artist. Create 8-bit art, join the retro video games group and become their resident artist, go wherever your tribe hang out and build up those relationships become the resident artist in your niche!

Strive to be a master, and be a master now…

Always work as if you are already a master of your craft. Masters aren’t finished people, they still have faults like everyone else, they haven’t learned everything but the difference is that they know it. They’re open to new ideas and they’re never afraid to carry on learning, they try to be right and they’re never embarrassed by being wrong, and they will always call themselves an artist. A master is as much a mindset that comes with experience that we have to strive towards as much as it is a skill.

colouring sheet by Mark Taylor
The latest colouring sheet I released to followers of my Facebook page. If you want a PDF version emailing, get in touch!

Embrace Difficult as if it’s your best friend…

We might have to be socially distanced from those we love but we don’t have to be socially distanced from the things we don’t like doing very much. That’s true of everything we do with art, as soon as you get comfortable in doing something and it works, that’s about the time that you need to try out something else. It might be the complete opposite of what we are comfortable in doing, and if you fail, embrace that failure too. To grow, we have to venture outside of the creative box our brain tries so desperately to keep us in.

Do it now…

When the time is right I will do this, or that, I have a list, and maybe when the time is right, I won’t do any of that at all. Have an idea, seize the moment and do it now. Hesitation inertia is something that we are more susceptible to than artists block. Act as if your business depends on it because mostly, it does.

Holding back, Netflix, making excuses, I can’t do this today because, and insert whatever other things that make you put something off, right about here, could really be something very simple. Fear. You have to recognise it and then take those affirmative actions I keep writing about, to get the thing done.  It’s so easy to come up with a hundred reasons to not do something but it might be even easier to come up with one reason why you should do it, usually, that reason will outweigh the other hundred and you will feel a lot better about it. Once the excuses are in the bin, it is easier to take ownership of your direction, to keep moving every way but back.

Look out beyond the horizon…

Everyone is selling work except me, and that can literally be how it looks and feels at times, everyone is having a party and you’re not invited. Look out of the window and stare past the horizon because it is there that you will find that there really are no rules, everything is an unknown, there are no safety blankets and comfort zones, it’s a place where you can make things happen while everyone else carries on partying outside the window. If art is anything, it is a long-game, there is no sprint, just a very long marathon. Be prolific, and be enduring.

Adrift under a glowing sky by Mark Taylor
Adrift Under A Glowing Sky Available from my store!

Be confident…

Here’s a little secret about me, I am the least confident person I know, and I know that almost every other artist I have ever met says they are too. Your worth as a person is as valuable as everyone else’s. That doesn’t mean that you still don’t have to work harder than anyone else, life doesn’t divide up its rewards equally, but you do have the same rights as everyone else to pursue your dreams and make a difference in the way that’s most meaningful to you.

Confidence isn’t the same as arrogance, you can do that too if you mix it with enough humility, just strive to get to the place where you stop worrying too much about how you’re coming across and instead, just be the real you.

Talking of being you…

Absolutely be you and be fearless about being you! All art has already been done, you don’t have to replicate it. Iterative and incremental changes are what make it look new. Weird, authentic, different, from you, those will make it look new too. The world has already seen what’s already been done, exact replicas are neve going to be originals, they will only ever get you to second place. 

Be fearless. You already made it by showing the world your work the very first time you posted it on Facebook, or you began showing the work to anyone outside of your circle of friends and family.  We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing, you don’t have to be. Be fearless and make it count.

Stop listening to the noise…

The voices of those who say it cannot be done should never interrupt those who are doing it. You don’t have to listen to the negative opinion of the pack telling you it can’t be done when your inner voice is telling you that it can. As a species we are great at listening to patterns and regularities, we easily spot coincidences and then we connect to them and relate, that’s how conspiracy theories work too. If something resonates with what we want to believe it gains a foothold. When so many people say something cannot be done we go with it, we follow the advice of the herd. No one buys art, yes they do, they’re even buying it today. You won’t make it as an artist because I tried it once, well, yes you will, as long as you turn down the volume on the noise.

Give up the idea of perfect…

There are two stray brush strokes, so what. Regular art buyers aren’t buying art through the eyes of your inner critic, they’re buying art for a hundred other reasons or because they connect with the message. I once created a piece of work in twenty-minutes, it was nowhere near perfect, I still don’t particularly like it, I just knew I had to paint it, it also happens to be my best selling work ever.

The last time I checked, more than four-hundred people who have purchased a print of it have disagreed with me, they quite like it and some even tell me they want more of that. Could I ever create it again? I don’t think so, I wish I could, I don’t even market it anymore, it just sits on a couple of my web stores and sends me really nice emails occasionally followed up with a few cents in the bank. I might not like the work but I love it, not just for those few extra cents, if it was all about the money I wouldn’t be an artist, but as a reminder that sometimes I can’t always see the wood for the trees. Oh look, here it is… you can purchase it right here.  An interesting fact about this one, the original appeared on an old fence panel, the panel sold too.

Mountain by Mark Taylor
Mountain is also available from my Pixels store!

In my eyes I have created a couple of near to perfect works as I think I can create, some took me more than a few hundred hours, none of those technically great almost perfect pieces at least in my eyes have had anywhere near the kind of success my best selling 20-minute from idea to finished work had.

That’s not to say that taking less time to create work will guarantee a sale, or will taking more time, time is irrelevant to the finished piece, it literally is what it is and takes as much or as little time that is needed. Buyers really don’t care as long as they connect with it and guess what’s even more surprising, they all paid the exact same price as I charge for those works that took up all of my time.  

I will keep reminding you!

Remember when I said I would keep reminding you to make sure you get enough rest and take plenty of breaks when you need them, well, here I am again reminding you to do just that.

Remember when I said it was a good idea to read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, too? Just as Sun Tzu’s armies need rest, so do you. Your creative mind might be running at a million miles per hour, certainly much faster than you can keep up with, and there really is little point in even trying to keep up. Write the creative ideas down for when you are rested, a tired mind will only ever make tired work. I know this, I have made many tired pieces of work over the years, now I have a pact with myself to only make awakened work.

As artists, we sacrifice all sorts of things to keep our creativity alive but that doesn’t mean that we should sacrifice ourselves as part of the act of artistry too. There was a time not all that long ago when I would have put creating art above everything, but not now. Jump off social, decline the non-essential zoom appointment, stop thinking that you will hydrate in five minutes, life doesn’t have a snooze button, we can’t buy ourselves another one, even Amazon doesn’t sell them. You have one, and as we have sadly been finding out a lot more lately, life is precious, delicate, and precarious enough as it is, if we value our art then we also have to value the life that creates it. Art matters, you matter more.

It is okay to be you
It's Okay to be you!

Until Next Time!

Hopefully, you are all managing to stay safe and well. Times are a little strange at the moment and the days do seem to be rolling into one more and more every week. The economy might look uncertain but just like water always finds its level, so does art. If things are slow, they will speed back up at some point. All you can really do at the moment is have a little faith in the markets, confidence in your work, and the strength to carry on being prolific and patient. That might even be the best advice I have written down this week.

As for there being no rules, that’s not to say that going all-out rebel and raging against the machine is always a good idea, you already have to be a certain type of rebel to be able to pull that off. What the lack of rules should do is give you the confidence to paint what you feel, bring your own experiences to the canvas and tell stories in not quite so linear ways. As I said earlier, all art exists, what’s new is when people start to cast aside the expected norms and then begin to paint from the heart. There is no magical formula for a masterpiece but if there was, I am sure that being originally you will be in the recipe somewhere.

If you have any ideas, tips, or practical advice to pass on to other artists, let us know! Leave a comment, get in touch and I will publish the best ones in an upcoming post. I am also pondering the idea of creating an online Virtual Exhibition right here on this site if there is enough interest. All you need to do to be considered is send me a link to your work online, an artist bio, a description of the artwork, and permission to use an image of it on this site. I will carefully curate the best ones and publish them in the exhibition together with a link to the art and your online store or website. The theme, it’s has to be your best piece from the past two years, there rules, there are no rules, and it also needs more than a couple of you to be effective so please don’t be shy!

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here.    

 Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contributes to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website and making sure that I can bring you independent writing every time and without any need to sign up to anything! You can also view my portfolio website here.

 You can also follow me on Facebook here, 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 here

If you would like to support the upkeep of this site or maybe just buy me a coffee, you can do so at my new Go Fund Me link right here. Donate and send me an email and I will send a PDF of one of my donator only works as a thank you, and if you have a website selling your work, I will mention it along with your name on my Go Fund Me Page!

Any donations received will be used to ensure I can continue writing independently for independent artists as my art sales via Pixels and Fine Art America and donations via Go Fund Me and personal funding are the only ways I monetise these pages so I don’t have to fill them with irrelevant ads or ask you to sign up via a paywall!

Comments

  1. What an uplifting piece Mark, most enjoyable read!

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    1. Thanks Jane, that’s so very much appreciated. Hope all is good with you and you are staying safe and well. Hope that commute is a little easier lately too! Xx

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    2. Thanks Mark. I have not taken the public transport for the past three months, all is well and safe. Hope the same for you xx

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    3. I’m kind of not celebrating the 122 days I’ve stayed in the house at the moment, having to shelter in place under doctors orders and so I really miss going out even to the grocery store! Had 9 weeks at home before the crisis with the kidney surgery, so I’m staying positive and painting the walls a very different colour in between arting and writing! Even restarted writing a new book, took on a couple of commissions which I don’t normally do and running half a dozen projects remotely in the day job. When I’m allowed out again I’m celebrating by jumping on the first aircraft out of the local airport and don’t care where it’s headed, but hopefully towards a beach!

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    4. Sounds like time well spent Mark. Hope that celebration won't be far away. I have been working on setting up an online store beside painting. Down here will be moving to next stage of easing the restrictions on Monday, not sure it's good news although makes no difference for me but somehow feeling nervous. xx

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    5. Same here Jane, on Monday some non essential shops reopen, the scientists disagree, I think most of us do, but no chance of those who are shielding being allowed back out yet! Stay safe and have a fabulous weekend xx

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