The pandemic has been an opportunity for many of us to rekindle an interest in learning. Often, that can lead people to discover new hobbies. For those who might be enduring job loss, a gap year, or general disinterest in their current occupation, such hobbies might become the seeds of a new career.
But what if the hobby in question is art? Turning to arts and crafts is not only a popular trend during this current crisis, it’s historically been a refuge for people amid times of turmoil.
Yet at the same time, artists tend to feel averse to the commodification of their work. And overall, the profession carries a certain stigma of not being very financially rewarding.
Many aspiring artists elect to remain practitioners of their craft on an amateur level due to these issues. There’s nothing wrong with that if such is truly your goal. But if you yearn to make a living out of making art, you need to overcome those obstacles somehow.
One of the biggest challenges most artists face when seeking to make money from their craft is a matter of mindset. If you somehow feel dirty about selling art, that the act of doing so taints the purity of your work, then you’ll never be able to commit to the enterprise.
However, studies reveal that even traditional societies and indigenous peoples have treated art and cultural artifacts as a commodity. Despite lacking a monetary system, these groups used their own exchange systems to assign value to works of art, and use them in making trades.
The problem most artists encounter when art is treated as a commodity is one of dissonance. Artwork is highly personal, and the artist values it accordingly. But in Western economic systems, the value of an object is largely determined by the market forces of supply and demand.
This discrepancy between individual and societal values can be painful to overcome. But it’s possible. You have to make an effort to cover the business aspect of art, and not just be proficient in its creation. By doing so, you can effectively drive up your work’s perceived value to a point where it closely matches your expectations.
Once you have overcome the mindset challenge, the next issue to tackle is delivering value. Every business must strive to create value for its audience. If you want to make money from your art, you need to figure out how to do the same.
That involves refining your unique value proposition. Just like a business, you need to find a way to differentiate yourself. And there are actually many ways to achieve this.
You can try working in a medium no one else seems to be using. For instance, if you’re selling photographic prints, try printing onto gold foil paper. That will differentiate you from everyone else who prints on canvas or photo paper.
Not all art needs to be created for the fine art market. Many artists make a living by intentionally making works for commercial purposes. And it doesn’t have to entail “selling your soul” in the artistic sense. You can make a series of icons or vector images sold under an image licensing model and imbue them with your signature style.
Another way to deliver unique value is to create products, such as personalized bags, mugs, sneakers, or the like. This often involves a collaboration between artists and designers, which can also serve to expand your network.
The common theme in delivering value is compromise. In the early stages of your art career, you have to learn your way around the market and find your audience. Who are they, and what do they need? Connecting with them and giving them the products or services they are willing to pay for is how the fledgling artist begins to make money.
Ultimately, if you aspire to compromise less and make money strictly from fine art, you’ll have to work on a unique challenge: selling rarity. And creating rarity doesn’t happen by accident, nor does it take place overnight.
Successful fine artists are free to paint, sketch, or sculpt as they wish. Their works can be displayed in galleries and sold at auctions.
But that requires a commensurate reputation. It also takes effort invested in marketing and networking.
Collaborating with a good art director on commission-based projects is a solid step in that direction. It will open doors and build up your portfolio of paid work.
But even in doing so, you will have to reconcile your artistic vision with the client’s preferences. Be willing to compromise while remaining true to your values as an artist, and eventually, you will have the leverage to succeed in the fine art market.