Who are you creating for anyway?
An artist recently complained that she couldn’t get any interest from corporate buyers because her work was eclectic and she was “too versatile.” She went on to say that collectors wanted to be able to recognize her work, and that the only way to do that was to “be redundant” which did not interest her. This offended her artistic sensibilities, because she chose to work in any style or medium that appealed to her at the time. She felt that it was important to keep her creativity alive.
Unfortunately, this put her in the position of searching for sales, and they were not materializing. She was frustrated and reaching out for help, and wondered aloud when people would appreciate an artist who worked in many styles.
It’s understandable that some artists take exception to creating for the customer; they want to follow their own muse, make what they find exciting and resist getting stuck in what they consider to be a rut. They might even refer to designing for the customer as “selling out.”
But is it?
Making art and being in the business of selling your art are two different things. As a creative, you can design and make whatever your heart desires. Your artwork is valid because you have created it, and has value whether or not you intend to sell it at all.
Being in business to make sales (of any goods whatsoever) means that you must understand your customer and their needs and wants. That requires compromise for many artists. The perfect scenario would be that whatever you choose to make would appeal to your customers; but that is seldom true.
Many artists who are small businesspeople are happy to design for their customers. They seek out input and feedback from collectors, and build strong collections around bestsellers. They are focused towards building a business that serves customers and delivers work that sells.
Other times, artists are driven to make what they feel fulfills their passion, whether or not it always strikes a chord with customers. This is where the artist may have to find their target customer through trial and error, and also concentrate on educating the customer to understand their work better. It can be a challenge, but might be a better fit for the artist who resists designing for others.
If you want to create work to sell, but not end up in a rut, what can you do? Consider these ideas:
- Continue making your production work, but set aside regular time to experiment with new directions.
- Carve out time in your schedule to produce work that you make because it purely pleases you, without the stress of having to make sales of that work.
- Incorporate new ideas into the body of work that you are now selling. Since you will need 30% new designs every year to present to your customers, it means you must move forward. How far afield you go depends on your plans and what you feel will work well for your business.
Have you felt stuck between creating what makes you happy and what customers want to buy? How did you resolve this challenge?