This post began as a post on the Orchid forum, in a thread called the Myth of Talent. Visit Orchid at

by Michael Johnson

Now, on the question of somebody doing something very creative and extraordinarily unique for years and then someone new person comes along and does these same things and taking the credit of “ART” –

Art is merely marketing. You can be as creative as you want, but if you sell your work to the laymen for pennies you will never attain the level of “ART” within the greater scope of civilization. It’s sad but true. There is no governing body of the fine art world. It is merely a branding usually given by self-imposed authorities within the educated. No one is out there scouting out new talent for the fine arts. And, if one was out selling to art and craft market trade days on the streets, I promice you that the art world will never give you a second glance. There are levels within the level of “ART.”

As a once professor of fine art at a major college, I can tell you that academic artists are not encouraged to sell at all. Most people written about within the world of art are not making things to sell.

They live off of grants given by benefactors, universities, and some governments. They are encouraged to show their works to provide stuff for other collegiate types to write about. Oh yeah, some sell their works. But, it is understood within the academics that true academic art is not a commodity.

Then there is a level of art that a commodity. But, like I said earlier it is in the marketing. Why does Valentino dress sell for more than a Wal-Mart dress? Would someone who would buy a Valentino dress ever buy a Wal- Mart dress, even if it was better quality or creativity? Absolutely NOT.

My advice is to stay out of Etsy and the street fairs if you ever want a better return on your goods. Will you starve while waiting for someone to buy one of your creations for top dollar? Maybe. But, this might just be where the term starving artist came from, LOL. You can hate the game all you want. You can dis it. You can put it down, but the beauty is in the truth. You can never bring this system down, despite how much you hate it. People with money buy overpriced stuff everyday, just to have that label or name on their over priced stuff.

Don’t hate the playa, hate the game. But, this is why I do not sell my work at fairs, cheapy galleries, or Etsy. You can do what you want, but I’d rather wait and sell a few pieces of semi-precious rocks for the price of a diamond. I may not sell as much, but I don’t have to bust my butt for dimes and nickels. And, mind how you sell as much as you mind what you sell. It can make a huge difference.


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Update: Michael adds in the comments:

Oh wow, I didn’t realize that it was going to be a direct quote, but that’s OK. I am honored :o)

First, this was a quick reply in a forum, so there are big gaps that have really got to be filled in for a layman to really get a grasp of what exactly I was talking about.

Part of this was addressing some people who were stating things related to stereotypes, “artists are eccentric, artists are those who are the best in their field, and why is it that someone selling something at a flea market can be better than someone with mediocre techniques who has a gallery.”

Before some of this can be really addressed well, you would first have to understand a little about “aesthetics.” Aesthetics is a word that has several different definitions, but the one that I am talking about is the philosophical inquiry into what is art and what is beauty. The main thing that would separate an artist from a craftsman is that a craftsman is someone who just focuses on the techniques of creation. An artist is one who has studied art and the meaning of art. They define it within self imposed perimeters they would call a personal aesthetic. And, the technique would just be the vehicle of expression of this aesthetic. Therefore a craftsman is one who is more concerned with the techniques, and an artist is one who is just using the technique to express, define, or relate an idea. It gets tricky. But I have other articles that may help:

As to my statement about selling the work. If you want to be carried by a gallery, first learn what a gallery expects. Many complain about galleries doubling or tripling the initial asking price that an artist wants. You can whine all you want, but if a gallery is moving your work, and you are getting your asking price, let them take whatever fee they want. Otherwise, sell it yourself. Marketing is expensive, and some of that money is going back into promoting you.

Galleries are also not going to want you to compete against them. There are a range of types and levels of galleries. Some are craft galleries, and some art, but either way, think about how silly it would be to carry the work of someone who is going to sell their work for less somewhere else. Why would I buy the work of “so-and-so” for three thousand at the gallery, when I can go online and get it for a thousand, or the craft fair, or the home studio? It would be a better deal for a gallery to go with someone who is not marketing their own work at all.

“But, but, but Mr. Johnson, I just want to sell some of this stuff to keep making more stuff…” Hey, don’t hate me, hate the game. But, there is absolutely nothing wrong with selling your own work. If your goal is to simply make money, then do so. It is perfectly respectable to set up at fairs and use to sell you work. Just keep in mind that doing so excludes most galleries from ever carrying your work. But, many great craftsmen market their own works very successfully. Once you are in the gallery scene, you can market for yourself, but just never undercut the galleries. Use the same mark-up as the gallery when doing so.

“Ahhhh, but Mr. Johnson, if the price is too high no one will buy it…” If selling is the main goal, if you feel as though making as many sells as possible is what it takes for you, then don’t fret. Just do what you are going to do anyway. An artist doesn’t see his or her work as just a commodity. To me the goal is not just to make a sale. Sells are great. I love having my work worn, but ultimately I want to be able to express something greater than just making a thing to be worn. I want to express something greater than the materials that I am using. A craftsman makes things to sell. An artist has a desire to express, inspire, and relate something greater. One is not better than the other.

Thanks for using my post. I hope that this helps clarify a bit :o)
Happy Making!!!

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