The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend. – Henri Bergson

Perception. As artists, we deal in perception every time we create our art, seeking to depict our subject based on what we see and how we see it. Funny, then, that we can be so lacking in perception when we step outside the studio.

I’m talking about art marketing and how blind artists can be when it comes to this aspect of art business. Here’s a few examples:

Artist #1 is frustrated by the rejection she has received from the galleries she has approached to exhibit her work. She doesn’t consider that the galleries she has approached focus on completely different genres of art than she is creating.

Artist #2 has received an email from an art representation company. They praise his work and would love to represent him. They’ve included a long list of companies that purchase art through their agents, and hint of an upcoming “big deal” that would be a phenomenal sales opportunity for Artist #2. They need several thousand dollars investment from Artist #2, but promise that the royalties will more than cover the initial investment!

Artist #3 has gotten frustrated that no one is taking her seriously as an artist. She has a web site, has sold art on eBay and is a busy contributor to a popular artist forum. But when she talks to art galleries, submits work for publication or enters competitions, she is always rejected. Some gallery owners have been downright rude to her!

Each of the artists in the examples I have listed here has a problem with their perception.
Artist #1 has failed to recognize the importance of finding the right “fit” for her work in a competitive market. We must recognize where our work fits – this means not just finding a gallery that appreciate our style, but evaluating whether our work is even appropriate for a gallery setting.

Artist #2 is about to be scammed. Never let the promise of a big payout (or fame) obscure your reason – don’t rush into any business venture that is going to cost money, and do your research. If it sounds at all fishy, it is. Run the other way.

Artist #3 doesn’t see that her desire to be taken seriously as an artist conflicts with her amateur approach to her work. Not realizing that having any web site is not the same as having a good web site, Artist #3 has used a free host that is heavy on the ads. Photos of her work are crookedly photographed, with flash reflections, enormously sized and slow to load. Prices for her work are based on her eBay sales, and range between $25-$100. A huge watermark distracts further from the artwork. But Artist #3 needs to work on more than her site. When she approaches a gallery, she drops in without calling, with her paintings in hand (and more in the car), and, like Artist #1, without prior research on the genres preferred by the gallery.

I can think of more ways for artists to be unperceptive. How easily we can blind ourselves to the limitations of our skill and the need for artistic growth. We may be unconscious of deriving our art too heavily from our artistic influences. Artists may find themselves creating for a “hot” niche market that they know nothing about rather than building on and excelling in areas that define them. And how many artists are passive about marketing, all the while bemoaning the drought in their art sales?

Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate! Look at your art. What are your strengths? More importantly, what are your weaknesses? Know where your art fits in the world. I can tell you right now that I don’t expect to ever receive critical acclaim in the educated art world – I paint to please regular people, and I make my painting and business decisions with that firmly in mind.
Look at your marketing. Are you professional? Are you following the advice of experienced artists who have been there or are you thinking that you are the exception to the rule – that your work is so good, you don’t need to make appointments with galleries, or submit to competitions following their submission guidelines. You are a billboard for your art, and no one wants to do business with someone who comes across as arrogant, careless, lazy or unprofessional.
Listen. Gain perception by listening to what others are saying…and what they are not saying. Try to divorce your emotional attachment to your work and attempt to see your work, your marketing and yourself as an impartial observer would.
Look long-term. Don’t expect to find a short-cut. You have to work hard to achieve lasting results. An art business is built over a lifetime – quality matters.