Last month I wrote a blog series in response to the Hiscox report, analyzing how the online art world (galleries, online marketplaces, collectors) had done the past year and what the path forward was (hint: I told them to wake up). I also identified one glaring hole in the report: They forgot to talk about the artist point of view, which I thought was very telling. And while I think that is a major part of the problem, I wanted to write to you, the artists, to encourage you on how to have your voices heard and what to say.
I started Vango four years ago (here is why) and since then have talked to over 5000 different artists. One thing I had hoped for was that technology would enable visual artists like it had enabled so many other professions. However, what I found was that the existing traditions of the ‘art world’ are so deeply embedded and that the traditional players in the art space are holding on tighter than ever to maintain the status quo. As for the few going online, they weren’t being innovative in approach or technology. They had the same ‘feel’ as a gallery (and even required exclusivity) and felt that putting art on a website was all there was to “using technology.”
I believe that we are close to the tipping point where the bubble of existing art world traditions will ‘pop’ and get away from the things that hurt artists- Things like school systems telling them that selling online is selling out, or where galleries control artists and where they show. Personally, I believe that the future is bright. Removing artists from the grips and pressures of traditions that hurt them will be what makes art as popular as music. More people will own art, there will be more offline events (such as pop ups), and more artists will be able to earn a career doing what they love (this has already happened in other creative fields – Kickstarter, Etsy, Indigogo for Makers, BandsinTown, Patreon, Youtube for Musicians).
However artists also have a part to play. I know it can be hard to be the ‘trendsetter’ and turn down a gallery that asks for 60% commission, or that wants you to remove your online presence. That said, I do think that there are things artists can do to help push the industry forward as well as give us the room to succeed.
1. Encourage Experimentation – I feel that a lot of artists get upset when we try something different. In our case, we went mobile first but didn’t have a desktop experience as we thought people would browse more on the phone (which they did), but instead of congratulating us on having a great mobile experiment, it felt that more artists complained about the lack of a desktop experience. It’s easy to focus on the things that are lacking but it’s also important to encourage the places where you sell when they try new things. One thing i do know is that pushing the status quo and doing the same old is not working- so encourage experimentation.
2. Be Patient – If a company is experimenting with new features and approaches, things are likely to break. While I know how frustrating that can be, give them a chance and let them try things out- something great is likely to come out of it!
3. Give constructive feedback – This is great life advice, but in general, I would love it if artists helped us create the platform and provided constructive feedback. Comments like “Have you thought about this”, “What if you tried this”, “Here is what worked for me, I wonder if you could adapt it” can go a long way in helping us to build this platform. We coded our customer support tickets and found that 5% were constructive, 70% were neutral, and 20% were down right mean (my favorite from today was “I still can’t upload artwork, your team is incompetent and your service is worthless.”). I would love to flip that so 20% of feedback or more is constructive.
I hope that I’m not coming off as complaining or patronizing. I just want artists to succeed and I think we can move a lot faster with your support. I know most of the CEOs in the space and they are all working very hard, are passionate, and are fair to artists. They do what they do because they love art, want to support artists and want to help make a difference.
Together, we can make art part of everyday conversation and enable artists to create more and live off what they love!