Self-help gurus sometimes coach artists to “stay in your own lane,” which is a wonderful affirmation of the infinite, individual pathways to success.
Except, of course, that it’s difficult to stay in one’s own lane when everyone else’s lanes are going to vastly better places. The “lane” for many artists is a dead end. Or at least it’s strewn with road blocks. “Speed bumps,” some booster might encourage with a wink, but that’s the kind of “everybody gets a trophy” sentiment that raises expectations to lethal heights when the artist inevitably falls short. And by “short,” we generally mean “short on cash.” There’s a reason there’s a “road less taken,” and trust me, it will “make all the difference.”
It’s not one’s talent but another’s taste that determines an artist’s commercial success in our capitalist society. These days, a succes d’estime rates little more than a humblebrag on social media. (“So grateful to waste a graduate degree on this under-appreciated expression of my withering sense of self.”)
I had a chat with an artist source on background (to protect their brand and the windows of their glass house). I asked, “What’s a starving artist to do? Sell out?”
“Ha! Most artists couldn’t sell out if they tried. There’s a devastating lack of market savvy on one side and an equally devastating lack of self-awareness about what’s actually marketable about them on the other,” this famously successful sell out said while sipping a wine that costs as much as your car. “Also, most people can’t afford what artists do—at least in a manner sustaining to the artist—and competition is at all time high since everyone and their ex-brother-in-law is also an artist.”
A rather jaundiced point of view, I thought, but there are some salient points for those artists still hate-reading this satire. A) Know what differentiates your work from your ex-brother-in-law and double-down on that. B) Aim for a higher market and price your work accordingly. (Those who can afford to be real collectors have benefitted from a system that has disenfranchised you—so take their damn money.) C) Create false scarcity, be aloof and exclusive. Sell to Peter just to piss off Paul.
And most importantly, D) Gin up market awareness by getting and keeping your name in the media. “How?” you ask. “You don’t even have an arts editor.” True. But you got me, and I believe in you and your artsy ideals. Carpool in my lane for a bit—the ride might be a little bumpy sometimes, but we’re going places.