Monday, December 17, 2007

Etsy, Art, and the function of dealers. sigh.

I've been reading my favorite source of internet-time-wasting-while-learning-something the New York Times, instead of playing my fabulous scrabulous games on facebook. It's for the best- scrabulous has begun to invade my subconscious, and is making my boyfriend into a madman.

In the Times' magazine right now, there's an article called handmade 2.0, which I've permalinked for those of you reading this after right now. It's mostly about and the o'reilly inspired crafts movement that's been going on for a while now. The article highlights some of the same makers that etsy highlights, and dicusses problems and solutions with marketing and competition among the crafty.

My mom has long been a crafty sort, and after she initially retired about ten years ago, took up making all the things she'd ever dreamed of, with both the excitement and the disappointments that most crafters encounter. Mom makes amazing stuff. She started with pottery, moved on to painting rocks to look like other things, then found mosaics and found object art, and lately has begun to make an increasingly large amount of jewelry.

I've been to some of Mom's craft shows and seen her beautiful artisan works outsold by buckets with sponge-bob-square-pants marker-drawn on them. (The horror that befalls the crafts communities usually is entrenched with the desire of the people who attend such craft events to purchase gross corporate wannabe stuff. ) She had a listing on etsy for a while, and never sold a thing. She had craft fair after craft fair until she began to hate and resent the public and their inability to spot wonderful things, or their reservations about paying decent (if you ask me, below market) prices for art objects she labored intensely on. Lately, she's found a successful venue (finally) for the amazing things she makes: she sells them through a dealer, the Sideshow store at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.

I hate craft fairs. I don't like most of the handmade things I see. But I love my Mom's work, not because I'm her daughter- but because it's really better than everything else I see being made. There's a lot of crap out there, and some of it sells really well, but there are gems in there too.

She should be the poster-child for something like etsy- but she's not a hipster, and despite the average age of 34 for etsy makers, (mom is a bit older than that) her work just didn't fit into that bird-owl-pirate aesthetic. Good. I like that mom's stuff is beyond these trends, and can't be marketed by type. If anything, she's an example of constant reinvention, of herself, her aesthetic, and her motifs. Her crafts are real art, and she isn't bound by the market that she never really liked anyway- even now when it finally likes her back.

What does all this have to do with the times article? Well, I still don't think etsy is the way to be a successful artist. Wading through internet storefronts is an awful way to go shopping. I hate it with big box stores, and I hate it even more with crafters and artists.

I don't know the way, but as my friend D. was telling me at lunch last week, the only way to be a successful artist is to have an advocate. A dealer. A gallery. A store at the museum. The artist needs someone else to sell it for them, because they need to be left alone to make art. Etsy isn't an advocate, it's somewhere an advocate can lead a buyer to purchase something. There are cheaper places to have things sold. Or you might not need much of a place at all.

I don't have a dealer. I don't have a gallerist pimping my work to their best buyers list. I have dreams of these things, and hope that maybe I'll eventually fall in with the right people and be in some sustainable stable of artists who are nurtured by some amazing circle of collectors. But most of America daydreams about winning the lotto, and this is about as likely. (Oh sad sad jaded 5th year out of art school painter.. where did the idealism go? into the service industry jobs I guess.)

Last week, while finishing up another hopeless grant application for funding for graduate school, I decided to start an imagekind gallery. People have told me that they wish my work was available as cards or posters. This site allows me to upload really high resolution images to it's servers, and have them available for sale at a marginal mark-up of the printing costs, in a variety of sizes. It's a great utility, because anyone who wants to buy a print or poster of any of my work can just click on a button, and it arrives without my having to make prints, store prints, send prints.

This Button above should take you to an image of a painting I sold last year. I have the copyright to the image, even though I've sold the original work. While I might not be able to make or sell enough original images to support myself, perhaps some prints could make things like my upcoming post-baccalaureate program more affordable.

Maybe I'll be lucky enough one day to have a gallery function as my advocate, or make work quickly enough to sell at slashed prices with a 3.5% cut from etsy, but until then- I'll keep the quality up and hope that the prints will sell.

I don't make crafts anyway, I make art. I'm pretty sure (from watching my mom) that the only difference in the terms is a price range. I'm looking to make a life a little better than the (make as many as one person can) not mass-produced art 2.0

Go check out my imagekind gallery at I'll be putting up a bunch of paintings and drawings in the next few days, and figuring out how to price it right. Let me know what you think.


Anonymous said...

Good call on knowing that you still own the copyright to your image. ;)

Medium Reality said...

hey rachel, you may be interested to know that i have an unattributed quote in that article - I'm the one who says that if you can't make a living the movement's not sustainable.

I have been making a living as an artist and craftsperson for two years now. There are some people who are able to simply click with their audience and the work that they produce sells like hotcakes regardless of price or setting - these people are mostly i think making work whose target demographic is themselves. There are people like me and (i suspect) your mom who aren't necessarily making work for themselves as a target customer - and then it becomes a little harder to a)find your audience b) gauge their price range c) make a community connection with them. The idea of building community works to sell any kind of art, as a great deal of the art- and craft-buying public really loves to feel a connection with the person who has made the work - this humanity, after all, is a lot of what they are paying that 'handmade' premium for.

The business sense of how to market your work, how to identify and find your audience, and how to become a sustainable commercial enterprise is usually not discussed in the craft circles of our generation - except for the internet! Everyone loves to market on the internet! Craft Con, the conference I am throwing here in SF this april, seeks to address these issues. Last year 50 crafters got together in pittsburgh and *didn't* talk about knitting - we talked about marketing and health insurance. It's hard to make a living making things outside of a factory setting, because that is not the prevailing mode of our culture. It's not impossible though, it just means there are fewer total opportunities. I sold two paintings out of my store just this weekend. I think success is about a)quality of goods b)access to market. Representation just means that you don't have to do any of that pesky marketing stuff.