Why Choosing to Be an Artist Today is The Best Decision
There is no greater time to be alive as an artist than today. In 1996, when I started my career, most were not using the internet. Most did not have a computer. John and I spent $3600 for a computer from the money we got from our wedding. It was a Compaq Presario that had 8 gigs of RAM. At the time, it was one of the best computers money could buy. Laptops didn’t exist yet. No one knew about digital cameras.
The Challenges of Photographing and Promoting Artwork in the Past
When we wanted to contact a gallery to see if they would represent us, we had to send them slides. We would buy slide film and, with our manual cameras, hope we got the shutter speed and exposure settings correct. We'd shoot our artwork against black velvet that would absorb the light and put two tungsten halogen high-powered lights clamped onto stands on either side. It cost a fortune to take pictures of your own artwork.
Once the pictures were taken, we had to get the filmed developed by someone who specialized in slide film. It usually took about two weeks. Once the slides came back, we would go to the university's light room to use their silver tape and tape our slides on their light box. Then we put the slides into a slide holder and included a self-addressed stamped envelope in the package we sent the gallery.
If a gallery represented you, you could have maybe 5-10 pieces in their gallery for sale. A couple hundred people would see your work — if you were lucky. Then someone would buy the work and maybe a handful of people would see it at the collector's house. This was the lifespan of a piece of artwork. This was the impact and potential it had.
The Difficulties in Reaching a Global Art Market
Shipping globally was out of the question. FedEx was just getting going. If you shipped internationally, there was extensive paperwork and taxes that had to be paid; no one wanted to ship original artwork. You had to sell your work for more than $10,000 for it to be worth it. We had to rely on dealers to get our work out internationally. If you lived in a smaller country with less resources, forget it — it was nearly impossible to get your work out of your country.
Giclée wasn’t invented yet and the only possible way to have prints was to license with a print company to get lithographs made. Each image had to have a run of 2500 or the company wouldn’t make them for you.
The Limited Access to Art Supplies and Materials
Art supplies could only be bought in person at a store. If you didn’t have a car, it was very difficult to get canvases to your studio, so we learned to stretch our own canvases. Michael's and Hobby Lobby were not around and we could only buy art supplies from small town boutiques or in big city centers. An art supply trek a few times per year was our method to get supplies.
Artist grade spray paint, inks, and markers were not in the market yet. Acrylics were brand new and not taken very seriously yet. Chinese imports were not happening yet, so supplies were still made and imported from Europe. There were no fluorescents or innovative colors. Water-soluble graphite didn’t exist and Caran D'ache had just come out with their water-soluble crayons.
The Power of Digital Platforms: Expanding Your Reach as an Artist in the Digital Age
Let’s compare just 30 years ago to what happens today. An artist can accumulate a huge following on Instagram and as the last brushstroke is complete, she can post it. Within hours, thousands have seen and been affected worldwide by her new art piece. That same day, she takes a high resolution picture of her work and uploads it to one of many print-on-demand sites and creates, within an hour, several products of her choice.
Next, she connects the product to her store, which is connected to her website through an API. Then she presses the launch button. She wakes up the next morning to multiple notifications that her new products sold in Europe and Australia as she slept. Her phone is dinging with notifications as sales begin in the U.S. The original piece of artwork is still on her easel drying.
If someone told me this reality when I was in art school and just starting out, my head would have spun! Can you even imagine the future five years from now for the artist?! Art is in high demand and hitting critical mass in terms of a worldwide draw on art accounts. To make it, you only need a cause, passion, a little bit of skill, and the willingness to put yourself out there.
Envisioning a Bright Future for Artists
I started speaking from stages and platforms about 15 years ago and built into each of my talks was the idea of a worldwide renaissance of the arts. I told artists that it was just starting. I told artists to get into position. Start learning and perfecting your skills. Get a domain name and build a website. I told them that artists will be the influencers of the future. This was before Shopify or print-on-demand.
I said these things because I could feel it in my gut. My spirit knew. I had doubts, of course, and sometimes I would think, “Elli, you don't even know what you are talking about. You have no proof! What if you are wrong and Duchamp was right that art is dead?” My gut prevailed and spoke louder to me.
The Limitless Potential and Possibilities for Artists Today
I see so much more now and know that the future is bright for artists. In fact, artists are the way of the future and what will ensure our freedom.
What do you see in the future? If your gut is telling you grand epic things for your art business, LISTEN! That is the truth. Let your faith prevail. Allow your heart to leap at the possibilities. If you envision yourself standing in beautiful spaces with your art and many people around in beautiful clothes admiring and being affected deeply, then that is your future.
If you see your bank account full and your dream art studio with all the windows, then this is your future. Travel, influence, lives changed, culture shifted, and leaving your mark on the world is all at hand. It is all contained just at the tip of your brush.
What does a bright future for artist look like to you? What do you hope to achieve as an artist?