lessons learned, part 2.

participating in he said, she said has been a particularly successful experience for me. and i’m not just saying that because i happened to sell one of my (large) works. i mean it because i actually learnt a hell of a lot about myself and my practice through being part of this exhibition.

i’m always open to learning new things relating to my work. i’m often having to learn new techniques, but this time it was a little different. i learned the art equivalent of some more “adult” lessons that i think only really get learned on the job:

the devil is in the detail.
there has been a fair bit written in the kids’ blogs lately about attention to detail. while i think i’m pretty good at it when it comes to conveying an idea, i’m pretty shit at it when it comes to the exhibition presentation of it. that kind of attention to detail requires a certain level of pedantry and neurosis that i just do not posess and i came to terms with it for the first time with this show.

i want to have that level of finesse. i really do. but it’s just not in me. i’m the all-swearing, all-laughing, all-chattering, life-living, not-really-sweating-the-small-stuff kinda gal. all brain and mouth and not a lot of delicacy. and this is all fine and dandy when i’m painting red goop all over the place, or hanging up bags of blood on walls, or working digitally. but when it comes to exhibiting work and especially putting a price tag on it, expecting people to live with it in their living rooms, hallways or offices, i have to make something that is crisp and won’t fall apart. something that reflects the price tag that’s on it and the longevity which i’d like my work to have. i need to be particular.

while i was thinking about all of this during installation, i found myself getting a little stressed. i had no idea where the fuck i was going to find this particularity from. in fact, i’ve spent the last 10 years of my life getting rid of neurosis from my life so i could have some peace of mind, and now i need it back? oh dear. thankfully, my very intelligent and caring friend sarah, curator extraordinaire, reminded me that all i need to do is to get someone else to make it for me. someone who has exquisite attention to detail and who can help me take my work to that next level.

how much, love?
unlike so many other pursuits, the question of money/merit/value/worth is in your fucking face as an artist right from the word go. and for me, i sold out of an edition of 6 of my graduating works, all those years ago, so i had to deal with it pronto. my principle for putting a price tag on the work has always been about making it accessible and this was even more important in wollongong, as a regional area. unfortunately, it needs more than an affordable price on it to be accessible and i learned the hard way that some people just want pretty fucking pictures. anyway, i digress.

so initially, with the major work in this show, i was going to ask for a relatively small amount and leave it unframed so that someone could feel that ‘even they’ could buy it and own a rather large artwork.

what i hadn’t realised is that there can be such a thing as underselling yourself.

when i price my work too low, i effectively say to the buying audience that i don’t value my own output and don’t expect you to. that’s not what i mean to say, but that’s the message that comes across and i can’t tell you how much i squirmed when i was enlightened about that. i find it hard to place financial worth on myself as an artist as it is and i’m going to try to learn how to do it better in the next couple of years. i’m sure that in the past, this kind of ‘market’ analysis and pitching was done by dealers/gallery owners. but until i get to the stage where i’m there, i need to know this. i need to be confident in what i’m worth and what you need to pay in order to own my work. no room for martyrs here.

and having said all of that, it leads nicely into kind of responding to jade’s question about whether selling work is bittersweet – in that i have to ‘let it go’. years ago, i was attached to my work. but for me (others my disagree. vehemently even) if i put a price tag on it, if i’m exhibiting something with an intention to sell it, i can’t afford to get attached (bad pun, kind of intended). if i really like the work and i don’t want to part with it, i won’t put a price on it. however, i’m not sure how much room everyone else has in their life, but i no longer have the room to get sentimental with my own artworks (i want others’ works in my house, anyway), so i really don’t get like that. perhaps it’s another sign that i’ve taken my work up a notch.

popcorn, get your popcorn!
as a curator last year, i found it very easy to promote a well put-together show – to sell the works by artists, approach media and talk with gallery owners about the artists. i spent all of last year being paid to promote a large national arts organisation and encouraging artists to promote and market their work. and until this show, i did OK at doing it for myself. up to a point.

i’m OK at sending out the invites, press releases, text messages, updating news on the website (ooh, which reminds me..), etc. to a group of people who will be interested in my work, but they’re ostensibly within my comfort zone and it’s not necessarily about the hard sell. this time, i had to step up to the plate and think about inviting people who would come and look at the show with more of a critical and discerning eye (not that my friends, etc aren’t…). i needed to invite gallery owners, more specific media, people who had collected my work before and people who weren’t necessarily artists or in my myspace ‘extended network’. it wasn’t fucking easy, i tell you. and next time, i’ll definitely do it very differently.

level 2. do you want to save this game?
while thinking about all of this stuff, it’s becoming blatantly clear to my that i have progressed/stumbled on to level 2 of the ‘how to be a living professional artist’ game: i’m starting to consider things more deeply in a business/commodity/industry sense. and although some of this stuff was discussed in school and even at NAVA (as the professional organisation for the visual arts), i really don’t think any of it sunk in until i got to this stage. until i had to frame my work properly, construct it so that it lasts and work on laying a better foundation from which my ideas and concepts can shine through. this was an important realisation: that buy cleaning up my presentation, it wouldn’t flatten my ideas, but to actually highlight them. i know, it sounds like rocket science, but it only just really clicked.

the other realisation i had about advancing to the next round is that actually, i’m a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. well, that is assuming that by trades, you mean the craft of making things in a set fashion with set techniques and set tools. my mastery is actually in the concept area. the thinking and the construction of ideas and each time i convey a new idea in a new medium, i have to learn all the lessons from the beginning that someone who has, say, been working on watercolours for 10 years has already learnt. [reason again to get others to help me. dammit.]

doin’ it for the kids
i also think because i’ve taken some of my work to this new level, my other stuff – some of the installations and guerilla works i do, the fun stuff, are even more important. they provide an outlet for me where i don’t have to concern myself with the strategy of my career, or the commodity of the work but can still work on creating meaningful statements in a smaller sphere. i won’t go so far as saying that they’re “for myself” – i hate that kind of self-indulgent crap, but they’re for others on a very playful and personal level. there’s no requirement for engagement, no prerequisite and absolutely no particularity about them.

thanks for subscribing to she sees red by lauren brown. xx

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