Monday, June 19, 2017

Getting An Aerial View

Etsy only allowed me to enter a different market. It didn't earn me more money. It actually added up to the lessening of my overall annual income. It isn't even physically possible for me to make as much from Etsy and art fairs combined as it was for me to make from art fairs alone.

Etsy isn't nearly as efficient a market as art fairs are. Especially for potters, though I think that statement is pretty generally true.

The internet demands more time wearing the marketing hat. Far more time. It happens to require a skill set I seem to have naturally, but it takes time away from my production. And whether I market through Etsy OR art fairs, the single biggest determinant of my annual income is my production -- how much pottery I make.

I'm not resistant to change. I'm doing it. I'm changing. I market via the internet because I can and because I'm pretty good at it, and because my pottery is better suited to that market than most other potter's seems to be (even after a couple of years not really trying, I'm still in the top 100 Etsy sellers of pottery -- and the ones ahead of me are item-makers, not potters).

No, my point isn't about what I want to be doing or whether I'm willing to change with the times. That's why I said my point could only be contemplated in the abstract -- we can't go back. The internet isn't going to disappear. But that doesn't mean that I don't recognize that the internet brought on the current state of the art fairs. It took away every good reason to buy at art fairs -- or, at least, it took away the greatest impulses that caused art fairs to prosper so.

There isn't a thing we could have done about it to have halted it. The world is moving on and we'll all be trying to figure out new formulas. I'm working for someone else. I've contemplated offering workshops and had a few promising but false starts with that (right when I took the current job I had three national workshops ask me to present). So, timing is everything and maybe some day those kinds of offers will occur when I'm not similarly committed. I've changed the pots and am continuing to explore lower kiln temps.
My gut feeling is that when the dust settles, few artists of the kind we've grown up with (and as) will make their/our living from the internet other than as some sort of PR tool.

The music industry has been pretty decimated by the whole thing. But it's turning music back to its roots -- performing and creating. Nobody's getting rich selling recordings, but now many people are making a living (or nearly so) as performers.

I think the answers to our future haven't really been seen or defined yet. In losing the art fairs we've lost:

1. Impulse buying -- one of the strongest motivations for buying at art fairs was the inherent understanding that the purchase of this item was a now or never chance. And if they didn't buy it then, they were even MORE driven to not let the chance pass them by the NEXT year.

Now they contact via the internet. Except that they don't. They take a card and they are ABSOLUTELY DETERMINED they will contact you when they are ready to buy....but to the tune of about 99%, they don't. Out of sight out of mind.

2. Shared gravitas -- we were a stronger market as a unit than we were as individuals. As a potter in an open art fair market, every patron naive to the intricacies of pottery nevertheless was able to pass SOME judgement of the value of my work because it was set side by side with the fine photography of a Don Ament, the superlative display of jewelry put forth by a Bonnie Blandford, or the winsome and whimsical art of a Julie Kradel. The patron may not have known pottery, but if I was in with THIS crowd, then my pottery must have been of similar value. Which brings me to...

3. Gatekeepers. We hate 'em. But they were the ones who told the world that we were valuable. When we got into Fort Worth, St Louis, Cherry Creek, Artisphere, or the Garage Sale Art Fair :) ....the public knew we had been granted a pretty meaningful stamp of approval. We were safe to buy from or we wouldn't have gotten there in the first place.

We can't get ANY of that from the internet. None. In fact, we are as inclined to live and mostly die by the cynicism and skepticism inherent in social media that is more tribal than any societal mechanism know, TRIBES. Hell, we don't disagree with anyone anymore. We hate them. The internet is poisoned. And there's no going back on that one either. To try is, ironically, to embed oneself even DEEPER in tribalism.

And yet we're naive enough to the problem to actually share our political view points on the internet....totally oblivious to the fact that we've just alienated half of our potential audience. Yes, maybe your tribe will reward you for confirming their biases. Good luck with that.

I think our future as artists resides in the 3D world. I don't know what that looks like right now. Maybe it looks like a 20-year-old entering an art fair for the first time, willing to learn.

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