I received this email from awhile back from Bob Hunt:
I’ve been getting your newsletter now for a couple of month and do find some of the information interesting, but I feel you haven’t addressed a real issue that contributes to success. It’s talent. No where do you address this (at least not in the newsletters I’ve received) or in any of the topics in your seminars. All the best marketing, networking, setting up web sites etc., won’t do any good if the work isn’t marketable. A lot of novice painters get the false impression that if you do all the recommended things you suggest that they’ll be successful. False.
Bob, here are some thoughts off the top of my head:
1. First, it’s important to note that my newsletter is written for all kinds of artists–not just painters. I am certain you realize this, but because your email addresses painters directly, I feel the need to emphasize the fact that I write for more than painters.
2. What is “marketable” and who decides that? Both you and I know that a lot of art is selling for a lot of money–art neither one of us would spend a dime on. We also know that “marketable” means different things in different markets and in different levels of the art world. I do not believe "marketable" = "talented".
3. I don’t teach talent, so I don’t address it often. I only share the business and marketing side. However, in working directly with clients I am adamant about them devoting themselves to non-negotiable studio time and perfecting their crafts. (Check out this week’s Art Marketing Action newsletter.) You are right, however, that I should more often address the role of talent in an artist’s career.
One of the most important things you can suggest is to have your readers get an "honest" assessment of their work to find out if indeed it has value. Many novice painters think they can be successful because of all the encouragement they have received. Usually that encouragement comes from family and friends who don’t want to hurt their feeling by being honest with them or don’t have the expertise to give an honest appraisal. This is not to say they can’t be successful, if they address some of their shortcomings (providing they know what they are).
Only if you have talent and have marketable work will all your suggestions have validly [sic].
Image (c) Bob Hunt, Down the Rabbit Hole
Whom do you listen to?
Yes, artists should always seek feedback on their work, but from whom? Who is going to be the person who gives them the thumbs up or thumbs down? I have heard so many stories from successful artists who received negative feedback and zero encouragement from certain teachers. Perhaps it gave them determination to forge ahead, but they could have just as easily quit with such an “honest” assessment. At the same time, I agree with what I think is at the heart of Bob’s comments. Keep reading.
Bob recently wrote with these additions:
Most artists are very sensitive, and because most paint from the heart, it can be painful to receive negative criticism. They might get turned off because of it and don’t think they’re good enough to continue something that they love, and have a talent for doing so. The talent just has to grow. They have to learn to have a thick skin. Most importantly, is being honest with themselves. Listen to all the criticism, absorb it and if you think it’s valid incorporate it. Not all criticism has to taken and acted upon.
When I do an occasional work shop, I stress that failure is not a failure in it’s own right. The artist, hopefully has learned something from that failure and future work hopefully will be better because of it. I also stress, that to improve, you have to take risks, hence more failure, but that is the only way to improve and grow as an artist. If the artist is painting the same way they were 2 or 3 years ago, they’re getting comfortable and not growing. This is especially true of some artist, who start to sell, and feel that this is what sells, so no need to try anything new.
Developing your thick skin
Now, we’re getting to the heart of the matter. It’s not just a matter of someone giving your art the thumbs up or the thumbs down, it’s learning how to deal with those assessments. It’s discovering what to work on, whom to listen to, and where to go from there. It’s not about having "marketable" work (whatever that is). It’s about exploring your talent and honing your craft. It’s about learning from mistakes. It’s about watching your work take on a life of its own after it leaves your studio and seeing how you react to that new life.
Bob, I also like your mention of taking risks. What is great art if not risky?