Why my business is purple

I have definite opinions about politics. And I’m pretty politically aware. Heck, I used to work in the U.S. Senate! I may be lean to one side, but my business is purple.

In a country where divisions between blue and red are often so deeply felt, I can’t see that anything good would come of my bringing politics into my business. I don't take sides and I don't join political groups on Facebook. You won't find pictures of me at political rallies on my Facebook page either.

The boss I worked for in the Senate was one of the key proponents of bipartisanship–working together to solve problems. I, too, believe it’s possible to find common ground. But we have to listen. We have to really hear and understand the other side. If we're constantly yelling and degrading the other side, we can’t hear. I do enough yelling at the television. I like to think of this as an oasis. It's where I can just meet and hang out with artists–regardless of their political stripes. It's a place where we all speak the same language or at least understand the building blocks of that language.

The older and wiser I get, the more I believe that we’re all cut from the same cloth. Deep, deep down inside, we are one–whether we want to admit it or not. We come from the same place and we’re connected on a highly mystical and spiritual plane.

I want ALL of my readers to know that I love and support them for the artists they are and the artists they are becoming. If my blog bled red or blue, many of my readers would feel unwelcome. My business is neither red nor blue. It will remain purple.

This blog is about the business of art. Sometimes politics will creep into the artworld (okay, it happens a lot) and I will take a stance, but that is the only time I can think of that I’ll bring politics into the fold. I’ll always side with free expression and public funding for art and art education.

Click on “continue reading” for the text of a newsletter I wrote before the 2004 election, which gives you two sides to the debate as to whether or not you should mix art and politics.


Mix Politics & Art? (from October 11, 2004)

I woke up Tuesday morning to a nasty surprise in my inbox. Let's see if I can briefly describe it (and, yes, it will apply to you!).

There is a business motivation expert that I have been following for quite some time. In fact, I have recommended one of his books highly through this newsletter and in my classes. I've sold lots of books for him! Granted, he doesn't need me to help him sell–he's doing just fine on his own. Nonetheless, you'd think he'd want to keep me happy. But he crossed a line on Tuesday morning.

That's when he sent me an email containing a link to a recent article he wrote about the upcoming election. Was it fair and balanced? He– no! It was venomous. And it offended me deeply. I immediately unsubscribed to everything he had to offer. Not only that, I sent him one of my postcards (with my smiling face on it) and told him why I am no longer a subscriber. I felt that was important to do. I was getting his newsletters to help me with my business and he was telling me how to vote in the upcoming election. Not only that, it was a hateful, divisive article. I felt it had no place in a newsletter I valued for business advice.

Did he do the wrong thing? Not necessarily. He obviously believes strongly in his cause and is willing to stick his neck out. And he can probably afford to take a stand. I actually admire him for taking the risk and sharing his beliefs with others.

I have to confess that I probably wouldn't have been offended at all if we were on the same page. My guess is that at least half of his list enjoyed the article. In such a close election, I'll bet the other half reacted as I did. Politics and business don't always make good bedfellows.

Are you mixing politics with your art business? If you are:

►You might be jeopardizing some of your sales. On the other hand, you could also be attracting others who think along the same lines.

► Be sure you believe steadfastly in your cause and are willing to stick your neck out for it.

►There is no reason to be hateful or angry (unless that's your shtick). Get someone else to read what you write to ensure you come of as thoughtful. Whatever you do, exercise your right to vote.

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32 comments to Why my business is purple

  • couldn’t agree with you more.

  • I used to think like that too, never gave my opinion on politics. Over the past few years however that’s changed and now I let people know my opinions if they ask or in areas that are mine to freely express myself on my blog, my yard signs. I understand what you are saying about not pushing ideology into inappropriate arenas or or expressing opinions in venomous ways, and naturally I agree with that. You may be in the consulting to artists or selling art, but I am in the business of making art. And if I don’t have the courage to state my opinions about local, national, or world issues that vital, how can I have the courage to make art that says anything of significance?

  • I agree with you, Alyson and know it can also take a great deal of courage to stay neutral when appropriate.

  • Teaching several college classes this semester has been difficult. I MUST remain neutral, even though I’ve been quite passionate about this election. We had lots of good discussions in class, and I did tell students that if they wanted to know where I was leaning politically they could look at the bumper stickers on my car. But in the gallery we are politically neutral. I know that seeing the opposing party’s yard sign in front of a business influences my decision to buy in that store. I don’t want ANYTHING other than whether a client likes my work to influence their decision to purchase. In this economy the bottom line is fragile enough.

  • I think you have “chosen wisely”, Alyson. As soon as I invite or engage in political conversation, half the people stop listening or worse think I’m an enemy. It’s not easy being Purple… Thanks for this posting. Lori

  • Pam: I didn’t say I never give my opinion. I just don’t do it on this blog or in places where it can be associated with my business. I still don’t see my business as the best place to voice my politics. I think many artists use their art for political ends, and I’m perfectly okay with that. I think it’s great! But, as you noted, I’m in the business of dispensing art business advice to artists of all kinds–not political advice. I have to remind myself that that’s my focus. Sometimes it’s hard! I want to join in the fun (especially some of the Facebook groups)! Liza: I know! I would definitely think twice about entering a business that had an opposing political sign outside.

  • Another great point! My wife and I have strong political beliefs, and we share these with our children. I had a solo show a few years ago and at the opening one of my daughters, who was 8, started on a political rant! I took her aside and told her that of course I agree with her, but that members of the other political parties buy art, too. I explained that politics and religion are subjects best discussed at home.

  • Alyson, I could not agree more. I have a website and blog for my art career, and I have purposely remained “purple” on both sites. A big reason is that it’s not appropriate or necessary to my content. Yes, politics and art do overlap, as they must. But my rule is I don’t mix business and politics unless necessary.

  • Nice post, Alyson. I, too, remain purple in my businesses. I understand those who may feel one way or another about an issue, sometimes quite passionately. What I have trouble with is the way that some have to make it an “us vs. them” scene. You can disagree about issues, but I think you hit the nail on the head when you speak of us “all cut from the same cloth”. Thanks for putting it so eloquently.

  • I may not have expressed myself well, maybe I need to write a post myself about what I’m trying to say. I was trying to say that being an artist takes guts, and learning how to express yourself honestly in all the different forms we have today — blogs, twitter, showing work in public spaces, and face-to-face takes practice and all sorts of different skills. It also takes some toughness, to realize if you put yourself out in public in any form, not everyone is going to love you or what you have to say. Whether it’s politics, or the kind of car I drive, or dog- versus cat-people, we’re going to have differences. I just hope that we can work for a world where we can respect these differences and peacefully share this shrinking planet.

  • Great post, Alyson. I struggled with whether or not to address the election on my blog. On the one hand – I view my blog as a business document and agree with what others have said that business & politics don’t mix. On the other hand – blogs have a strong personal quality, even when they aim to be business-like. And since this election was such an historical event with wide ranging consequences for artists & beekeepers (my topics) that it felt false to me not to acknowledge it at least somewhat. I took the middle road (I hope) by acknowledging the election in a warm way without going over-the-top-partisan. Did I do this successfully? Not sure. I suppose that’s for others to decide. But I do feel good about what I wrote. The artists’ blogs I follow that have ignored the election entirely seem strangely lacking & maybe a little self-absorbed – unable to see the larger world – to me. I know the artists in question are probably skirting the issue for all the reasons addressed here but seriously… Something big happened on Tuesday and it’s worth a mention, at least.

  • I should add: In teaching I’ve continually promoted non-partisan discussion of our amazing American political process, and in business I am also careful to remain neutral. But on my blog and twits I have been more open about my political feelings. (I don’t have the following that you do Alyson, and my passion has definitely spilled over!) I also think that no matter which side of the political equation you’re on we can all acknowledge the incredible political passage we have just gone through as a nation.

  • Hi Alyson–I never heard of purple before but it’s cool. In your position I think you are very wise. I didn’t say boo about politics until the day of the election when I did “come out” on my blog ;-) As an artist I don’t think it hurts me and as a vocal environmentalist, naturalist and educator as well as an artist or writer who lives in Massachusetts I think my political leanings aren’t really a surprise to anyone. And it’s an interesting point for us to all consider and think about. Thanks once again!

  • Wow, Laura. Good point. I never thought of it like that.

  • I agree completely, Alyson! To me, keeping quiet about my politics isn’t a matter of not standing up for my opinions or not participating in the process, but rather akin to my right to a secret ballot. There was a day when employees were ordered who to vote for at risk of losing their jobs. In the same way, I want to be free to vote my conscience without worrying about how it might offend my customers. You wrote: “I, too, believe it’s possible to find common ground. But we have to listen. We have to really hear and understand the other side. If we’re constantly yelling and degrading the other side, we can’t hear.” Exactly! It honestly doesn’t feel safe to engage in reasoned political discussion anymore without fear of being judged as being “unpatriotic” or “fascist”, What happened to tolerance? You also wrote: “The older and wiser I get, the more I believe that we’re all cut from the same cloth. Deep, deep down inside, we are one–whether we want to admit it or not.” Scientists say we share something like 98% (don’t quote me here!) of our DNA with everyone else. I believe that Americans share about 98% of their political DNA, as well: the Constitution/Bill of Rights, the rule of law not tyrants, the peaceful transition of powerful, the belief in our fundamental freedoms, our love of a diverse people and land. At election time, we seem to forget all that we share while we debate the 2% that we don’t agree on. My blog is one of those that does not mention the election. Does it mean I am “strangely lacking & maybe a little self-absorbed – unable to see the larger world”? I sure hope not! As a portrait artist, my art purposely speaks directly to that 98% of the feelings and values we humans share: our love for those we treasure. Not mentioning the election was simply an extension of my mission as an artist, to help use see and treasure the things that matter above all else.

  • I guess I am somewhat of a radical. I live in a VERY small community & I have been involved in some very hot issues here–and I have written about them on my blog and in the local papers. I have written and called my representatives, I have marched and protested. Everyone around here knows my politics. I have also done paintings that refer to the issues. Yes, Alyson, I know what you are saying. But I have to say that many of the problems we are now facing as a nation are there because people like you & me have not spoken out in a clear strong voice. There is a tremendous amount of corruption in our current system & too much “business as usual” and “money first”. I am hoping and praying for change and I am thrilled to say that this is the first time in a long time that I have been proud to be an American. And if someone is not going to buy art from me because of who I voted for or what I believe in, that’s OK with me.

  • Wow! So someone writes about staying purple & a bunch of people write in with their personal political opinions…& as I read the comments, it is even more apparent how important it is to stay purple…

  • Great post Alyson. i think the key, if you are going to express your political viewpoints on a non-political forum, is ALL ABOUT YOUR INTENTION. Even if you have a differing opinion than I do, but i can sense that your intention is to build bridges toward the other side, you might have a shot of getting me to look at your viewpoint. Maybe even change my mind. And at the very least, not offend me and perhaps lose my business. But when someone with an opposing viewpoint expresses themselves in a disrespectful manner, i feel insulted and stop reading anyway, so their effort at making me see their viewpoint is futile. They are only preaching to the choir. Too often, i am amazed at the mere ARROGANCE with which people express their (unsolicited) political viewpoints (especially in blog or email form). They don’t ask for differing opinions on the subject, don’t want to hear them — they have already made up their mind and i can sense that their intention has nothing to do with bringing about understanding. They are fueled by anger, divisiveness, disrespect, and insults…. which, in the end, only further divides us as a nation. This, in my opinion, is not the highest calling of an artist. Yes, we should be able to look at the larger context, but too often we confuse one-sided, strong expression of our viewpoints as artistic or personal “integrity,” when really it’s just a short-sighted ego-stroke so we can consider ourselves “engaged,” “courageous” and “strong” and perhaps even “smart”. But we don’t consider the fallout from our posts or diatribes or realize that instead, we are merely acting like children irresponsibly lashing our with anger. Unsolicited political opinions need to be packaged respectfully with the intention of building bridges toward the other side, not tearing them down. So if you are an artist known for your strong political opinions, great. Continue. We do need art like that! (and if that is what you are known for, people probably know what they are ‘getting into’ when they view your art or subscribe to your blog)… But if I have come to someone for business advice, as Alyson did, and they go off-topic and start doling out their political opinions, they’d better realize that if they lead with arrogance instead of respect, I am going to be turned off and unsubscribe just as Alyson did.

  • It’s possible to acknowledge the big issues of the day in non-partisan ways if one feels moved to do so. If you’re ignoring the big issues on your blog because you have nothing relevant, fresh or appropriate to say about them, then fine, that’s right for you. If you’re ignoring the big issues but DO have something relevent, fresh or appropriate to say – then I’d argue that you’re not meeting your full potential as a blogger. As artists we’re in this weird zone where our professional work can also be highly personal. Don’t you think there should be room for artists to reflect on political topics in a professional, respectful way.

  • Liza, I appreciate your comments & think it’s interesting that you don’t include your blog and twits as part of your business identity. How do you keep them separate? Do you use multiple names?

  • I think it’s important to have the courage of your convictions, and say so. And if you really believe in public funding for art and art education, only one candidate had any meaningful platform regarding the arts. It seems, uh, a dubious choice at best to not openly support that. But fortunately for you — that’s the candidate that won!

  • What wast he article,? I’d like to read it.

  • Interesting post and discussion. I thought a lot about mixing politics and art before diving in and divulging which political party I was supporting this election on my blog and social networking sites. I’m glad I did, but understand why people want to remain purple. Many interesting conversations were the result of “coming out” politically – though the conversations were moved to private email. I would say that I was respectful of the other side and vice versa, but I should mention that I have had a friendly relationship with many of the people with whom I exchanged emails or instant messages about the election and what is at stake. The good news is that I’m still on friendly terms with these folks – including my in laws who voted for the other candidate. I suppose it would be easy to get vitriolic in the face of anonymity, but if I’ve learned anything from blogging and using the internet, it’s a small world and you just never know who you’ll meet. If someone decided not to purchase my work because of my political or even religious affiliations, then so be it – that is their choice. I guess I decided that I felt too passionate about this year’s election to remain silent.

  • Purple is supposed the be the color of healing too

  • Lisa

    If Alyson you came up with “purple” I simpley say THANK YOU for expressing in one word how I feel…I think this has just inspired a painting…what a great new vision GO PURPLE…TIME TO HEAL! (thanks cynthia tool)…

  • I am in complete agreement with you Alyson. I’ve seen “light” discussion of politics turn ugly in a minute. There is no reason to alienate people who read my blog or website. Like you, I wholeheartedly believe that nearly everyone wants similar outcomes (peace, happiness, prosperity – in my opinion). The sometimes vicious disagreements are about the means to get there. I choose to focus on the outcomes and the good that people bring to the process. Thanks for another helpful, wise post!

  • It’s funny you should write this. This weekend I was in Sutter Creek, shopping some galleries and small mom and pop shops, my favorite. Above one shop’s door was the campaign sign of the candidate I did not support. It really put me off and I skipped it for the next shop. I didn’t really think about it . . . it was just a gut reaction. Later I wondered if it occurred to the owner that he might be turning away about 1/2 his business. mira

  • Wow! You guys amaze me. Your courage and convictions are inspiring. Pam: Well said. Laura: You always make me think. Obama had a progressive arts policy that I should have acknowledged and stood up for. (I think I sent out a tweet with a link to it–maybe?) But that would have been the extent of it on this blog. I think it takes time to develop eloquent words that persuade and support rather than negate and divide. I think I was being a bit lazy in not finding those words. Christine: Yea! Speak out! March! Protest! As you say, it is critical. And, by the way, I did attend a protest this year at the state capitol. I just didn’t blog about it. I sent a tweet saying I was going to a political rally or protest or something like that. Charley: Right on. Intention is key. And respect is paramount. I need to have more faith that people can respect differences as long as I am being respectful.

  • Brenda: Let’s hope we’re willing to work together to find that common ground. Mira: I wonder if, instead of seeing a sign in the window, you had gone in and discovered that the owner had respectful opinions of your candidate and your opinions. But, he just leaned another way. I think it might have been different. Maybe signs are too loud. Maybe signs are the problem. ???

  • David

    Great topic, and one that I’ve thought alot about this year. I do know that my creative process is primarily inspired by the places I go, the people I meet and from within myself. I also know that I must be true to myself and my inspirations as I strive to create my best art. If I wasn’t in the business of creating art and using what is going on with me and around me to inspire my creations, I’d agree that presenting my business as politically neutral would make sense. But, the very things that inspire me are, after all, red and blue and purple and every color in between. Going back to the election of 2004, politics has been an occasional inspiration for my art. I started creating my first “election day” painting on Election Day, 2004. That day I felt numb and painted pointy shapes in red and black. I created another one on Election Day, 2008 mostly in the color of light blues and hope (soon to be on my blog). I present this art on my blog for what it is – art that was in me, inspired by what was going on around me. I don’t rant or call names or become ugly. But, since my blog is about me, my art and my journey, I must be genuine and share the real me. I’ve worried about turning people away, but really hope I’ve balanced sharing my art and not crossed into pushing my agenda down anyone’s throat. Now that I think about this, it is interesting to think that if there is a part of me that I “protect” from sharing on my blog, it’s my recent marriage in California to my partner of 6 years. Now it has been “voted away” by millions of people, and not only in California. Even in 2008 it sure seems to be the kind of stuff people might use as a reason to not purchase my art.

  • It used to be that Politics and Religion had no place in polite conversation, and indulging in such was frowned upon. I believe that to still hold true in business. I applaud your neutrality from your business standpoint, and I wish more were inclined to do the same. I, too, practise this as much as possible. Why would anyone want to potentially alienate half their readership/clientele? I see politics-laden posts and Tweets from arts business professionals. My first reaction is discomfort. As a businessperson I should think that making your visitors uncomfortable would be the last thing you’d want to achieve. The more hostile or biased the post is, the less inclined I am to continue following them. I agree with you 100% Alyson- stay purple! To do otherwise is just Bad Form, and bad for your business.

  • I’m a little late in replying to this one. I was taking some time off. Something I just have to do sometimes. I fully agree Alyson with staying purple. Thanks for bringing this subject forward.