Happy New Year and WOW, I’m so impressed at how many responses I received in our previous email about Camelot (you can see the Facebook post here). There are a lot of fellow mythology nerds out there, and I appreciate your input! 😉
My summary response to all of them: yes, there likely was a Welsh king named Arthur. That shows up in lots of histories. A whole bunch of different castles have been suggested as Camelot, but no definitive proof has emerged.
For the purpose of this analogy, what I’m talking about is not the historical King Arthur, of whom we know few verifiable facts. I’m talking about the fantasy elements: the lady living in a lake, the sword in the stone, the wizard Merlin, and the wildly embellished descriptions of the goodness of Arthur, Lancelot, and Camelot. These take the story from archaeology to myth.
And myths are where its at when it comes to storytelling.
In the story of King Arthur, Camelot is a shining city on a hill that represented justice and goodness. In the book The Great Reframing, Tim Schneider likens the fine art industry to the mythical Camelot.
Schneider does a great job examining in detail how technology will change the art world. I want to expand on his analogy a bit on the business side. Here, I’ll lay out what the art business looks like from an artist’s perspective. If you went to art school, this will look familiar. If you didn’t, this will help you understand the world you’re trying to navigate as an emerging artist.
The Art Stable Assembly Line
Go to undergrad, get a BFA. Rack up student loans to the tune of $40k (on average). Go to grad school, get an MFA. That’s another $100k. Oh, and zero education on how to run a business. While you’re finishing your MFA, participate in a group show where alumni and gallery reps are invited. Hope a gallery picks you up.
Note: There are approximately 6,000 galleries in the USA. Approximately 30k – 40k people graduate from art school each year. That math isn’t great. Let’s dig a little bit deeper.
If you get picked up by a gallery, you will probably do a group show or two in your first few years as an emerging artist. You will be introduced to the gallery’s collectors. If your work sells in a group show, you’ll be given an opportunity to do a solo show. It will take you 6 – 12 months to make the work. The gallery probably will not financially support you while you do this.
The gallery might put significant money towards the marketing of the solo show, but not necessarily. If they do, you will do a big press tour and lots of people will write about you, raising your profile. You have no personal control over how well that show goes. You don’t know who is interested in your art or who bought it before.
And here’s where Camelot comes in
If it goes exceedingly well, you will sell a lot of art and make a lot of money after putting in the work for 10+ years. If it goes poorly, the gallery will drop you and you’ll have a hard time getting any shows again.
But once you’ve entered this exclusive world, much like the jousting tournaments, the made up games only have higher stakes.
The book The $12 Million Stuffed Shark details how art is sold at the most elite levels. Galleries and auction houses sell art to a stable of collectors who have more money than most people can imagine. The collectors buy art not necessarily because they love it, but because their gallerist told them it would be a great investment, or they want to be a part of a wealthy collectors club. With the exception of a handful of enthusiasts, they really have little connection to the artist at all.
Galleries have every incentive to pump up their artists and sell their work for huge sums. It’s much more efficient to sell a single expensive piece of art rather than selling lots of smaller pieces. If the gallery drops you when your prices are this high, you will have a very difficult time building your own collector base.
More about building your own collector base in a moment.
Hopefully, by now you start to understand the Camelot metaphor. The galleries are selling dreams to young artists. They create a heady, thin atmosphere where only the very wealthy can live. It is romantic and exciting.
Because Camelot is so attractive, everyone wants to be a part of it. The galleries grease the wheels for their artists by donating large sums of money to museums. In return, the galleries get a seat at the board of directors. It is not a coincidence that so many of the artists receiving solo show recognition at major museums just happen to be represented by these galleries.
If you don’t get to be a part of the fairy tale, there’s one final kick in the teeth.
Any artist who doesn’t run in the elite circles of Camelot is looked down on by the art establishment. They’re not seen as legitimate artists by the galleries, auction houses, critics, museums, and even some of the artists themselves.
Yet, like the dreamers they are, artists spend their entire lives trying to play this game. They keep trying to show their work at the elite galleries. They keep hoping someone will pick them, despite the fact that the odds are so slim.
Meanwhile, there is another way.
I mentioned building your own collector base. The week before Christmas, one of our students, Jessica Singerman, told me on a call that despite the fact that she isn’t showing in any of the elite galleries, she made as much money from her art last year as she did from her day job. She’s quitting her day job to go full time as an artist. Whoo!
In the next email, I’m going to break down how artists like her do it. It’s not a secret. It’s what dozens of other artists who’ve taken our classes have done. You can read their success stories on our blog.
P.S. In my last email, I asked people to share their big wins from 2018. These are a great warm-up for our next email. Here are a few good ones:
“This summer I got a commission from a former client to paint a large abstract work. Near completion, he expressed honestly that he wasn’t in love with the piece…instead of losing confidence, I posted the existing piece on Instagram… Within a day, someone offered me 4x the amount originally agreed upon by the initial client, and promptly purchased the piece! SHE loved it.” – Julie
“I made it into the Southwest Art magazine “21 Under 31: Young Artists to Watch” article this year” – Ciara
“Got paid by one of the contacts to use my image on their holiday card. Two days ago, a collector who received the card bought $6400 worth of art (2 oil paintings). I am thrilled!” – Marisa