Beyond the Canvas: Making Your Work Accessible How my issues turned into a dress
Diversity makes life more interesting.
So why do so many artists limit themselves to creating only one type of work? We can’t deny that commercial success as an artist is a delicate balance between self-preservation and distribution of the personal fund.
Some of us don’t give a rat’s ass if our work sells—and while this is certainly a healthy approach to taking on a life in the arts, if an artist can control the moment of disconnect that needs to occur in order to sell, she can begin to see her work as a service that is genuinely needed by others.
Whether what you create is a diversion from or a reflection of your personal reality, it matters because it is your voice. Is your voice more important that anyone else’s? No.
But is there maybe a group of people who would disagree with that? Who are these people? Why, they are your beloved audience! They are the ones who create the buzz and cheer you on. They are the ones who matter; forget everyone else (for now, at least).
Identifying your audience and making your work accessible is an important part of becoming a professional artist.
It’s a responsibility that many artists do not take on because it makes them feel dirty to look behind the curtain. After all, it’s easier to complain about the “art world” and fail than it is to take the beast by the horns and find a solution. And after some searching you may discover that your largest audience is not who you might expect.
I personally was having issues, seeing people support my work, follow my pages, and comment on the images of my latest paintings or sculptures. I would get embarrassed because my work was getting expensive as I got older—too expensive for many of my biggest fans and peers to buy.
For a while I just accepted that my work was going to remain inaccessible to many people, that they would just have to save up and buy a piece, eventually. All of this is still true, but in the meantime my inner business consultant screamed over missed opportunities to give people what they want. To find a bridge between myself and this audience in a way that preserves the integrity of my work.
Historically speaking, this is not a new issue.
In fact, we can see examples all around us of the clever ways artists have made their work accessible. The invention of the printing press (thanks, Gutenberg) was revolutionary in making ideas available to the masses. Artists ran with this technology to create editions of woodcuts, lithographs, etchings, and serigraphs.
Many people do not buy paintings, sculptures, or prints frequently enough from one artist to sustain an artist’s studio practice.
Printmaking is a brilliant idea. Traditional printmaking is an art form in itself, and due to the nature of the medium, which opens the door for mass production, artists can make their work available at a lower price for devoted enthusiasts.
Many artists enjoy the corporate art world, and working with interior designers, because they provide volume sales from the same client. But this does not address the goal of nurturing those who love you most, who have loved your work for years, and who can not afford to buy an original work.
So I found myself asking, “What else can be done?”
Initially, I started hosting free art classes for kids. It pissed me off to see non-profit organizations charge so much for kids to take art classes. So to offer another option, I open up my studio on occasion and teach kids free of charge. They only have to provide their own materials. But then I started paying attention to who (demographically) exactly was showing me the most love: women between 25–35. And then I asked myself, “What do these ladies need that is also something I absolutely love?”
The answer didn’t come right away, but now I know it: clothing.
Dresses are my favorite type of clothing. I had a professor in college who encouraged me to dress in colors and themes that reflected my artwork. This idea stayed with me and I started imagining the perfect outfit to wear to work.
In fact, I had already done this—I’d made a dress a few years ago out of leftover bedsheets, which I still wear while painting all the time! So the dresses I wanted to make would be light cotton (like a bed sheet) and covered in paint. This was how I could express myself, as a dress, and make the dresses affordable to my most loyal fan base.
The response to my new dress line has been overwhelming.
It has given me a tremendous amount of satisfaction, having solved this riddle. I hooked up with a very talented designer after some searching on Etsy.
Jennafer Grace has her own clothing line, based in San Diego, and the way she thinks about clothing is exactly how I wanted my fabric to be used. Her design style is classic, flattering, retro but not too-much-so.
Collaborating with another artist to create something new has taken me out of my comfort zone and has changed my thinking about my work. I’m always thinking about how else I can apply the imagery I create; what other objects represent me outside of the conventions of canvas, paper, or metal. And I feel in a way that I’ve become a better artist – seeing people’s love of my work as a wonderful gift, and taking the personal responsibility to make it accessible in the most elegant way.
Photo by Mia Kaplan.
I have been thinking about the exact same issues presented in the article. Thanks, Mia. The dresses are beautiful!
Thanks very much, Lizanne! I hope you share your findings with us as you conquer your own conundrums. Cheers!