The definition of a real artist

This one might piss a few people off.

Not that it’s my intention to do so, but so often do I see artists – incredibly motivated, driven, talented – shirk the issue of money and selling, that I think it’s time to share one of my more radical opinions.

Don’t just take it from me, you know.

There are tons of people out there, smarter and more experienced than me.

Cory Huff, Ann Rea, Alyson Stanfield, and many more: they all tell us to get over ourselves and exchange our art for money.

Helen – an accomplished artist in her own right – says the same thing.

And personally, I don’t see any shame in selling art. Quite the opposite.

So here’s where I hold my breath:

A real artist is someone who sells their work – or at least actively tries to.

I can already hear people go: “You’re crazy! I AM an artist, even if I don’t sell my art!”

That’s valid, I agree.

But are you working on sales?

Are you building an online presence?

Are you using the proven marketing strategies that get you in front of people?

Are you, in fact, acting like a professional?

Let’s take this back a few centuries, to prove my point.

Georg Friedrich Händel wrote his magnificent Water Music suites because King George I commissioned him to do so.

Schubert had a job – composing music so as to feed his large family.

Rembrandt was commissioned to paint the Nightwatch.

Michelangelo’s David was bought and paid for.

So how come we ended up with the notion that free artistic expression is the only thing that justifies art?

That taking money for it somehow defiles what true art is meant to be?

I don’t buy that.

Look at the Rolling Stones, or Leonard Cohen – or indeed, Andy Warhol.

They all know that in order to keep creating, money has to come from somewhere.

I listened to an interview with Jay Jay French, of Twisted Sister fame (who vehemently rejects the glam rock tag, btw).

Like ‘em or not – they are a business, and it’s that attitude that has enabled them – just like the Stones – to survive to this day.

Neil Young? I doubt he rejects money.

Jack Nicholson? Al Pacino?

All of them, artists in their own right, still going strong, living from what they consider their art.

So why would you want to distance yourself from that, what’s the sense in being a closet-painter and never try to sell your work?

Maybe completely free artistic expression is indeed what you do it for, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.

But I do regret that the consequence of it is that something you create, that could change somebody’s life, won’t get seen.

So maybe it’s marketing that people are against – that’s something I can understand. There’s a lot of crap being sold, just because there’s a marketing genius behind the strategy.

And that’s wrong in many ways and on many levels.

Sad too, because if there’s one thing the world needs, it’s more real art and less gunk.

Which is yet another reason to come to terms with promoting and marketing your work.

Or maybe it’s because of ethics – there sure is a lot of that missing in a lot of marketing.

But that’s just a matter of how you go about things.

Ethics are in your hand – if you’re an ethical person, your marketing will be ethical too, automatically.

So ask yourself: why not? Why wouldn’t you create a simple, effective, ethical strategy to be seen by more people?

Goodness, they’ll even thank you for it, once they find you.

Or, maybe it’s confidence, fear, doubt, insecurity – is that what’s holding you back?

Not sure you’re good enough, that you can pull it off, that your work deserves to be seen?



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One trick to trigger emotional response

Got a little instructional for you today.

Yesterday, a reader responded to my call ‘hit reply and tell me where you struggle’.

Always nice to hear back from people – do keep ’em coming.

She told me a bit about her struggles, and ended with ‘this is my site, please have a look’.
so I did, and I liked what I saw.

But there was one important thing missing:

She didn’t have a tagline.

In the header it stated her name, but that was all.

And because of that, she misses out on an enormously powerful emotional effect.

I call it resonance: when someone is exposed to your message, or your website, and something in them ‘clicks’, and goes: “Huh, I like that”.

That short moment right at the start, is powerful, useful and important.

Without it, a visitor might just poke around the site a bit.

With it, they might do the same, but they’ll do so while being in a more engaged, more joyous emotional state.

And while the difference may be slight depending on the person, it does increase the chance of them spending more time, reading more, seeing more of your paintings, or even signing up.

I like to think of the tagline as a 10-word artist’s statement.

A short, pithy message that’s personal, shows your passion, demonstrates your why, and reaches into the viewer’s mind with to see if there’s anything it can connect with.

It’s not that hard to write one.

Here’s how, starting with the don’ts:

First, don’t be strictly factual: “Johnny Johnson, watercolour artist’ says what’s in the tin, but it has no pulling power, it doesn’t push any emotional buttons.

Second, don’t try to be clever. We’re talking about communications here, so no nifty wordsmithery.

Next up, the dos:

Take a sheet of paper, and quickly start writing short descriptive sentences about yourself, your art, your passion or your techniques.

List 100.

Don’t overthink it, do NOT second-guess or judge their usefulness – what we’re looking for at this stage is a brain dump.

Just write as many as you can, as fast as you can.

You probably won’t reach 100 at fist go, but that’s ok.

It can take days or even weeks to get the perfect tagline together, all part of the process.

Carry a notepad or index cards (my fav) with you, and any time during your day that an idea comes up, jot it down to later add to the list.

Once you have 100 of them (you’ll find that parts of some statements will be duplicates, and that’s fine), you’re done with the strictly creative part of the exercise, and you can get more rational about it.

In other words, you put on your editor’s cap.

You’ll quickly see that most of them aren’t all that great or useful, so you just cross those out.

Whittle down until you have some ten or twenty good contenders, and copy those over to a new sheet of paper.

Btw, I think the best way to do this is by writing it in longhand, on paper.

Writing by hand activates different areas in the brain, compared to typing, and that’s useful for the kind of process we’re talking about.

So now you have 10 or 20 an a new sheet, and again, you take an axe to the ones that aren’t ideal or perfect.

Narrow down to the five best ones, and copy those to yet another sheet.

Then you take the best bits of those five, and mix & match the words that have the most emotional appeal, are most relevant and to the point, and you scramble the words, concepts and meanings together until you’re left with one simple, 5 to 10 word sentence that basically says:

Who you are, what you do, why you do it, why it matters.

You stick it in your site header beneath your brand name or your own name, and you’re done.

From that moment on, each time a new visitor lands on your site, they’ll not just see your name, but instantly they’ll also read your micro-artist’s statement.

And if they’re the right kind of person for what you do, something in them will perk up and recognise it.

A useful exercise, not just for your site to be more effective, but very likely for your own mind as well.

Highly recommended.

Also recommended: the LEAP Newsletter. Details here –>




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The day I got art – and a few thoughts about your moral and ethical duty to sell yours


It’s 10PM, I’m 12 years old and I’m in bed. In the studio below my room, my mother is using a staple gun to tack a canvas on a huge, 4 by 6 meter frame. Clack, clack, clack.

It’s going to be another one of those grim and dramatic Norse fjords that everybody is so taken by, but which I can’t make sense of.

Who understands that stuff?

Strokes and streaks, blotches and smears… it doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t even look like anything. It’s just… I don’t know… drama.

In a few weeks we’ll be on vacation and once again, half the time will be spent with her – enraptured – dragging me (kicking and screaming) through one museum after another.

How I loathed those holidays.

But, that was long ago.

Over the years I grew to accept art as something with meaning and importance.

However, I never learned to appreciate art.

Even though I learned quite a bit about art history in school, about things like pointillism and expressionism and what have you; even though I had a girlfriend who was a painter, I just never got art.

Even though in my previous work as a fancy travelling tailor I would be surrounded by stunning works when visiting clients, I just didn’t get it.

Maybe it was because of that one exposition in Amsterdam, where I had once again been dragged along.

One of the artists was a fat and greasy punk-rock dude, purple mohawk and all.

He didn’t have any paintings, so I wandered into his booth.

There on display was his art, neatly framed and glassed: Empty cardboard fast-food packaging, the mayonnaise and ketchup still on.

That was art? Seriously?

Looking back, I can see how that moment broke my willingness to ever appreciate art. Who knows.

All of that changed yesterday though.

 I fell in love with art – head over heels

I’m in Kilkenny, Ireland. I’m spending a week with an Irish painter named Jimmy Kelly, because in recent months I’ve been helping more and more artists come to terms with the business and marketing side of being an artist.

And Jimmy’s one of those artists who should be seen and sold but like so many others, he’s never been able to come out of his closet and actually get himself in front of people.

Becket Broquy So I said ok, I’ll come over and show you how it’s done.

Jimmy’s shown me his work, he’s introduced me to influential people in the art world, he’s painted my portrait, and he’s talked to me at great length about the meaning within.

And yesterday, he took me up to Dublin, into a number of galleries.

That’s when I saw the painting of Samuel Beckett you see here, and I was stunned, gobsmacked – as enraptured as can be.

After all those years, and after months of dealing with artists, I suddenly, really, deeply, GOT it.

Starting yesterday, art is a part of me, and I’ll never be the same.

I’m in love.

Now that I have gone beyond understanding and I’ve finally experienced the power and impact of art, my life has become so much richer.

I guess I needed the years to get to this point. I’m so grateful it’s happened.

So that’s what I wanted to tell you, quoting Jimmy: Art changes you, whether you want it or not

I’ve lived that experience, and that’s why now I can say: People need you, and your art.

Because with what you make, you effect change.

Change for the better, for beauty, for enrichment of the inner world.

I know it’s difficult to sell, but you can learn it.

I know marketing has a bum rap, but that’s only because car salesmen talk so fast – in itself there’s nothing wrong with marketing.

And if you don’t sell, and don’t market, and don’t promote your work, then guess what:

You’ll be falling short of what I consider your duty.

Because if you change people’s lives, I believe that it’s your moral and ethical duty to show up and make that happen

Hiding behind a shy attitude, a pseudo-ethical marketing-is-dirty stance, then you’re not actually living the artist’s life as it should be lived.

So please, try to come to terms with it, and learn how it’s done.

You with your work, have the power to turn people, like I was turned.

I’ve become happier and more fulfilled.

Don’t withhold that from the next person.

Get out there, show up, be visible.

Sell your art and become good at it.

There are people who truly need you.


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