Lessons from Christopher Hodges, Utopia Art Sydney
Art plays a big role in my life, like business. The last month I have been able to reflect on how the two intersect – not only in my life but for artists and business owners alike.
I was privileged to travel with my extremely talented friend Corrie Furner to see her work in the Sculpture at Scenic World. I was in awe of the talent of the 25 artists who exhibited, in admiration for the curator who continues to put together a collection of incredible works, and I was overwhelmed by the combination of the beauty of the bush sometimes in contrast with the messages of the art.
Corrie's neon work is titled “This is Not a Still Life”. Her work is described as “a direct comment on life as we know it, ebbing and flowing, consistently in motion, challenging our very existence as we live – fast or slow, hard or soft”. I have seen it exhibited in a few different places – a gallery, a shop window and now nested in the burrows of a hill. Every time I have viewed it I have experienced something different from the work, and for me that is the beauty of art.
In viewing the sculptures on the scenic walk and overhearing the conversations of other would be critics I was reminded just how people have different perceptions of art. We can look at a work and bring a totally original perspective. To the works we bring our free will, our intuition, our prejudices and personal understanding. At the time of viewing we are also influenced by our emotional state, which can vary from one viewing to a next, potentially giving us entirely different experiences.
Business and customer service can be a bit like that. Your personal preferences and mood can influence you as a buyer or seller. You are more vested in some brands than others. Someone’s Picasso is another’s Monet.
Art and business and the art of business is as complex as each other. Soon after our experience at scenic world I went to a presentation by artist, art collector, art curator, Christopher Hodges who founded Utopia Art Sydney. He was in the region, at the divine Coolamon Cheese Factory, to talk with artists about how to sell their work.
There were some great points for artists that apply to all of us in business. Here are the top 5 tips from Christopher that apply to artists and business owners alike.
1. Do the work. Christopher started by insisting that you must first ‘just do the work’. You need to produce work as an artist. Practice what you love and get better at it. As a business owner you need to work in the business – but you also need to work on it.
2. Participate. After doing the work participate. Get active in the art community – attend galleries and events. Get to know all the people in your community who are involved with art. As a business owner this is about networking – getting to know your local business community, associations, networking groups, competitors and potential collaborators. Like artists, we all offer something different from each other. This can be hard for some of out introverted friends but stepping outside of your comfort zone can result in new ideas and new opportunities.
3. Find your ‘why’. What are your ambitions as an artist? Fame, money, respect, lifestyle, all of them? What do you want to achieve as a business owner. By examining our motivations we are better able to engage with our audiences or markets.
4. Define who you are as an artist: Are you an amateur, hobbiest, illustrator, big time, famous, careerist, part-time, commercial? This will define how you work, who your work will appeal to, and what prices you can charge. As a business this is about creating the position you want to occupy in the minds of your target customer. What do you want to be known for?
5. And finally about pricing. Pricing your work, your worth is part art, part science. It depends on fame, the amount you produce, cost of production (you have to make money), the story behind your art. Only when you are producing less than people want to buy should you consider putting up your price. You can never go back in price. Do not discount your work. The same is true for business –the way you have constructed your brand helps define where you sit in the market relative to price. Whether it’s art or products and services, your market will only ever pay what brings value to them and ultimately what they think it’s worth. It should not be any more complicated than that.
But then again This is Not a Still Life.