Each week I write a new article to support members of our four wonderful art groups on Facebook, The Artists Lounge, The Artists Directory, The Artists Exchange, and The Artist Hangout. This week we take a look at raw real-world data and the artists who are turning that real-life data into compelling works of art that have much deeper stories. As usual, there are lots of links to useful resources and plenty of information that might just whet your appetite to either collect or create this kind of art. We will also look at the evolution of digital art. This really is the art of big data!
You could say that any art created using a digital medium such as a computer is art made up of data. Zeros and ones all displaying pixels that are either on or off, and more zeros and ones that tell each pixel how bright, how dim, or how colourful they need to be or don’t need to be.
Here in 2019, our world spins as it always has done, but data determines everything that goes on upon this spinning lump of rock in the middle of who really knows where. I remember reading many years ago an article about an article that had been written many years before that which said; “… We can't imagine ever doing a special issue on electronics or computers in art…” Those exact words were written by Philip Leider, editor of Artforum, in 1967.
In subsequent years digital or computer-assisted or even computer created art has been described as everything from “Just boys playing with toys,” to “pointless…” to “… most definitely not art…” and yet here we are today and there is every chance that there will be a piece of artwork or graphic design that has been created with the aid of digital technology within spitting distance of you.
Digital is not an art form and has no place. That’s another classic line that I have listened to a lot as a digital artist who has been creating work with the aid of computers since the late eighties, if I had a dime for every time I have heard that phrase between back then and now, I would be lazing on a sun-drenched tropical island browsing Facebook and sipping coffee.
There are many myths about digital art. My own digital art process is barely any different to the process I use to create works on canvas.
There are apps and programs that can create images without very much human interaction at all other than to choose the photo and press a go button. But for the most part and for serious digital artists, apps just can’t create everything that traditional artists can do with traditional mediums. Yet. I think one day we might get close and we are already starting to see works created using Artificial Intelligence sell at “real” artsy auctions for tens of thousands of dollars. I say to those who still dismiss digital art and who think it has no real place in the art world and who insist that it is all nothing but smoke and mirrors, “you watch way too much TV.” Digital art needs traditional painting skills just as much as it needs technology.
Even today with digital art all around us there are still a few who are firmly in the, I don’t get digital art camp. Digital artists frequently have to defend what they do within some small sectors of the art world, but here’s the thing. You don’t have to get it, just as I never really once understood some of the shock art produced by Damien Hirst, it took me many years to work out what it really meant and even today that remains only my own interpretation of it.
Perhaps it is time to just accept that the world has changed and there is now one more medium to join the ranks of coloured pencils, oil paints, sharks, cows, and acrylics and many other popular and loved or at least accepted art materials and mediums. Many of which have at some point been bashed on the head as being amateur hour ingredients which are not worthy of a place in the real art world. There was a time when the British Royal Academy ranked watercolour as the least prestigious media and several members left to set up the Royal Watercolour Society. You can see their website right here.
Digital is now and the future and it has been around for many years. That’s not to say that traditional painting will ever die. As I said earlier, digital is fantastic at many things but sometimes you have to go back to the good old brush and canvas. Digital as yet hasn’t managed to easily print the texture and feel of real paint.
We are living in the most prolific era ever of technological development where tech and gadgets are evolving every second of every day. Techniques are improving, not quite yet to the point of simply pressing some magic button that does everything, but certainly to the point of giving artists another set of tools to create their masterpieces with. In another hundred years museums will be full of digital works and there are more than a few who now have digital works on display too.
Check out the Digital Museum of Digital Art right here, and the ZKM Center for Art and Media which is often referred to as the “Electronic or Digital Art Bauhaus”right here.
Art is art, it will always be a universal expression of creativity, imagination and storytelling, whether through music, painting, sculpting, writing, performance or any other form. Digital art is just another way to express ourselves.
But digital art is evolving…
If digital art itself freaks out some of the art world purists then the fact that raw data is now generating art will send them into a frenzy. At this point, we are edging closer to having that magic button that the purists believe comes included with every art and design application. Art created from raw data sets still requires specific skill sets to generate masterpieces, although projects such as Morph make the creation of art simpler, more on that in a moment. First, let this sink in, art is being created with raw real-world data in its purest form, letters, and numbers.
Wait, I know, this is mind-blowing stuff. Let me explain. Data as in zeros, ones, scientific calculations, data models that predict the weather or data that measures the happiness of a country is now being used to generate artwork. Here is an example of what world happiness data looks like when it is in its rawest form, followed by the abstract work created from it.
Raw data of world happiness
Now if we use that data set which contains significantly more data than you can see in the image above, we can generate a unique artwork which looks like this.
Abstract - World Happiness Data
Or the 2004 European Parliament which looks like this.
Political Abstract created with Morph
Okay, some might say that the image is representative of politics everywhere today. It’s certainly an interesting abstraction but there is a story that sits buried within the visuals.
Fishers Iris Dataset Created with Morph
Maybe Fishers Iris Dataset above makes some sense to those familiar with the multivariate data set introduced by the British statistician and biologist Ronald Fisher in his 1936 paper - The use of multiple measurements in taxonomic problems as an example of linear discriminant analysis. WOW, mind blown. Whatever it makes for a nice abstract artwork but if you want to know more about the data set relating to an Iris flower, then I would recommend reading the Wikipedia article right here, or alternatively just agree that it makes an interesting abstract and move on.
Or how about “Honey Production in the USA (1998-2012)
Honey Production Abstract Art Created with Morph
Clever isn’t it! The good news is that you don’t need a PhD in data science or a Masters in Art to produce these artworks because all of the above images were created using Morph.
Morph is free and open-source tool and available to anyone who wants to try their hand at creating designs, animations or interactive visualisations from data and you can feed your own data into the application to create some unique artworks. Alternatively or you could just go with the sample sets of data provided on the Morph website which includes the data sets shown above plus a few more.
I actually created an artwork that visualised where my own art has been sold around the world which you can see below.
My Sold Artwork Global Data Abstract
The centre of the image represents the UK, with red areas representing the USA, and other colours representing everywhere from Israel to Australia. Seems I sell more work in the US than anywhere else, but Europe is a close second. Where are you Australia?
The tool is free to use and is a collaboration between datavized and the Google News Initiative and you can play with it and see what others have been creating right here.
You also have export options to set the resolution and you are able to save the image as a transparent png file or with a solid background colour, or even as an animation.
Big Data in Art…
We now live in the age of big data where almost everything we do is captured as a snippet of information somewhere and it is arguably one of the most powerful currencies the world has ever seen. Whether we agree or not with data collection we do have to face up to the reality that it is here and it’s not going to go away. All we can do is take steps to limit what gets collected about us and by who and for what purpose. But if your data is already out there you might never find out exactly who really has it or even if they have it at all, but they probably do.
The only thing we can do if we don’t agree with living in a Big Brother world is to make sure that we protect ourselves from the intrusion wherever we can. The thing is, big data goes back much further than the dawn of computers or Facebook or anything else that conjures up images of mass data collection. It was happening many years before in all walks of life. The difference is that we are now slightly more aware of who, where, when and how, but we are not always aware of the why is it collected or why does this or that person need it. Those things are so much more important to know about, we do seem to miss the point a little sometimes.
The aesthetics of data…
Like big data or not it has bought with it a new aesthetic trend. We now have employees who are data artists. Skilled masters of data that can create visualisations that make the numbers easier to understand. These are the very people who create infographics and charts and who can start to predict outcomes of almost anything, and now we also have another kind of data artist working in the more traditional artistic space. These artists take data not to inform scientifically, but instead to create aesthetics that function as a commentary and who take the data to present it in a surreal form so that it becomes an artistic rather than scientific experience.
Weather data can form delicate swirls that transcend the mere function of conveying information. Another influential figure in the data art field has been Aaron Koblin, who created the Data Arts Team at Google back in 2008.
One of his early works was simply titled Flight Patterns, which took 24 hours of flight data and turned it into a 60-second video showing the flow of air traffic across The United States. You may have seen static images and may not have realised exactly what the image represented, but take another look and you will start to see a story of people and transport, and you will get a glimpse of just how congested US airspace is. You can see Aaron’s website right here.
Back to another Google project and this time through a collaboration between Google News Lab and Visual Cinnamon, and one site that really stood out to me as I researched this article and that was Beautiful in English which you can find right here.
How much does the translation behaviour of a language indicate about its culture? Do German speakers seek the same words which have been translated as the Spanish? To investigate, the collaboration analysed all the single word translations of nouns & adjectives into English delivered through Google Translate for 10 of the most popular languages on Google. Guess what the most common word that gets translated into English through Google Translate is? Turns out that the word is beautiful, just like the textualised images on the website above are.
Data - Recreating Art History
Information is Beautiful…
Founded by David McCandless, author of two bestselling infographics books, Information is Beautiful is dedicated to helping you make clearer, more informed decisions about the world. All of the visualizations on this site which you can find right here are based on facts & data: constantly updated, revised & revisioned.
Data flows everywhere and more and more artists are beginning to utilise data as both the subject and visual form for their works. Another website called Flowing Data which you can find right here is a deep dive into the world of data in art. There are many tutorials for those who are interested in exploring the topic in more detail which you need to be a member of the site to view in full, but there is enough here without a membership to give you an appetite for data visualisation as an art form, such as the knitted scarf representing rail delays which sold for $8,500 you can read about right here.
The R-Graph Gallery which you can find right here, is a project developed by Yan Holtz to promote data visualisation using R. The idea is to provide hundreds of R Charts always with the associated reproducible code. This source of examples is a good platform to learn and getinspired by your data visualisations.
Visualising data to help…
If you have ever tried to read raw data it can be a minefield to navigate. If you torture data long enough it will confess to anything. So often, and I see this in my other world outside of art a lot, pre-conceptions can be formed about what the data should say and there is then a danger of modelling and interpreting it so that it resonates with what you are thinking or until it tells you what you want it to say. Data is a story that can be twisted but data visualisation and analytics allow you to see that story more clearly. Data analytics is indeed often closer to art than science.
Science can benefit us in so many ways, for example, understanding better what the story behind the data really is and this is apparent when you look towards projects like the ones carried out through The British Antarctic Survey which you can find right here.
They have been using data as art in a research project with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to create stunning and thought-provoking artworks using real Antarctic data sets that explain important and exciting science stories. When we apply the aesthetics to raw data it just makes the story so much more understandable and much less likely to be misinterpreted.
Technology and data can do so much good for humanity. The positive side of data is easy to dismiss when we constantly hear only the negatives from the misuse of data, and whilst bad news sells we are less likely to ever get to hear about the good that big data can bring about. An example of good use is to highlight and expose some of humanities problems that many people seem to bury their heads in the sand about, let’s take homelessness as an example.
A tweet reactive art installation which provided a visual representation of the plight of Toronto’s homeless and how the lack of affordable housing is a contributing factor called attention to such social issues. This visual representation served as a reminder to those passing by that homelessness is one of humanities biggest problems. You can read the Huff Post article right here.
Data recreating art history…
Another interesting data visualisation took masterpieces by Van Gogh, Magritte, and more and turned them into code art, essentially turning each of the works into raw data. In this work, the artist did the exact opposite of making the raw data look aesthetically pleasing and instead produced a canvas filled with letters and numerals. You can see the article right here.
What is intriguing to me is whether or not at some point, enough of this code could be reproduced by technology to recreate a masterpiece that has been significantly damaged. With the advances in artificial intelligence, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this kind of advance in technology didn’t eventually find a place in the restoration of historic but damaged works by taking data from complete and undamaged works to build a better representation of what the artist might have included in the damaged area.
Want to learn more?
Seeing patterns and creating beauty from statistics, data visualisation has become another art form aided by the use of technology. Data always gets a bad rap yet there are many artists who are taking the data and rather than seeing it used negatively, are in fact using it to make the world a little more beautiful.
There is an entire TED Talks playlist on the art of data which you can find right
Every week I write a new article for members of our four Facebook art communities, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, The Artists Lounge, and The Artist Hangout. This week we take a look back in history to see how video games not only shaped a generation of a certain age but have contributed to art history too. Retro video games are one of my passions outside of art, so this article is very dear to my heart and my art!
Art, Technology and Me…
For me, art has always been part of my life. I didn’t have any idea when I was five that I wanted to become an artist, I don’t think at that time I knew what day of the week it was let alone what I wanted to do when I grew up. But I would draw and paint, and I was the only kid in the class who looked forward to field trips to the art museum. I was fascinated, I was hooked by the colours and the different styles hanging on the walls.
I remember writing a story in school about Van Gogh, I was about 6-years old and I remember the teacher saying that it was too brutal to read out loud. I may have made the ear incident into a slightly bigger thing than it really was. I had a really vivid imagination, it also included a leg and an arm as I recall.
School days were something I didn’t really get along with, there were only ever three lessons I would be guaranteed to turn up to. Art, Computer Studies, and drama. I think the latter was because I really got on well with the teacher and she would ask me to go and make her a cup of tea and I could have one too. It was the trust she showed to me in giving me that task that made me feel very special, I was the chosen one. Not sure how that would be viewed today, she would be either fired or be challenged because she was putting me in danger from boiling water.
Things back then were definitely different to how things are today, back then I had all the confidence in the world, I just wasn’t into academia. Yet here I am today and some of my day to day life is spent in education and spending time in a university or giving a keynote to educators or anyone crazy enough to pay to come and hear me speak. Sometimes about cyber stuff, sometimes about art, sometimes about education.
If you have never had the pleasure or misfortune to come and listen to me, the conversation always turns to art. I don’t do PowerPoint, I do masterpieces. You think I’m kidding. I can turn a conversation about the Millennium bug into a history lesson about Rembrandt and a hundred reasons why people should buy from independent artists. Rembrandt doesn’t need the money. I have a unique set of skills they say. Others think I’m maybe on a certain spectrum.
It was only once I had left school that I realised I needed to learn, the problem was that by then I had to pay to learn. There were no free passes, no internet, and throughout my adult life I have dipped in and out of learning, I have had to.
As an artist, learning never stops. For those who don’t know me, I am an artist and have been creating art professionally for more than 30 years, along with what some folk call a regular career. Except for my other careers can hardly be called regular. More on that another time though, maybe.
But my art career is my first career love. My passion, it’s never been just a hobby or something I was simply only interested in, not since my school days anyway. Some might say art is my obsession just behind my daughter, my wife, and my dogs, and even way ahead of technology. So this week you will see how my very different worlds and interests interlink, and you might just find the subject of technology and art, and video games, a little more interesting too, because they really do all have moments of cross over.
My recent "Mountains" artwork recreated on a Commodore Amiga!
Shuffle around in your pocket for loose change, finally, you find some spare quarters hiding in the stitching and you insert them into the slot. Suddenly the world explodes in colour and a satisfying thud sound emanates from a small door below, your senses tingle with anticipation. I’m not talking about arcade games though, you didn’t win a prize on a claw grabber machine, I’m talking about art.
It’s an interesting concept, can we just insert a few coins in a machine and have it provide us with a masterpiece? I’m sure such a machine would be a phenomenal hit with the right marketing and if it is located in the right space. Maybe the likes of Banksy would provide one-off miniature works for people to find. Or at least I was sure it was a genius idea waiting for someone to develop it until I carried out some research online. I have never seen one in the flesh, or tin or whatever they are made of.
Such a simple concept you would think that art vending machines would be everywhere bringing art and joy into a mostly grey world filled with political drama and war. You would think I was talking about the days of the Cold War, but alas these modern times can feel equally as bleak as some of those earlier days.
This simple concept has been done already so you would have thought that these machines would be located in every art museum. History books and science fiction told us that we would by now be owners of flying cars and that by 1984 governments around the world would be using cameras to spy on their citizens, and I guess they were partly right.
There are companies who already provide refurbished cigarette vending machines to dispense art instead of smoky sticks and sugar rushes that line up in the hallways and corridors of every public space. I’m just not so sure that vending art is ever going to be as popular as vending sugary snacks. Perhaps the bottom line on snacks is so temptingly higher.
The one company that offers a vending machine to do just this here in the UK doesn’t look like its website has been updated since 2017. I worry that this great idea has been tried and has already failed. But thankfully hope is not lost. There does seem to be a niche scene in other parts of the world where companies and individuals are making them available, and in one case which I found at this link here, the proceeds support the local art scene. The concept for this scheme was based on art vending machines in big cities across Germany. So why aren’t there more of these machines?
They are a little like lost Renoir’s, you know they are hiding somewhere but finding them is hard. With so many talented artists creating miniature works these days, the two just seem to have a fit. What if we inserted some money into a machine and we were guaranteed a one of a kind piece of art in miniature form. I can’t believe there’s not a huge market for these, after all, there is a huge market for the machines to vend snacks and plastic toys.
Surely more people must want to be part of collecting art in this way? I would be feeding coins in by the bucket, my walls would be fuller than they already are and we would see money heading towards local arts groups.
Art-O-Mat is another organisation which has more than a few of these machines out in the field and you can find them right here. From what I could see on their website it looks like these machines are based in the USA.
Whatever older vending machines dispensed, the machines themselves were often a work of art and many had eye-catching designs. I remember going to a local pub when I turned 18 (that’s when you can legally drink in the UK, and I might have been 18… depends who’s asking) and I remember thinking wow, look at that thing. It sold cigarettes but the graphics were really cool. I wanted to start smoking. Also of note… I finally gave up more than 6-months ago. If I can do it, you really can too!
It was like an adult amusement arcade machine but instead of 8-bit graphics, the machine pumped out cigarettes to anyone it could. They have since been banned from vending cigarettes in many places and regions but there was just no way for a busy pub owner or their staff to police who made a purchase. That’s also why so many kids I grew up with were intent on going to the pub, they could buy cigarettes without being challenged about their age. I like to think I went for the art displayed on the machine but it might have had more to do with beer and whiskey.
What struck me about the vending machines and the designs were the likenesses to machines I was more familiar with. Arcade games which required you to feed money into the slot to get gobbled up, or shot by an alien. Repeatedly, over and over again.
The reason I was familiar with those machines wasn’t that I was addicted to the games, I was, but because I was also addicted to the art that appeared on the side of the cabinets and on the posters that announced new arrivals. On screen, the graphics weren’t quite so great. You had to imagine that the eight by eight-pixel monoblock was a tank or a spaceship, but the art on the side of the cabinets was impressive. For a ten or eleven-year-old it was phenomenally impressive. It was really like a young person’s equivalent of walking around an art museum. Today I often visit a museum where these machines are the exhibits, I kid you not and yes, it makes me feel old.
Back then, amusement or video game arcades were springing up everywhere, even in the local fish and chip shop where I would spend lunchtimes and the money to buy lunch, playing Pac Man and Galaga. It was a joyous era of beeps and pings and artwork on the cabinets which could never be replicated in the video game which played through a CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) monitor. We just didn’t know what high definition was.
It was a cacophony of computer chips attempting to push out a recognisable tune, and it was a showcase of the weird and the wonderful. Blocks of colour jumping about on screen. Just how designers came up with the game plots, I have no idea because most of them looked exactly the same. I must have played 30-versions of Pong before I realised they weren’t even from the same manufacturer. Those were the things that would really burst your bubble of dreams as a kid, as did losing a life on Space Invaders and not having another coin.
I have been into video games ever since I first played Computer Space in the ’70s, and I owned pretty much every home computer model between the early eighties and even into the late nineties. At one time I had even made a sort of semi-decent living writing games, but my passion has always been in computer art. I may have at one time even been referred to as an original geek.
My first job in a retail environment to cover my tuition fees and to get beer tokens for the weekend was given to me on the back of showing them what I was capable of when I used a really low powered computer to create art. The work was the Mona Lisa, only it was created with letters and characters. I have no idea why they gave me a job, that piece wasn’t even my best work at the time. I recreated it again last year on my decades-old Commodore Amiga!
Mona Lisa - Recreated on the Commodore Amiga!
For years I would sit in my bedroom and create graphics, more often for businesses my father was involved with but occasionally for video games. Then I got a real job as my parents called it, settled into a normal career and went to college in the evenings.
It was at college I studied business and later on I took art, before many years later studying orthopaedic science. It was in the little time I got in between selling high-end audio and video and learning in a classroom when I would continue to create video game graphics and art. I was officially working on digital art even before Warhol. The passion though had gripped me, but it had started way before even then. My art career started literally with a tiny white dot that went for a walk and became a line.
In the beginning…
Many of the younger generations will be forgiven for thinking that the first video games console was the PC or the PlayStation, or even the Nintendo Entertainment System, in fact, to find the seeds and not just the roots of video games, one needs to travel back to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and astudent named Steve Russell, the year, 1962.
In computer labs full of white-coat wearing bearded computer scientists, the first video game was born, Computer Space. In a world where any computers needed a room the size of a large house, the technology relied on valves and vacuum tubes, and some advanced programming needed to be done and so it was. Two-line drawn spacecraft went head to head and took the available technology to its most upper limits and our imaginations into the deepest depths of space and intergalactic battles between good and evil. Okay, they were just white lines, but we all had very good imaginations back then, we had to have.
Space War made an impact and became the defacto extracurricular activity for students and academics. Among those students was a young Nolan Bushnell who, shortly after graduating from the University of Utah, (big shout out there to my Utah friends) decided to build his own version of Space War which he would call Computer Space. You can find out more the “The International Computer Museum” at this link right here.
Unlike the original version, this version wouldn’t require a mainframe computer. Using the electronics skills he had learned whilst in university, Bushnell assembled just the absolute minimum of hardware and hooked it up to a 19-inch black-and-white TV. Bushnell was one of the pioneers of modern day genius.
With this new portability, Bushnell realised that the machines could be mass produced and could also be operated with the insertion of a coin. He set them up in bars and amusement arcades and tried to convince an as yet undeveloped industry to produce 1500 of them.
No one was interested beyond the first 1500 machines which Bushnell had convinced a single manufacturer to create because they just didn’t know what they were. They saw no obvious sales market outside of the computer lab geeks and some thought that the machines would be stolen for the 19-inch TV set each contained.
When players inserted their coins they would be met with reams of instructions and options screens so the market was indeed limited to those who would stay the course and learn how to play it. You had to be totally committed. Computer Space eventually went away, but that didn’t put Nolan off.
A simpler game would be more likely to attract customers who at the time were not players. The simpler game would be based on a sport called tennis which two-players would bounce a ball off two bats on either side of the screen. Once your opponent missed the return, you would score a point. Beep, boop. I know you remember playing this too right? Well, if you are viewing on a desktop based browser you can replay it on the dedicated Pong website right here.
In 1972, Bushnell named his company Atari, and produced its first ever video game which was called Pong which was located in Andy Capp’s Tavern, Sunnyvale, California. The rest, as they say, is history. The dawn of the modern day video game was finally here. I was three years old and hadn’t got a clue about any of this until I was about five or six. Imagine a 3-year-old who didn’t own a tablet PC.
As Atari expanded, more staff who had the required skills were needed and amongst them a seventeen-year-old dropout by the name of Steve Jobs who was then hired in 1974.
Jobs would often call on his friend Steve Wozniak whenever he hit technical problems that couldn’t be sorted out and eventually after a period of being smuggled into Atari by Jobs, Wozniak was formally hired and became an official employee of the Atari business.
Wozniak and Jobs worked in Jobs’ garage each weekend on another project which was a small computer which would be called the Apple I, not particularly powerful but the people who saw it thought it was something quite special.
It was Steve Jobs who thought that their new venture would make money, so Wozniak worked on the technical side of the operation, it was Jobs’ task to come up with a way to make the Apple-Computer even more appealing to a much wider audience.
More people joined his and Wozniak’s growing business and more robust power supply was created, as was a stylish new case for what would become known as the Apple II Computer. The Apple brand was officially born and with it, the personal computer industry too.
If Apple were to grow though they would need investment. Jobs asked his old friend Bushnell if he wanted to become involved in his new venture but Bushnell declined the offer. He had his own plans for his company Atari, which included releasing a home version of Pong.
Magnavox a US-based Electronics Company who had been working quietly in the background on their Magnavox Odyssey prototype and who also along with many others released a version of Pong in 1972, were joining the game. But it would be 1974 when Bushnell released the official version of Pong to the world for home use.
Technically superior to the Magnavox, Bushnell’s machine didn’t take off until 1975, and suddenly every electronics manufacturer wanted in on this new TV games revolution. By the end of 1976, more than 20-manufacturers were trying to outdo each other with technically advanced machines but a company by the name of Fairchild went a step further and produced one so technically advanced the user could swap out games using interchangeable cartridges. It was literally a game changer. I know that was a really bad pun, but it is 3:22am as I write this.
Not to be outdone, Bushnell had one of those hold my beer moments and went another step further. Welcome to the Atari 2600 VCS, with colour graphics and sound, and a promise of a wealth of games cartridges from the actual manufacturers of all those great arcade games becoming so popular in arcades and bars.
The Atari VCS 2600 was expensive to produce and Atari didn’t have the finances to produce and market on the scale that would be needed. Bushnell scouted around for investors and Warner Communications offered to buy up the project and the operation, although a takeover wasn’t in Bushnell’s original plan. Arguments between Bushnell and Warner frequently occurred.
With Apple making personal computers and doing particularly well, Bushnell now wanted in on the home computer market too after passing up the opportunity to be at the forefront with Jobs and Apple. Bushnell wanted his Atari 800 to be everything that the Apple II was not. So with this in mind, he designed it with enhanced graphics and sound capabilities which made it not only suitable for business, but for the games market too. Indeed it was more successful in the games market than it was for business.
Apple was encouraging the market of coders to write software for their machine but Bushnell’s 800 would be closed to that market and software would be produced only by Atari which was probably the start of its downfall. Apple’s software catalogue had grown considerably and included several business programs which were seen as must-haves. The Atari 800 was left on the fringes and out in the cold. You can see the Atari 800 at this website right here.
The closed development policy hadn’t been the idea of Bushnell though and one of the many arguments with Warner Communications at the time was about just this, Bushnell needed them to change their policy, and he wanted them to also reduce the cost of the Atari 2600 VCS. Warner didn’t agree with Bushnell and so Bushnell stepped away from Atari.
Retro Computers and the birth of digital art!
In the UK
In the UK the video games scene was initially seen as a fad, with many of the pong TV games available and parents never could quite seem to justify the best part of a hundred or so pounds on a dedicated games machine which would take over the main and often only TV set in the house. On top of that, the cartridge-based games were expensive. Remember that this was back in the day where anything involving electronics was still relatively new.
By 1979 children across the UK and me included were dreaming of the day we would own an Atari 2600 VCS. Since the company called Taito had released Space Invaders in 1978, having the arcade at home was not just a fun idea, but would give many children an insight into how presenting a good business case would secure them a..
Each week I write a new article for members of our four Facebook groups, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, The Artists Lounge, and The Artist Hangout. This week we follow on from my previous article and take another deep dive into the use of symbology in art. Are we tuned in enough to see and hear it, and we explore that age old question, does art really talk to us, and if it does, can we make it talk even more loudly?
This week I had pretty much given up on the idea that I would be able to publish anything at all. I’m almost a week into my Jury service and as yet remain waiting in the wings to be called upon to serve my public duty. To be totally honest though, I am slightly relieved because my Crohn’s has been a little sparky and my back is being very un-back-ish. It could all change at any moment, all it will take is a call and my online world will become dark and silent as I intently follow the judge’s orders.
So this week I looked through the now more than seventy five pre-prepared articles I have written diligently over many weekends and into the early hours of many mornings and I finally settled on the one article I wrote as a follow up article to, The Art Has Landed, which you can find right here.
Last time we spoke of little green men and flying saucers and I shined a light on not only the seriousness that should be given to the subject of ufology and space, but also on how the art world is often looked toward for answers, especially when it comes to translating the symbolism and meaning of art.
This week I want to expand on that a little more so I pondered for a while (he means weeks) and we will deep dive into the subject of symbology in art. I will also have a thought or two on whether the use of certain colours and symbols can make the story our art depicts even more compelling. In short, does art really communicate with us, does it really talk and can we make it talk even louder? As always there are plenty of external links to sites that can provide even more information, I scour the web so you don't have to!
So I asked the question…
I asked members of The Artist Lounge what made them want a piece of art?
The answers weren’t too surprising. There was no mention anywhere of buying the art as a potential investment. This wasn’t at all surprising because I know that the majority of people who do buy art never base their buying decision based solely on its potential to increase in value, if they did then no sane person would buy art. The market for high-end investment art might be one of the biggest art markets in terms of wealth, but it is represented by a minority of buyers.
The art market as I have mentioned many times, isn’t just one market, it is a multiplicity of markets each with their own nuances, and each sitting within an overarching system we call the art world. Something that those who should know better sometimes forget. As artists though we all feed into many different markets with very different audiences, each audience interpreting the art in their own way, each tuned into individual frequencies and listening intently to what the works are saying.
More people buy art because they like it, it goes with the décor, or because they fall in love with it or it is representative of something they connect with. The art spoke to them and I think this was the resounding consensus from those who answered the question in the group.
It seems like an art world cliché but in fact there is research that supports the theory that art does indeed talk. We often hear that art talks for itself, but often we as artists have to amplify its voice for it to be truly heard. You can find an entire research paper on the subject right here.
I also stumbled across a senior thesis which has been published on the internet right here, which looks at art and symbolism in way more detail than we can go through here. It also looks at the technique of applying hidden meaning and communicating specific ideas through art, and it did feel like a worthy read as we are trying to figure out if art really does have a voice and whether or not there was a way to amplify an artworks voice to make it even louder.
Be Creative... Be You!
Art Has A Voice…
As an artist we listen to our inner creative voices all the time, our job is to then translate the conversations we have with our creative selves and present those ideas in a way that people can understand visually.
I have always felt that art talks. I would even go so far as to say that every artwork has a voice whether it is a masterpiece, good, bad, or indifferent. What’s good to one viewer might be bad to another, or it might be something that provides no value to the viewer either way. There was mention of this in some of the answers. Sometimes art really doesn’t say anything much at all, but it doesn’t always have to, yet it might to someone else, I don’t think there is even such a thing as either good or bad art, it’s art that we as individuals like or love or don’t.
In my almost half a century of being, I have seen great works of art that others think are merely meh, and I have seen plenty of seemingly bad works of art that others fall in love with and who then go on to label the works as masterpieces.
I don’t for a moment believe it is the artist’s job to tell people how to feel about a work, and I’m not keen on the idea that we should be telling the viewer how to interpret the art either. I am a believer in that the artwork itself should do that.
All we can do as artists is create the visuals that direct the art to tell the story, and then help the art to surface in front of its people and to an extent, our people too. The people who believe in us as artists, and sometimes this can even mean that the art becomes almost secondary.
Our experiences in life, our beliefs, our thinking, what we have been exposed to and what we haven’t been exposed to, all have a bearing in how we see art, and how we listen to, visualise, and then interpret what it is telling us. The same is true when we create it.
Good, bad, or indifferent, I really do think that every artwork speaks to us in some way. It is whether or not anything we have been exposed to, believe in, or thought, has tuned us into the same frequency as the art to be able to hear its voice and whether or not what it is saying resonates with us and connects us or maybe even tells us to move on.
Some artworks scream I am great, some scream I am bad, and some we don’t hear at all. That might be because we just aren’t tuned into their frequency and so we never quite see or hear the artworks vibe or message, yet others might. Perhaps though those artworks have a voice that tells us to move on in the same way that we scroll right on past certain posts on social media.
Perhaps there is some subconscious thing going on that tunes us into social media posts in the same way we take messages and stories from art. The decision to move on and scroll past is subconsciously taken within nano-seconds, the posts might not be screaming at us to stop and take a look and that seems to be kind of what we do with art, so why would any other visual communication be any different?
There are artworks that tell us loudly that we need to pause and take a look and some even tell us to handover the cash and take them home, but there are some works that I for one, just don’t seem to be able to tune into at all. If we’re not tuned into a particular works language or it’s not resonating with what we identify with, believe in, or connect with, it’s not telling us to stop and listen to its story so we move on. Or maybe it is trying to tell us but we don’t hear it. Of course the work might make total sense to someone else, it really is subjective is this art business!
In my previous article we looked at symbology in art. The moon and sun often being symbolically represented by alien looking characters flying what look to be flying saucers. We found that this was often a result of mistranslation and to some extent, not fully being aware of the context around the art.
Art history has taught us that colour too has symbolic meaning and whereas it can be difficult to figure out the true meaning of specific symbology in older artworks, the use of colour to represent something is often easier for us to translate. Colour is the most popular symbology we seem to use today, whereas if we paint the sun, it is more likely that it will now look more like the sun than a spaceship. Symbolism takes on different meanings through time.
We give our work a voice through stories, but the question is, is there anything that we can do to amplify that voice within the artwork even more?
I think we probably can. We know that visual imagery has been found to trigger certain responses and we know that there is now some evidence to suggest that certain colour palettes are more likely to help a work sell more than others. There was an interesting article in the Telegraph (a UK publication) back in 2014 which explained how works created using a red palette were more likely to rise in value. You can read that article right here. Useful data perhaps for the minority in the cash rich art market.
We also know that blue has been found to be the art world’s most popular colour following a study where there was a notable shift from orange being the favoured colour in the 20thcentury. You can find that article right here. Yet blue isn’t a colour that was suddenly new to the 20th century, blue pigment had a 6,000 year history before the shift which you can read about right here. Something changed that took us from orange to blue, blue started to become more prominent, could it have suddenly found its voice?
So it was of little surprise when Smithsonian Magazine wrote an article highlighting a further study that found that paintings featuring red and blue hues sell for more money at auction. You can read the story right here.
When we use the cliché that art talks it is meant in the metaphorical rather than literal sense. I have never come across a painting that verbally communicated on its own in the literal sense, well maybe other than a few interactive installation pieces. But when a painting talks to us it is doing so in its own way, it is telling us a story and it is using colour or sometimes even lack of colour to reinforce whatever the story is about. Colour or lack of it really can connect us with a work.
As artists it is a good idea to learn about colour theory. It is an art in itself to be able to pick a colour palette that you know will just work, but something we often pay less attention to is the art of colour psychology. Both colour theory and colour psychology though are equally important things that can really amplify an artworks voice, but from experience I know that this is often the last thing on my mind when I am deep in the zone of creativity, and I think many other artists do this too.
Colour psychology is one of those art forms which seems to be very well used and understood by the retail sector, but as artists many of us probably don’t have to think too much about the palette we use because we use palettes which we instinctively feel will look right for whichever work. Sometimes we use them because they are the palettes that we always use. Maybe though we should occasionally question our instincts, why does the sky always need to be blue? What message would we like this work to send, is there a colour that will reinforce this or that element in the story? Would this colour work better to trigger an emotion in this or that element?
Our instincts come from that inner creative voice that guides us through creating the work. It is a voice that has been trained through our own experiences and what we have been exposed to, and what we believe, and it comes from both our consciousness and our subconscious. But what happens if we were to start taking even more notice of the palettes we use and we focused more on the symbolism that is contained in the work? Would the paintings voice become louder or trigger different reactions? Do some paintings work better because there are many symbolic references?
It’s difficult to say but we do know that throughout art history both colour and symbology have been used to convey stories or elements within stories in art. Some we might never have noticed, but other works have brazen messages that leave the viewer in no doubt at all of their meaning, and there are a few that will forever have us scratching our heads.
Art history isn’t always quite what the author Dan Brown makes us believe it is. There isn’t, as the books suggest, always some hidden meaning in an artwork and when there is, it’s not just in Renaissance art. I can see the lure of being the first to find some hidden code in a work, it elevates the artist and finder, as some genius who knew something that couldn’t be told, it adds an air of mystery, and we become even more interested if we think some hidden code, once deciphered, will lead us to some buried treasure or the answer to the meaning of life.
It’s not always that there is some coded biblical message, and in some cases where there is, it could very well be that the symbology wasn’t intentional or was put in just to play with your mind. Artists even back in the day probably had a sense of humour too.
That said there are plenty of works that have messages or what we would today call Easter Eggs within them, I have included some in my own works over the years. Some with a key message, others just because I thought it would add something, others contain no subtle message at all. And yes, probably a little bit in one or two cases, just because, but there is some meaning to those extras even then. It is something that a few of my collectors have noticed and if there is a work that contains a lot of detail there might or might not be something in there. Mostly it is because I have some opinion on something, there are definitely no clues to the meaning of life, it is just something I have always periodically done.
There are some works that really do stand out as slightly stranger than others though. The Voynich manuscript seems like it was designed to mess with your head, an illustrated codex hand-written in an unknown writing system. The vellum on which it is written has been carbon-dated to the early 15th century (1404–1438), and it may have been composed in Italy during the Italian Renaissance. The manuscript is named after Wilfrid Voynich, a Polish-Samogitian book dealer who purchased it in 1912. You can read more about it right here.
Perhaps the earliest known instance of wall-tagging as used by street and graffiti artists of today goes back to the Arnolfini Portrait. The Arnolfini Portrait (or The Arnolfini Wedding, The Arnolfini Marriage, the Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife, or other titles) is a 1434 oil painting on oak panel by the Early Netherlandish painter Jan van Eyck. You can see the work on Wikipedia right here.
What makes the work stand out even more is when you look at the background you will notice some writing on the wall which translates to, “Jan van Eyck was here 1434.” Picking up elements like that adds to the story of the work and in this case it was probably included as humour, but then I do try to see a funny side to most things.
The Mona Lisa and the hidden code...
If you want even more mystery then we need to look at one of the art world’s most iconic works, The Mona Lisa. Letters in her right eye can be seen under a microscope and it is possible to just make out both an L and a V. In her left eye, the letters CE can be seen but there is speculation and debate that suggests it is the letter B.
The arch on the bridge in the background has an inscription which can be read as either 72 or L2, and on the back of the painting 149 can be seen along with the remains of an erased number. Could this be the date the painting was said to be created in the 1490’s when Da Vinci was in Milan? You can read more about it in another Telegraph article right here.
Colour as symbology…
Colour has been used as symbolism in art for millennia to convey deeper meaning and to help communicate the subject. Of course the introduction of new pigments through the ages has given artists a much broader spectrum of colour to work with, but colour is not only about the aesthetics of a work. Colour holds significance in different cultures and religions. Ask someone from one cultural background what the colour red indicates to them and they will provide a very different answer to the one provided by someone of a completely different cultural background.
Not only do colours have meanings in culture, they have many different meanings when it comes to emotions too. In the Western world, green is considered a lucky colour, it also reminds us of nature, and freshness, but also jealousy. In Indonesia, green has traditionally been a forbidden colour, and Eastern cultures often see green as symbolising youth, fertility and new life, but it can also mean infidelity. In China, wearing a green hat is indicative of a woman or girlfriend cheating, and this dates back to the Yuan Dynasty when relatives of prostitutes were forced to wear green hats.
Over on the Shutterstock blog there is an interesting read which you can find right here, that looks a little more in depth at various colours and how they are perceived around the world. Colour can tell a story and help make a work speak, but the message might get lost in translation if the wrong colours or symbols are used, although that might be why the wrong colours are used in some works. Symbology in art is one huge and fascinating subject that runs deep.
As the world has become much smaller with the advances we have seen in the internet and with us all becoming increasingly connected, a majority of working artists today tend to work globally and in some cases more frequently than they will ever work in local markets. This is a topic we discussed in another one of my recent articles about community which you can find right here, and it seems that there are many nuances when working globally that need to be considered when creating art, especially when it comes to choosing the right palette.
Colour isn’t just important in artworks either. Graphic and web design can fall flat if the designer hasn’t considered some of the tiny details such as the palette. Whilst colours can vocalise an artwork they can also vocalise it in the wrong way in some regions and countries and in some religions too. There’s an interesting read about using colour in web design which you can also find right here.
If you want to learn even more about the use of colour in art then Incredible Art is a website that has been serving art educators and students since 1994 and it is filled with fascinating insight into the world of art beyond learning about making a sale. You can find the lesson on colour symbolism and culture right here, and I really do think that learning about other aspects of the arts will do as much, if not more to help you market your work than anything else.
So how do we vocalise our art?
I think perhaps more so in recent times we have lost some of our ability to see some of the symbolism in art. Today we are..
Each week I write a brand new article to support members of our three wonderful groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, and The Artist Hangout and we are also now joined by a brand new group, The Artists Lounge. This week we take a look into deep space, works of art depicting life beyond our own planet and how we interpret them, and I will provide a few useful tips and tricks to create art with, or even without a sci-fi or space influence or related theme.
For decades the secret of a remote military base was kept hidden from Americans and the world. It didn’t really exist and the U.S government had zero interest in the subject of UFOs. Statements to the contrary, people with very official and high ranking titles cautioned, were probably just the musings of those crackpots wearing tin-foil hats…
The military base in question was remote and around 80-miles north of Las Vegas, it was of course Area 51. The very base that has spawned a million and one theories of conspiracy and none of those theories are quite as infamous as the one that insists that the bodies of UFO crash victims were taken there from Roswell, New Mexico after the incident back in 1947. The problem of course is that the land where Area 51 sits wasn’t acquired by the U.S Air-force until 1955. Mind blowing.
And this was not the first time the U.S government had been looking into the subject of UFOs. Project Sign was set up in 1947 which was also the same year of the alleged crash in Roswell, before being replaced with Project Grudge in 1949 and between 1952 and 1969, Project Blue Book wrapped the extent of the government’s involvement up, but did it really?
So what of the government’s recent interest in UFOs you might ask? The year was 2017 and the world finally got to hear about a project the U.S government had been working on for a number of years. To some people it came as a surprise and for others, well the entire revelation passed them by. But there were a few who were not surprised at all, they had been saying it all along, that the government had an active interest in the field of ufology.
The revelation shined a big bright light on a $22 million program with the not so catchy title of AATIP, an acronym for the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program which by 2017 had been running for many years. A program that looked into and investigated sightings of unidentified flying objects. Bear with, it gets weirder.
By definition, the acronym of UFO (Unidentified Flying Object) itself doesn’t at all mean that any of what is seen and reported are spaceships flown by ET. In most cases the unexplained becomes explained. Swamp gas, military flares, and weather conditions, psychotic substances, birds, drones, aircraft of both the regular and experimental type, all have been the explanations given by governments around the world whenever they have responded publicly to reports. Nothing to see here, don’t be listening to the crackpots. Except that sometimes the crackpots might just be right or at least pretty darn close.
The entire tin-foil hat crackpot conspiracy theorist label becomes a major issue for the tiny minority of sightings reported by professionals such as pilots and police officers, and others who could be called trained professional observers. Not wanting to appear as the stereotypical tin foil hatter, and often in fear of losing their position or credibility many of these sightings continue to go unreported even to this day. Some get a coat of looking at some get a gaggle of laughs.
The term UFO just conjures up images of flying saucers and little green men. It’s hardly if ever taken in its rightful context. That context is that something that cannot be explained was seen flying in the sky. When people say hey, that’s a UFO, they’re not always saying hey, there’s a little alien dude flying a saucer from outer space, wow, look at the little dude go. Sometimes they mean there was something that they cannot explain flying really fast or slowly in the sky. Nothing more, nothing less.
So it is okay, you can comfortably and confidently say that you have seen a UFO without feeling that people will label you as a tin-foil hatter or crackpot. Okay, some nay, most if not nearly all people will definitely say that you are a tin-foil hatter and that’s another problem that the serious factions of the ufology community have.
So what do the community do to avoid the label of crackpot being applied? They change the name of the flying saucers for a start.
In popular usage, the term UFO came to be used to refer to claims of alien spacecraft, and because of the public and media ridicule associated with the topic, some ufologists and investigators prefer to use terms such as "unidentified aerial phenomenon" (UAP) or "anomalous phenomena", as in the title of the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena (NARCAP). "Anomalous aerial vehicle" (AAV) or "unidentified aerial system" (UAS) are also sometimes used in a military aviation context to describe unidentified targets. - Wikipedia
But no matter what you call them there will always be misinterpretations of what is seen and what is described. You are probably at this very moment trying to work out why an artist who writes about art would suddenly have a keen interest in UFOs and the paranormal, and we will come to that in a moment, bear with, much more weirdness looms.
Firstly I need to set out my own interest in the subject which stems back even longer than I have been creating art. I must have read hundreds of books on the subject over the years, I was fascinated by the mention of Area 51 when news was first broken by George Knapp when he interviewed a gentleman by the name of Dennis, back in 1989.
I remember it even made a news story on TV over here in the UK for a couple of minutes. That gentleman as we would later find out wasn’t really named Dennis at all, his name was Bob Lazar. The self-confessed genius science guy who had managed to get a job at a place called S4 which was an extension of Area 51. Of course nothing was ever confirmed and that story itself is filled with mystery and conspiracy some of which I have to say is very compelling, some of which is not. The question is just how did Bob know in the first place if no one knew it was there?
I am not a believer in conspiracy stories. I don’t subscribe to legions of tales of some hidden alien agenda, but I am also not a skeptic in the sense that most skeptics are. Skeptics often fall into two camps, those who once believed but don’t believe anymore, and those who are flat out, there is no way that this stuff is real. I am kind of the skeptic that is open to believing but who needs hard facts and evidence, not just tall tales and grainy footage.
I love all things space, and I love conspiracy theorists just as one would love a barmy uncle. I have read, listened to, and watched countless hours of programs and documentaries, poured through files disclosed by many different governments, and even spoke with people who I believe have genuinely had an experience that cannot be easily explained.
I have also been using the subject of ufology and the paranormal in my art projects for many years, some of you will have seen the numerous book covers I have created for authors in the genre of sci-fi. My artistic endeavors in the area stretch back to the early nineties so it’s not a subject that I chose because it suddenly became hot, or trendy or because it might inspire the conspiracy market to buy art.
I rarely release my space/sci-fi works through social media and print on demand, usually my works are created for personal enjoyment or as commissions for collectors I have and who also have an interest in the subject. But it is an area that allows me to really stretch my creative muscle and as a subject it is one that allows an artist to really explore and develop.
The entire universe both the known and unknown parts of it suddenly become your canvas and it is a great subject to test out new art techniques and often combine many artistic techniques into a single work.
It’s also simply a really interesting subject. I am of the mind that we cannot be the only life-form to exist in the entirety of the universe, every scientific possibility seems to indicate that the chances of us being the only life-form are slim to non-existent. But that doesn’t mean to say that I believe every one of the stories that we have been visited by some advanced alien species who have traveled vast distances across the galaxy. If they had, you would think that they would have at least dropped in to say hi, or maybe they have and we just don’t know, maybe there is a government cover up after all?
Disclosure by Mark Taylor
The other problem that the subject and ufology in general have is technology. You would think if aliens were visiting that we would by now have some exceptional 4K video clearly showing an alien craft, even relatively cheap smartphones can take fairly decent video today. The problem though is that along with technology and the simplicity of creating CGI, we also saw the introduction of being able to monetise the subject and much of what we see online today isn’t so much scientific fact, but click-bait for advertising revenue often using little more than CGI or natural phenomena to convince people that there is something there. But not all of it is designed to achieve monetary gain, there is plenty of serious stuff out there too.
Back to that question as to why as an artist I have written about ufology today, and the answer is simply because even the art world is frequently subjected to its own conspiracy theories and misinterpretations. Ufology as a subject also frequently looks towards the art world for answers, but also there are many artworks that remain at the centre of conspiracy theories but the real answers are slightly more down to earth, well almost.
Interpretation of anything whether that is UFOs or artworks often depends on your own beliefs, and we tend to sway more towards what we want to believe or what resonates with our own beliefs and base the version of our discovered truth on what we might be more open and receptive to hearing and this is exactly why fake news stories are so successful.
We all see and do things, experience things and arrive at conclusions as individuals and we do this independently based on our beliefs and cultures and what we have previously been exposed to and influenced by. We use our own reality to produce a judgement. When we look at art we individually might see things in the art that others don’t.
The phenomena of seeing spaceship-like objects within artworks isn’t new and what we deem to be UFOs in the alien-guy-saucer-sense have appeared in many works of art for centuries. Some of the representations are intentionally placed to represent a version of what we traditionally think of as aliens or flying saucers, but in other works there is specific symbology which looks like a UFO or alien species but is in fact a representation, a specific symbology with specific meaning.
As a human race we have been painting and drawing these images since we could first hold an implement that allowed us to draw or paint. There are also Native American legends such as those about the Star People which you can read about here, and when we look to our own reality and what we perceive today, we do also have to wonder how people and cultures throughout history would have known about such things without having been first exposed to something from previous incarnations of popular culture.
Some of the artworks that appear to depict alien visitations can be interpreted in many ways. The orb could really be an abstraction of something else because we know that art is littered with symbology, and the alien looking figure could just be an abstraction of human form. In many cases it isn’t at all what many of the conspiracy shows that pop up on TV would have us believe it is, but then they need to sell a show to the networks and the advertisers. See where the problem is in taking the subject seriously yet?
The 'Annuciation with Saint Emidius' painted by Italian artist Carlo Crivelli in 1486 is an altar piece created to commemorate Angel Gabriel’s announcement to the Virgin Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. Many people have misinterpreted the piece suggesting that the ring in the top left of the work is a spaceship.
There is of course now a consensus among historians and the art community that the ring shining a beam of light onto Mary is in fact the depiction of angels gathered around a circle of clouds and both the ring and the light depict the Holy Spirit.
Glorification of the Eucharist, 1600…
If artwork is being viewed at all we should celebrate and see this as a good thing. Anything that furthers the arts in society, opens discussion and anything which gives people a little more awareness and appreciation of the arts should be welcomed. But some works are so mistranslated that the message of the artwork and the intention of the artist starts to become completely lost. Glorification of the Eucharist, Bonaventura Salimbeni - 1600, is one such work. Image – Public Domain
Glorification of the Eucharist, Bonaventura Salimbeni - 1600
Back in 2014 the strange round object that sat between God and Jesus was deemed by one YouTube channel to be a depiction of Sputnik, the Russian satellite which was launched some 350-years after the painting had been created. “It looks a little too symbolic” I remember one of the presenters saying in the video. Look closely at the image and you can see that both Jesus and God are in fact looking towards a globe of the world and holding what appear to be pointing wands. Implements which may have been popular at the the painting was created. But maybe, just maybe, Sputnik was modeled on the painting, or it could just be that the Russians who designed Sputnik found that was the only shape that would work. There could be a million reasons for the similarity, it doesn’t help ufology or art when mis-translation occurs.
There have been literally hundreds if not thousands of artworks over the years that appear to depict aliens and spaceships. Perhaps some of our thinking today is as a result of being exposed to these images in the past. Maybe there is a link to some point when someone seeing a cave painting of a stereotypical Grey species of alien that we see so much of in popular culture today, would then misidentify whatever it is they saw or in some cases maybe didn’t see with that image of the alien they had previously seen. Bear with again, this really is mind blowing stuff.
Perhaps there is confusion around translating art, it’s certainly not always easy and many of the art world’s experts have got things wrong in the past. But perhaps misinterpretation also stems from the works not having enough of a written context or little if any documentation, another reason why you should definitely always document your work.
I think if I had witnessed a real life alien spaceship landing on the stereotypical Whitehouse lawn, I would be inclined to think they would either walk out from the craft wearing Make America Great Again hats or they would look real enough for me to either photograph, paint, or draw, and I would definitely try to document the event in some way. Facebook Live, or writing a piece for the New York Times. Either that or I would be running quickly towards the hills and hiding away in fear. What I think I mean here is that there would definitely be something other than the painting that referenced such an event.
Today we see an artistic image of a grey alien and we automatically assume fantasy, it is a symbol representing stereotypical aliens.
I think even the earliest artists would have thought similarly too and wouldn’t just put the object into the painting as an afterthought. Maybe people of the time knew exactly what that symbology meant and it didn’t need documentation or explanation. Here we are maybe a thousand years later and we are scratching our heads and listening to the ancient alien conspiracy stories to find answers. Though there are also works that definitely seem to be more focused on something less symbolic but again, we each interpret art in very different ways.
Landing Site by Mark Taylor
Your Alien Art…
Many artists today still incorporate symbology into their works, some of it well documented others not so much. I have even been known to include references to various issues, causes, theories, in some of my works including some of my works covering more down to earth topics outside of sci-fi and aliens. I don’t leave some hidden message in all of my works and often they were left by my subconscious feelings about something rather than being intentional, although there are a few more intentional ones. You just need to look very closely, especially in my more detailed works. One of my latest abstracts which I am hoping will be released soon, for example is a nod of appreciation to Native American cultures. Sometimes my references are subtle, sometimes not so subtle.
But what about the work today that we might be creating as artists covering the subject. As I said earlier the entire subject of space, alien visitation, the paranormal and strange, and the galaxy fascinates me, and even subconsciously some of that inevitably sometimes spills over into my more traditional works. What we are exposed to and influenced by will always show through in some way.
Creating art with a sci-fi or space related theme is fun for all of the reasons I spoke about earlier. It really is a subject that craves artistic exploration and it is a useful side subject to practice new techniques on. There are many artists though who create nothing but artwork depicting these subjects and I am often blown away by some of the work I see appearing on platforms such as Behance.
My good friend David J. Greer who many of my regular Facebook followers will already know frequently creates some of the most beautiful spray paint art featuring planets. They are always just so bold and vibrant and really stand out. You should definitely check out his work and if you are interested in the subject seriously, you should join his new Facebook group.
Because the subject really lends itself to exploration in the arts and can be a useful practice ground for new techniques, we often find that there are elements and techniques that are frequently used in paintings of the subject which can also be applied to many other artistic disciplines too.
Some of the techniques below are ones I have used not just in my space oriented works but I have also used them in some of my more down to earth abstracts and landscapes. I have often created works that border on surrealism too and that is another subject where the artistic techniques can be used, and interpretation is the key to really opening up new meaning to the works. Surrealism isn’t solely about melting clocks!
Making Stars by Mark Taylor
The crossover disciplines of surrealism such as Frottage, Decalcomania, and Grattage can also be used in the composition of works based on the subject of ufology and alien landscapes to provide many different effects but they can also be used to add more visual interest and even texture to any work in any genre.
Examples of these techniques can be seen in the case of Frottage by artists such as Max Ernst who created the technique where the canvas is prepared with a layer or more of paint which is then layered over a texture and scraped over. If you take a look at Ernst’s Forest and Dove, the trees appear to have been created by scraping over the backbone of a fish. You can view that work on Wikipedia right here.
Decalcomania is an art form closely aligned with surrealism and one that also lends itself across a range of artistic styles. I also find that it can..
Each week I write a brand new article to support members of our three wonderful groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, and The Artist Hangout and we are also now joined by another group, The Artists Lounge and you will find more details below. The topic this week, bringing your people closer and we take a look at going Glocal!
A journey of light…
I have always been fascinated by other cultures. I remember flying back home from the USA as we traveled across cities at 35,000 feet on a beautifully clear shut eye flight out of Orlando International. I have never been one who can fall asleep on an aircraft, I’m always too busy looking out of the windows. Mostly it’s always just fluffy white clouds which can appear to be almost mystical under a moonlit sky, but on this flight there were no clouds for the first few hours of an eight hour plus flight back to the UK.
I looked out through the window and we must have been heading over New York City. There was an ocean of light whereas for two hours before the landscape seemed to be filled with stillness and the peaks of the Appalachian Mountains. As I looked down I noticed all the traffic moving as if in slow motion. I was able to follow the tail lights and see street after street of what at this height looked like illuminated ants slowly scurrying. Nowhere near enough detail to make anything or anyone particular out, but just a stream of red and white light dispersed between city blocks. It was one of the most beautiful and most peaceful moments as the rest of the aircraft slept through the sights.
I remember thinking about what was going on down there, each light represented at least a person. What were they doing, where were they going, who were these people, were any of them people I have connected with on social media, if they were then we were at that point closer than we had ever been to each other physically and never realised it, perhaps some of those people would be people I would one day connect with.
We didn’t see any light again until nearly four and a half hours later as we started approaching the coast of Ireland. I could make out tiny dots of light peeking through what was by now dawns early light. In another hour and a half we would be back in England, cold, grey, frosty, and about a million miles away from the temperatures we had left back in Orlando. When I stepped off the plane the cold hit me squarely in the face and I had a pang of sadness and a feeling like I had left a part of me behind in the States.
That memory of looking down at a landscape of lights representing people moving around has stayed with me for the decade that has since passed. I often think back and try to remember the detail of what I could see. There was something that stood out more than anything else and it was a string of bright white light which from above looked like five arms of a star shape meeting at the centre, I had no idea exactly where this was and even to this day I have never been able to figure it out.
Whenever I have traveled around the world some of my best memories have always been of the people. People live very different lives but deep down we are all just the same. We need the same basic things to survive, but what has surprised me whenever I have traveled is that wherever I have been, people have a love and passion for the arts. The arts is one of the few things I have noticed that has a unique power to really bring people together.
The Artists Lounge…
Last week I finally got around to setting up the new Facebook group, The Artists Lounge. It is intended to be a very different kind of art group. One where artists can come together and be themselves without the pressures of marketing and sales. A group where people can discuss the art world, what works and doesn’t work, what sells and doesn’t sell, because I have always been a big believer in finding our people. Our people are not just the “our people” who buy our art, but those who support us with encouragement and with a listening ear and advice and friendly chat too. Those people are just as important as the “our people” who buy our art.
Being an artist can mean that you often find yourself working in a silo. It can be the loneliest job ever at times but at other times it can be filled with people, sometimes many and even too many people. The new group isn’t somewhere to go to try and find a new market, it is I am hoping, somewhere that artists will be able to visit and learn more about the art world, gain new perspectives and insights, somewhere that we can all find our other people within.
I was amazed at the variety of locations people joined the group from too. The UK, Southern Ireland, Alaska, New York, New England, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Florida, and other continents such as Australia and many places in between.
What I find more amazing is that this global community came together within just a few short hours. No one as far as I know has physically met, people came together with only the power of the internet. I think back to that time I flew over New York and wonder how close to each other we might have all been at some time in the past without knowing that we are there or that we share a passion for the arts. Did we ever pass a now Facebook friend in the street once?
The Artists Lounge Facebook Group
Art brings people together…
There is no denying that the often used cliche that art brings people together rings true because it simply does. I remember spending two weeks in Cuba and despite the language barriers, art was the universal language we all understood regardless of the language we spoke. The same when I visited Russia and The Hermitage, Italy and Vatican City, no matter where you look or where you go, art is everywhere and it is a beautiful way to communicate.
In local communities art has a role too. Sadly we see fewer community art projects today than we once did due to funding constraints of local authorities and town councils, when money needs to be saved it seems that art is always amongst one of the first areas to fall under the axe. Yet art can build bridges in divided communities and bring people from many cultures together.
For artists, community based art projects can do more for your career than probably a life-time of hawking your work on social media can. I have seen this and experienced it in even recent times where artists have gone out into the community with local art projects and managed to pick up commissions and sell more art as a result.
The problem I had for many years as an artist is that I really struggled with the local connect. The internet has made global reach relatively easy, more people from continents on the opposite side of the world owned more of my work than local people did at one time, and I know of many other artists who have found this too. It’s not a bad problem at all to have but it makes life marginally easier to deal face to face with clients when they are in the local area and marketing becomes much easier too.
So while we do have this unique and enjoyable ability to market art globally, local reach is often way more challenging to win unless you live in a vibrant arts community already, and it’s a community with a lot going on that you can get involved with. Sometimes we even forget that a market might exist right on our doorstep.
The marketing side of your art practice does become much easier once you have that connect with the local community, I know it certainly was for me. Whenever we create marketing campaigns on social media one of the biggest issues that a lot of artists tell me and that I have experienced is that your marketing has to be amplified many times over and it has to connect with lots of different people from very different cultures.
Will buyers in Montana get that quirky joke about buses always turning up in three’s or not at all if they’re not familiar with how public transport works or more often doesn’t work in the UK, or will the marketing campaign still resonate with people if it is depicting a cultural nuance? Global marketing seems to me to be much more complex than local marketing yet we mostly all do global marketing on social media, the question is could we do it better and make it meet the needs of a more local market too?
A bad marketing campaign might become more amplified the further it travels, or it might entirely work in another global market, or of course it could just turn out to be a bad campaign everywhere. As independent artists and creatives we don’t have access to huge marketing teams spread across the world, so my moment of pondering this week is should we be really be looking at going Glocal instead of either global or local when it comes to marketing our art. We don’t always have the time to do both local and global well, but I know there is a difference in the audiences which is often cultural.
I always speak about finding your people but perhaps we are missing a trick here. Perhaps our people are scattered both globally and locally, but maybe there is some disconnect in what we are doing when we market our art that doesn’t quite resonate with a particular audience in a particular area?
When I think back to the big corporate brands and the times they have got this very wrong, I think we as single member art/director/marketing/everything else that an artist has to be kind of team, we should most definitely think about some of the nuances in social media or more specifically some of the nuances around the very different cultures who use social media.
Take a look at marketing blunders online and you will see names like Starbucks, Ford, Cadillac, and I kid you not, one ice cream cone manufacturer in India who chose the name of Hitler Ice Cream cones in a nod to an uncle who had been given the nickname because of his short temper, not good, not good at all.
Adding in another level of complexity into our marketing efforts makes everything more challenging but perhaps we don’t have to go as far as the corporate brands do. If art is the core of what we market, the art will communicate better than any words we dress it up with will. There’s no one size fits all approach to coming up with the perfect marketing campaign when it comes to art, but maybe an appreciation and a nod to other cultures is something that might be worth incorporating.
Creativity can be bound by culture. If we take a look at marketing and what good marketing looks like it is about the use of words and images that evoke an emotion or a reaction in the intended audience. Last week I spoke of the emotional connect that that people use to connect with the artist and their art and also the logical connect, but we also know that emotion is often specific to cultures too. What might evoke a positive emotional reaction in one market might fail completely and have the opposite effect in another.
Creativity is tied to beliefs and we often don’t realise just how much those beliefs can define who we are, or why we have the opinions and thoughts and ideas that we have and even why we produce the art that we do.
I think that this really does start to demonstrate even more the importance of finding our people but once we have found them we then have to take into account how we best reach them. Neither of those are easy things to achieve.
That’s why I say that local marketing is easier although for many of us it might not be the market we are in and for some people it might not be the market they want to be in. I have always found that for me and other artists I know, the local market can be a tough one to break into. If you had said to me a decade ago that global marketing would be easier than local marketing I would have laughed out loud, but then social media happened and the world became infinitely more steps closer.
Marketing is difficult enough and observing the many cultures adds to the complexity of what we do and then some. So this is another area in which I hope the new group will be able to help each other. The group is a closed group meaning that what is posted in the group should stay in the group, so it seems logical that we might want to all try to engage and help each other by sharing what works in what country or even in what State in the US.
Over here in the UK there are nuances that need to be observed even between counties that are not that far apart as the banking giant HSBC found out this week after putting Nottingham’s advertising campaign bang in the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne and the advertising for Newcastle slap bang in the middle of Nottingham. This is another way that artists can support and help each other, we can provide local insight, we don’t have to be in this alone and we are never or very rarely each other’s competition.
So how do you break into a local market?
Now we have the cultural nuances at least on the table, breaking into a local market is the next one to take a look at. In my years of being around the art world I can honestly say that local markets have always been tougher for me. Some people find the complete opposite and struggle with other markets but do really well locally.
It was only when I started to create designs for things like restaurant menus that I found a local business 2 business market for art and graphic design, but over the next year I will be focusing more on the local market than I have done previously.
There are a lot of exciting developments in my area, we are finally getting a long promised designer shopping village and I am hoping that a gallery will find its way into the mix of designer clothes and handbag stores. I’m hoping too that there will be a decent coffee shop because if there is one thing we need in the local area it is somewhere you can find a good flat white. What I am more excited about though is the prospect that more people will come into the local community. That means that local businesses have an opportunity to take advantage, but equally I am always aware that anything like this can also impact local small businesses negatively. Hence my focus on local business over the next year ahead of its opening.
Many communities around the world engage in art related events. Art and Craft markets, art walks, community lectures and classes, it’s surprising just how many of these events get held locally yet we don’t always hear about them. The results can be disappointing for those who attend as exhibitors if there are no buyers. Sometimes events don’t do as well for the simple reason that not enough “art people” or those involved in the arts get involved in organising the events. Often that’s because as we don’t have a high profile within the local community. Getting artists involved in the planning of these kinds of events I would have imagined would be on the must do list for organisers, but apparently that’s not always the case.
As artists we can help to do something about that, we can engage with the local community and push for the arts to be higher on the agenda, or we could simply just offer some of our time and volunteer. As I said earlier, the arts seems to me to always be amongst the first of the local services to get cut because there’s not quite enough money in the local pot, which is a tad short-sighted given the benefits that the arts can bring. As for giving up time, perhaps the way to look at the time you give to any event is about not only the event but your own continuing professional development and networking, both equally important ingredients to artistic success.
We should be asking questions of local councils and authorities around their arts programs, maybe collaborating and looking at empty space on the high street to hold pop-up exhibitions and classes, none of this has to be expensive, sometimes it can be just a coalition of the willing who need to make things happen. If they don’t then there is always a risk that as budgets get cut, the arts are merely given lip service or get the occasional token gesture because someone thinks that is what they should be doing but they don’t really understand fully why. Even worse, because it’s a trendy gimmick and art should never be that.
Thankfully not every area is like that, and those areas that do get artists involved in community projects always seem to have much better arts events than those who don’t, and the areas themselves benefit significantly more. My own local area holds the occasional art event or craft market but rarely do I ever see anything about them on social media, there’s no pre-event buzz, certainly no post-event buzz and if people don’t know what’s going on in their own area they are unlikely to turn up to the events.
I could never commit to exhibiting at these events because I have seen the poor turnout, especially when you think that this is the same area eager to see a development of expensive designer shops. There’s a disconnect somewhere.
Local events are one of the best things an artist can be part of that serves not only the good of their communities but can also do wonders for an artist’s own career. Whether that’s building up your confidence around your ability to network or just meeting local people and other small businesses, or knowing that you gave something to your own community. This year I am hoping to be involved way more locally and because like many people, I probably know more people who live on opposite sides of the world than I do my closest neighbors.
Another aspect of becoming more engaged with local markets is that we often fail to talk enough to work colleagues about what it is we do. Many companies today are starting to promote lunch and learn events where people come together over lunch to learn about what teams within the organisation do, but interestingly some allow people to showcase their hobbies, skills, and outside interests. It’s an easy thing to set up and something that could lead you to even more markets are maybe just get art on the agenda.
Local community arts projects can benefit the young too. When young people are exposed to the arts they gain better observational skills, are more able to express themselves creatively, become better at communicating, and it broadens their interest. At a time when services for young people are being cut, all it takes sometimes is that coalition of the willing to come together and involve those who will see the most benefit from it to become a part of that coalition too.
The key to winning over local markets has always been to become more visible within them but there are opportunities for artists to not only become visible put to also contribute in other ways to the community too, helping both the artist and local people and let’s not forget the local economy.
Whenever I have traveled around the world I have seen pockets of outstanding arts related projects that have transformed entire areas, but I have also seen areas where the arts are at best a token gesture if they’re even present at all. As artists we have the gift of contributing to something that not only benefits us in a business sense and with our own development but also to help bring people together and bring about social cohesion. I truly believe if it can be done online through something as small as a Facebook group then surely it can be done in the offline world too.
Let me know about your local art events!
Let me know about your upcoming community events…
If you have local arts events and projects in your area and you want me to feature them, let me know! Don’t worry about the location because we do get people from all over the world visiting this site, but also because your event might just inspire similar events in other areas of the world too and it also gives the event somewhere else to be mentioned online.
The really vital thing though is that it might just give some of those regions that currently have little in the way of arts related programs running, an insight into the art of the possible that could make them start to see the arts as an important element that makes society better. Show the world what you are doing and the world might just want to do it too, and wouldn’t that be phenomenal!
I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here: https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com
Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contributes towards to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website. You can also view my portfolio website at https://beechhousemedia.com
Each week I write a brand new article for members of our three wonderful art groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, and The Artist Hangout. This Week we’re getting straight down to the point. Creating content for social media is without question a fine art in itself. If you are doing social media right then it is also a heap of hard work.
This week there are no cotton wool wraps that cushion you from the blow. If you are serious about marketing and selling your work there are no short cuts. If you want to make sure your social content rocks just as much as your art then you really are going to have to put in at least as much effort into creating each post as you do with any artwork you produce and then some. You need to create masterpieces in the studio and another kind of masterpiece for your social media timeline. Buckle up because for some people this is likely to be a bumpy ride.
Facebook isn’t really the problem people think it is...
Facebook gets a lot of bad press. I mean it really gets a lot of bad press. Not once did I see a post on my timeline appear from anyone who said they were happy with what they don’t pay Facebook for the service they provide. Just like I don’t ever recall anyone saying thanks to the thousands of Facebook community standards reviewers who have to review some of the most deplorable depraved and downright ugly social media posts whenever they get reported.
I get why people take offence to Zuck, he’s a CEO with a healthy bank balance and to be honest I don’t always agree with a lot of his methods but those are his methods and like them or not, Facebook is still the number one social media platform. But the people who work at Facebook are just like you and me. Normal people trying to earn a living, and being sucked into the bad press that comes with the gig.
So from me and I am sure a lot of other people, thank you to the Facebook team, many of us appreciate the work you do that we thankfully never get to see. I know that the world can be an ugly place and unfortunately a lot of people seem to be intent on sharing the darker side of ugly on Facebook every day.
Of course they don’t always get it right. Data breaches, the algorithm mistaking a fine artwork for pornography, these things happen yet we never expect them to because this is technology and we think technology is always good. It can be good, great, even life affirming, but technology is never ever as good as the ultimate machine. It isn’t human.
AI struggles to contextualise, algorithms are weighted, but strip the content away from every account and social media suddenly becomes a level playing field. It is how we as humans interact with it and use it that changes it from horizontal to varying degrees of vertical and then some. Whenever there’s a new round of ugly doing the rounds on Facebook the playing field has to change again. It’s what I term as an adaptive environment and it makes it really difficult for those who play by the rules to keep on track and stay within the rules.
We have discussed the use of Facebook business pages for a while and I know why people don’t see them as a priority, but critically if you do want the reach and you don’t want to pay to boost a post or run an advert, pages are still the best and officially the only way you should be promoting your business if you want to stay within the community standards laid down in the rules. Those will be the community standards that everyone signs up to but few ever read. I hear you when you say that you get more views on your personal profile, but work at the page and develop a strategy and the numbers will be massively higher eventually. Check your pages Insights data now and then again every week, you should start to see the increase if you are starting to get it right and make sure to link your website to the business page because that really helps.
Now here’s where I turn into a Hulk-like brutal and honest friend. The single biggest reason that you don’t get anywhere near enough reach on a business page is because of the few things that you are probably not already doing. Don’t worry, it’s not just you. Lots of people feel the frustration of spending hours on the platform to get little in return, it took me five years to get anywhere near what I wanted!
The good news is that you have the gift of being able to do something about these things. This isn’t comfortable to write so I know that when you read this after struggling with your organic reach it might hit home a little, maybe it will even smart for a while, but here goes anyway. Buckle up because I really am about to say it!
To get anywhere your content needs to resonate for it to connect with people enough so that they feel compelled to share its value to others. The single most difficult thing, as in it is sometimes, forget that - always, easier to chase down unicorns than create 100% shareable content 100% of the time. I’m with you and I feel your pain. There’s no dressing it up, if content sucks, it sucks and people won’t feel compelled to share it.
You need compelling content to trigger the response of sharing. Content can be beautiful, well-constructed, informative, and it can still suck. If it doesn’t resonate with who you want it to resonate with then no one or very few will share it. There is no other way to dress this up and whilst it does sound cold and brutal, that really sums it up.
Did I mention that your content is the problem? Well maybe it’s not as big a problem as you might think after reading the first two points. It could simply be that you haven’t as yet found your people. Just like finding the demographic who love your work you also have to find the demographic who love your content and I don’t believe for one second that they are always the same people or even close. The downside, finding out where real life unicorns hang out is a much simpler task than finding your people.
Your content might be the best content ever in the eyes of some people but they might not be the eyes that will ever go on to buy your work. In short, you might have two totally disparate sets of people. Some who love social media and love your art but probably will never buy it, and those who love your art and will buy it and they might or might not be on social media. You might have some people who are friends but like neither your art or your social media posts.
This is a problem because you can’t be everything to everyone and this is the one of the first hurdles that trips people up when creating content. If you rely solely on social media to market your work then the ideal scenario is to find the people who love your art and who love social media or more specifically, people who love how you do social media and go on to buy your art. The downside is that you then need to be careful that what you post, share, or say, doesn’t then upset the fine balance you found when you discovered those people.
You need that magical word I keep on mentioning to become the word of the week, every week. That word of course is engagement. It's hard work, I mean really hard work. Engagement itself is easy enough in short bursts but you then have to sustain it and do it forever. This means that even the most un-people type person needs to become a people person, do this consistently and then maintain it. Told you this was going to be hard work.
There are no short cuts or wands!
It’s not that business pages don’t work or really that we never get the organic reach we once had because Facebook want to nickel and dime us into boosting a post, although they are frequently guilty of doing that too, it’s about the changes to the Facebook algorithm that look at the quality metrics. If there’s no reach and no shares or reactions on a post, the algorithm down ranks the content. We might not like it but this is actually a good thing if we want to ensure eyes on our posts. Embrace it because you are never going to change it.
It down ranks posts for other things too, too much text, stock images, memes, links to poor quality sites, the list goes on. More simply, and this bit is really is going to smart, your content might not be as good as you think it is and isn’t resonating with the audience. You might think you see more engagement on a personal timeline but the reality is that the rest of your content might be dragging the new stuff down.
There could be other reasons but ultimately no one would ever watch Netflix if they only showed poor quality films, it’s the same with content on Facebook. We need to look at how people are interacting and engaging and what with. The only other reason that your reach is declining is because you haven’t found your people, it’s not just because you didn’t pay for that boost that Facebook constantly nags you to do.
The result is that we spend hours creating content blindly because we don’t definitively know who the people who buy our art are. What we do at that point is we create all sorts of content, good, bad, and indifferent and it’s never consistent, there is never a coherent strategy that focuses on or thinks about what comes next. We rarely take a step back and ask ourselves if what we are producing as content is really working, yet we might do it all of the time with our art even subconsciously. Great content can become a mind set and not just another chore.
Often we don’t think about what “working” looks like, we just feel disappointed when we only reach six people. Before you even contemplate creating good content from this point forward you might want to first figure out what your version of performing well or good really looks like in your eyes. Remember though that you should start out by setting some small expectations and incrementally work them up into things like hitting a million likes.
We have to make sure that our people on Facebook or any other social media network are enjoying our content and we then have to get down to the cold basics of this social media business. Are those people just enjoying your content or are they buying your work as well?
In the perfect world of course they would be doing both but we all know that this isn’t a perfect world and there are so many variables with social media and those variables change because someone or lots of someone’s decide to force the hand of change onto the algorithm. It is a system with more than 2-billion moving parts and it is built for everyone and not specifically just for you.
Perhaps people enjoy your content but don’t buy your work and maybe that should tell us something. I often write that we should listen to what people say and do but we should always listen more intently to what they maybe don’t say or do too.
Your people on social media right now are most likely your friends and fellow artists and whilst many artists do buy the work of other artists they’re probably never in all honesty going to become your core market, although they can be one of your most important markets.
These friends are essential because they believe in you and what you do, they’re your best advocates and influencers. They add value to you by supporting and encouraging you, by sharing your posts and exposing you to their own people. One theory I’m a huge believer in is when artists support other artists and collaborate in true partnerships by advocating the work of other artists. Partnership is the key word here, it has to be reciprocal otherwise it’s not a partnership at all. What we need to focus on next is finding the other type of our people, the ones who buy our art.
There are two things that ultimately drive people to make a purchase, logic and emotion and the two often become conflicted. People never buy using logic alone, emotion is just as much the key that opens the door to sales and in a social media context, the door to shares.
You can produce the greatest masterpiece the art world has ever known but when you open your mouth or in this case you craft a post on social media, the question really should be about whether you are adding any value to the artwork or taking all or most of the value away with what you say or post. This is something that we see happen in front of our eyes, content appearing on our timeline becomes pretty random or starts to look generic and takes a step or two away from the core mission of getting the work seen.
Appealing only to people’s emotions won’t get you past the line on its own, you do have to appeal to peoples logical sides too. People make decisions based first on emotion so your content has to hook them in, then people need to justify what they choose to buy or share, and to do this they rely on logic. Think of all the times you have seen something in the art supply store, immediately wanted it, and then justified why you want it or shouldn’t have it to yourself. That’s the logical part of the brain kicking in immediately after the emotion has passed. This happens whenever I visit an art supply store and it protects me from buying the entire stock and then robbing a bank to pay the bill. Logic says I wouldn’t get away with it. True story, I so need a new laser printer and lots of thermal foil.
It seems that the most successful corporate brands have this seemingly uncanny knack of getting you to part with your cash down to a fine art. They have entire departments working out firstly what makes you fall in love with a product and then getting the logical part of your brain on side too.
I think that is frequently down to lots of things. It could be that they offer exceptional after sales service or they wrap the sale up within an enjoyable experience or a seemingly amazing offer or deal, and if they’re selling widgets its much easier when the widget is something that you have to have rather than just want. We can’t live without food so we buy it, with art, well we can consume art pretty much anywhere.
This is when you need that emotional hook and then you need the logical hook too, the same thing happens with our social media posts. They need to hook people in and if they’re simply scrolling past them every time it’s a good indication that they’re not resonating anywhere near enough with your people who for the most part are probably as eager to find their own people just as much as you are. When you create content you need to think about what will make people pause for a moment and you need to make sure that the hook appears within almost milliseconds.
Sass up your content...
What we know so far...
Let’s quickly recap on what we have concluded so far. We know that bad content sucks but we don’t always stand back and realise it, instead we keep replicating the same thing. Now’s the time to stand back, compare your content with the content produced by popular and commercially successful artists and corporations and think about how you can apply some similar tactics into your content strategy, and more importantly still make it your content because you do have to be unique. It isn’t going to be easy and there’s no point dressing it up as if it is. Social media is easy, good social media is really, really difficult, great content, wow, that’s another level up entirely.
We also know that emotion and logic have a role in pretty much everything we do as humans, so just as your art needs to convey stories and emotion your social posts could do with a healthy dose of those elements too. What social posts definitely don’t need to do is to smell of drama and headaches. Told you I was going to be brutal and honest but bear with, they call this tough love.
We also know that you have to add value to everything. Something that you can give that no one else can and it doesn’t have to be monetary, it could be just going the extra mile or adding in detail that others miss. I see artist give always all the time and they work well for some people but not for all.
They can certainly be a hook but a lot of the time they’re run as a one off promotion and the initial buzz eventually dies out. The smarter play is to ask what you want to achieve from a giveaway in the first place because if it’s numbers of likes then your better play will be to produce better content and forget anything else which could just be another temporary sticking plaster.
You also have to question why likes are important, is it maybe just validation you are looking for or do you feel that likes will turn into sales? They will sometimes because social proof is often a key driver when people make decisions on purchases but you can have a million likes and still not see a sale, or six likes and sell a warehouse full of work. If you have your people in front of you it doesn't matter so much about the numbers.
The problem with Facebook is maybe sometimes Facebook...
Facebook is the single most difficult social media platform to work with. That’s not just me saying that, entire industries exist to create nothing but social media and content strategies for use on Facebook. Corporations have entire social media departments and even they sometimes get it wrong. The problem though is that you kind of have to be present on social media and that includes Facebook but so does everyone else which makes it even harder to stand out.
The other problem with Facebook is that there is always a heap of trash before you find the treasure. You see it and scroll past it just as we all do. This is the very reason that the algorithm continues to change and the quality indicators make it more and more difficult to reach the right people. Lots of people post either poor content or content that is only mediocre but rarely recognise it as poor content and it becomes the norm. Each time this happens it erodes your relevancy to the algorithm.
When you post content you need to post content that makes you want to stop scrolling and take a deeper look. Millions of posts are created every second and that’s a problem when that little social gem gets buried beneath everything else. Every post counts should be the mantra to live by when it comes to social media.
The other issue is that we expect immediacy. Zeros and ones move around the cyber-sphere at lightning speed so we expect that everything should be instant. We should get twenty five likes, loves and wows on a post immediately after clicking the publish button but sadly it doesn’t work like that. People might not be online when you post so you need to wait for them to catch up on their own timelines, and the way the algorithm works as I have explained before is that it only shows it the post to your most engaged people first. If they like it, love it, wow it, comment on it and ideally share the post, the algorithm shows it to the next set of people who need to do the same before it hits the next set of people and so on and so on.
Facebook has two sides. Personal profiles are for friends and family, acquaintances, they are personal, whereas business pages are exactly that, they’re there to provide the tools that you need to market and operate a business. Pages are only a tool they’re not some magical answer that will solve problems around having poor content, to counter that you need to master the use of the tool, find your people and create better content.
Standing out in a sea of content...
We now know what makes content resonate and we have an idea that content needs to be better constructed and reach out to both the emotions and logic of people because what people are often looking out for when sharing is some kind of emotional communion, something which was picked up in a research paper many years ago which was conducted through the University of Pennsylvania. They also described ways that emotion leads to transmission. In short, emotion equates to sharing.
But what really takes content from poor to good? Well the answer to that is just as complex as the mission was and will continue to be to find your people. Once you have found them you need to start to understand what they do and don’t like. What are the triggers that will make them buy a piece of art, share a post, or start to have meaningful engagement? This is a process that takes time and comes back to being patient. There is no immediacy in any of this.
So let’s look at what some of the key factors are that are needed within social posts. For this I took another look at the research papers from Penn State and spent the best part of a few weeks taking notes about what people were sharing on Facebook, but more widely than from what only my friends were sharing. Here’s what seemed to be the most popular motivations that made people want to share.
Friendship. Friends will frequently share something that touches them and often they might share something out of a sense of loyalty.
People share to amplify what they have found to others and something that resonated with them in what is probably meant by that phrase “social communion” from Penn State.
They share to add value to their own timelines
To grow and forge meaningful relationships and build trust. Of course sharing the wrong thing can also bring about distrust.
To spread the word about what we like and care about – this might be related to some form of social cohesion or a need to fit in or even brag. But beliefs are hugely shareable if they reach people whose own beliefs are the same or similar.
Entertaining and emotive content also gets shared frequently, not so much the stuff that we have seen a hundred times before though. People become de-tuned when it gets repeated, it just adds to the noise.
Each week I write a brand new article to support members of our three wonderful groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, and The Artist Hangout. This week we take a look at a few ways you can protect your images when you display them online.
Not too long ago an artist friend of mine asked me if she should pay out the best part of $20 to have a watermark created for her work through an advert she had seen on one of the social media platforms. The watermarks the company produced were nice and clean but the fact that they were being sold on social media meant that lots of artists were buying the very same style. My friend wanted something different and being a self-confessed technophobe, she wasn’t too sure how to go about creating her own.
Over the years I have produced somewhere in the region of literally hundreds of watermarks in an attempt to find a balance between offering a reasonable level of protection for my work and not have them being so obtrusive as to detract from the artwork itself. To be totally honest though, watermarks are not going to completely solve the problem of someone taking your art. They might stop the casual online art thief but anyone with even a small knowledge of Photoshop can remove a watermark in less than five minutes.
Being primarily a digital artist, people scraping my images is a problem I come across frequently. I can’t begin to count the number of wallpaper websites that have taken thumbnails of my artwork and stretched and squeezed them into something that could be used as a wallpaper on a PC or Mac or on a smartphone. I even had a run in with an app developer who had lifted the images from one of my Print on Demand stores, and who had then uploaded them into the app complete with the watermarks!
Nowadays I am slightly more chilled out about it all realising that if anyone wants to steal my work they will. My job is to just make it more difficult for casual picture pinchers. Once your work is online there’s very little you can do about it if someone decides to not play by the rules.
You can try to take action but the problem is that many of the websites that skim low resolution images are anonymous. There’s no way to contact the website owners and very little else that can be done. When a site does get closed down another ten spring up. But the key thing to focus on is that for the most part, they will be using small low resolution images that really don’t scale well.
Some images occasionally appear on Amazon printed on various products but I have to say that the process with Amazon whenever this happens is painless and the items get removed very quickly and often the stores get shuttered. All you can do whenever your artwork goes online is take a few actions that will limit the casual grabbers and make it slightly more cumbersome for those who are more determined in the hope that they will move on or ideally just give up.
So my friends watermark also needed to meet a few standards. It should look professional, it shouldn’t be too obvious but at the same time it should be seen, and it needed to be reused on different sized artworks.
A few years ago you would have been limited in how you created a good quality watermark, today not so much. Most good apps and photo packages give the end user the ability to add watermarks and even my all-time favourite app, Procreate on the iPad has just received an update that allows text layers to be included. Thank you to the Procreate team for this update, now if you could just add in a curvature tool we will be golden!
If you have access to Lightroom CC from Adobe, there is a built in watermark feature which you can read about right here. If you have Photoshop or Photoshop Elements you can also create watermarks in those applications too, and you can find the instructions right here.
If you don’t have access to the Adobe suite of products you could even use something like Microsoft Paint on Windows to apply a watermark and the options become much more limited. But if you have an iPad or iPhone then something like iWatermark+ from Plum Amazing will allow you to have total control over how your watermark will look. You can read about that application right here. Make sure to get the plus version at $3.99, it does way more than the previous version did!
The great thing about iWatermark+ is that it also allows you to add Steganographic Watermarks to images which adds an invisible watermark to the image and this is a technique I have been using for a while now. Buy an original digital work from me and it will be packed to the rafters with non-obvious or intrusive protections unless you buy the work with a reuse licence.
But there is a train of thought too that suggests that using watermarks is generally a bad idea. I know that there are many people who assume that the watermark will appear on the final image when they buy it and no matter how much you explain it in the art description, they will still ask the question or keep on scrolling past it.
Watermarks will never give you total protection. Cropping, or using the heal tool, will remove all but the most stubborn of watermarks. The only way that puts many would be art thieves off is to go with a whole image watermark. That though looks unsightly and again will put people off as will a watermark that has been poorly constructed in the first place.
A watermark is also probably for life. If you change your brand identity then you might need to update the watermarks on previously shared images to prevent diluting the brand image or to reduce or eliminate any confusion that might arise from the changes you made.
Whether or not a watermark is for you is a personal choice. For me it is all about where I share the image, if there are any other protections available, and it also depends on the resolution. If I post a lower resolution image on social media, that image is going to be of little use if it was printed off on anything larger than probably a 4 x 6 post card. If I post a higher resolution image, the watermark is just another tool that might offer some defense.
You might have also noticed that many of my works that are posted on social media are photographed hanging on a wall. The wall is actually the side of my workshop and I have a number of spare frames that I can place the artist proof of the prints or the originals into and stage a shot. This means that the viewer gets some idea of how the image will look when hung on a wall and it ensures that the artwork doesn’t need to be a much higher resolution. If they want to then view a higher resolution version they can see it on my store where other protections for the image are in place such as locking down the ability to disable right-click.
Gilded - One of my latest creations!
There are alternatives to watermarking and whether you decide to use one or not is really down to personal choice. For some works the watermark adds rather than detracts from the image which kind of seems counter intuitive, but a badly designed watermark will put people off not matter what. If you are going to apply a watermark though you do need to consider the following:
1. You either need to go big or place the watermark in a position that makes it hard to crop the image.
2. Set an appropriate level of transparency
3. Make it clear to viewers that the watermark will not appear in the final image they buy
4. Avoid using garish colours that draw attention away from the subject
5. Your watermark is not a life story – avoid multiple links and contact details, keep it simple.
6. You might need to create both light and dark watermarks depending on your work
7. If you can first create the watermark using a vector based app such as Illustrator or Inkscape then you will be able to scale it as and when you need to, without risking pixelation.
8. Create raster based transparent PNG files to overlay on top of the work
The Watermark Checklist
Alternatives to Watermarks…
Buy an original print from me and the quality will be excellent. That’s because the original images are created using very high dpi counts. Online, high resolution images are problematic on multiple fronts. They are slow to load and they are much more likely to be the target of scraping.
Any work I post on social media is always posted at 72dpi. This in itself means that if anyone did take the image they would be limited in how that image could be printed out without seeing any pixelation. (That’s the jagged edges and noise that you sometimes see when you scale a photograph up in size.)
Anything that is sold is usually between 266 dpi and 600 dpi, depending on where it will be printed and on what kind of printer, and some of the print on demand sites can still achieve great quality even as low as 150 dpi, you just have to be mindful of their guidelines. I tend to use a higher dpi purely because I can then use the image wherever I need to use it.
So you could consider making your images smaller, reducing the dpi, or staging the artwork in a scene. All viable alternatives to a watermark but watermarks can still be used if you want to add in another layer of protection.
Another method is to use a zoomed in view of the work to post on social media. Crop an image so that only a portion of it can be seen and then use a much smaller image next to it to show the rest of the work.
Depending on the dpi and the image size this can also give you an alternative product to sell as a print. If for example you have an area within your painting that could be a painting in itself, then there is nothing stopping you from offering alternative prints with just the cropped area as the subject. This is something I have done in the past and found that the cropped image sold better than the original! In fact some 70+ cropped images were sold as prints from one of my works and the original sold none at all, go figure!
Create Variations of Watermark
Another alternative is to disable the ability to right click on desktops. This only works if you have control over how your website is displayed. If you are using a platform such as WordPress or Adobe Portfolio there are options to restrict a user’s ability to right click and save the image. This is a little like watermarking an image in that the determined virtual art thief can still capture a screen shot or use snipping software to extract the image, but it is a deterrent for the casual or amateur art thief.
Adding metadata to images is another way that gives you some ability to at least prove provenance, well to an extent and assuming that the images exif data hasn’t been stripped out. It can be a task that takes you a while and particularly when you have a big portfolio of work that needs the data to be applied on but it is worth doing and making it a default must do whenever you create an image.
In Lightroom it is a relatively easy process to follow and you can find out more right here. Other image editors often have the ability to add in metadata too so you will just need to find out from whichever app or program you are running which way to go about adding the data.
There are other benefits in adding metadata to images, the data makes search much more precise and any information remains with your photo even if you email it to a client or family member. It is also here that you can also include things like the location of the image, any copyright information, and you can also tag it and title it too.
Most cameras automatically apply a range of data including the date and time that the photo was taken and in most cameras settings you can allow it to also add data around the location. Some cameras allow you to add other metadata such as the artist/photographers name and some smart cameras and smartphone cameras can automatically add in the names of the people within the photo when they are recognised by the camera. Adding this is something that you will need to refer back to the instructions that came with your camera to figure out how to do it, or head on over to YouTube as many cameras have feature explainer videos available either from the manufacturers or from fans of the camera.
Adding Alt Text to an image also helps with search engine optimisation too. If you post an image on Facebook you can go into the post settings and add tags to any photo you have uploaded, ideal if you are taking local photography. Alt Text tags also allow search engines to find the most relevant images quicker, and if you are uploading to print on demand, adding in these tags seems like a sensible idea if the POD sites don’t strip out the data.
Image titles and captions can also be applied through many online platforms, and these allow internal web searches to find the most relevant images too. Generally if there is ever an option to mark the image as yours, do it.
By being accessible I mean that you need to give people the opportunity to contact you. Over the years I have had many people reach out to me asking if they could utilise one of my works, often for book and album covers and I always point them back to my licencing website. But to do this you have to make sure that your contact details or branding is recognisable and accessible.
Whilst there are a lot of people out there who don’t even blink before grabbing an image and swiping it for use in their own projects, there really are people who want to do the right thing too. Make sure that contact details or at least an email address is included somewhere in your protection.
Consider offering some free value…
I know that this seems counter intuitive but bear with me, I have been thinking about this for a very long time. I will be offering some of my artwork through the companion website to this site at https://beechhousemedia.comvery soon. It is taking a little longer to get around to than I would like it to have done but very soon folks, very soon, there will be some free artwork available.
There are a few reasons why I am doing this. Firstly it is to say thank you to the people who already support me on social media and through my Go Fund Me page, and also to my collectors. The artworks will be works that are not for sale on any of my websites but there will be a few works that are part of a series of works. The remaining works in the collection will be for sale through the usual channels and retailers. A sort of try before you buy approach. That’s not something new, I took this approach with a series of works a few years ago and had a number of buyers decide to take up the offer of purchasing the additional works in the series.
But one of the biggest reasons that has made me want to head down this particular route is for me to be able to control piracy better. If people can get some of my work for free they might (or might not) be more inclined just to take the freely available images. Some of those people might even decide to purchase official prints and originals later on too.
I’m not totally going in blind. The images will sit behind a password protected area on my other website and to get the password you will need to have either visited my Facebook page, be an existing collector or buyer, or have donated through Go Fund Me. That way I can hopefully bring in some new page likes and there is some added value for those who support me and this website through buying my work or donating the cost of a cup of coffee through my Go Fund Me page. That’s important because without the support of the people who buy and donate, I could never afford to produce and update this site every week.
The password will expire periodically and new passwords issued, but this also means that I then have another market albeit one where I don’t make immediate financial rewards, and I can also offer some added value by offering some of my colouring sheets that I have been working on for many years.
For my Facebook friends and readers of this blog, I will also make some templates available that can be downloaded to use in your own marketing campaigns and I will be making some of my experimental and typographic art available through this route too. The important thing here is that I am getting artwork out into the wider world and making it more visible, adding some value that I don’t frequently add right now, and above all, I will be able to control better what images are available for download and make sure that they download at a decent resolution.
I have been doing a similar thing on my Facebook page for a while by offering free reference photos from the interesting places I get to visit, and I will be doing more of this in the future too especially since I now have a new camera outfit to use. Offering value like this builds up a community and often it is that very community who will become your biggest guardians. I'm not suggesting that this approach will work for everyone, whether or not you give it a try is down to only you, but for me right now it seems like a good thing to test out.
The short answer to how do I protect my images is that if you are posting them anywhere online there’s not much you can do other than put in some extra controls that make them a little more difficult to just take.
You can apply copyrights to your images but even this doesn’t offer a way to stop the images being taken if someone is determined enough.
What you can do that makes it less attractive to steal the image but still provides your fans and collectors with value is to look at posting alternative versions. Lower resolutions, watermarks if you want to, reducing the dpi, adding the metadata, but you could also consider just showing works in progress and staging your work in a frame and taking a photo of the wall where the artwork hangs.
If you find that your image has been stolen you should tackle it, but in my experience it can take a huge amount of effort if the person who has stolen the image is hiding their contact details or not even giving their contact details. It’s good to see that sites such as Amazon and eBay are starting to take this more seriously but the upshot is that until we start to head to a world of Blockchain uploads, which I wrote about right here, but ultimately there is very little else you can do.
If I find content in the groups on Facebook posted by a member who’s claiming the work as their own when it’s not, it is an immediate ban and a report filed to Facebook. There is no discussion on the subject with the poster at all, they just no longer have access, but I wish many other Facebook groups would step up and take this approach too.
Over the past few years of running groups this has probably happened on about a dozen or so times, each time a report has been filed and the member immediately banned, but no doubt another profile is set up and they move into other groups.
And finally, I would just like to say a huge Thank You to my dear friend and fellow artist Shelley Wallace Ylst, (an amazing artist who you can find right here https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/shelleywallaceylst) for letting a website know that they had used one of my images without giving me a credit. Thank you so much Shelley. We all need to look out for each other.
That very same image also appeared on the timeline of one of my Facebook friends, or at least someone I thought was a friend. The issue wasn’t that they had used the image, it was that the person had made the image look like a nasty photocopy in black and white. I wasn’t incensed at all by the fact that the image was shared without giving me any credit for the original, but come on, making it look like a photocopy? Really?
Hopefully by the time I publish the next update here I will have finally got around to setting up the new Facebook group where artists can gather around the virtual camp fire, share stories, have a vent, discuss the business of art, and escape from the noise elsewhere on social media. I have taken a couple of weeks away from the usual day job and every day so far has been jam-packed with catching up on jobs I..
Each week I write a brand new article to support members of our three wonderful groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, and The Artist Hangout. This week as we head into the Easter Break we take a deep dive into the art related shows, films, and documentaries you can watch online to enhance and develop your art career.
Our thoughts are with Paris…
Many of us watched in horror this week as Paris once again witnessed an event that shook everyone to their very core. French President Emmanuel Macron says Notre-Dame cathedral will be rebuilt "even more beautifully" - and that he wants the work done within five years.
A massive fire on Monday ravaged the 850-year-old Gothic building, destroying much of its roof and causing its steeple to collapse but what many forget is that Notre-Dame was also home to priceless works of art and many historic and irreplaceable treasures.
By some miracle it continues to look like there was no loss of life, and by another miracle much of the damage done to the artworks and treasures was caused by smoke. With the Louvre Museum which is the world's largest art museum stepping in to store and recover the works, I am sure and I sincerely hope that many of, if not all of the works can be saved through their expert restoration.
So before we start this week I would just like to ask people to stand with me in wishing the people of Paris our very best wishes and most sincere thoughts and prayers.
Tears for the City of Light
I would also like to wish everyone the very best for the upcoming Easter break. I have published slightly earlier this week because I will be taking a short break over the holidays. Okay, I have two weeks away from the day job where I will be catching up on some of the jobs that have long been overdue, and I will be working on a few new artworks. Not much of a break but at least I will be able to do all of this in the daylight hours!
Whatever Easter means to you it can also be a good point in the year to take stock of how far we have or haven’t come as artists since the New Year started. For some it will be a time of religious celebration, for others it can mean other things entirely, but Easter is always a good time to reflect back over the previous few months and start to prepare for the months ahead in our world of art.
It is also a great time to think about the projects we have ahead and to also reflect on our own self-development as artists. If you are taking time off it can also be a good time to catch up on all those things you promised yourself that you would do, or just as importantly you could even just take a much deserved break.
But if I know visual artists, we are not always good at simply sitting around and doing nothing much at all. I will be taking a couple of weeks away from the day job and already have the time planned out. There are works I need to finish, articles I need to write, and that marketing thing we have to do that never really stops. But I also have some opportunities to develop my own art practice. Opportunities that I have been promising myself that I will get around to doing for a long time.
There will be a brand new art group joining our three existing groups, the difference with the new group will be that it is a private invitation only group which will be a forum where artists can just hang out and discuss their work and the business of art rather than it being yet another sales group. It will also be a place where artists really are there for each other, where artists can vent their own frustrations either with their own work or within the industry which can often be brutal. The new group will go live over the Easter break.
Aside from setting up the new group I will be focusing on some of the works I need to get around to completing. Those works that don’t need too much more effort to get them over the line and I will be hopefully releasing some of the promised free art downloads on this site’s companion website at https://beechhousemedia.comvery soon too.
This week we will be taking a look at some of the films, programs and documentaries that you can watch, and that will give you the ability to increase your own skills sets and awareness of what goes on in and around the art word. Let’s start the Holiday weekend with a few of the shows that can contribute to your professional development, and remember, you can still class watching these as work related activity!
Your own development as an artist…
Regular readers will know that I am a huge fan of making sure that every artists at least does a little in the way of developing themselves on a regular basis. YouTube, the internet as a whole, even streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Prime Video are now streaming informative shows and documentaries that focus on the arts and from some of these we can learn more about the wider arts world than we can often find out by other means.
Nothing beats a great academic program of learning, for those who learn in the traditional way. Sometimes we learn from watching and reading, or from doing and listening, not every academic has to follow a traditional academic route. For some people, a really good playlist of titles can teach more than sitting within a classroom. It’s all about learning theory and you might want to take a listen Malcolm Knowles talking about Andragogy right here: https://elearningindustry.com/the-adult-learning-theory-andragogy-of-malcolm-knowles
Back to streaming and if you are anything like me you will spend more time scrolling through the contents of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video trying to decide to watch next. As artists we often lead busy lives when we’re not painting and creating and figuring out what we want to watch in any spare and rare free time can often take longer than it takes to watch a film or documentary in the first place. Just last night I finished binge watching a series only to then spend the next hour or ten working out what might be worthy of my time next.
I’m also one of those people who have an extended watch next list. I see something I like the look of, add it to my list and then never go back and watch it, it is as if my viewing tastes change overnight. I went through a phase of watching Big Foot documentaries last year for an art commission I had to work on, this year to date it has been an endless loop of art-world films that for one reason or another I had managed to miss when they first came out.
Let’s look at eight of the titles that have stood out to me as an artist over the past few years and these are the titles that I have got at least some knowledge from or have used to fill in some of the gaps. I have purposely not included films and TV shows that have an arty plot line and which have been based in some fantasy world, all of these titles have been chosen as they each offer an interesting glimpse and insight into the very real world of art. If they are not available on your usual streaming service, take a look around online or watch out for them to appear as most of these come and go between services with the exception of Netflix Originals.
This content is not available in your… here we go again… region…
Content not being available in my region and that Brexit thing that is going on over here in the UK are the top two reasons why I would rather be based in the USA. In the US, the range of content available on Netflix is phenomenal and that’s the library I want to watch, Canada’s library is so much better too. I know that streaming services have licensing issues and the services can’t show the content they have everywhere at the same time but by comparison the libraries in other countries are nowhere close to the libraries of content available in the USA and Canada.
Thankfully with films the subject of the arts is still a relatively niche area which means that many of the art programs and features do tend to be more widely available globally. Not all of the time but I would be surprised if any that we touch on today aren’t available at least one of the big streaming platforms outside of the UK.
So what has been consuming my viewing time lately? Let’s dig in and find out.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry…
A documentary that chronicles artist and activist Ai Weiwei as he prepares for a series of exhibitions and gets into an increasing number of clashes with the Chinese government. The documentary was directed by Alison Klayman who was named by the New York Times chief film critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis on their international list of 20 Directors to Watch. She also directed another show that appeared on Netflix called Take your Pills another one that some will find an interesting addition to their watch list.
Scoring a reasonable 8.1 on Metacritic, Ai Weiwei’s film looks in depth at the Chinese activist artist who proactively condemns his motherland government for repression amongst other things but it is a truly inspiring film about one man’s fight against a country.
Running at 91-minutes it is a good way of filling in time between seasons of anything else and a definitive must watch for anyone interest in Ai’s work and his story. The cinematography is beautiful but before you watch it, make sure you familiarize yourself with his Sunflower Exhibition first. From me it scores a solid 8/10, so go on and add it to your list.
The last film by the late Albert Maysles who directed classics such as Gimme Shelter, IRIS, is a documentary about fashion icon Iris Apfel. She had a massive presence on the New York fashion scene for decades, and this truly is a story of creativity.
If you want inspiration and want some uplifting examples of how to really live a life, IRIS has it all in abundance and she has a positively sharp sense of humour to boot. At around 79-minutes there isn’t an entire evening of entertainment but the story will stay with you forever.
Before I watched this I had read the reviews which were generally very positive, it received a score of 80 from Metacritic and won two awards, the Cinema Eye Honors Awards, US, and Best Documentary Feature in the Hampton's International Film Festival in 2014, and was nominated for two others. Some reviewers across the internet didn’t do it enough justice but it’s a solid film that manages to be inspiring throughout. Sometimes that’s all you need from any film.
Another definite watch it and add it to the list, but watch it sooner rather than later. From me it’s another 8/10 and certainly worthy of your time.
Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery…
Wolfgang Beltracchi was a German art forger who made a fortune selling forged works of artists such as Ernst and Derain. The film itself is surprisingly humorous at times as it goes through how Beltracchi fooled the art world for more than four decades.
“You don’t have to be a genius to do a painting like that,” as he observes one of his own works hanging on his studio wall. What managed to hook me was the artist’s attention to detail around how he carefully selected the right canvas support taking into account its age and material to perfectly match the supports used by the original artists at the time. Art forgery is a subject that I have been at time mesmerized by, other times been mortified by, but it all points to a single question, and that is why the art world consistently refuses to acknowledge him as an artist at all. It’s a good question and one that I am sure everyone will have an opinion on.
The Metacritic score was 73, my score I have to say is slightly higher because the entire subject fascinates me deeply. At 93-minutes it is a great start to a great evening’s entertainment and education in the arts so I have to say that I am scoring it a solid 9/10 just for broaching such a fascinating subject matter and doing it so well.
Abstract: The Art of Design…
A look behind the computers into the art and science of design, Abstract: The Art of Design is (In the UK at least) a Netflix original and one that I must admit took me a little while to get around to watching. Netflix originals are either sheer brilliance or completely middle of the road, they can be a bit of a mixed bag at times but this one is somewhere on the upper edges of brilliance. The problem is that it is only one season long and deserves a second outing to explore the world of design and develop into something even better than it already is.
The shows follow eight designers and each have their own ways of thinking and doing and creating. In total the running time will fill around six-hours so you might have to spread the episodes across two or three evenings, but also watchable if you want an all-out binge. It’s a welcome escape from the linear and predictable TV that’s doing to rounds at the moment and explores the work of eight prolific designers with subjects such as stages, shoes, and interior design.
It’s an interesting glimpse into how other designers and artists approach their work and if you are new to the arts or starting any form of study, this should already be on your watch list. Sometimes you don’t need the adrenaline rush that comes with Game of Thrones or any of the Marvel adventures (why did they kill off Daredevil?) What you sometimes need is something that is just beautiful to watch and this is probably that series and why I am giving this a definitive 8/10.
I was a fan of the other Banksy film, Exit through the Gift Shop which was released back in 2010 (and another film worthy of a watch – 9/10 from me), it was both funny and gritty as you would expect, but the more recent 1-hour 20-minute Saving Banksy which was released in 2017 is perhaps a little more average but still worth a watch if you are a Banksy fan. If you haven’t as yet seen Exit through the Gift Shop, my advice is to start off with watching that one first.
I have been a Banksy fan since I can’t even remember but certainly before he became the uber trendy must collect artist of a generation. Saving Banksy is a great watch but does lack some of the grit of the previous film. It’s not so much what is said in this film but if you are a Banksy fan you will be able to read between the lines and get a feel more for what’s not said and this is something that many reviewers missed.
Whereas the film back in 2010 was completely about Banksy, this one takes a look at graffiti artists more generally and puts them on an equal footing with Banksy. There is of course only one Banksy, his work constantly surprises and delights but the other artists featured all have their own unique styles too.
Banksy plays a role and a brilliant game in how he manages to keep a tight veil around his identity which only fuels the desire to own one of his originals even further. He’s a master of marketing with a real talent for producing gritty art with a message. In this film we look back to 2010 when Banksy left his mark on San Francisco not knowing just how much of an impact he would go on to have over the coming years.
It scored a positive 73 on Metacritic and rates a decent 7/10 from me, but if you want pure Banksy then another film chronicling his 31 works of art in 31 days in New York City called “Banksy does New York” might be a better watch, but I would definitely avoid the 2012 effort called “How to sell a Banksy” which at 1 hour and 25-minutes long is about 1 hour and 24 minutes too long. That title was little more than a poorly edited home movie, which is a real shame because that subject could have been so much more intriguing.
Loving Vincent Available on Netflix in the UK and Other Regions
Many of you will likely have caught this one already and been in awe of the oil painted works of art that made up every frame of the film. Loving Vincent, is one that I missed at the cinema. It had a small release window at the local multiplex and was only shown for a short time. Despite that it still managed to win an Oscar and went on to take another 19 wins including a Golden Globe, and it also managed to amass more than 50 nominations.
For those who haven’t seen the film yet there are a few expectations that first need to be set. If you are looking for a biography of Van Gogh’s life you aren’t going to find it here. What this film looks at are the last moments of Vincent’s life and investigating a theory that first came to light in the 2011 biography written by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White which suggested that Van Gogh didn’t shoot himself but was instead shot in a prank by a local bully, René Secrétan, a 16-year old who wore a cowboy costume and carried a pistol.
The beauty of this film is in the visuals. The individual frames which were painstakingly created by hand, all 65,000 of them were painted with oils on canvas in the style that Van Gogh himself used. More than 100-professional artists and exceptional to hear that more than 60% of which were women, had a hand in creating the movie which ultimately produced 853 different oil paintings.
The film was originally created using live actors and then animated with rotoscope, a similar technique to the one we saw on Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, back in 2001. The difference with this film is that real oil paints were used and that makes a difference. Had the film been created using CGI style effects it would have lost some of the rawness that brings you closer to Van Gogh.
Van Gogh is an interesting subject matter, no least that he died just eight years after starting to paint and who only managed to sell one of his works during his lifetime. For the artwork alone this film is a worthy watch and scores a 9/10 from me.
The Price of Everything…
The Price of Everything offers unparalleled access to a number of pivotal artists and the market around them and takes a deep-dive into the world of contemporary art. It also deeply reflects the time we live in where everything can be bought or sold.
Exploring the labyrinth of the contemporary art world, The Price of Everything looks at the art and the passion behind the money-driven art world of today. Featuring artists, dealers, auctioneers, and collectors including the likes of Jeff Koons, the film exposes some deep contradictions as it holds this mirror up. It is equally as fascinating as it is horrifying at times.
Both Koons, and Poons, and others pull no punches. Good art has to be expensive, it is almost a pre-unwritten requisite for art to be taken seriously in the contemporary art market. Opinion is spread between everyone and covers everything, but no point of view expressed by any of the participants is favoured over and above another and that is exactly what makes this film watchable.
I would recommend this especially if you are looking at the contemporary art market and wondering why art goes for astronomically high figures at times, and whether you are a student, artist, or fine art collector, this really should be essential viewing. It scored a healthy 76 on Metacritic but I would definitely say that this is a solid 9/10 and if it’s not streaming right now, rent it.
Blurred Lines Streaming Now
Burred Lines: Inside the Art World…
Somewhat similar in tone to The Price of Everything,Blurred Lines: Inside the Art Worldis another eye opener to those unfamiliar with the concept of millions of dollars changing hands for an art work on a Tuesday evening in the auction room. It is a world that is very different to the world that many working artists of today work in, but there are glimpses of the genius marketing machine behind what frankly can be a world that sometimes appears to be full of hype.
Whereas The Price of Everything was focused on artists..
Each week I write a brand new article for members of our three wonderful art groups on Facebook, The artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, and The Artist Hangout. Last week we took a deep dive into creating video to raise awareness of your art, the week before we looked at some other reasons why your art might not be getting onto the walls of buyers and this week we look at a few more reasons why that might be the case. It seems that one of the reasons might be just a little bit closer to home!
Busy, busy, busy…
If you made a start on creating video after last week’s article you might not have had much time to create new artworks. Don’t worry, this sales season still has plenty of life in it, but speaking with many of my friends in the same business, sales haven’t been at their best for the past few months for many working artists when compared to this time last year. In short, in some areas of the art market, sales seem to have taken a let’s hope only, temporary dip.
That’s not so much the case in the gallery and auction market, the auction rooms are still managing to pull in eye watering prices for artwork costing tens of thousands of dollars, but for most of us working in spaces like print on demand even these recent sales dips can be brutal.
So all the more reason to start getting the eyes back on our art and with the Easter break coming up, lots of people will be spending the time giving their homes a makeover. This is the time of year that you should be doing much more in the way of marketing because the old adage of build it and they will come just doesn’t apply online and I’m sure it always applies to art. Paint it, they still don’t come.
A few weeks ago we took a look at ensuring that your older works don’t get forgotten and whenever you are busy doing the business of art. Your older work can become the fall back so that you always have something to market when you are tied up with preparing for the new sales season ahead or whenever times are slower. This isn’t some complex magical formula for business success, this is business 101 under the chapter entitled riding out the storm. It’s a reason in itself to make sure you have a big portfolio, but also the reason why you should never abandon marketing for the older works either.
Pick any one or a combination of the following scenarios and it’s probably fair to say that if you aren’t selling art right now, at least one or maybe even a few of them will sound familiar.
The sudden sales landscape is glum and no one is buying
You put hours and hours into posting art on social media and rarely if ever see a return
You put hours into creating a piece of art but hardly anyone is interested
Everyone else seems to be making sales therefore I am missing out
You work really hard and never see the reward that you want
And maybe there is a chance that you have stopped believing in your ability, your art, or even in yourself. That can happen whenever there is a dry spell in the market and sometimes even when there isn’t.
The problem of “you…”
Let’s take that last point first because that’s the easiest one to deal with. If you have stopped believing in yourself then no one else is going to buy into you or your work either. You have to move past this one and start to believe in both you and your ability. As for not believing in your art, you obviously believed in it when you started out so something has changed. Sounds easy to say move on, but we all know that moving on can be really hard.
You see, the biggest problem that most artists have, even those who have gone on to be represented by the very best galleries, is often themselves. You believe that everything about you and your work is wrong but that’s not the case at all. Self-belief is really powerful and unless you start to believe in yourself and your art again, then it is going to be a struggle. How do I know this? Well, not from reading any books but from actually being in that exact place more times than I care to remember.
You stop yourself doing things that instinctively and deep down you know that you need to be doing. I should be sending every article I write to the New York Times but I don’t because I don’t have the time. That’s the excuse I always give myself but if I step back for a moment and critically look a little deeper into that response, the reality is that I probably don’t feel like I am ready for what might happen if I did and the New York Times published it, or I am fearful of the rejection if they didn’t.
I am not ready to move to a level of greatness that every writer who gets an article published seems to have foisted upon them, not that, that would likely ever be the case here but that’s the belief because that’s what I have managed to convince myself is the case. I know I hold “me” back when it comes to writing, because I once did the exact same thing with my art before I even contemplated writing a weekly blog.
We stop ourselves from doing great things. Sometimes because we are comfortable with where we are, other times because we really don’t know if we could pull something off. As humans we don’t like to be disappointed and we often have this crippling fear of rejection. We don’t like to step out of our comfort zone, but equally we become frustrated when we can’t quite get to where we need to be. It’s a self-perpetuating spiral that takes a downward momentum.
So that’s the, “you” out of the way but it is going to need some self-focus and objectivity to deal with. Now we can move on and tackle the other stuff and that’s where things get slightly harder.
I am not a mess...
The sudden sales landscape is glum and no one is buying
What you might really mean by this is that no one is buying your work right now and that’s the exact same thought I have had many times before too. I know that many artist friends are finding that sales are slower right now. It is definitely much more difficult to find buyers in the market that most working independent artist’s work at the moment.
It is the time of year when historically sales are often a little slower but even during these times, people do still buy. It is just that there might be fewer people in a buying mood which could be for a million reasons other than you or your art. People’s inaction's should be telling you the story of why they are not buying just as much as their actions tell you why and what they are buying.
In the past month I have sold more work than I have done in the past three to four months, even taking Christmas into account. But this has been a struggle that has taken me out of my comfort zone and has meant that I have had to change the plan and I have had to change it many times.
I made some changes that included simple things that I had been putting off because I hadn’t got the time like updating my print on demand stores so I started to make a real effort to focus some more attention on my other sales channels away from print on demand.
On print on demand, changing the meta data tags on older artwork to something more relevant and up to date than the relevant tags I gave my artwork back in 2014 has helped people to find what they are looking for once again. Changing the layout on print on demand so that newer art is displayed first and updating the store category cover images has given my Zazzle store a new lease of life. Fine Art America introduced new website templates on the Pixels stores, but you do need to spend a little time configuring them.
But so has working out that not everyone is in a higher price buying mood right now. The economy isn’t that great and people especially over here in the UK are holding back because of that Brexit thing. I know this because some of my regular buyers have told me that’s their reason for not buying all sorts of things.
I often speak about finding your people whenever I write an article like this but we often fail to realise either who our people are, or that sometimes our people might even change. They might change their taste in art, their economic situation might have changed, or it might be that the people who were once your people have just moved on to something different.
Realising that your people can and do change is an art in itself, realising that markets are transient is also an art. Let’s as an example say that my people who purchased my art six years ago were mostly female, aged between 34-40 years, those people will have long moved into another age demographic and maybe one that I haven’t tried to reach. The way they purchase art might have changed too, maybe they even gave up on Facebook. Chances are that those people are still there, it’s just that they are not where you are and certainly not where you are targeting your marketing.
So you have to make sure that in any plan you create that you are still reaching your people whenever they transit into new demographic groups. But there are other reasons that will prevent those people from buying your art too and some of those reasons are squarely out of your control. The good news is that some of the reasons are more salvageable than others!
People’s financial circumstances can change just as much as the people do. Sometimes people downsize their homes and have no space for large works, other times they move somewhere bigger and need bigger artworks which usually isn’t a major headache with print on demand but if you only produce 8 x 8s and don’t do prints it becomes more of a problem.
Sometimes people simply find themselves in the position where they can’t afford your work because of financial reasons. Here’s where you need to start having a plan or making some difficult choices. Do you start offering smaller works that are more affordable, do you start creating larger works which might price others out of your market, or do you simply let those clients go? That last question is the most difficult one to answer but sometimes you have to let go so that you can move on.
If you already have a range of price points then you could continue to make sales, if you don’t have multiple entry points then it becomes a choice as to whether you make your work available as smaller works on cheaper materials, or make it available on more affordable products which is relatively easy to do on print on demand, or you need to go smaller. You have to find the compromise.
Will it cheapen your image/brand if you suddenly make your work available on a fridge magnet or will the benefits make up the short fall if you can sell in volume? The issue here is that many artists think that offering alternative products is detrimental to their existing body of work or their image or their brand and that is sometimes true.
But it really depends on what you are selling and who your people are in the first place. If you sell via a gallery then they might not be too impressed with your latest range of bumper stickers, but if you sell in the markets where most working artists sell, it is less of an issue and easier to separate out different strands of your work when you work online.
It also depends on how you sell the idea of something more affordable, you don’t have to skimp on things like presentation and customer service and let’s not forget that today’s bumper sticker buyers might turn out to be tomorrows collectors. You could offer open editions or smaller signed editions at a lower cost point too. This really will be the question that your own market needs to answer, is this what the majority of your current buyers want? You really do have to think about where your people are and you have to listen out for what it is they are asking for.
Now the “you” and the “finding your people” elements in all of this are clearer we can turn to that second problem.
The social media paradox…
· You put hours and hours into posting art on social media and rarely if ever see a return
The answer to this one rests completely in going where your people are. If they’re not on social media then you could be flogging a dead horse quite literally. Having said that, social media is a big place and more than 2-billion people have accounts on Facebook so there is every chance that you are just not hitting the right places on social media or you really aren’t putting the effort into what you are posting so that people find you and connect.
We have looked at building up trust many times so today I won’t labour that point any more, except to say that people rarely hand over cash to strangers and feel comfortable in doing it. You have to make sure that building up trust in you and your brand is a key factor of any social media strategy. The issue is that as humans we tend to be impatient because we have become desensitised online and now we expect immediacy from everything. Art isn’t a quick game, there are no instant results and whenever there appear to be, those results were never instant, they took some work that you didn’t see.
Online, offline, the building of trust and relationships need arguably more effort to be put in when online. Just turning up out of the blue without any introduction would be frowned upon if you were to gate-crash a party in the offline world, yet so many do this online. I say the same thing week after week, engagement really is the only metric that matters in social media but if you take a step back, engagement underpins so much else we do in life too.
Having set up three large Facebook groups and continuing to run them with a team of admins over the past few years, a lot can be learned. As an admin we get to see every post, we know exactly who blocks the admins so that they don’t receive any noise from us, (and we do reserve the right to remove anyone from the groups who does this), but we also get to see the interactions between people, or in some cases the lack of interactions.
A new member joins another group along with the previous thousand groups that they have joined, and then proceeds to spray and pray social posts in the hope that someone will buy their work. As admins we want people to be engaged in the community because we know that when people join in with the community their engagement levels increase, trust and rapport is built, and artwork then gets sold. One of the things I am considering for all three groups is to review those new requests from members who have joined thousands of groups previously because there is no way that anyone who is a member of that many groups can engage or participate even just a little bit and it makes the rest of the group and the committed members of those groups less and less relevant.
It is also about making sure that people are joining the right groups. Eight thousand artists in the same group will probably not be your core buying people. Many of them will be there expecting sales too, and we know from our experience of running these groups that there are relatively few non-artists who buy work regularly within the membership. Artists of course do buy the work of other artists, I have walls filled with the work of independent artists, but they’re probably never going to be the primary market unless you have something to offer that every artist wants.
So think about the “who” your people really are and then take a look around and figure out where they might hang out. Some of my clients for some of my retro 8-bit artwork don’t hang out in artist groups and communities, they hang out in retro video game groups. When you find them, take the time to build relationships. No one ever said selling art was easy, and no one ever said that building relationships was easy either. Both take time, but that time will pay dividends in the longer term if you put the effort in.
A question of time…
Now we can move onto the next issue. You put hours into creating a piece of art but hardly anyone is interested.
Here’s a crazy thought but one that has been scampering around in my head like a mouse in workman’s boots. The art I sell more of is generally the art that takes me the least amount of time to create. I know, that is completely crazy but the sales figures tell me exactly what people are buying and I know that my best selling work ever took me a total of about twenty-minutes to create.
Now I’m not suggesting that you should all only give yourself twenty-minutes to work on a piece of art. I still sell work that has taken between two and three hundred hours, but there could be another reason why the work I create more quickly produces more sales. It could be, and this is only a theory, that when I create lots of work in a short space of time and make it available it gives buyers more choice and makes my art pages and stores more relevant and active.
Now that’s not to say that I can always create a work in such a short space of time, most of my work that takes minutes rather than hours I wouldn’t give away let alone sell, but if you can expand your portfolio and keep artwork flowing into your online stores, there will always be something that is new for the viewer to consider.
I also know that spending two or three hundred hours on a piece is really only a labour of love. In comparison to the number of hours I put in, the outcomes in sales volumes don’t financially justify the investment I made in time. I could charge more for those works than I do, but quantifying an hourly rate when creating art is very difficult.
Some artists are quicker than others, some works can take up months if not years, but whatever you charge you need to be able to justify the cost to your buyers and you need to be careful that you neither price yourself out of the market, or undersell the final work.
It’s important to remember too that smaller pieces don’t always equate to quicker production times. When I paint on canvas I can work much more quickly on larger canvases because small ones need to tell the story in a smaller area. That could mean that more intricate details are needed in smaller works, but when I work on digital works the opposite might be the case.
It really is about finding a balance then making the pricing consistent so it doesn’t confuse the buyer, and some of it is about trying to do things quicker without compromising the quality. That’s a learned skill, but ultimately some works will always take much longer than others and ultimately the buyer still might not get it.
Learn from past mistakes and move on...
Thinking about everyone else…
Everyone else seems to be making sales therefore I am missing out
The question here is are they really? The art market that most working artist’s work within is filled with peaks and troughs so it might be that they have finally found their peaks and you might not hear of any more sales for weeks or months or sometimes even years.
Not every artist will publicise every sale they make, it’s a personal decision but depending on your market, buyers can be swayed positively if they know that others have bought into the idea of buying your art too, and it can sway galleries to take a keener interest in you and your work.
I have peaks and troughs too, my longest trough was almost three-years long so I know how they can demoralise an artist. But equally that trough on reflection was down to me doing the opposite of everything I’m talking about today. I didn’t have a presence, and I put effort into everything other than trying to market and sell the work. I was finding excuses where the only excuse was that I was holding myself back and I hadn’t been doing anything that led me anywhere close to finding my people.
The moral of this is that other artists were doing everything that I wasn’t doing. They were finding their people and not holding themselves back. They were making the effort and I wasn’t, it really was as simple as that.
Many artists run a marketing campaign, see too few or even no results and then they give up or carry on doing everything they did before in exactly the same way but with added vigour meaning that they fail harder and faster each time. Having been there it’s not the best place to be in. You continuously have to find your people and marketing is something that you have to sustain, forever.
It might be that other artists have been doing it longer, have managed to find their people earlier, perhaps their skill set is better or perhaps it is worse. Comparing any artist over another and especially constantly comparing yourself to other artists is just another trap.
Every person is unique, every artist should strive to be even more unique. If you can compare your work and yourself directly with another artist, you might be doing the art thing wrong, which brings us to the final point.
All work, no plan…
You work really hard and never see the reward that you want
In a regular day job that can be a major issue. People get rejected for a promotion no matter..
Each week I write a brand new article for members of our three wonderful art groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, and The Artist hangout. This week we take another in-depth deep dive into the world of creating video to showcase and market our artwork.
For the last few years the world seems to have gone video crazy. In fact there’s a level of video crazy that I don’t recall seeing since the days of Betamax and VHS. Back then of course watching a film meant that you would need to visit a video rental store like Blockbuster and peruse the hundreds of video cassette covers that were neatly placed on the shelves.
If you had Betamax which was thought at the time to be the technically better of the two main systems, you would only have a disappointing selection of videos to choose from compared to VHS and the displays were frequently more chaotic. Perhaps that says something about whoever owned a Betamax, or it could just be that no matter which blockbuster you wanted to borrow, it was only the Betamax section that had it available for rent.
Betamax eventually gave way to VHS. The Beta machines were definitely superior in build quality and performed better in lab tests, but they had poorer sound than VHS and fewer whole product features such as the ability to record at a lower resolution on long play and long record. VHS technology came into the market at a lower price point and the tapes used for VHS were significantly cheaper too. So in a market that was once dominated by Betamax, VHS eventually took over the world.
It was the Netflix versus Prime Video battle of the day, but one of the joys of visiting Blockbuster was that it was often like visiting an art gallery. Film makers wanted their films to stand out on the shelves so the covers had to be eye catching, as did all of the promotional material that went on display every time a new film was released on tape.
A walk around Blockbuster back in the heyday wasn’t like walking around any other store, it was an eye catching festival of marketing, they offered an experience before retail experiences were even a thing and the staff were knowledgeable because they had seen nearly every film, and I really do miss Blockbuster.
Binge watching an entire series meant repeated visits to the rental store and some of those stores would impose restrictions on the number of tapes you could take home at any one time. So your binge watching habit back then had to be stretched over a week, sometimes even a month and if it was many seasons long, it took as long as it would take for you to save up enough money for the rentals. Millennial's have no idea of the struggle back then and this wasn’t that long ago, the last Hollywood movies to come out on VHS were released in 2008. Not too shabby for a technology first released in 1977.
Where will we go in the future? We already have streaming services from Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, and in the UK we also have Sky, and now even Apple are pulling in video services and federating them out via a single app. It seems that everybody wants in on video.
Right now we are seeing the demise of physical video media, in the future there’s a roughly 100% chance that streamed and downloaded video will be the new DVD and Blu-ray. PlayStation Five, I have money on that one not having a disc system at all and the discs that you already own for the previous PlayStation's will be transferred into a service like Apple Music. If you own it, you will still be able to play it regardless of the system you purchased it for as long as you subscribe.
Why do I come to this conclusion? Look at the patents submitted over the past few years from Sony, look at their PlayStation Now service, look at the decimation of high street stores and Sony finally pulling download cards from physical gaming stores. It starts to show the path leading us towards a truly digital future.
Then work out the production costs of physical media, take into account Google Stadia and Apple Arcade along with Sony’s and Microsoft’s online gaming offerings, and then do all the math. My prediction, PS5, disc-less, and with the future looking to 8K to provide the visuals, it makes more sense to stream than it does having to insert multiple discs and at some point in the future, why even bother with a home based console at all. Bandwidth and latency will be the buzzwords over the next few years because 8K will need both of those in spades.
It is truly mind-blowing at just how far we have come with video and a huge leap from the time I started creating video some 34-years ago. So as artists it kind of makes sense to look towards video as another tool in the marketing toolbox. The problem is that most of the videos we see on social media have been cobbled together in five minutes with an app on the phone and the results are nowhere near Hollywood. It’s not that creating video on a phone is bad, I have seen some brilliant stuff but it’s usually because the app of choice to create that video with that is the wrong choice.
Make the right choices
The other gorilla in the room is that video has been getting some bad press on social media when it comes to recording the video Ad metrics. Facebook erroneously gave the wrong metric information so the emergence of video as a go to, must do, was probably a little premature but it is now finding its feet and video is now a go to, must do.
The quality of any video today regardless of how it has been created seems like witchcraft compared to 1977, but this is 2018 and we need to compete with the Netflix’s and Apples of the world if we want eyes on and people to return to your pages and videos. Or, you need something else in place that makes up for the low technical quality of the production.
People generally don’t care that you are only one person with a limited budget and limited video making skills. When it comes to consuming video people have been conditioned to expect high quality visuals or at the very least, a compelling story that makes them want to watch it. Here’s the take-away for today:
We need to use video to reach our markets, but more than that we need to produce high quality video that people want to watch and share, so we need to up our game and have a great visual story to tell and at that point it matters slightly less about the technical quality.
The problem here though is not only the limited budgets we have to produce video, but also the limited time we have to create good video that people want to watch. Creating good video is an art form in itself and it needs the technology to build it in place. The issue here though isn’t just the technology that you need, it is the skill-set required to make compelling and quality video and the time it takes to produce it and then edit it.
Take a visit to the Newbie Film School website which you can find right here, and you will see just how much professional video creation costs. An average short film costs between, $700 to $1500 per minute but if the story demands a significant production those costs increase to $25000 per minute. This should give you an initial idea about what is potentially involved in producing video.
Those figures are mind-blowing and for the amateur filmmaker/professional visual artist, way out of reach to produce a short work in progress video or even a video showing your latest release. Thankfully you still have plenty of options and those options are exactly what we will be taking a look at today.
What you need…
If you can’t afford to hire professional film makers to create your video and few of us can, you’re not on your own. As artists we hate the phrase “please can you create it for free and I promise that you will get great exposure,”and a lot of good video producers hear that phrase a lot too. So you either have to bite the bullet and pay or you need to start learning the skills to create something that is good enough to present on your own.
Producing video on your own is easy, producing great video on your own is really hard. Producing great video on your own with hardly any budget, even harder. If the video is covered in the watermark of the app you used to produce it because you didn’t pay the dollar or so for the in-app-purchase to remove it, it will detract from the video and cheapen your image. Small details like this can really hinder perceptions.
If the production is poorly constructed people will lose interest within the first few seconds and they will switch off. Besides the visuals though there is a secret to keeping a viewer engaged even if the quality of the film isn’t very good, and that secret is that you need a compelling story.
As for the equipment, well I can tell you from my own experience that professional filming equipment doesn’t come cheap and you have to know how to use it. Video is something I have been doing since I was about 16-years old when I took a job selling high end video and audio equipment to get me through my studies. Instead of saving up for my studies though I invested in a video camera which delayed the studies I wanted to undertake for a couple of years. But that’s another story for one of those one day I will write about it blogs.
The expense of the equipment and the skills needed in video creation are the two reasons why professional productions have entire crews and whenever you start talking about entire crews you start racking up the costs. Chances are unless you collaborate with other artists, that you will be doing a lot of what you do on your own and with very little budget if any at all so there has to be a compromise and it might help to consider collaboration.
It is entirely possible to shoot a good quality film these days with a most modern smartphones, but compare the output to something produced on a high end specialist film camera and you will notice a huge difference in the quality. You have to be smart with your choices and even renting a high end video camera and the equipment can be eye-wateringly expensive and you still need to know exactly how to use it. So compromises have to be made with the knowledge that a good visual story is something you need either way.
So how do you get great results without the cost? Well, you have to be smart with your choices and you need to have at least some idea of how you want the end result to look. Once you have an idea, you might then have to temper down expectations because your smart-phones camera isn’t going to compete with dedicated film cameras. But if that’s all you have then you need to look at the range of editing apps available and maybe invest a little in purchasing the right application.
Here’s where you have some tech choices to make if you are planning to make a purchase. Let’s assume that a high-end dedicated camera is out of reach, where do you even start because so many cameras and smart phones can do video so well these days.
Ideally you want something that is not only affordable, but will give you some help along the way and which doesn’t cost the GDP of a large country. You also want something that is portable enough to carry around and this is where the pro-level cameras that have been made for the job start to fall down, they’re all so big and expensive, I mean like really expensive.
My go to every day equipment is an iPhone and an iPad Pro (2018), GoPro and a Panasonic Lumix camera, and all of them have the ability to shoot very good video in 4K without any significant issues. I’ve used this combination professionally in the past too and have just traded up my older Panasonic camera to one of the newer models, you probably won’t have to go that far but this was essential because I do a lot of work with video.
I still own some high end equipment but now the technology has moved on and some of that more expensive equipment is showing its age. At some point the new Go Pro Hero 7 will be on my list because that little action camera has some seriously great stabilization features meaning that you can do away with having to buy a gimbal which if you have never purchased a decent gimbal makes the Hero 7 a real bargain.
If you are thinking of buying a new camera to get yourself started you will probably be looking for something that not only shoots great quality video but also something that can take great shots of your artwork. This is where you need to take a cautious approach or it could end up costing you money you don’t need to spend and compromising quality. There are pitfalls with some cameras. Many of them will be sold on the basis of having lots of features but some of those features are often really just gimmicks or have only limited use.
An example of a sort of hybrid useful feature/gimmick is 4K photo and this is something you will see a lot of across various manufacturers. But the thing is, that while 4K photo sounds exceptional and a must have, in reality it is an 8-Megapixel photo which is probably lower than the number of pixels your smartphone camera already has. The difference though is that 4K photo is really 4K video but the end result is that you can have a 4K photograph with clarity.
It’s a form of burst shooting capturing images at 30-frames every second, which gives you some impressive results and allows you to freeze frame on the best millisecond of footage and generate that as a 4K photo, albeit still an 8-Megapixel image. Great if you are producing stills for use online or for on-screen display or action shots, not so great if you intend to crop it or use it as a source image in a final printed product or you just want to take a high quality shot of work in progress.
However, you also have to look at things like the size of the camera sensor. The sensor on your phone camera is likely to be much smaller than the sensor on a dedicated camera. When it comes to megapixels it doesn’t mean that bigger is always better. Again this is where manufacturers can be a little over optimistic in what they advertise and whilst a high number of megapixels can be a sign of a great camera you really have to understand how the images are made up.
Compare a 16-Megapixel phone camera to a dedicated camera with just 12-Megapixels and the differences can be shocking, but not in the way that you think. The phone is more likely to have a much smaller sensor than the dedicated camera and might have much smaller pixels. The smaller the pixel the more susceptible to noise and the poorer the image quality.
The other thing you need to take into account is just how much storage you have on your phone, the higher the number of pixels, the more storage you need and with most phones you won’t be able to just insert a bigger memory card to fill it with photos.
Apple have gone some way to address this by introducing a different file format which saves photos in the HEIF format for photos and the HEVC (H.265) format for video so you will be able to store more in less space, but some manufacturers still save their photos as jpeg’s and this isn’t the best option for saving photos. A dedicated camera on the other hand will probably allow you to take RAW images which are much easier to edit because they capture all of the image data when they capture the photo.
I will leave the nuances and the benefits of RAW versus JPEG for another article but here’s a thought. You could go for a slightly older version of your next high-end smartphone and the difference could be enough to buy a reasonable point and shoot camera with a much bigger sensor than the one that’s on the latest phone model and a point and shoot which is also able to produce good quality 4K video and shoot in RAW. Certainly something that’s worth considering because it is true when they say that the best camera to own is always the one you have with you.
spice up your video!
Once you have chosen your equipment it’s time to shoot some footage. Remember when I said that you needed a compelling story to make up the shortfall of not being a professional film maker? Even professional film makers can focus too much on the footage rather than the story but good professional film makers will create a story board and do both.
The benefit of doing this is that creating a story board will give you a much clearer idea around the kind of footage that will work in your video project. That footage could be a tour of your studio or a view of your process as you create your next masterpiece, and the story board might start off with the tour before moving on to the creation. The story board allows you to think about the order of footage that displays as the story plays out.
The best videos never just happen, they’re usually a combination of planning and preparation and they always have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
One of the things that I do all of the time is shoot reference images to give me inspiration for future artwork but something else that I do a lot is to shoot random bits of video too. My daughter is studying animal welfare and she gets up close to a lot of endangered animal species. Now she’s in the habit of making sure she films the really interesting practical aspects of her studies and then builds up a library of footage. I do the same but with much less interesting topics but none the less, this footage can still be very useful.
These short clips are ideal to use as B-Roll footage. B-roll footage is essentially any footage that isn’t part of your primary subject. So background shots, fillers, a walk down the street, it doesn’t matter what your library of B-roll footage is because at some point you will find a project to use it in.
Some video creators shoot nothing but B-roll footage and then sell it online as stock footage and this is something I have had a measure of success with doing in the past and even to this day I still sell some of my older footage. Some days I might just go for a walk and capture something that someone else wants to use in their production. It’s a great little side industry and it can be profitable too given how much good stock video footage costs.
I will write another article on the art of shooting good B-roll footage in a future article and I will cover aspects such as the lighting and the rule of thirds because those rules apply just as much with video as they do art. Today though we will focus on getting you up and running to create your first near pro-level film.
You now have the equipment and you finally have some footage, but a film without music is just another clip. This is where the real problems start. Social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube have policies in place which mean that you can’t add professionally produced music or the sounds from a copyrighted source, and the algorithms detect known pieces of music and automatically remove the audio.
Just as we visual artists don’t like people who steal our art, sound producers and musicians don’t like you stealing their music and as we’re all creatives, we should be sticking together and supporting each other regardless of the creative sector we are in.
But this does make the inclusion of sound problematic so we have to look towards Open Source sound effects and music. Facebook have an entire library in the Facebook sound collection when you sing up for free as a creator in the Facebook Creator Studio. You can do that right here.
The alternative is that you think about creating your own and honestly, that’s not always as difficult as you would first think. Now you are probably never going to be the next Mozart or Jay Z if you are anything like me, but that shouldn’t stop you from creating something that adds at least some audible interest.
Given that for a number of years I DJ’d back in the days when I was much younger, I like to think that I at least have an ear for tonality, others who have listened to me sing in the shower will strongly disagree. I definitely can’t sing despite having to stand in for a lead singer in a friend’s band for one night many years ago, but the clue here was that it was just one night, two songs, and then we felt that having no vocals at all would be the better call for us and the audience.
One of the musical things I was once able to do was to bang out a tune on the piano. All of those piano lessons I had when I was a child must have rubbed off somewhere but I’m certainly not a professional when it comes to tapping the ivories. I can play chopsticks like a pro, I can even play the theme to the Pink Panther. I can play some simple tunes by ear because I can’t read music, the problem is that I no longer own a piano. I do however own an iPad Pro and a Mac Book and every Apple device comes with a software package called Garage Band, even the iPhone comes with this pre-installed.
If you’re not into creating music Garage Band is a package that is often ignored or only played with occasionally as it comes pre-installed on new Apple devices. But take some time out to learn how to use it and you will find that it becomes relatively easy to knock something out that sounds better than some of the stock soundtracks that everyone else is also using.