Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Trust & Asking

If you haven't seen this TED talk by Amanda Palmer, you absolutely must. Okay, you don't have to but I swear, your missing something if you don't.  Especially if you're an artist because she plays with the concept of how an artist makes a living. By happenstance and personal awareness Amanda fell into a relationship of "trust" and "asking" with her audience.  She found that the people who loved her music were willing to support her in a monetary way, especially when her record label cut her for selling the small sum of 25,000 records.  So now she gives away her music and asks people to support her, 2 separate acts, instead of the one that we usually associate with making a living in the arts: you buy something and pay for it.  She's raised a million bucks this way!  Awesome, yes?

But that got me thinking about visual art and if somehow her brilliant paradigm could translate into offering visual art to audiences in the same way?  So I'm tossing this question out into the stratosphere.  Is there a way this might work for visual art?  What are your thoughts on the subject?  Really, I want to know.  Because I love this idea.

First my little mind goes, well there's the material and the shipping.  But you know Amanda Palmer had to invest a huge wack of money to record her music, and then there's the hours of creation that went into it. It's a big leap, believing in yourself and trusting that others will also believe in you enough that you can continue to do your creative work.

I love the idea of doing something that goes against how our consumer culture is structured.  I love the idea of trusting people.  I love the idea of connection with our audience, whatever the medium.  I love the idea of feeling that people support each other.  Is that fairy tale stuff, people?  Am I related to Peter Pan or some other ethereal character with wings?? Or perhaps that's Polyanna leaning over my left shoulder?

Journey 6"x6" on etsy

There is  a lovely young man who does some heavier work for us around our property and when we first met him we asked what do you charge.  He said, well you pay what you think it's worth.  And you know, we probably always pay more than the going hourly rate.  And we think fondly of him, we think of him as generous and trustworthy.  We know that we are supporting him and his family and it makes us feel good at the end of the day when we hand over a little pile of bills!  We never imagine that he isn't working hard enough or that he's adding in a little time here and there, or that we aren't getting our money's worth.  It's weird, but then so is the way our minds work.  There is something about this "trust" that makes us all feel good and empowered.

oil, cold wax on paper, 8"x10" on etsy
So my mind is turning these things over, sifting through the ideas, following the threads of each loosely woven thought.  There is something about these ideas that carry the scent of the new economy on the breeze. The potential for change, for growth and evolution make me feel excited and hopeful. There is a spiritual aspect to this way of exchanging creative life for monetary support; one that embodies faith, trust and connection.  Am I crazy?  Is this possible?  And if so how do we express it?  Where do we pick up the thread?

I am working on it and if I wake up with any fully hatched brilliance I will let you know.  Last night I woke up from a dream where I'd been bitten by a small copper coloured reptile.  But that's another story.  I'll save it for next time.


  1. hi, i found you via art propelled, always fab ;) anyway, amanda palmer's kickstarter approach has inspired me to try and fund my next exhibition the same way:
    so, keep mulling! and have you heard her husband neil gaiman's making art graduation address? they are sooo inspiring and generous and community building....
    all good wishes,
    singing bird

    1. hello singing bird! yes you are so right, art propelled ever fab! and I discovered Neil Gaiman a couple of years ago through his wonderful new year's message and follow him on tumblr. I did hear that speech but probably need to hear it again. thanks for the nudge!

      yes, especially after seeing Amanda I get this sense of generosity and community from them both.

      going right now to check out your project, you clever bird! good wishes to you too!

    2. Thanks for this Amanda piece...thought provoking!
      I think there can be many choices on how to live and work and the whole money thing.
      The Netherlands seems to have a respectful attitude towards artists...maybe we need patrons without opinions
      or demands?! I continue to live in my small world with the occasional sale...mostly by happenstance.

    3. Glad you enjoyed it. It's true there are many variations and I think there are getting to be more with the connections people can make and build online.

  2. How much something is worth is always in the eye of the beholder when it comes to paying, and in the eye of the creator in the making. I find these are generally pretty far apart.

    As a consultant, I learned that if I continually gave a perspective client a break in my price in the hopes of forging an on-going relationship, it never worked because when they had money they went to the higher priced person and only thought of me for small jobs. A lot of that having to do with the ego of being able to afford the big consultant with the big price tag. A friend of mine in the same role advised me, "Don't train the monkey in a way you don't want it to behave." And, I learned that what I was really learning was to stand strong in my worth and value which is hard for most of us.

    And still, when it comes to paying what something is worth, if a financially poor individual was willing to pay all that they could for a piece of your art, would it be less or more gratifying to you as the artist, compared to what a rich person could casually spend?

    1. The human mind is an interesting thing, yes, the price and valuing there has been lots said about that. I have mixed feelings about it. And what people can afford, it's all relative isn't it. And the art world! People in the thick of big art marketing having awful stories to tell about pricing. But what is money but an exchange of goods and services for energy. Perhaps we have to find the place we are comfortable with and then just let the rest of it go. And then there is the "how to" of creative marketing. Perhaps that's where my real interest lies.

  3. My first visit to your blog and here are 2 of my thoughts & questions:
    Buddhist monks & nuns go out with their bowls, collecting their meal. There is the trust that the community will not let them go hungry, nor does there seem to be any sense that these monks & nuns are mooching off the community. What is it about that relationship that makes that work?

    How often are we asked "how much time did it take you", I feel that this question comes from trying to decide if I'm asking too much for a piece, or least that's how it usually feels to me from the tone. Perhaps I could put how many hours a piece took to design, prepare, weave & finish instead of a price, then ask the person to pay what they feel is the worth. It would be an interesting experiment!

  4. welcome Liese! what a great observation about monks and nuns. I know westerners that have gone out on alms rounds and especially at first found it difficult. And I think with this at least one of the aspects that works is that it makes us feel good to be generous. I know this was certainly the case with the fellow who did work for us and said pay what you can.

    It would be interesting to try it in some way and see the response. Perhaps you need to have the face to face contact?? Perhaps it wouldn't work online? (And yet it did for Amanda Palmer). Perhaps you need to be famous (after all we are a culture that idolizes celebrities and that's what indicates worth?)

    I chuckled when you said how many hours we put into it! Goodness I'd be embarrassed to tell how many long hours I spend on things! You mean it took you that long, to do that????

    Some wonderful thoughts here in your comment. And I am still chewing on how the idea might feel okay to me. Certainly I get to look at how much trust is inside me! Thanks for making me think some more.

  5. This post (and now reading the comments) has given me much food for thought. The business side of art ties me up in knots and makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. Feeling resistance as I type :-)
    I think if someone suggested I pay what I think something is worth, it would make me uncomfortable for fear of insulting the artist.