Thursday, July 14, 2011

Business Plans

It's popular now for emerging artists to have business plans.

I think it is important for a beginning artist to not have a business plan. For the first few years out of art school, or the equivalent if self taught, the artist needs to be concentrating on her art practice and, as far as the business end of it goes, learning what's out there -- going to galleries, juried shows, other venues. A sort of post graduate course if you will.

When the time comes to enter the market, a business plan is often a good idea. But the main advantage of making one is thinking through the possibilities and working out which seem most suitable for your particular type of work and personality. The document should never be the goal; it should be the result of working out which plans of action seem best, at least for now.

It's important to get as much feedback on the plan as you can. People may come up with objections or cautions or courses of action with things you hadn't thought of. And keep in mind, that every criticism is simply data; it's what you do with it that counts. A negative comment may make you re-examine an idea or belief but ultimately cause you to be even more firm that it would be the right thing to do.

The odds are that as you get more information, as various things happen, as you carry out your plan, you'll have to change it. There's a character in Joseph Heller's "We Bombed New Haven" who says something like, "Things never turn out the way they were planned." The guy to whom he is speaking says, "That's really cynical." To which he replies, "No, I didn't say they turn out worse, only different. Sometimes better, sometimes worse."

Virtually every business that stays successful makes changes, sometimes radically so. Shell Oil, for instance, was originally a shipping company. They got stuck with a couple of tankers full of oil the intended recipients couldn't pay for, so they sold off the oil and discovered selling oil was more profitable than simply transporting it.

I forget their name now, but the biggest computer company in the UK for a long time started out as a pie company. In the early days of mainframe computers, they needed a program to keep track of all their orders and deliveries. One didn't exist, so they started building one. Soon, no more pie, but maybe pi.

The goal of a business is to make the biggest profit it can for as long as it wants to, while avoiding those things that would get it in trouble with the law or the taxman.

The goal of the artist, however, is to keep painting. And the reason for painting is not to produce paintings but to make the discoveries that end up in the paintings. And here we get into a realm too difficult to articulate in a few words, but you know what I mean.

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