I met a fellow painter not so long ago. She wants to sell more art. Yeah, we all want that. She thinks the answer is Instagram. Okay. Do that then. She did, but her art didn't sell even though her art is good enough to be marketable. I got to know this woman a bit more and recognized she lacks empathy. The only thing she cares about her customers is that they give her money for painting whatever she wants to paint. She talks non-stop about herself. She's taxing to be around so I quit talking with her. I'm pretty sure her customers feel the same way and don't like being treated like ATMs.
Art is a collaboration between the artist and the viewer. If you want money from someone (in any field), you have to give them something they want in return. You need to be empathetic to what their wants might be, not just to manipulate them into one-time purchases, but to honestly care about what they want to build relationships.
Maybe they want cat art because they like cats. Maybe they want to feel like they're part of the creative process and their support is a contribution that makes them feel good about themselves. Maybe they want to be friends with the artist. There are loads of reasons for people to buy art that doesn't have anything to do with what's on the canvas. We need to figure out what customers are actually seeking and match efforts to the buyer. If you create only to suit yourself, then don't be surprised nobody is buying it.
I've been having art flashbacks since visiting the National Gallery in Washington, marveling at the technical skills of the masters, but also trying to define the magic they captured. In contrast, I've thought about people online. Most show the world their ideal selves, not the sweat pants torn t-shirt version of themselves eating ice cream. Some people relentlessly put all their insecurities and vulnerabilities out there. It's too much either way. I've got my own problems. Don't dump your perfection or garbage on me. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy when other people are happy. I'm sad when others live hard times. It's just that there has to be some balance and honesty in our relationship.
Rembrandt was hugely successful and made tons of money when he was young. He lost it all and died poor. Somewhere in the course of his mistakes and tragedies he learned humility. His honesty comes across in his later work. His self portrait is vulnerable. He was certainly capable of painting himself in Photoshopped Facebook perfection, but he painted himself with flaws. My heart aches for him across the centuries.
Rembrandt is speaking to his viewers. He trusted them with his truth because he had the empathy to know others wanted to see that honesty. That takes bravery, and I think all the masters share that kind of trust and courage. I think we're missing that today, or maybe it was rare even in Rembrandt's day?
Many people can learn to paint well (or write, program, or whatever). Technical mastery is a skill. Put in enough time and effort and you'll master just about anything you aim to do. Getting someone else to care about your mastery requires more. You have to have the courage to let people see your flaws for them to actually care about you and what you do. Relationships and money follow truth.
The above art is from my current painting. I'll admit it was an itchy, difficult effort to paint a negative. I took a photo and reversed it to see how well I'd done it. I'm rather pleased at the results considering the faces are only 1/2" high on rough canvas, and I'm also pleased at the imperfections since it's of my wedding photo. My ex looks like a zombie and that seems appropriate. I've made mistakes. I kind of like seeing that reflected in the art :)