Curiosity is Currency

Truchas Sleeps Under a Soft Winter Blanket oil on linen 16” x 20” by Jack McGowan

Fast Company magazine targets technology businesses, innovation, and marketing in fast-paced environments They got their start in the mid-90s by chronicling new rules of business. In the October 2020 issue, they updated those new rules to reflect business today. It may come as a surprise to artists, but it seems that the first three of these new rules could have been copied from the artist playbook. These rules have to do with democracy: the recommendation that businesses speak out about issues that are important to their communities and their countries—something that artists have always done. They further recommend understanding your purpose and being authentic, and artists do both of these well.

The most exciting new rules are: Curiosity is Currency and Change is Constant. Curiosity is Currency speaks to me in a powerful way. Genpac CEO Tyger Tyagarajan coined this phrase, and says it’s about creativity and inquisitiveness. Curiosity is a hallmark of being an artist, but his version of the concept goes even further by distinguishing between education and learning. Education is about imparting knowledge and skills, while learning is about understanding how to assimilate, adapt, and apply that knowledge. In my mind, The Foundationamentals of learning to paint begin with knowledge, but the critical evolution of developing a personal artistic style in the images you create requires applying that knowledge—a process called “learning.” In fact, I believe a passion for lifelong learning is critical to success in any endeavor, because it is a continuous process. But beyond applying curiosity to the pursuit of excellence in our craft, it is also essential to embrace this idea when developing a business model that takes our work to a wider audience, and finds collectors who want to own our work.

This is a great segue to the next Fast Company New Rule; Change is Constant. There could be no more poignant backdrop for discussing change in the art business than this time of COVID-19. The idea of developing an art-business plan that can adapt to rapidly-changing conditions means that we can’t simply rely on business as usual. Anecdotal data today shows galleries in freefall and many traditional sources of income such as competitions, exhibitions, teaching workshops are either unavailable, pivoting to new platforms, or severely limited. In spite of all that however, the cardinal rule of business is to plan, regroup and invest during the market down cycle if you want to come out stronger on the other side. It is key to rethink our entire approach to the business side of our art, and embrace new ways to sell our work.

The Fast Company article quotes the CEO of Vail Resorts, who said that those who are successful are those who can let go of something they have been doing for a long time. To embrace change, like the economic aftermath of Covid, it’s critical for any artist right now to rethink not just how to generate income, but also how to build your brand. Since galleries are not considered essential services in many states, artists need to redouble efforts to build robust e-commerce strategies with regular email blasts, newsletters, and blogs, as well as online advertising. In some markets, print ads are an important element of brand-building during this time too. It is also important to make sure that your website builder and host offers e-commerce features—or if you’re building your own site, that you’re using a plugin like Shopify, Ecwid, WooCommerce etc.—that allow you to price, sell, and collect funds, before you pack and ship the painting. Many artists are also having success with “snail mail” campaigns, because many collectors are not active online. The key here is that there are many collectors who are still actively buying art, for a host of reasons. So any way to get your images in front of those collectors and have an easy, secure way for them to make a purchase can make all the difference in surviving this challenging economic time.

A great way to immerse yourself in the process of leveraging your curiosity and adapting to change is to learn with CHF! The CHF Digital Campus is a library of on-demand art-business courses, or stop by in real-time for CHF’s free monthly Thriving TuesdaysTM on Facebook Live: the next one is Tuesday, January 5th 2:00 PM EST “Build & Grow Your Email List.”

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Jack McGowan
Jack McGowan is a Plein Air oil painter, writer, and CHF Advisory Board Member living in Santa Fe and Cuchara, Colorado. He is a member of Oil Painters of America, Plein Air Painters of New Mexico, and Plein Air Artists of Colorado. Jack’s editorial features include: Featured Artist on Artsy Shark, “Artist of Note” in Southwest Art Magazine Nov 2020, and an article on Plein Air painting in the Oct 2019 Santafean Magazine. Gallery Representation: Santa Fe Art Collector.

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