All products and services fall into one of two categories: those we want and those we need.
Understanding this seems fairly basic. Where we as artists fall into that statement is more complex. There are some artists that would claim they make Art, not a product. Whatever! Whoever says that isn’t making Art because they need to, but because making Art is something they want to do. They most likely have no need to run an art business because they are independently wealthy. The rest of us who want to make money as an artist and who know that they need to run their career like a business have to realize that they’re making a product.
The problem comes in when we realize that art is a product only a few need. No one is going to die because a painting isn’t on his wall or a sculpture on his table. Hard as it is for me to believe, there are even people in this world who don’t read books on a daily basis. We make a product that people have to want.
Take heart. Dan Miller says that you can make money selling things people need, but you can make a fortune selling things people want.
The lines of want and need do become blurred if you’re a freelance artist, like an illustrator, graphic designer, writer, etc. Here a client comes to you with a need or something they want done and hire you to fulfill it. Another example of this would be a commission for a client. This is a situation of where you create a product for someone else.
The alternative is making a product for yourself, then finding a market for it. For artists doing art shows and fairs, this is the situation. The art comes first, then the selling.
You need to decide which category you fall into. When I was growing up I hated being told what to read and write by my teachers. Okay, so I still did all my assignments like a goodie-two-shoes, but I still didn’t like being forced to do things. Over the years I’ve come to a good understanding of who I am as a person. I know that I’d have a hard time being a freelancer trying to satisfy a client when I like directing my own work. I’m also an introvert — a condition I’m working on! Chasing down assignments wouldn’t be for me. In this day and age of websites and artist reps, this last item is something that would be easy to overcome if I chose to. Instead I’d rather let my art come from that well deep inside me, surprise me, and come to reality under its own call rather than a clients’.
It’s important for you to know where the heart of your work lies. It will also help you find your audience because then you’ll know if you’re making a product first, or making a connection first.