September 9, 2010

I’m sitting here in a waiting room and I overheard a conversation that anecdotally confirms something I’ve felt for a long time.

A couple sitting a few chairs down from me was talking about a woman they know who wanted to start a small business out of her home. It involved a device for braiding corn-rows into people’s hair and she wanted to do things right, so she went to the government to license and register her business.

Instead of being encouraged for her creative innovation and being granted her license to add value to her life and the flagging economy; she was told she could not register and legally run her business without a cosmetology degree.

This is a pervasive and damning problem. The systems that exist throughout our society stifle people’s willingness to take a risk with an idea, instead of encouraging it.

The American economy runs on the backs of small business owners and these are the creative and innovative people who need systems in place to encourage ideas and creativity to add value to their lives and the economy in turn.

Look at the founders of our country. Innovators, artists, writers, thinkers and tinkerers. They thrived, grew and exploded in an environment that valued these qualities and let them flourish.

I have felt for some time that as a whole society does not value what I have to offer, and when I say, “I”, I mean creatives, idea makers, artists and innovators. We say we do, as a society, but follow the money and you can see what we as a society truly value.

Spyros Heniadis

The Art of [not] Getting Things Done

April 5, 2010
Man, I fail spectacularly.

I keep trying, and trying and trying to come up with a way to keep myself organized and on track and getting the things done that I need to get done.

But I just suck at it.

I’ve been a bad blogger for Portal Wisconsin, I haven’t posted a thing since December. (I’m really sorry Tammy!)

I’ve also failed to follow through (up to this point at least) on the ideas I laid out here on the blog for my website and attempts to drum up some income from my artwork. (I do still plan to implement these ideas, it’s just going to take longer than anybody probably expected!)

I am good at a couple of things, I’m good at tweeting, I’m damn good at tweeting!

I’m also good at two projects that I set out for myself. The first is my daily self-portrait project, which I started November 16th, 2009 and have faithfully and dutifully and gleefully held to for 138 days and counting.

I started a daily drawing January 4th 2010, and have also faithfully and joyfullly held to for 77 days and counting.

One of the main reasons I’ve been so successful at the daily portraits and drawings, has been the support and encouragement of my friends and the community on twitter. That gives me the kernel of an idea of something that might help keep me more on track than I have been in the past.

It also lets me know that this cause, this idea of me accomplishing things predictably, consistently and effectively isn’t an (entirely) lost cause.

I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet. I keep trying, and I’m going to try yet again, starting today.

Here’s hoping I can craft a system that I can stick to!

(Here are the links if you are interested in either of my daily projects: Self Portraits, Daily Drawing)

Spyros Heniadis

What I learned from John T Unger today

November 5, 2009

Just got off a conference call with John T Unger hosted by Alyson B. Stanfield of artbizcoach.com.

It’s amazing what you can learn in a half hour of listening. As I mentioned in my other post I think about copyright often, and while I’ve never had an issue with it, today I learned some very important things that artists should be aware of.

Full disclaimer, I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. Consult your attorney if you have questions regarding copyright law.

1. There are several layers of copyright documentation. The only one that allows you to take your case to federal court (copyright law is federal law) is to document your claims by filing for copyright with the copyright office.

You have a copyright claim by virtue of creating an original work, and placing a notification on the work helps a little, but without that documentation you limit your legal options to protect your work.

2. Filing for copyright is not that expensive. You can file for copyrights online at copyright.gov, and a basic copyright filing costs $35 (source: copyright.gov/eco) if done online. You can also file for copyrights of collections, so you don’t have to file a copyright for every piece of work you’ve created. If filing for copyright of a collection, all works in the collection must have the same publication date.

3. Document, document, document. Here’s an area where I fail. The better the documentation you have on your website, and of your work in general, the better recourse you’ll have if you need to act to protect your copyrights. So if you have a website, make sure images of your work are accompanied by title, date, size, medium and if it’s for sale, put a price on it! (Full disclosure, I don’t do this at all, a situation I plan to remedy very soon!)

4. Somebody can sue to remove your copyright (This is part of what John T Unger is dealing with). I had no idea this was possible, but it is, and this is possibly worse than dealing with an infringement issue. A suit to remove your copyright claim could result in revocation of your ownership of your work, stripping you of all rights and protections over it.

5. If you get sued to have your copyrights removed, you better show up in court. If you don’t default judgement goes to the plaintiff and you lose.

Like Martina said the other day in the comments, it’s really not worth agonizing over copyright, and when I think about it myself it’s usually an internal conversation about the merits of standard copyright versus the creative commons licensing model. What is worth doing however is taking some basic steps to protect the rights you have to your intellectual property.

If you are interested in listening to the call yourself it should be available on the artbizblog blog tomorrow. You can read more about John T Unger’s copyright battle at johntunger.com

Copyright and the art of ripping someone off

October 30, 2009

I think about copyright a lot, as I’m sure many artists do. I’ve debated with myself about just how I want to handle copyright and licesing of my work. I’ve stuck mostly to the traditional flat copyright model, although I have toyed with the ideas that Larry Lessig birthed with the creation of the creative commons.

Lately there’s been a firestorm of activity on the internet that’s put this back in the front of my mind. Through Twitter I heard about John T. Unger. He’s a sculptor that creates these really nice artesian fire bowls, and in an odd twist of fate, Unger is being sued by the company that is ripping off his designs. The suit claims that Unger doesn’t have the right to copyright his firebowls.

ungerbowlImage from johntunger.comfirepit

Image from firepitart.com

It seems rather an amusing and stupid lawsuit when you consider the copyrights Unger filed for his designs and the documentation of said copyrights. Despite the seemig frivolity, Unger has already spent $50,000 out of pocket defending his designs.  That’s a lot of money, and when he got tapped out, he did what other enterprising types do. He took his case to the internet and has received overwhelming support (full disclosure, I participated in his Kickstart fund raiser and got myself a black fire imp.)

I’m not going to re-hash too much of it here, since you can read about it on The Consumerist, or just Google John T. Unger, I’m sure the hits will be numerous.

Instead now I want to mention something else I learned about on Twitter, which was the piracy of Wil Wheaton’s recent audiobook “Just a Geek” which was released and promptly offered for free download on some pirate website. The sweet irony of it was the website offering the free-illegal-download of the audiobook, was also making pleas to site visitors to click on sponsor ads to help HIM the audiobook-pirating-theif make money.

I think about all of this and I hope that when I start putting some of my work up available for download, images, e-books, and whatever else I come up with as this project evolves, I wonder what my first encounter with piracy will be and how I’ll react to it and handle it.

I’m nearing the point where I can deploy my website redesign, and the first stage will include free high resolution downloads of images. I’ve decided to release images downloaded this way under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

It’s a mouthful, I know, but I’m hoping that the larger part of my audience will respect the license and if people start using my work for commercial purposes or creation of derivative works, perhaps it will help me focus my market appeal.

Despite my copyright concerns I’m very excited about this new direction and I know it won’t lead to an immediate flood of interest or income related to my work but I’m hoping that this is a good foundation for me to build on.

Which reminds me, my new website is live, and while this is only stage one, without any of the media offerings I talked about before, I’ve put together the framework to build it on. The next step is going to be gathering my catalog of images I’ll be offering as free downloads and setting up the download gallery. If you want to check it out I’m at www.marinatingthemind.com.

–Spyros Heniadis

Surviving and Thriving as an Artist III, or “A continuation of the discussion with Tina”

September 8, 2009

Oh, this is an exciting and stimulating intra-blog conversation! I love it!

Tina, don’t feel bad for using me as an example, in fact I’m glad you highlighted this particular viewpoint, it’s a perfect dovetail into Labor day!

I should also state that I want to sell my work, in such a way that the equation I highlighted in my other post results in X equaling a year or two per sale!

However with that being said I can’t change the latent manifestation of guilt when I’m making a sale of my work to an enthusiastic admirer and fan. There is a deeply ingrained part of me that feels something this wonderful shouldn’t require an exchange of monetary value, that same part of me really just wants to share what I’ve created.

But let’s face it, I live in the real world, and as we artists are wont to say at times, “I have a real job.” (A particularly useless and stupid phrase in my opinion.) Which is to say that I have an alternative revenue stream, it’s just not the most ideal revenue stream in terms of allowing me the time and freedom to pursue my artwork unfettered.

And I think that’s the really salient point I was trying to make, which Tina highlighted beautifully in referencing the way creativity manifests itself in so many facets of life and work. You could ask many of those factory or other workers how they express their creativity and they may look at you a little funny because when you start talking about art and creativity to large swaths of the populace they immediately assume you only mean things like drawing, painting, music, etc…

Despite the depth and breadth of the creativity they unconsciously express they don’t think of themselves as creative.

Now before people start jumping all over me for accusing the masses of being mindless cogs, I’m painting broad strokes here, and I’ve worked in factories and other settings and experienced this firsthand. Trot out the words creativity or art(istic) in a setting that doesn’t overtly champion it and people will largely claim to be uncreative and unable to draw a straight line.

But I digress again, because when we do recognize that creativity within ourselves and embrace it as part of the fabric of our lives, we start to pursue it for the joy of it and it quickly becomes something we have to do and want to do whenever and however long we want. That’s what I mean by pursuing our creativity unfettered. Speaking for myself, I just want to be able to do it and not have to worry about money in any aspect of it. And yet the monetization and pursuit of sales as often gets in the way of that unfettered pursuit as does my current alternative revenue stream.

So when Tina points out the creative professionals who happily get paid for their work, I’d be willing to bet that for as many paid projects as these and other recognized creatives are involved in there are projects that they do unpaid for the pure joy of doing them.

And yes, I understand the correlation between the two, that being paid for one begets the ability to do the other unpaid.

That’s what I want!!

Which is where this dovetails nicely into the post I started working on the other day as I continued to marinate on all of this.

Back in around middle school I discovered author Piers Anthony and read every book of his I could find. I eventually came upon a series of his called, “Bio of a Space Tyrant”. Out of one of those books came a quote that over the years I have always tried to apply. I have distilled the quote down over the years to this.

“Don’t let the means become the ends.”

For years I carried around the quote thusly:

“Money is a means to an end. Do not let the means become the end.”

But money is interchangeable with anything, power, art, sales, whatever. Insert your favorite vehicle and you instantly have a new nugget of wisdom.

The guilt I feel in selling my work is attributable to the fact that my goal in life isn’t to amass as much money as I can get my hands on. My goal in life is to enjoy my life. Both goals require varying amounts of money to achieve based on personal definition, but the distinction between the two is very different. (I don’t make any assumptions as to the motivations of other artists that sell their works, whether or not their chief desire is to amass wealth.)

Right now, financially my wife and I are in a very good place with our current revenue streams. As such, with goal number one I would be very happy at my current and future prospects of amassing wealth. At goal number two though, the revenue stream is introducing some burdens on me that are both time consuming and a hindrance to that unfettered expression of creativity that I yearn for. So in terms of goal number two, you might say some adjustments are necessary.

So where am I going with this? Part of the problem is that I don’t know. Nothing worth doing is ever easy and the path I’m taking seems less so as I’m increasingly unwilling to invest my time or energy into things that don’t interest or enrich my life, including revenue streams. (existing or potential)

Which is a function of me not allowing the means to become the end. I’m not interested in doing something just so I can make money.

The other part of the problem is that in being unwilling to just pursue this to a maximized monetary conclusion I may be limiting myself. Realistically what I am interested in doing is ferreting down some of these different ideas that I’ve raised and exploring where they go in an effort to re-define (for me at least, and anybody who happens to be interested) why and how artists survive and thrive when their main pursuit is expressing their creativity.

Case in point. I had the privilege of exhibiting at the LuCille Tack gallery in Spencer, WI last October, and during the opening reception a young high school girl was absolutely in love with one of my pieces, you could just see her light up in reaction to the work. A beautiful thing to see, and yet her experience of that piece of work was limited to the one month the exhibit was hung.

As a high school girl she couldn’t afford to buy the piece (I was selling for $150 at the time) and if she expressed the desire to own it, her mother who accompanied her to the show was unwilling or able to make the purchase for her.

And yet it was clear as day to me that the girl valued that piece of art I had created. It was just as clear that the arbitrary assignment of value I created to satisfy the market based system that everyone accepts as status quo became the barrier to the possibility of assigning a different kind of value to the art, the exhibition and my creativity.

So it’s with that in mind that I have to stand on my belief that monetary value is a poor measure of value for art. In a market based system, you are forced to accept the means as the end because when you bring something to market the understanding is that you wish to receive a prescribed amount of money in exchange for what you’ve brought to market.

Certainly I could choose not to sell and enter a different class of artist, but I’m not interested in hoarding my art, I want to share it with the world, I want to reach the people like that young girl, I want to know that what I’ve created can elicit an emotional response from people and I want those people to have unfettered access to my art, as I want unfettered license to create it.

So imagine now if I held an exhibition where I did one of two things.

1. I gave all of the art away. Free. Zero cost. The vultures would show up, a large majority of the work would go to people who don’t appreciate it, and would in fact be angling to monetize it themselves, and my overall body of work might lose poignancy and impact by those who feel that giving the work away free actually devalues it monetarily which would then somehow equal a devaluation of the art itself.

2. I didn’t price the work, and simply said, “make an offer, any offer.” You can imagine the range of offers you might get, from the vultures offering $1 to a collector trying to score a deal. The real result would be discomfort because the universal way we ascribe value to art is with money, and nobody has a real good answer on how to do that.

For the auction house it’s as much as we can get for it, sometimes ethically, sometimes not.

For the artist it can be any of the ways Tina cited in her post, each subjective and arbitrary in their own right.

For the art buyer it can range a from size based, (that’s bigger, it should cost more) assessment to a financial assessment to maximize investment value.

Which could be considered the ultimate compliment or bastardization depending on how you look at it, since it is commonplace to consider art a monetary investment.

Now what does that mean?

Spyros Heniadis

Surviving and Thriving as an Artist

August 15, 2009

I had a nice long conversation today with my friend Eric about marketing and monetizing artwork.

The conversation stemmed from a revelation of a sorts that I had this morning while listening to NPR’s Planet Money podcast, but has its genesis going back four to six months.

Back in 2007 Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails wrote a post in his forums in which he talked about what an emerging music artist should do (in his opinion) to make a go at it as an artist. I encourage you to read the full post here.

The following is an exerpt from Trent Reznor’s original post:

If you’re forging your own path, read on.

* Forget thinking you are going to make any real money from record sales. Make your record cheaply (but great) and GIVE IT AWAY. As an artist you want as many people as possible to hear your work. Word of mouth is the only true marketing that matters.
To clarify:
[n]er with a TopSpin or similar or build your own website, but what you NEED to do is this – give your music away as high-quality DRM-free MP3s. Collect people’s email info in exchange (which means having the infrastructure to do so) and start building your database of potential customers. Then, offer a variety of premium packages for sale and make them limited editions / scarce goods. Base the price and amount available on what you think you can sell. Make the packages special – make them by hand, sign them, make them unique, make them something YOU would want to have as a fan. Make a premium download available that includes high-resolution versions (for sale at a reasonable price) and include the download as something immediately available with any physical purchase. Sell T-shirts. Sell buttons, posters… whatever.

I read this around 3 or 4 months ago, and I thought, ooohhh, great advice, and a sort of proof of concept is available to see here, on the website for Nine Inch Nail’s album Ghosts I-IV. Go Ahead, take a look. You’ll see on the order page, available to anyone, the free download, the $5 download of all of the music, and the $300, 2500 copy limited edition deluxe package which sold out.

(That’s a gross income of $750000 direct to the artist by the way)

So I stared thinking about how I could modify and apply this model of thinking to a visual artist’s work, specifically, to my work. It seems stupidly simple to me now, but it took me about four months of contemplating this to come up with some ideas to use with my work. The stumbling block I had wasn’t trying to figure out where to start (free high resolution downloads of my work) but what to offer on the premium end and what to put in between.

After four months of thought, yesterday I was listening to NPR’s Planet Money Podcast #72 “Bloody, Miserable Medieval Economics” and they were talking about the Medieval Guild system of economics and how it stifled innovation and the eventual onset of the industrialized economy. Have a listen, it’s a great podcast.

What caught my ear and finally catalyzed the necessary thought process was this from correspondent Adam Davidson

So, thinking about this economically what I’m finding confusing is there is so much money left on the table. I mean we now know with the benefit of hindsight that if the shoemakers or clothmakers or whoever else got together and said, ‘Hey guys forget this controlling our production, let’s make as much as we possibly can let’s flood the market, we’ll make a lot less on each one but we’ll sell a lot more units. People will not buy one pair of shoes every ten years they’ll buy one pair of shoes every season or every few months…  …and we’ll all be much richer.’

Now I know what that sounds like, it sounds like a Walmart approach, and if I were to apply that philosophy by itself to my work, well, maybe I’d be Thomas Kinkade, whatever you think about his work, or maybe I’d be something different, but that’s not where I’m going. That was just the catalyst. It was something I needed to hear to allow all of the disconnected ideas to coalesce into the beginnings of a strategy. A strategy for distributing my artwork across a broader audience base; to allow me to build a relationship that respects their desire to access my work, my desire to profit from that work and protect my artistic integrity.

Based off of that initial relationship, I can then take the audience/artist relationship and turn it into a patron/artist relationship. A patron being, “a regular customer, someone who supports or champions something.” Ideally, that something being me and my work.

Okay, I told you all of that, so I can tell you this. Here’s what I’ve got in mind as a starting point for executing this.

My website will be the home base for this, and on my website, this is what I’m going to offer:

  • High resolution downloads of images for free. The only requirement will be creating a free account and providing an email address. By high resolution I mean an image that could be printed at photographic quality at 8″x12″
  • Packs of high resolution images (zip files) available at a low cost. An example would be a pack of images from my upcoming scavenger hunt exhibit or sub-bodies of my work.
  • Handmade limited edition photography books available of my exhibits, sets, etc… By handmade I mean hand bound, with all text hand written, all design and layout work done by me.
  • Non-handmade books for sale through print on demand services like Blurb or Qoop, for a less costly book owning option for patrons
  • Free .pdf/epub ebook available for download of the books.
  • Limited edition folios of work available.
  • Large format very limited edition selections of work for purchase.

As you can see, the options break down into roughly four categories/premium levels.

  1. Free in exchange for a bit of information, with no limit to quantities/editions. Information (email, name) that I would use respectfully to inform my patrons of news and available works/products
  2. Lower cost convenience access to work in unlimited editions/quantities. Download packs and print on demand books
  3. Mid-range cost limited edition products (handmade books, folios)
  4. High end very limited edition (select large format works)

This is all in very early idea stage development, so I’m going to have to do some research on certain things and determine how I will add and maintain this on my website, as well as what final form my offerings will take. For instance, will I make all images on my site available for the high res. downloads, or selected images, will I offer the print on demand books, or just the handmade editions (cost comparisons will be in order), how limited will the editions be, etc…

I’m really excited about doing this and coupling it with my use of twitter and other social media outlets to connect with my audience/patrons. Now, I need to get to work!

–Spyros Heniadis