The Art of Business

Pollyanna Pickering - AFC
February 5, 2011 share
Pollyanna Pickering - The Art of Business

Many people have a vision of an artist as someone blissfully detached from the realities of life - working only when the muse takes them, floating through life on a cloud of dreamy inspiration as far removed from tax returns and binding contracts as it is possible to be.

Or alternatively they might imagine an impassioned and slightly demented figure, starving poetically in a garret, working feverishly while existing on a diet of scrounged cigarettes and absinthe, never to be recognised in their own lifetime.

But here in the real world, if you, the artist, are the sole breadwinner for your family, and there is a mortgage to be paid along with all the other mundanely irritating bills that pop through the letterbox, you realise very quickly that you have to get a firm grip on the business side of your chosen career.

In my own case, I learnt a huge amount during my five years at art college - but the one thing they neglected to teach me was how to earn a living once I left. Thrown out into the big wide world I spent three very unsatisfactory years teaching art in schools, before gathering all my courage and going freelance.

Forty years later, I am delighted (and still sometimes slightly surprised ) to have won awards not only for my art, but for my achievements in business, including the Hera award at the prestigious NatWest everywoman Awards which celebrate women in business, and the Department of Trade and Investment's Award in recognition of the fact that my published work has been exported into over 80 countries around the world.

I believe that the one thing that all successful artists have in common is professionalism. There are thousands of talented artists who never manage a successful career because they cannot manage to meet deadlines, or constantly fail to deliver commissioned work, or don't work for exhibition on time. It is vital that if your art is going to be your sole form of income, that you treat it as a serious business, even if no-one else does at the time you start out!

If there is one secret to my lengthy career - which has seen recessions come and go, galleries open and close and fashions in art rise and fall - then I have to say it is diversity. I have always avoided becoming too reliant on any one aspect of my work.

I have two very separate strands to the business - the sale of original work, and the publishing and licensing. Within those I separate again into exhibitions in my own gallery, and in outside galleries. And although I have a very long-term contract, and extremely strong ties with my publishers Otter House Ltd (and would be undoubtedly hugely affected if they were to go under), I also have contracts with American publishers and licensing agents, and license my work to dozens of different companies. This means that if any one aspect of the business should suffer a downturn, or run into difficulties, I still have other areas to focus on. I would recommend to anyone against becoming too strongly reliant on any one supplier or customer or outlet.

Ultimately, I feel I am lucky enough to have the best job in the world. Confucius said, "If you choose a job you love, you will never have to work a day in your life." While I might not always achieve that feeling in the face of a looming deadline, I can appreciate that my chosen career has opened a world of opportunities and experiences I would never have enjoyed in another field.

Find out more about Pollyanna Pickering on her AFC website.

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