Why do artists in emerging markets need business knowledge for their practice?

In the contemporary art word there are now infinite different manifestations and definitions of success. There is no longer a clear, defined pathway to the achievement of recognition and reputation. And indeed, not all artists want these things, or even the same things.

So – some help may be useful. Among other things it is helpful to address the mapping and understanding of the art world in so far as it affects any one individual practitioner. Linked to that, establishing what the artist actually wants – what might success actually look like? Again, there is no ‘one size fits all’, and we also need to move away from the notion that success is something that happens, by itself.

We live a society greatly influenced by technology and connectivity, and along with that comes notions of celebrity and status. Many people wait – and hope – for their eventual recognition as a valued and interesting person. It is Andy Warhol’s assertion that ‘in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes’ linked to the old Hollywood myth about discovery and stardom.

The true situation is actually quite different, and this is probably a good thing because it places both control and responsibility in the hands of the practitioner. S/he does not sit and wait – perhaps indefinitely – for recognition and opportunity. Instead, having identified the practice goals and objectives, the artist will devise and implement a plan that is compatible and realistic.

But this of course means putting aside the historical notion of the artist as not concerned with business or practical considerations. It means moving towards recognition and acceptance that the artist is in fact in business – albeit business of a very special kind – and needs to use business knowledge tools and concepts, even if the ultimate aim might be non-commercial or altruistic.

So – good business practice for artists in emerging markets is based on information, knowledge and choice. It is pro-active rather than entirely re-active (as in the Hollywood ‘discovery’ version) and it accepts that a proportion of time will be legitimately and rightly devoted to taking care of business. It becomes understood that this business activity is holistic to the practice, not an add-on or an afterthought, and entirely legitimate and necessary.

Fine so far – but how to do it? Much of this information is personal to other artists, has been hard-won and will be guarded and protected. There is a wealth of information on the internet, but it is difficult for someone to start to use this when they are not sure what they are looking for, or how to differentiate between good, bad and irrelevant advice.  Not all artists attend art school or university, and even in countries with highly developed art markets, this subject matter is not fully addressed within the curriculum.

So, recognition of the true role and influence of business knowledge within visual art practice is both important and influential for artists in emerging markets. There is no one simple solution, and the challenges travel through life as part of continuing and developing practice. But the journey of 1,000 kilometres starts with a single step, and making the personal decision to recognize and address these matters is that step.

Creative Intelligence is contributing in a number of ways.

Our services include designing and delivering custom programmes for visual artists in different regions, specialising in Africa, as well as 1-to-1 professional development programmes for individuals.

Our vision is to build a extended collaborative network of partners and actors of the art world, and to contribute our expertise and perspective in the emergence of strong professional practices within a strong market for creative industries in Africa.

Liz Lydiate