Philly Creative Guide

Guest Columnist

Joan Smith

The Art / Commerce Connection Artists Gain Control by Marketing Creative Skills
by Joan Smith, 1 May 2007

Joan Smith is an artist, writer, and Associate Director of InLiquid, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing opportunities and exposure for artists while serving as a free public hub for arts information.

InLiquid's extensive web site provides free, direct access to a trove of indispensable resources – including exhibition listings, reviews, articles, event calendars, reference archives, weekly e-newsletter, and links - as well as the in-depth portfolios and contact information of over 250 member artists. More than just an online presence, InLiquid also bridges the "virtual" and "real" worlds with a continuing series of gallery exhibitions, discussion forums, and other venue-based events.

Visit www.inliquid.com for more information.


Popular wisdom holds that for artists, the uncreative day job is a drudgery paid for devotion to artistic expression. More often than not, this drudgery involves something in the service industry, and certainly doesn't call into play any of their artistic talents, unless they are one of the lucky few to hold a full-time teaching post (or the fewer yet who've hit the "art star" jackpot). The legend goes that to take a job in the commercial art realm is to cross a divide that requires ceding all rights to the title of "artist."

Well, not necessarily.

The truth is, a large number of artists support themselves by marketing their creative skills in the commercial realm. The notion that an artist has sold out by applying his or her talents to commercial endeavors is tied directly to the "starving artist" stereotype - a stereotype that is being rendered obsolete by artists themselves, who increasingly refuse to buy into a concept that is romantic only for those who don't have to live it. The creative fold actually covers a broad spectrum of activities, and does not so neatly divide into opposing camps of commercial and fine artists. By nature, those who are guided by creativity may apply themselves in a variety of directions, allowing it to permeate every aspect of their life.

This reality is brought to light in "Crossover: How Artists Build Careers Across Commercial, Nonprofit, and Community Work," a recent study by the Humphrey Institute on Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota (commissioned by the James Irvine Foundation, Sam and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and LINC/Leveraging Investments in Creativity). Using a cross-section of artists from two of the most active art communities in the U.S. - Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area - the study found that a majority of artists (including writers, musicians, performing and visual artists) split their creative activities between different sectors in a rather fluid manner. For the most part, those who engage in this crossover find that their commercial work in no way detracts from their self-identity as an artist or from their "finer-art" endeavors; in fact, beyond the simple financial returns of commercial work, artists report an exchange of valuable across-board lessons. Significantly, a hallmark of successful artists in this report is their application of professional standards to every product of artistic expression, especially in having a positive attitude toward marketing themselves.

InLiquid.com art/design network

For visual artists, new means of presenting artwork beyond the four walls of a gallery are playing important roles in self-marketing endeavors. This is particularly evident by the growth of InLiquid, which was started in 1999 to tap into the potential of the internet to increase exposure for visual artists and designers. Begun as something of an experiment to present the work of a handful of artists on its website, its value as a community-building, educational, and marketing tool became quickly apparent as more artists joined and visitors increased. Member artists, who now number over 250, have not only gained new audiences for their work, but have found exhibition and sales opportunities across geographical boundaries since the site is regularly visited by curators, art consultants, and prospective collectors. Of special value to member artists is the fact that InLiquid, as a nonprofit entity, neither represents nor takes commissions on the work presented in their online portfolios; instead, it serves as a conduit between artists and the public, thus the artists maintain autonomy over their professional interactions.

It was in this spirit that InLiquid began "Art for the Cash Poor," a block-party style event that provides an in-person opportunity for artists to show and sell work directly to the public, who in turn are able to meet artists and collect artwork, even on a modest budget (nothing is priced over $199). Presented as a service to artists and the community, "Art for the Cash Poor" is equal parts exhibition, marketplace, and entertainment. Within the freewheeling format of the event, traditional lines between craft, fine art, and design are blurred; many participants will be selling actual artwork, but also represented will be artists who have a crossover life as makers of functional or purely decorative objects, as well as a number of artists for whom the functional or decorative object is their fine art.

As the name suggests, the goal of "Art for the Cash Poor" is to show that art collecting is not an activity exclusive to the well-heeled elite. And, perhaps most importantly, that art and commerce can, indeed, coexist.

The eighth annual "Art for the Cash Poor" will take place over two days, Saturday, June 9 and Sunday, June 10, from 1 to 6 pm at the Crane Arts Building, 1400 N. American Street, Philadelphia (just north of Girard Avenue). Over 200 artists will be presenting work both indoors and outdoors; the festivities will be rounded out by a full roster of live music plus plentiful food and libations.

For all the up-to-date details visit www.inliquid.com.

Print Article Brought to you by: Joan Smith | Associate Director, InLiquid

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