Friday, October 22, 2021

Art as Commerce


Earlier tonight my mother put on one of her favorite shows, Shark Tank.  For those not familiar, it's a television show in which entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a group of successful business people, hoping to get some financing for their ideas and businesses.  The sharks often have questions relating to the businesses (after all, they don't want to lose money on potential investments) such as various costs, profits so far, etc.  Most of the ideas relate to clothes or food (I believe at least 3 of tonight's products were consumable), and I tend to ignore these.  Once in a while they relate to art, and I pay more attention to these.  For example, last season there was someone who wanted to expand their jigsaw puzzle business, so I listened to her pitch and the subsequent questions more, and eventually passed this information on to my business partner in the jigsaw puzzle game.  (the person in question couldn't give a good reason why she needed more money or assumed sales would continue to rise and was not funded)  

Tonight the opening pitch was two longtime friends who are offering art lessons online and wanted some funding to expand their business.  I know something about this, as almost anyone who is in a creative field offers art lessons on the side, including me.  That's why I know how difficult it is to make money in this field.  My last few attempts to hold art classes in Ocean Grove haven't worked, as no one has signed up for  them.  I don't know if it's the subject, the times/days, or just the problem that people are still afraid to do anything in person.  (any or all of these could be true)  The problem with online classes is that online is a terrible way to try to learn art.  For millennia, the processes of art have been taught person to person, and it seems to work best that way.  Last year, as Covid raged, the college where I had been teaching for 15 years decided to switch from classrooms to online only, which I survived, but it wasn't easy.  I was lucky that the hardest stuff happened early in the semester before the changes came, and the students did well with the later projects (some slightly modified) that were all done completely online.  It probably didn't hurt that the classes were things I had taught many times before, and I had always put information online, including my vast number of good successful images of student projects.  Unfortunately, after that the school decided to switch from having its experienced instructors teach art classes to buying art classes directly from an online company (one that most colleges refused to work with) and I was no longer employed.  

Anyway, tonight's entrepreneurs said they were trying to break into the home schooling market, but that's a hard market to break into.  They also admitted that most of their customers lasted about 7 months in their system, and no one was continuing art lessons with them for a year or more, which is what the sharks wanted.  To my surprise, they were actually offered a deal, but with a contingency- they had to show a profit after 6 months (not a big concern of theirs to this point), and if so they would get funding.  This seemed like a pretty good deal to me.  Essentially it was what they were already doing, hustling to make ends meet with art skills, and if they showed a profit, they would get a big influx of cash.  If not, they would be where they had been anyway, and maybe get the message this wasn't working out for them.

It all made me think of something from my past. As I said, I have spent a lot of time giving art lessons, but there was one time I had an opportunity to apply for a full time teaching job at a school (community college) I had been working at for several years, teaching 2 or 3 studio classes per semester, the requested specialty in areas I was covering.  All well and good, but then I had occasion to talk to one of the people on the hiring committee (digital art) and was told I was the last person they would want to hire.  Why? Because I was an artist, and artists are always concerned with making art and exhibiting it.  What the school needed was someone who would sit at their desk for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and only care about the college.  Despite that, I went ahead and applied, came up with a lesson plan for what they asked for, and did the interview (they decided to interview all adjuncts who applied for the job) but needless to say, I didn't get the job.  The person who was hired took down his website shortly after being announced, but it was up long enough for me to see that he had no more experience than I did, just part time adjunct stuff.  And from the years I worked there (3 or 4 years after that), I can tell you that no full time faculty ever worked 5 days a week, and some didn't even cover their classes, which were at most 20 hours per week.  I concluded that the school had decided what they wanted long before anyone was interviewed, and they got what they wanted.  

Tomorrow, I have lessons with my niece.


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