Subscription Plans for Artists / Jorge Pardo
I am using him as an example to show that just because you have a major gallery and an international career, it doesn’t mean you can’t do your own commercial ventures on the side without harming the purity of your art career.
He has a subscription plan he came up with—he sent a letter to his mailing list and made a subscription offer—for $6,000 per year he would send the collector a sculptural lamp he would make every two months, and of course whatever they received would be a surprise, because Jorge had no idea exactly what he would make in advance.
The first year he did this, he sent out a letter and asked people if they were interested. From the first letter he found that sixty people subscribed, and in the second letter, sent the second year, he said ninety people subscribed. Ninety people at $6,000 is $540,000 dollars—quite a large sum to receive for work that was not even completed or designed yet!
He compares this to ideas like wine clubs or other online clubs where companies send you surprises in the mail, and he felt that people like him enjoy surprises in the mail. I agree with him, as I am subscribed to some monthly clubs. I enjoy a vinyl record of the month club, because I am sent music in beautiful packages that I would not have bought otherwise, and I love that experience.
While Jorge has a mailing list already, he found a way to leverage that list and get more people to support work before it was made. This is a concept that you could do as well. An artist that I worked with, not nearly as famous as Jorge, did the same thing with small sculptures that could also be worn. She came up with a similar pricing plan. Not as expensive as his, but lucrative just the same. In a newsletter she explained how the sculptures would be small surprises that subscribers would get every two months.
As your career evolves, you have to figure out how to pay those monthly bills. These ideas are entrepreneurial, which the business of art generally is. At some point you have to sell your work, and no matter how you do that, it is the same as having your own business and finding clients for your business. That is largely why you are reading this book—to find out how to run your business and build the appropriate relationships. We talked about the pros and cons of teaching, producing a product line of some kind, and selling prints, but there are of course other jobs out there.
The other jobs used to be working at a restaurant or a bar to make ends meet. If you have a family, that will usually not be enough to sustain everyone. Early jobs I had were carpentry, cooking in a restaurant, and washing dishes. The problem with the best of those jobs, which was carpentry, was that I came home exhausted. It doesn’t help very much if you can only make art on the weekends, so it is helpful to have a job that is not too physically tiring or stressful.
Another example of a job that might be helpful and rewarding is working with people who truly need your help. You can be creative here, too. After my parents died, I began to think about helping people in nursing homes. I play guitar, though not very well, and began calling nursing homes and asking if they would like me to come and play guitar. They paid me for doing so, and it was rewarding and not exhausting. However, I didn’t know too many songs and wanted to do something else to help that would not rely on my musical talent! I saw so many people just sitting around these homes looking bored.
I read somewhere that people in nursing homes were using the Wii game system for bowling and exercise. So I did the same thing. I called nursing homes and told them I could teach the residents how to bowl with a virtual gaming system (I had a Wii system at home) and they agreed. I would bring this small system to a home, and hook it up to their big TV and have fun teaching them. I got paid well, but that was just the start of it! Soon I worked with the director of the home and we created leagues and played against other nursing homes, which was terrific fun, and made me feel as though I were truly helping, and left plenty of time for me to make art.
This may sounds like a truly odd job to you, but I mention it because it was not entrepreneurial in the strict sense: it was a job I invented for myself, but its rewards were much more than monetary. Seeing the smiles and laughs on people who were bored in their environment lifted my spirits and made me laugh and smile as well. I was an independent contractor, as they called me, but I was essentially working for nursing homes, able to change my schedule when I needed to, and came home every day feeling good and filled with energy.
There are other jobs I could suggest, like working in the health industry if possible, which might also give you positive feedback at work so that you don’t feel so exhausted when you get home or to your studio.
Other possibilities are online jobs. You can freelance online if you can write good copy or design a logo or other kinds of web site production. There is an online freelance site called Upwork, and you can essentially set up shop there and comb through daily listings of jobs in your field of expertise. I use Upwork to hire people for different jobs. You can translate text for people if you speak different languages, or you can do programming or almost any other task. In this instance, it requires expertise in a field of some kind. Or there is the current TaskRabbit, a site that can generate income locally if you want to do things like stand in line for people or assemble their Ikea furniture.
In the next chapter we will talk about a few case histories of artists and art world figures who have done a variety of things to sustain and build their artistic career.