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Revising the Myth That Art Doesn’t Sell

To correct the music biz, music is one of many forms of art that sells

"Art doesn’t sell" is the mantra of corporate executives and sales managers …who don’t know how to sell art. That’s the mantra that marginalizes and compromises pop culture so that the result is mass production of a disposable fomulaic blend of blandness and meaninglessness that they don’t call art, but a "commercial product." It’s these "experts" who control the big picture of industies such as music and film that don’t want to admit that their inaccurate mantra is outdated and has been proven wrong for decades, but perhaps I’m the first one to finally call them on it. I’m getting the word out with my latest video on SacTV.com

Today in the headlines, a lady sold a painting for $27,000 at an auction that she paid less than ten bucks for at the Goodwill. Yes, that’s one of those anomalies that doesn’t make the headlines everyday, but the fact is that it happened. But when we take a step back and look at other things that are happening with art, the only conclusion I can reach is it’s time to fire all the uncreative corporate people who preach  "art doesn’t sell." It’s simply one of the biggest myths and corporate bloopers of all time. 

A few weeks ago, the head of the financially struggling music industry’s biggest label said "we’re not in the art business." Music isn’t art? So why does that same industry call the people they market  "recording artists?" He was basically trying to justify why popular music has to be so bland and uncreative and why the crumbling labels have to sign people like Justin Bieber instead interesting artists who can create music outside of burnt generic formulas. Strange, how that’s the same label that just acquired the Beatles label, which now narrows the list of major labels to three instead of four that control most of the music on nationalized corporate radio. The Beatles, who have outsold all other artists in history, somehow wound up on the world’s least successful major label, requiring further corporate consolidation.

If art doesn’t sell, why is it that Etsy.com, which sells nothing but handcrafted art online, has already sold $500 million in art this year so far and is on track to beating last year’s record? Also, if art doesn’t sell, how did Apple, which has always been noted for their artistic technology aimed at artistic consumers, end up becoming the biggest company in the world the past year? They are also on track to becoming the world’s first trillion dollar company and at the moment have the prestigious distinction as the most valuable publicly traded company of all time. Compare stock prices of creative tech company Apple (near an all time high) with uncreative tech company HP (near a 52 week low), whose main job now is to figure out how many thousands of workers to lay off due to shrinking PC sales and lack of an imaginative product. Another highly creative company called Google (near an all time high) has pretty much left all their competition in the dust.

Most corporations do not perform financially as well as Apple or Google. But when we have more time, let’s talk about how Pixar’s animated movie sales make most of Hollywood’s redundant formulas look like complete flops. How about video games? Doesn’t it take incredible graphic artists to make video games that sell? On Sacramento’s short list of multi-millionaires is Mark Otero, who sold his company KlickNation last year to video game maker and Fortune 500 company Electronic Arts for millons of dollars. Otero continues as CEO of the company, now called Bioware Sacramento. If art doesn’t sell why would such a huge transaction take place?

If you need a radio example, I was the program director of independent station KWOD in the 90s before a corporation dismantled it and turned it into rubble that no longer exists. During its heyday as an alternative station, I made sure we broke all the corporate rules about tight and boring programming and we consistently beat our bland competitors in the ratings even though we had limited resources and they had tons of expensive marketing tools. One of the things we did that the rest of the commercial radio dial didn’t do was we played local artists like Cake and even unsigned artists in regular rotations. Yet I still come across radio execs who don’t know much about history saying "we’re not here to sell art."

If art doesn’t sell then that must mean company logos don’t matter. Yet, companies and products that don’t have logos are the ones that usually fall into obscurity. Some of the most successful business leaders will tell you that a logo is incredibly important. In many cases, it’s how consumers identify a brand. The online T-shirt business also does pretty well, and it’s not due to offering plain T-shirts with no logos or artwork. 

If you visit the home page of the Arts & Business Council of Sacramento you’ll read about how the arts provide jobs, attract investments and help stimulate local business. Then there’s the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, which reports that art generates over $60 billion a year in America for nonprofit organizations and how art shows attract tourists who bring revenue to local businesses such as restaurants, hotels, parking lots and retail outlets. 

Yes, it’s time to fire all the anti-artists who get to be high paid bland corporate types who have tried to redefine art in their own pathetic, boring images. These are the people who hold pop culture and the arts back from reaching greater milestones. They don’t want to admit that art is, in fact, a major component to commerce. Ask any architect if art doesn’t have anything to do with commerce. Business all comes down to who is in charge of crafting the product. As Steve Jobs proved, artistic vision beats uncreative lack of artistic vision in a very big way. 

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