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I believe that art enriches and informs our lives everyday in many positive ways. Sharing those experiences, whether as an artist or as an appreciator, is part of the pleasure. I welcome your comments and hope you find something of value: a laugh, an insight, a new idea or just a happy moment. Enjoy art!

Friday, November 9, 2018

Trade Secrets, part 2

I wish I could figure out how to activate the comments section 
of this blog without making folks “join” anything. 
The response to my question last week about which secrets you share, 
and which you protect, was informative and thoughtful...
and definitely the most I’ve ever received on one post.  
I’ll try to hit some highlights:

In general artists replied that they are a sharing group: they recognize that sharing leads to an exchange of information that is mutually beneficial in the long run.  Self confident artists have no desire to exactly copy some one else’s work and good teachers realize that the signature of their own work has taken years to develop and can’t really be duplicated.  (That said, I do know that there are “copy factories” in China where artists are paid to replicate perfectly the works of well known, translate to very expensive, artists in an attempt to cash in.  Not a lot of us fall in that category.)

There was definitely a parting of the ways when an artist considered their work more of a “product” than a one-off design.  For instance, after my buddy who makes candles perfected a method to guarantee a longer than common burn time (having invested hours of time and loads of money in the testing) she was reluctant, understandably, to broadcast the formula.  Meanwhile she was happy to share ingredient sources, label methods etc with fellow “competitors.” But the “sets it apart” factor was her distinction and she shouldn’t feel guilty about not sharing it.

Ditto, for a specific pattern that can be duplicated....I’ve read stories of several ETSY craftsmen who worked hard to make a niche product only to find the exact same thing (again, mass produced in China) for sale in Target the next year.  Sad.  But a fact of life.

One reader opined that wood turners were not a very sharing group, I cannot attest to experience there; another recalled a family story about an excellent baker who happily shared recipes but always left out a crucial ingredient....thus protecting her status as “the best.” Or totally ruining it, you chose!

So, as usual, there are two sides to every issue.   Austin Kleon’s original question asked us to think about this, personally, from both sides (what is shared, what is not) and evaluate the outcome of each. Perhaps my presentation was a bit more judgmental in tone.

The internet has changed the art game on so many levels.  Just as it makes it easy to research technique it also risks passing off unreliable methods or incomplete formulas.  While many craftsmen depend on the WWW to sell their products, it also exposes them to being copied and undersold.  Several experts in the art business even believe that the internet is responsible for many independently owned galleries closing their doors, seen as the “middle man” their services are needed less and less.  

So where does this discussion bring us? At the risk of putting words in anyone’s mouth I will verbalize my own thoughts: I believe artists and craftsmen need to have a sharing attitude, they need to trade thoughts, ideas, formulas and techniques.  It creates energy, it generates new ideas, it becomes a network of support and mutual admiration.  It is give and take. Here is a new-ish clip of Kleon at SBSW in an interview repeating his "share philosophy." Go all four minutes, he uses b-b-q as an example!

pottery by AmyH

HOWEVER,  I also believe that everyone of us needs to recognize the existence of proprietary information...I can respect that.  If you have spent years developing your signature color (glaze, paint, finish etc) and you only smile when I ask how you mixed that, I need to understand that it is "back to the drawing board" for find my own special, secret ingredient.  If it’s already on the internet, well, why not strike up a conversation and make a new friend? Let's not be rude in our artist conversations.

Here's to sharing art: philosophies, ideas and yes, a few secrets! 


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