If you’re reading this, you’re probably a bit like me. We create, it’s what we do.

So what happens when it comes to selling what we make – or even talking about it?

Here’s what happens:

We make a thing

The thing comes from us: our thoughts, feelings, personality.

Painting, textile, online course, speech, meal…whatever. Doesn’t matter. We made something.

It’s then not a long jump for our brains to assume that the thing is actually a part of us. But no!

The thing is not us

Now that’s not to say that the thing (whatever that is) doesn’t have value. Quite the opposite.

What is DOES mean, is just that – the thing IS NOT US.

It’s something we made

In economic terms, the market value of a thing is determined by the price someone is willing to pay. If we sell our art as if we’re selling a widget – based on utility and price – then we may as well just sell widgets. It might be easier! Art is not supposed to have a practical, everyday purpose – that’s the whole point!

The value of what we create has nothing to do with money or markets. The value is determined by what we discovered about ourselves when we made it, and what it represents to whoever owns or receives it.

The value is more important than the thing

For example, I have a tatty old suitcase that’s at least 60 years old. The catches and hinges are rusty, I could barely fit in a change of clothes or a washbag. It has absolutely no value as a suitcase – but that’s not why I keep it.

I keep it, because it holds all the letters written between my parents when my mother was in hospital (with a terminal condition that wasn’t diagnosed until too late, so she never left). Sure, I could put them into a different container. But my father held on to that tatty old suitcase and contents for 30 years before leaving it to me when he died.

He held on to it, so I do. It’s like a contract between me and my parents, nobody else.

It’s why the suitcase is valuable TO ME (and I won’t leave it for my daughter: I have plans for its disposal).

I also have an old workbag. It’s made from a vibrant turquoise fabric (which I do like) with a hideous orange nylon lining. I never use it, other than to stuff mending projects into (and they never see the light of day again). But you guessed it – it was my mother’s, she made it. I remember when my grandmother gave it to me. It holds memories. Just like the scrap of tatting, and the image of the Indian Tree plate in the title piece to this blog post.

The bag and the suitcase are NOT my parents – it’s what they represent that’s important.

We’re selling what it represents

When I make an online course, I’m making a set of videos, lessons, landing page, graphics, handouts.

But that’s not what I’m selling: nobody ever bought an online course because they liked the look of the course platform or needed something to watch, to pass the time.

I’m selling potential and possibilities. When someone buys one of my courses, they’re buying the potential to master a new skill, and the possibilities that opens up. I’m selling the chance to learn from someone who knows what they’re doing (most of the time).

When I make a piece of work (I do sometimes), I’m making a collage of paper and fabric, adding colour and stitch according to my whim. I use my skills to do so, and my artistic vision to arrange them in a particular way.

But that’s not what I’m selling: nobody ever bought a piece of textile art because they particularly wanted or needed a pile of old papers and fabrics stuck to a canvas.

I’m selling a celebration of colour, I’m selling an emotion. I’m selling a stirring of the senses. I’m also selling a glimpse into my thoughts and opinions about the subject matter and the choice of (often recycled) materials.

If someone isn’t interested in my thoughts, but likes the colours enough to buy – that’s fine. It’s not up to me. It’s not my decision.

I’m not selling me

I’m selling my work. My job is to communicate the value I perceive in my work, what I think it represents. If someone disagrees, that’s their prerogative.

There’s always the possibility I’m selling something just to stick on the wall to fill a gap, but if that’s where it ends up, it’s really none of my business.

How this helps us talk about – and sell – our art

Remember that we’re making art, not widgets.

It’s so easy to slip into talking about what we create as if it’s a widget, the nuts and bolts of it. That’s when we get bogged down in the cost of materials, the time spent, what it looks like.

We can worry if someone doesn’t like the way it looks, or they think the price is too high for the size or materials used, or even worry about their opinion on our level of skill.

Talking about what it represents changes everything

It takes us straight out of that downward spiral, where we fear judgement, and into a much more interesting place.

We can start to talk about interesting things and ask interesting questions, such as

  • Why we made it
  • What we were feeling when we made it
  • Where we were – in time, in space, in mind?
  • What it represents to us
  • What someone might gain from it, other than the “thing” itself
  • If we’re selling a skill, what learning it might mean to someone
  • How did we feel when we learned it?
  • What possibilities does it open?
  • What does our creation say about us – the creator – that may resonate with others?
  • Did we experience change or challenges through the process of creation?

Talking about our art in this way, there’s no place in the conversation for judgement.

Nobody can quibble about what our art represents to us, the journey we went on to create it, the decisions we made along the way, and what it might now represent to the person who buys it. Same goes for anything else we create, such as online courses.

If someone looks at it and it means nothing to them, it really doesn’t matter. What’s important is that I know its value, and the person who buys it and takes it home knows its value – to them.

This is why we create. This is purpose of what we do, to answer interesting questions. Thinking about selling derails us, because we forget our original purpose.

This is not denying our feelings and hangups about selling

But that’s all they are: feelings and hangups. Probably a lot of limiting beliefs: about our worth, our place in the world, our voice, our right to hold an opinion, our right to speak up; our right to even call ourselves artists, our right to be paid for our time.

Yes, they’re our beliefs. But that’s not what we’re selling, and not what people are buying (and I’m not sure we’d buy them either, if given the chance). They’re ours to work through in our own time, in private.

Our job as creators is to create – and communicate about what we create.

That’s it.

5 Thoughts to “Selling your soul?”

  1. Pamela says:

    This struck a chord with me. I did a swirls mixed media piece copying one of Isobel’s that was online. I later enrolled on her Swirls Course – and what a difference it made. I so much enjoyed the course, not because the final product was better than my first attempt, but because of the journey. I was sharing experiences with others, sharing problems and solutions, we were encouraging each other and sharing our mistakes and misunderstandings. It didn’t matter if we got in a mess, someone would come up with a solution or see it from a different angle. I ended up with a piece of stitching with many happy memories that makes me smile.

    1. Isobel says:

      THAT’s what it’s all about!! You’ve expressed it perfectly, Pamela. Thank you for taking the Swirls course, but most importantly, thank you for sharing the journey you took with it. That means everything to me!

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