What is successful art?

tamberella:

This post was originally going to be titled “what is good art”. But that, of course, is a fairly un-answerable question. There are just too many factors at play, too many legitimate answers that can easily be dissected and taken down by equally legitimate rebuttals.

This is a post about how to succeed (and by succeed I mean actually make a living) in the field of art. Much of the process of getting there is determining what IS successful, and using that information to your benefit. This whole post is just from my point of view and I’d love to hear yours at the end.

We can look at art objectively. We can say, is there a good knowledge of anatomy? Of color and light? Composition? Edge control? Storytelling? Line weight? Perspective? Contrast? Etc, etc etc, every foundational skill that’s hammered at in art school.
And there’s definitely legitimacy to this approach! If there’s an obvious deficiency in any of these foundational skills, the art will suffer. 

But art can be totally lacking in many of these areas and still succeed. 
I usually call this the “appeal” factor. Appeal is extremely hard to define.

I’ll make an example out of a piece of abstract art. Sesame, Helen Frankenthaler

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Is this good art?
Some simply will not like it. Others dislike it (or are neutral) but can explain the objective qualities of it (composition, color, texture, line shape and edge control, etc). But there are people who have no knowledge of any of these properties of art who still like it! Why? Because it appeals to them.

Different aspects of art will appeal to different people. My professors from time at art school are an excellent example. If I made a slideshow of every piece of art I’ve made in the last 5 years, I can almost guarantee that every teacher would pick a (most likely vastly) different favorite piece. 

My character design teacher likes simplified art with an emphasis on shape language. (Below; my work from his class.)

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My oil painting teacher was not a fan of that style in the least! He’d pick a well-executed oil-painted orb over a cartoon any day. He appreciated abstract oil painted works with graphic, bold color choices. (Below; my work from his class.)

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And I don’t think either of them would particularly like this…

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…despite it being one of my most successful pieces! Surely they’d look at it objectively and give me a pat on the back for the execution, but if they were putting together a list of my works that appealed to each of them most, neither would likely choose it.

So what does this mean for us, as artists? If even other ARTISTS would have such radically varying opinions?

1) SUCCESSFUL ART LOOKS DIFFERENT IN DIFFERENT FIELDS

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This is a gorgeous painting by Edgar Degas, and is certainly at home in a fine art gallery. It’s an incredibly successful piece by a fantastic artist. But if somehow (ignoring all logic) he turned it in as a portfolio piece for position as a character designer on, say, Gravity Falls…

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…he’d be met with some confusion! It’s an incredible painting, but for a TV cartoon it doesn’t display the practical skill-set needed for the job. The same logic applies that this model sheet by my talented character design teacher Joe Pitt…

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…would NOT be accepted into a fine art gallery! And certainly, fine art snobs may even turn their nose up at it! But for a TV cartoon character model sheet, it is extremely successful. To those who find this type of art appealing it’s a home run.

And you may not even consider how specific these categorizations get. The above model sheet is very appropriate for a TV cartoon, but likely wouldn’t be for, say, a computer animated feature film like Big Hero Six.

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Shiyoon Kim’s incredible Hiro drawings knock it out of the park in the field of feature film character design, but again, wouldn’t be found in a fine art gallery. (And would need to be simplified immensely to work for most TV cartoons!)

What does this mean for you? It means KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. Put together a portfolio that SUITS the job, and don’t expect a job to come along that suits your existing portfolio; it may, but then again, it may not. If you want to guarantee work, it often means designing your portfolio for success. RESEARCH what factors make something successful in your desired field. 

If don’t want to do this, or don’t wish to work in-house in an existing position, or want to play the convention artist alley game or something similar…

2) TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE APPEAL FACTOR- the trends are different depending on the situation!

People buy art that appeals to them. Also, people share art that appeals to them, and more shares = more buys in the long run.

I see so many posts along the lines of:
Popular artist: *makes something simple that looks like it took 10 min* 10,000 NOTES!!
Me: *spends 30 hours on a painting* 18 notes…….

And I understand the struggle. I really do; seriously. But we have to examine the factors at play here. And we have to rid ourselves of the idea that more detailed = better. Because often (not always), ESPECIALLY on tumblr, on twitter, on instagram, and at artist alleys at conventions, simple art with a high appeal factor is what succeeds. 

For example; Omocat. Hugely successful artist online and at conventions, with very simple but extremely graphically and visually appealing art. Now has a clothing line!

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It’s simple, yes, but based on the hundreds of congoers constantly swarming omocat’s booth at every convention, it’s winning in the appeal factor. Omocat’s art is bright (neon even), colorful, psychedelic, cute and creepy at the same time, and simple enough to be graphic and recognizable from a distance. 

Side note; all simple/graphic art is not created equal. Simplifying is an art on its own. Creating something that’s simple and still extremely appealing is HARD. There’s a reason that this old (shoddy) attempt at “chibi anime” style art by me…

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Fails compared to this awesome, adorable piece by Kiwibon:

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I don’t want you to get the idea that appeal is confined to cutesy, colorful, cartoon/anime art, because it isn’t. Appeal is NEVER confined to a single category, and I GUARANTEE that many of the people who read this won’t agree that some of my examples are appealing; but that’s just the nature of such a slippery concept. It can’t be pinned down. All we have are overall trends.

Take J! http://commissionsbyj.tumblr.com
Graphic, surreal, highly appealing, and extremely successful.

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Both artworks above by J.

I’ll elaborate on the detailed =/= better concept with this example, a piece that took me under 2 hours:

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…has nearly ten times the notes of this piece, which took me close to 20 hours.

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The second piece KILLS the first one in terms of time, effort, detail, and artistic principles. But clearly, based on popularity, the first is KILLING in the appeal category! The first piece is bright, colorful, simple, graphic, cute, and is of subject matter that’s popular (shiba inu/doge) and therefore is highly shareable.

But don’t get me wrong; yes, detailed =/= better.
But simple = better is not accurate either!

This third piece blows BOTH of those pieces out of the water in terms of popularity!

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And if you ask me why, I can guess, but I can’t define it exactly! That’s why the appeal factor is SO HARD to describe! It is SO SUBJECTIVE! But trends don’t lie, and this piece of mine above is one of my most popular paintings to date. What’s appealing? Is it the bright colors, and the graphic nature combined with the high level of detail? 

After all, there are many artists with highly detailed art that still maintain a top notch level of appeal! Like Rudy Siswanto:

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All we can really do is…

3) FIND SUCCESSFUL ARTISTS DOING THE KIND OF ART YOU WANT TO DO, AND CHART TRENDS! 

In every field, at every level of detail, from anime conventions to sci-fi conventions to fine art galleries to graphic novels to concept art, there are immensely popular artists who are KILLIN IT at what they do. Figure out why. 

Determine everything they’re doing from personality to upload schedule to platforms to art style. Are they making fanart that’s succeeding in a particular fandom? Are they offering a highly desired product like Sakimichan’s Patreon setup (which is currently making $25,000 per session)? 

If you want to succeed at this internet art game–and work for yourself instead of a company–this is your homework! It’s what I’ve been attempting to work on for months. And I think I’m getting somewhere. Please let me know your thoughts. And of course, EVERYTHING I’ve said in this post is entirely my opinion and you can disagree with anything you wish to! 

Please do keep the dialogue going if you have anything to say. I’m very interested to hear.

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