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A Photographer’s Frame of Mind: Why Artists Should Read Scott McCloud

While laid up with the flu and not venturing outdoors in the cold, I decided to reread one of my favorite authors.  Scott McCloud is a literate cartoonist who has produced three of the most analytical and concise looks at comics as art in our society. His UNDERSTANDING COMICS—THE INVISIBLE ART in 1993, REINVENTING COMICS—HOW IMAGINATION AND TECHNOLOGY ARE REVOLUTIONIZING AN ART FORM, in 2000, and MAKING COMICS in 2006 give an incredibly articulate voice to the communication process as it is used by the story-telling industry.

McClouds 5 aspects of Clarity & COmmunication:Choice of Moment Choice of Frame Choice of Image Choice of Word Choice of Flow


Scott McCloud begins with Clarity and Communication as the primary goals of the artist and how we get there is defined under five areas he wants us to look at. While he aims his analytic eye at the comic book, I have found that the first three of his five aspects of story-telling apply to the photographer in every sense of the word.

When a photographer gets ready to take an image he or she should ask themselves, "What do I have in Mind?"  That’s where the process and the experience should begin.

mcCloud's Choice of moment, choice of frame, choice of image


I know when I do a photographic student portfolio review that the first thing that comes to mind are questions to the student, "Why did you choose this moment to shoot the picture?"  What is it about this moment that made you snap the shutter? What are you trying to say?  What message are you trying to convey or capture? There’s even more to this first question and we haven’t gotten to design aesthetics quite yet, but let’s go ahead and look at the second aspect Scott McCloud mentions, and ask the student even more.


What made you choose the edges of this picture in this way?  What drove the composition to look like this and what made you choose this lens focal length and particular depth of field to produce the window that encloses the composition and the depth of sharpness in the image? The artist chooses to draw the image within a window that establishes either a wide angle scene-setting view, a mid-range view, or a close-up of detail, and somehow all of these are story-telling views.  Granted, each of these images should be necessary to the story-telling process and they are part of a greater group or sequence of images, but each one should be necessary.


Finally, I ask the student a question related to the first one.  Why this Choice of Image? Digital is cheap, the photographer can shoot literally hundreds of images (usually, with a subject with fast-breaking news being an exception).  This is when I want them to talk to me about aesthetics and design.  This is when all of those words like line, shape, form, texture, space, balance, continuity, emphasis, and unity (plus a few others) are all supposed to come out.  Now usually, this is what I hear when I talk about Choice of Moment in the beginning.  But choice of moment goes back to the question of simply "What is the statement you are trying to make with this photograph?" Frame and Design Aesthetics are HOW you achieve the STATEMENT, not WHAT you are saying.

Put it another way, Scott McCloud is more subtle is his questing, but I simply want to ask the student "Where’s the hook?  What is it about this image that makes you want to capture and to save it?"  The Photojournalist can answer this one a lot quicker than the Fine Arts photographer or the Educational Photographer, but all of them should be able to give a reason as to why they made a particular image.

Let’s break it down.

I dug out my old (like more than forty years old) psychology notes from a couple of classes on learning theory and came up with these points to ask the photographer, or maybe the photographer should ask themselves before they click the shutter.


What are you trying to do? What do you want to say?

Is it:

  1. Attention Getting?
  2. Teaching a Skill?
  3. Influencing An Attitude?
  4. Capturing a Moment for History,
  5. or Producing an Aesthetic Experience?

I think there are really three kinds of photographers outside of the home photographer who simply wants to record a personal moment.  These three kinds fall into the category of the:

  • Educational Photographers, who seek to communicate strongly the essence of their subject in the most pleasing light.   Advertising photographer are included in this group because they are trying to show a product and convince the consumer that product is superior for its purpose. 
  • The Photojournalist is recording history and reporting the news of the immediate moment. 
  • The Fine Arts Photographer is trying to capture a visual aesthetic experience in such a way that a viewer would choose to look at the image for the emotional satisfaction alone.

Now the Fine Arts photographer usually chooses the first, fourth or last of these questions about what he is trying to do. The Educator chooses the second or third and just maybe the fourth), and the Photojournalist answers the third or fourth.  But then I try to get a bit more specific:

OK, what did you really have in mind?  Here’s all that psych talk from long ago. (There’s a bunch of reasons to make photographs.)

  1. Identification/naming object/observing details
  2. Characterization
  3. Evaluation
  4. Prescribing
  5. Relating/import/conveying facts/relating to experience
  6. Motivation
  7. Perceptual Skill
  8. Recall Experiences
  9. Add Detailed Study
  10. Correct Misconceptions
  11. Prevent Misconceptions
  12. Compare and Contrast
  13. Build New Experiences
  14. Give Meaning to Word Symbols
  15. Demonstrate a Process
  16. Form Value Judgments
  17. Create An Atmosphere
  18. Prepare for Experience
  19. Motivate Learning
  20. Publicize Events
  21. Develop Insight and Appreciation
  22. Dramatize A Point
  23. Raise Questions/Problems
  24. Stimulate Reading
  25. Foster Individual Interest
  26. Provide A Setting
  27. Complete Research
  28. Provide Reference
  29. Enrich And Enliven An Experience
  30. Invite Participation
  31. Help Learner Understand Self
  32. Build Background
  33. Create Center of Interest
  34. Develop Critical Judgment
  35. Stimulate Creative Effort
  36. Introduce A Topic Of Study
  37. Review And Summarize
  38. Test Learning

Now usually the Educational Photographer (and in that I include Travel Photographers to some extent by their goals to show us far-off places) could say that they are trying to do the majority of those choices at one time or another.  The Photojournalist may have a bit more limited goals, and the Fine Arts Photographer probably seeks to enrich and enliven an experience as their most often chosen goal.  The Fine Arts Photographer has the hardest job and has to do it with the most elegant of technique and aesthetic skill because to the Educator or Journalist a picture of less aesthetic quality may still be the superior image if it conveys the most pertinent information to the viewer.

So the Fine Arts photographer has a lot tougher job justifying their image when they are trying to make a statement with the display of their photographic skill and craft, and catch a moment to be shared in contemplation purely for the aesthetic experience.  

The Educational photographer is trying for an aesthetic answer even though they really have other goals in mind. Advertising photographers, whom I class as Educational Photographers are trying to produce an aesthetic moment, but there are times when the product itself is utterly prosaic—perhaps the photographer can produce a symbolic image of the process but the product is never seen.  A photograph of a handsome man and beautiful lady enraptured with one another may sell perfume even if we don’t see the perfume bottle.

The Photojournalist seeks equally to produce an aesthetic moment as they report the news, but both can succeed without answering to the aesthetic moment.

What about my student in the portfolio review?  What do they need to do before they set out to trip the shutter?  First, they have to define the statement they are trying to make, and then to make the image with the most craft and skill that they can bring to the subject.  The choice of lens, the focal length, the framing of the image all these should come as they explore the image they are trying to create.  Finally, they select the one image that best defines the epitome of their craft and their vision, and with time they will produce an image that both achieves the statement they wanted to make and presents it with a truly aesthetic vision.

It doesn’t come easy, but the more they think about it and analyze the failures the better the student becomes.

After fifty years I am still trying to come to terms with all that is involved in becoming a Fine Arts photographer.





Featured Blogs…something new


Over the past few weeks I have been working on creating ways to feature Artists and their blogs in a way that encourages them to grow. Two of the ways I have come up with are

  • Adding a feature blog
  • Holding contests built around learning

However, I have been stewing about the “How” details wanting to make it “just right” before I launched it. As all to often happens when we get stuck “chasing our tails” something unexpected shows up to snap us out of our endless chase.

Well, that something happened recently when I exceeded 400 Twitter followers. The person who put me over the mark was so elated that I visited her blog. I came away inspired about her dedication to supporting what I have come to call “Open Source Art” the everyday efforts of ordinary folks to touch their creativity. I decided then and there that I would start my Featured Blog with her and continue it whenever I came across an art blog that supported and furthered not only the act of creation but also recognized the need to honor it.

At his point I have no set criteria for deciding but I will be looking at basic things like:

  • Design
  • Content
  • Connectedness
  • Purpose

What a featured blog gets

Each Featured blog will receive:

  • A feature article -The article will feature my impressions of the blog and why I picked it.
  • A bookmark on Digg,StumbleUpon,Reddit and any others they would like
  • A tweet – sent out when the article is published plus  special #followfriday listing and addition to the #featuredartblog listing
  • A custom widget – A widget similar to the one now at the top of the second sidebar column that will be dedicated to their posts. The widget will be placed in circulation within the WidgetBox gallery which will give the blog wider circulation.
  • A link from this site – An inbound link to help build credibility and readers
  • Other surprises – A grab bag of unknown (even to me) things that may be added.

Nominating a blog

I have been assembling a list of blogs to feature I also want to give others the ability to nominate blogs. For now the simplest way to nominate is to use the comment form below, enter the following basic info

  • Blog’s name
  • A link to the blog using its’ URL (the http:// web address)
  • Owner/Author’s name
  • Brief description of why you think the blog should be featured.
 Featured Blogs...something new

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Real Time Twitter strategy continued

I forgot to include this in last week’s Twitter post…

TIP/REMINDER: I mentioned this in Monday’s  MM…when you create your message using Tweetlater or Hootsuite ,also create a unique hash tag for the location/show it might look like this #bwstkate09. This will create a search page for all who are receiving your message to go to and join in the conversation…kinda like a mini forum. It will also help ensure that the tweet doesn’t get missed because all your followers will know to go to that particular page.

Whenever if I am tweeting about  Art at St. Kate’s I will close the tweet with #bwstkate09 so the entire conversation can be found in one place.

Here is what one looks like, started by the guy who built the WordPress blog theme (Thesis) for The ARTISTScenter site. In order to keep his followers current with upgrades and tweaks, both by him and the development community, he uses #thesiswp as the tag so those who want in on that conversation place that tag in their tweets. Whenever someone wants to check something out about the theme all they have to do is insert #thesiswp into the twitter search box and they see what you see below.

thesiswp_witter-399x321 Real Time Twitter strategy continued

There is one more way to schedule a series of tweets and that is by using the service. This service is very effective but because of it’s spam potential use it with caution.

twitterhawk1-400x275 Real Time Twitter strategy continuedWhat it does:

Allows you to define certain key words that will then be used to seach and when found will trigger your message. In the example above I set up twincities as the key word. When the search finds that word among the twitter stream it will send the first message, the next key word find will trigger the second message. The process will cycle through up to 6 messages until you delete it.

twitterhawk3-400x306 Real Time Twitter strategy continued

Setting up a new TwitterHawk reply set: (see above)

  • The key words used this time were twin cities artists
  • Purpose of the message is to find artists interested in applying for the Art at St. Kate’s art fair in July..
  • Diffferent message versions were written to invite artists.
  • Some contained the #stkates09 tag others contained a link to the Artists Circle site where the application is available for down load.

Time to do depends on the number of responses but generally the time to do one response is less than 15 minutes.

TIP: Remember to use this one with caution by making sure you personalize your message and use the # (hash)tag as described above  and also periodically add a shortented version of your site url if you have one.

REMEMBER: The time investment in this process is mostly on the front end once everything is set up it works automatically and you can go back to your studio!


 Real Time Twitter strategy continued

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Social Proof in Real Time

Found on  Chris Brogan’s feed recently…an excellent example of how social media and Twitter specifically can be used by businesses in the LA Times. Watch the video and read the article it is social proof that the opt-in/permission based techniques now being implemented work far better than the old ways. Conversations work, engagement works, connection works and the beauty of it is anybody can do it and any business that wants to succeed from here on out will need to know how to use these and other tools not yet invented.

Also cool as Chris said is that the LA Times set up the video so it could be embedded in anybody’s blog or site just like YouTube not only does it spread the word about a very real example it also gets people to it’s site.

To read the whole article go to LA Times


 Social Proof in Real Time

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Real time Twitter strategy

This will be a live (relatively speaking) series demonstrating my actual use of Twitter as part of a marketing and promotion campaign. The campaign is for an arts organization I help, it’s name is Artists’ Circle and it puts on three shows here in the Twin cities each year. The organization is entirely artist run their first show is coming up in March and the next in the summer. The organization had very limited web presence until last spring when I set up their blog, they have little or no presence on Facebook and until yesterday did not have an active Twitter account.

The Strategy:

Step 1- get followers

Total time +/- an hour

  • Finding and following  art friendly or artist twitter members who were geographically accessible to our shows as either artists or potential buyers.
  • Listed the Artists Center Twitter page with Twellow and

To do this I used: Twellow and searched using Art and Minnesota as key words which produced a list of Twitter users in Minnesota who listed themselves under the category “Art”. I then skimmed the listing for active users, users who had tweeted regularly indicating they were regular users and clicked the “follow” button.

Because 99% of people being followed usually follow back our followers went from 0 to 20 in less than 24 hours.I’ll continue looking for potential followers a couple of hours a week max.

Step 2 Set- up the communications channels and schedule message releases

Total time a little over an hour.

To do this I used: and I chose to use both as a test but you really only need to use one. Hootsuite allows you to have more than one Twitter account  but Tweetlater also uses RSS as a means of sending out your announcements… Either will work just fine.

Both set ups are shown below I used different wording in each with a link back to the Artists’ Circle blog. Since there are basically two campaigns here

  • Art at Highland on March 28 ‘09
  • Art at St. Kate’s on July 25, ‘09

The messages for each are slightly different... Art at St. Kate’s is not until the summer but the deadline for artist jury submissions is approaching. So those messages are focused at artists who might be interested in submitting for jury review. After the participants have been selected future messages will be focused on attracting consumers to the show.

Tweet Later


The frequency of the messages is designed to trickle over time with a larger spread between messages early on with the time increment decreasing the closer to the event.

Remember that once this is the only time the messages will need to be set up. Once your network starts increasing in size the reach of your messages also increases.

Tomorrow the next step will be to use Key words to trigger a message to be sent out.

 Real time Twitter strategy

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Rasslers, Ponies and Artists Oh My!


wresler1 Rasslers, Ponies and Artists Oh My!

I saw The Wrestler a couple of weeks ago and have been haunted by the images of Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson the broken down wrestler trying for a comeback. While the gritty nature of the movie was difficult to watch at times I couldn’t help but see similarities between “The Ram” and the difficulties we as artists are facing today…or at least we think we are. There are three major take-aways that Randy “The Ram” left me with…

Giving up vs. sticking with it

On the surface this seems obvious…we never give up, we are taught to always stick with it no matter what. It doesn’t take long watching “The Ram” before we ask “How’s that workin’ for ya?” A couple of months ago I talked about knowing when to give up, when to walk away, and how to recognize when it is time. Seth Godin talks about knowing when to walk away in The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by pointing out that life and business are a series of ups and downs some are short and some are long, we need to know the difference to be successful. Hanging in there  to long can turn us into our own version of “The Ram” while giving in to the impulse to give up when things get hard can lead to missed opportunities. Sometimes “staying the course” is good sometimes not so much…we need to be awake to know the difference.

“The Ram” chose to stick with it because of any number of reasons not the least of which was not knowing anything else…he made the mistake of thinking his body and his glory days could last for ever. How many of us felt the same way when we decided to become artists? Did you ever imagine your body would give out and you could no longer throw pots or “break iron”? In the end Randy “The Ram” was left ( he thought) with no choice which brings me to the second take-away.

wrestler2 Rasslers, Ponies and Artists Oh My!The one trick pony

As the movie came to an end Bruce Springsteen asked

Have you ever seen a one trick pony in the field so happy and free
If you’ve ever seen a one trick pony then you’ve seen me
Have you ever seen a one legged dog makin’ his way down the street
If you’ve ever seen a one legged dog then you’ve seen me

Bruce Springsteen “The Wrestler”

So I ask …how many artists are one trick ponies? How many of you rely solely on art fair sales or gallery sales to support your art making? For years we could get away with it, because our bodies let us and we were buoyed up by a sense abundance. We stayed in our studios, quite content to remain where we were and smugly told ourselves we were doing just fine we were above the need to sell our work. Until we noticed we were becoming the “one legged dog” and then……….

A recent survey by the NAIA reflected this tunnel vision  quoting artists blaming the public when the real problem was their own failure to recognize themselves as businesses and businesses sometimes need to diversify in order to grow and succeed. Many of the artists interviewed voiced a concern that they would have to get a “real job”, that may be true for some but not for all especially for those who have paid attention and did not become one trick ponies locked into their false sense of permanence.

Nothing is permanent, we always have a choice

This brings me to the final take-away, and that is we have a natural tendency to think that our world will always remain in it’s current state. We will always be able to throw pots, heft iron, or work a loom, people will always  flock to us ready to buy. So we don’t see a need to anticipate change because everything is great..that is until the trek from the van to our booth site starts hurting, or we have failed to catch a trend change.

wrestler3-331x400 Rasslers, Ponies and Artists Oh My!

So when you start to think about  giving up take a look outside your world and inside yourself and try to see if your lens is focused, and ask yourself…

  • Are you Randy “The Ram” hanging on because you don’t know anything else?
  • Are you that one trick pony?
  • Is the world as you see it now going to be the same way next year, or 5,10 years down the line?

These things that have comforted me I drive away (anything more)
This place that is my home I cannot stay (anything more)
My only faith is in the broken bones and bruises I display
Have you ever seen a one legged man tryin’ to dance his way free
If you’ve ever seen a one legged man then you’ve seen me

Cover of "Working on a Dream (Deluxe Version)"

Cover via Amazon

Lyrics from “The Wrestler” featured in  Working on a Dream (Deluxe Version) Bruce Springsteen

 Rasslers, Ponies and Artists Oh My!

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Setting up your Twitter Channels


I recently introduced the concepts of attraction and network building as two key elements in your 2009 marketing strategy. Both rely on being able to build, grow and maintain networks that can help you bring buyers to your shows. As I have already discussed on-line social networking is going to play a major role in your success or failure not just for 2009 but from here on out. So for the fore seeable future we will be focusing regularly on setting up and using your networks effectively.

Besides having a blog, Facebook, Twitter and Friendfeed are the three most important tools you will need to build and nurture your networks in order for the attraction and networking strategies to work. Starting today, I’ll be covering in specific terms  how to get set up with and use these three tools.

So let’s get started… The first thing you need to do is go to, you will see the following page, Click on the big green button to start.

create_account-1-400x334 Setting up your Twitter Channels

Clicking will take you to this page where you will need to enter your user name and password.


Select a user name that fits you and your business, since you are your own brand try to find a username that will be easy for you and your followers to remember and that will reflect your work. For example mine is bwphoto it is both easy to remember and it associates my name with my work. Your user name will be appended to Twitter’s to form your unique URL which is another reason to keep it simple and memorable. You will need that full URL later depending on the sites you join. My unique URL is:

twitter_create-an-account-1 Setting up your Twitter Channels

After you have clicked the “Create my account” button you will be take to your home page which look very bare, but this is where the fun begins!  Your home page is where you will be able to…

  • see your followers,
  • see those you are following,
  • read direct messages and replies addressed to you
  • Favorite people you want to really pay attention to
  • see the entire public feed, which is like listening to everyone in a stadium

twitter_home-1 Setting up your Twitter Channels

The first thing I recommend people do at this point is to complete your profile by clicking on the “Settings” tab in the menu in the top right of the page. The page shown above also points out the “Settings” tab which we we’ll cover after we get your profile set up.

The “Settings” Page

  • Account–  set your time zone, your blog or web site address, and a one line bio here.


Make sure you enter your blog address as a full URL so followers can click on it. Lack of viable and related web site or blog is one thing that may lead me as well as others to block you or decide not to follow you.


Also make sure your bio really describes what you do and what you represent, your bio combined with your site link are the only things a stranger will have to determine if they want to follow you…at least in the beginning.

  • Devices – If you have a smart phone and want to receive instant messages (SMS) from Twitter notifying you of new activity then enter your mobile number. Make sure you read the sidebar “Twitter with SMS” any messages you receive via this method will count against your SMS account on your mobile account.
  • Notices – Lets you determine how twitter responds when someone follows, or direct messages you.


I find that having Twitter e-mail me whenever I have a new follower helps respond to them on a timely and personal manner. Remember this is all about building relationships.

twitter-_-notices Setting up your Twitter Channels

  • Picture – This is pretty self explanatory, it is where you get to upload a photo or graphic that will serve as your graphic identity.


While you can easily change your picture I have found that using something that reflects your brand, which in your case is YOU is the best for attracting the best followers.  Make sure the image is readable and DO upload an image. Absence of an image is often a sign of someone you may not want to follow or have follow you. It can be an indication that they don’t take the network seriously or they are not familiar with the internet. Either way I use it as one of the criteria for not following or even blocking someone.

twitter_-profile_picture-1 Setting up your Twitter Channels

  • Design– Here is were you can really express yourself. Twitter offers several choices for both background and design, to start out  select something that best suits you and your work.

twitter-_-design Setting up your Twitter Channels


It is very easy to make your own custom background or you can have one made from a variety of web sites that now provide the service. Mine is shown below.

twitter_page Setting up your Twitter Channels

Finding People

There are many ways to find people and many different strategies people use to make connections. You can use the “Find People” tab in the menu bar which will display four tabbed choices

  • Find on Twitter – Use this to search for subjects,keywords, etc. To find potential connections or friends you might think are on Twitter.
  • Find on other Networks– this tab lets you search web based e-mail services.
  • Invite by e-mail – Use this to invite friends whose e-mail you know and you would like to join you on Twitter.
  • Suggest Users – Twitter will suggest potential matches based on your profile, location and who knows what else.


Before the rise of Twitter based sites like Twellow, or others this was the best way to get started. Now I recommend using Twellow which we will talk about later.

twitter-_-find-people-you-know-on-twitter-1 Setting up your Twitter Channels

 Setting up your Twitter Channels

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What 2009 will bring and how artists can lead the way.

Over the last few days I spent time scouring the web for forecasting trends related to small businesses that could then be translated to the world of artists especially those relying on art fairs as a major source of sales. What I found was a lot of hope (you read that right!) the catch is that hope will not be realized without a change in the way you do business.

paper_typing-400x198 What 2009 will bring and how artists can lead the way.

What I found might be surprising…a lot of what will be showing up in 2009 in the form of consumer behavior and trends indicated an advantage for artists. The advantage is surprisingly simple in that most have yet to take the leap into the online digital  revolution. Because of this fact, artists will have “skipped over” a lot of the chaos that caused early adaptors to chase any and all shiny objects.

Trends are indicating that this will be a year of “settling out” and because of the economic shifts taking place consumer behavior will be increasingly focused on a desire for human interaction when making buying decisions.  Artists are especially poised for this since it is a natural part of how we sell our work…we just need to know how to incorporate 21st century tools. There are three general areas that artists should pay attention to over the coming year.


  • There will be a deepening desire for engagement to include “live” conversation. This may seem logical to us but for other types of business it hasn’t been. We have been face to face with our buyers since day one however it has tended to end once we made the sale. Over 2009 we will need be more aware of and use ways to continue our engagement after the transaction.
  • Finally the coming year will be a time for deeper listening not only for trends but as a tool to reinforce our buyer relationships.  Also by listening deeper we can discover more accurately what our buyers want. Artists need to learn to set up and use what Chris Brogan calls “listening Posts” to better hear and meet the needs and desires of their markets.


  • Because of the work done by early adaptors artists will have a much lower learning curve when it comes to using  social media. It will be easier  to tie together their market profiles, and buyers in a very focused way. In doing so artists will be able to use social networks with almost laser like precision to engage their buyers regardless of geography.
  • This laser like focus will pay off by allowing artists to pay greater attention to producing work that attracts and retains buyers rather than remaining stuck in the random and unpredictable cycle they have experienced thus far.

Influence and attraction

  • Realize that our buyers look to us for guidance in making buying decisions,
    and make sure what we make, not only meets their needs, but does so obviously.
  • Because buyers will be looking for more human contact it will be important for artists to learn to use  the intimacy rule: intimacy touches emotion;emotion powers conversation. As a result tools that bring consumers more closely into an artists’ life and creative process will go a long way in earning trust, and love which can be the difference between making it and not making it in down times. Blogs, customer appreciation programs, open studios will all be necessary in the coming year.
  • Remembering that satisfied customers tell three friends while angry customers tell 3000. Building a network of evangelists coupled with efforts to put the “ME” back into customer service will go a long way towards making a show good or awful.

In short it looks like artists especially those living on the art fair circuit a very well positioned entering 2009 as long as they learn to use the tools that will bring them into the 21st century and better contact with their buyers. They can lead the way because of their long history of face to face contact with their buyers and relative connection to their markets. The 21st Century tools will only help to  modernize the foundation they have already built over decades.

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 What 2009 will bring and how artists can lead the way.
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