Denver Artist Bob Ragland Shares the “How To” of Artistic Success
The artistic audience is all around us. Our stage is the world and the community in which we engage. How does and can an artist move beyond the veil of limits? “Outreach tactics of business,” exclaims Bob Ragland.
It was a warm Summer day in August this year that I visited my friend and mentor Bob Ragland. His home is filled with the knowledge that has been a lifelong dedication toward the enlightenment and business of being an artist. Some may call him outlandishly persistent in his continuous pursuit of sharing this knowledge, but all too often it is the ones who need it most that ignore the message and/or messenger.
Ragland has made it his mission to debunk the term “starving artist”, he boldly and honestly states “Nah ah, not me, not in this life, I am a non-starving artist.” He shares that real business tactics are not part of the educational curriculum in art classes, instead students are taught how to paint strokes like the masters. Which he notes is worthy but they aren’t taught the importance of once leaving college and choosing to take their art to the next level and sell it, that they need to learn how to run their art like a business. Whether in high school or college Ragland is a firm believer that you “could saves some lives” if there was a better understanding of how to be a business person and an artist. “This is what is going to happen in the real world, this is what you have to look forward to,” states Ragland. It has been stated that artists in general are not always the best at marketing their own art. So how can a right brain creative tap into the left brain business person?
“If every artist sent out maybe ten or fifteen postcards twice a year to remind people that their work is out there and available, not just leaving it in the hands of the gallery, it would drive business to the business,” states Ragland. Gallery’s have their place for artists, however, it is also the responsibility of an artist to be involved in their own success. Ragland had reflected back to an encounter with a co-op gallery that had expressed that the “artists are too busy” to reach out to their friends and collectors, so his proposed suggestion of outreach seemed out of reach or understanding. “I know some artists shoot themselves in the foot all the time because they are too busy. To busy to make money, I get that, but that’s on them,” Ragland went on to explain his previous conversation. “There are a whole lot of artists who do the outreach to their people and are very successful. They turn it up.”
Ragland has successfully made a name for himself as an artist without a gallery and without doing festivals. Would I recommend this approach for all artists? Not necessarily, but having followed Ragland’s success over the years, the plain and simple fact of business outreach via the United States Postal Service (USPS) is one way to stay in front of your audience when not showing at a gallery or festival.
“If artists would just send a note to their people letting them know what they’ve been up to. They don’t have to beg or act like a victim, you just nudge people,” smiles Ragland and continues “As you well know, I send out colorful illustrated envelopes with notes inside. And maybe those people that get them will show them to 50 other people.” Ragland goes on to explain the law of the 250. “If you had to put together an invitation list, the theory suggests that you could round up 250 people through you, your friends and their friends, et cetera. So potentially, you could reach a whole lot of people that way,” Ragland pauses and states “And USPS, as I tell people, is my best business partner.”
“Generally every other day I try to get a couple letters out, they are just contact letters saying hello, sharing good news and careers updates,” states Ragland. “You figure everyone gets a stack of junk mail and everything else and then they get this letter that is illustrated that somebody took the time to make, from an artist. You try to make them interesting enough so that someone hangs onto them, and they do.” Ragland expressed that over the years he has had people and collectors approach him and thank him for taking the time to send the note. “I’ve had people tell me that they have framed my envelopes and letters,” Ragland states with some satisfaction. “Artists need to understand the simple mechanics of business is to just stay in touch with people.”
One would question if we all have become locked into the social media machine thinking that just because we “posted” it or created the on-line invitation that “they” will come? Quite possibly. I know that I am always pleasantly surprised when the mailbox is opened and find a letter from a friend or postcard to an upcoming exhibition. The postcard from a gallery is a friendly reminder of the beauty unfolding in front of us on a daily basis. It is satisfying in some respects that there are those determined to share the message of art via mail. My collection of gallery, exhibition and artists postcards is expansive, some are even framed.
Ragland makes no qualms about his determination to share his artistic “secrets” to success with as many artisans as he can. Ragland teaches his techniques as a career coach and often speaks to art classes, for a fee, cause nothing in this world is free.