Can Introverted Artists Sell Their Art

How To Create Value Above and Beyond Your Art

(Transcription)

Artist, Alex Uchida      San Jose, California

Ann Rea: (00:00)
There we go. So, hello Alex. Alex, tell us your first and last name, where you live, and why we’re talking. 

Alex Uchida: (00:10)
My name is Alex Uchida and I live in San Jose, California, which is in the bay area. Not too far from San Francisco.

Ann Rea: (00:17)
Down the road.

Alex Uchida: (00:18)
Yeah, I think we’re talking about just my gratefulness for the connections I got to make through this program.

Ann Rea: (00:24)
Yeah. You have done really well, but before you started you had a little struggle. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you were considering getting an MFA. Is that right?

Alex Uchida: (00:37)
Something like that.

Alex Uchida: (00:38)
It was on list of things to do. So yeah, I did go to art school in Studio practice degree and it was just like, that was considered what you should do. Go to MFA, and that was one of the advices. So it was on the list.

Ann Rea: (00:55)
Are you sad you didn’t get an MFA?

Alex Uchida: (00:58)
No, I’m glad I didn’t spend the money on that.

Ann Rea: (01:02)
No. Cause it’s like, I think the average for the top 42 art and design schools in North America, the average annual tuition is about $52,000 a year. And what’s really unfortunate is that there are far fewer scholarships available because their endowments are so small. So you’re probably going to have to pay full boat. If you went to Stanford, you’d probably get some, you know, if  you qualify, you’d get some aid or you’d have an option to get a scholarship. Also just FYI. It costs more to go to the Rhode Island school of design than it costs to go to Harvard law school.

Alex Uchida: (01:43)
Wow. Okay. Now I’m really glad that I didn’t do this.

Ann Rea: (01:48)
But before you joined the program, you obviously had some challenges or you had some questions that were left unanswered by art school. So what were your like top two challenges before you came into the program?

Alex Uchida: (02:03)
It was definitely how to find a market for the work. Just, you know, you post things on Instagram, on Facebook and you’re kind of hoping for the best and the whole plan. Yeah, exactly. I guess 80 people like the work and that’s good, but you don’t make any sales. I think the second challenge probably was no confidence. You know, I knew that I was doing good work, but I had no confidence that anybody would actually like it.

Ann Rea: (02:30)
Right. Yes. Because likes don’t mean anything. They’re a vanity metric.

Alex Uchida: (02:34)
Yes.

Ann Rea: (02:35)
And it really don’t. So, and I think you know, what’s really really important if I can get across anything to artists is that showing your art does not mean that you’re going to sell your art. Even if you show it in the most prestigious venues, museums, I can’t tell you how many artists I hear from who have worked in museums but they’re not selling anything.

Alex Uchida: (03:00)
Yup! I know a few.

Ann Rea: (03:01)
You know a few, so, okay. I’m not the only one. All right. So you came into the program and wide-eyed and bewildered, and you had these challenges. You’re thinking, how’s this person going to help me figure this out? So let’s go there. What are two of the biggest things you’ve learned so far since you’ve been in the program?

Alex Uchida: (03:24)
Okay. So one of the things I really learned was just about looking at yourself and looking at your own story and how important that is and how you can use that to help people. So that, and really, I think that’s it, that’s just like the biggest thing for me that you have skills, you have talent that you can help people with and no matter who you are. And I found that really empowering, and I look forward to using those skills. Yeah.

Ann Rea: (03:55)
Yeah. And you have been, so you talked, you’ve started. So, in the Making Art Making Money program, we have eight courses. So it’s not just another online course. It’s a comprehensive program. So my students go through eight courses, all of the associated quizzes and homework assignments. And then at the end of it, we have something called the Prototype Project. And during the prototype project, my students either sell their art or they don’t sell their art. Either way it’s okay because they will learn probably for the first time ever why they did sell their art and why they didn’t sell their art. So you essentially sell your homework. And during the Prototype Project, you’ve got to sell enough of your art to cover the tuition investment at a minimum in order to officially graduate, which was, I’m proud to say featured by Inc magazine as an example to Silicon Valley, Alex. 

Alex Uchida: (04:46)
Yeah. And that’s huge.

Ann Rea: (04:49)
Yes. But so you are engaged in that right now. You’re actually doing your Prototype Project. So tell us, what has that been like for you? 

Alex Uchida: (04:58)
It’s also really empowering. You know, at first it was scary to like step out of my comfort zone and get to know people and connect with them, even in the company that I work for. And I started realizing that feedback when somebody doesn’t purchase the painting is just as useful, sometimes even more useful than someone buying the actual work, because [inaudible].

Ann Rea: (05:20)
I think so. Yeah. I think it is. I think not understanding why they are not interested is more valuable to you. For sure.

Alex Uchida: (05:29)
That allows, that gives you a path to follow from there on, but what was most important to me was the stories that I got to hear and that’s part of my process. And I just realized from there, I think I realized in this program too, right? Some people share their stories and you get to connect with study partners and you hear their stories and you just, you’re just fascinated just by how strong people are, how wonderful people are. And once I started connecting with people through my Prototype Project, that was just further enhanced. And I, I was so thankful to get to know these people that way. And then also, you know, help them feel warm and, and they just felt welcomed. And yeah, I was really grateful for that.

Ann Rea: (06:14)
Yeah. So it sounds like you’ve just made a lot of heartfelt and very authentic connections that you don’t get to do if you’re working through a gallery. There’s no way in hell that would happen.

Alex Uchida: (06:28)
No. Not at all, Not at all. And just for that alone, I am so grateful.

Ann Rea: (06:35)
Well, you’re doing the work, so I’m grateful that you’re doing the work and that it’s working for you. And let me ask you something. Now that you have a mission that you are serving. So to back up, if you’re not familiar with my approach, I do not teach artists how to sell themselves, because they’re not for sale first of all. And what I try to– what I teach them is to identify and to serve a mission that is greater than themselves. And so Alex is doing that. And let me ask you, Alex, do you feel like having this mission that you have now, now that you’re starting to receive some of the feedback and do you feel like you’re selling yourself in any way, shape or form?

Alex Uchida: (07:19)
No. And I think– so before all of this in the program, I did feel like I was selling myself whenever I went to gallery shows and I have my work included in gallery shows and it felt so slimy. And now when I connect with people on my mission, it’s heartwarming. It’s gratifying. It’s any, any words that you can use to fill that space?

Ann Rea: (07:45)
Yes. I mean, I feel like what I’ve just picked up on with your comments in our Facebook group and in the live classes is that you seem to have been able to shift into a place where you are being your most authentic self. That’s what I’m getting.

Alex Uchida: (08:00)
Yeah. And I found my most authentic self through these connections to having that validation that okay, I do give people a safe, warm space to tell their stories. I never thought of that as a skill. [inaudible].

Ann Rea: (08:13)
I know.

Alex Uchida: (08:13)
Soft skills are not very, you know, highly touted. So

Ann Rea: (08:21)
Because they’re women’s skills mostly.

Alex Uchida: (08:24)
Thank you.

Ann Rea: (08:26)
We just call it what it is like that’s really why it often gets discounted in our culture and in our economy, but, oh my gosh. How valuable is it to be heard and seen genuinely?

Alex Uchida: (08:41)
Oh my gosh. Yes. And that’s the exact proof that people have used as being seen and heard. And I thought, I feel empowered. I’m going to continue using that word, but it’s empowerment.

Ann Rea: (08:51)
Good. Yeah. I would say if I ask my students, like, what’s number one thing, benefit when that you’ve received. They typically will say something like “I’ve been able to take my power back.” And that is exactly what I like, because I’m an eight in the Enneagrams.

Alex Uchida: (09:12)
I just learned my own Enneagram and I’m curious, it’s like, whoa, okay.

Ann Rea: (09:18)
You’re not an eight. I already know in two seconds you’re so not an eight, but thank God. We need all these different people to make the world go around.

Alex Uchida: (09:24)
But I actually think that that’s proof that I’m a six, which is apparently neurotic type of person. So if a six can transform that way, I think anybody can.

Ann Rea: (09:33)
There you go. So, I have another question for you. Like, was there, you can fill in the blank, I almost didn’t apply to enroll in this program because?

Alex Uchida: (09:48)
It might’ve been the cost, but honestly, once I heard you talk about the fine art world and really having the knowledge that it’s kind of dying right now, I was quick to just join. Like there wasn’t a lot of thought to it.

Ann Rea: (10:07)
Well, I just want to remind you that had you gotten an MFA and spent two years doing that? It would have been over a hundred thousand dollars.

Alex Uchida: (10:16)
Okay.

Ann Rea: (10:17)
Plus studio fees, plus art supplies plus plus plus plus, and okay, this is chump change in comparison you guys. It’s every everything’s relative. And I think it’s important to point out is that you will never learn how to sell your art in art school.

Alex Uchida: (10:32)
That’s right.

Ann Rea: (10:33)
If you even ask about it, you’ll typically be put to shame and a lot of– now, what I want you to know is I have had a lot of art professors, even tenured art professors come through the program and they do it secretly. The reason why they don’t want their academic colleagues to know is because their academic colleagues will shame them for actually wanting to sell their art. So knowing that, what are they going to teach their students?

Alex Uchida: (11:06)
Yeah, it definitely comes through the teaching.

Ann Rea: (11:08)
Right. So, like I don’t think that– look, if you don’t care about selling your art, I think that’s fine. It’s, it’s a free, free world. It doesn’t matter. But what you do, you have to really understand. You have a very expensive hobby. And a hobby is just a legal definition. It’s not like I’m not trying to put people down. I’m just telling you, the fact is is that if you pursue something and you’re not making money, it is called a hobby. And if you try to claim it on your tax returns is anything other than a hobby. If you’re not making a profit, it will be disallowed. So we just have to have a very honest and clear conversation about what a hobby is and what a hobby isn’t. And there’s no shame in having a respectable hobby as an artist, but if you don’t want to have a hobby, please wake the hell up before you get audited by the IRS.

Ann Rea: (12:05)
Because that wouldn’t be good. I mean, it happens. I mean, I’ve had artists come to me saying, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t know this” and “I obviously need to make money,” or “I can’t keep claiming these expenses and costs.” Okay. So tell me about what’s your experience been like with study partners? Cause I asked you, this is because a lot of artists are super shy, super introverted, and they’ve been either annoyed or mistreated by other artists who’ve been jealous or snobby or whatever. What’s your experience been like in the making art making many community? Do we have snotty, snobby, jealous artists?

Alex Uchida: (12:46)
Oh, absolutely not. And that’s, that was just the true wonder of the program. And I started off as one of those who was introverted and shy that I, as soon as I realized that we were recommended to find study partners, I thought, oh my, oh my gosh. Oh, I’m out. And then I found my first one and then I started meeting with more people and they’re just the most wonderful people. And you get so much help from them. And, it started to realize, I don’t think I’m as introverted as I thought I was. And that, uh, yeah, it was great. And you just get people from all backgrounds, all experiences, people with different kinds of selling experiences too. And you just get help from every kind of perspective. Everything is so useful.

Ann Rea: (13:30)
Do you think like that introverted nature that you thought you had before was tied to a lack of confidence? Oh yes. Yeah. I think so too. I think a lot. Cause I watch the confidence of my students. Just, I watch it go up, up, up above and I also, you know, Jenna, right. She was painfully shy.

Alex Uchida: (13:54)
She was like.

Ann Rea: (13:56)
Yeah. Well, I mean like, what is your excuse? Right. She didn’t speak English didn’t have any money. She didn’t know anyone. Do you know? She tried to sell her art door to door cause she didn’t have, she didn’t know any better. That’s rough and she’s super shy, like painfully shy. So that was like, yeah, what’s your excuse. But anyway, so unfortunately you will not have to try to sell your art door to door. I think I remember one time you commented that you shared some of the methodology that I’ve been teaching with one of your marketing executives at your company and they made some remark. What did they say to you? Exactly. I wanted to ask you what that was the conversation with

Alex Uchida: (14:41)
Remark, um, that they had made, but it was, it was a completely sided conversation. I had told them that I was part of this program, but everything he said in suggestion and advice to me, I was just completely lined up with what, what you were saying through the program. And then I, so I told him, of course, like that’s amazing. Um, that’s exactly what I’m learning right now. And it’s, he’s very successful at his job. He knows what he’s doing. So the CMO

Ann Rea: (15:09)
Chief marketing officer or something like that

Alex Uchida: (15:11)
Has a lot of experience with product marketing and branding. So branding is his specialty and

Ann Rea: (15:19)
Good. I’m glad it was affirmed. Well, let me ask you one last question and this is, I want you to just answer, honestly, if someone was like sitting on the fence and they weren’t sure about applying to enroll, maybe you remember when you were there, right? What would you honestly say to them?

Alex Uchida: (15:38)
That’s a good one. If, if you’re worried, what do you have to waste? I mean, you know, obviously if you have the funds to prepare the program there, if you’ve spent all this time with the lack of confidence, you’ve been questioning yourself and your artwork for all this time, why not join? What do you have to waste? And you have everything to learn and not just about selling a work, that’s kind of like the most, the secondary thing, but you’ve learned a lot about yourself. And I think to me, that alone is worth the cost,

Ann Rea: (16:10)
Right? Also it’s not a cost, it’s an investment, which is way different because spending money means you’re spending money. Investing money means you’re allocating those funds so that you can gain more money. And there’s a huge difference. And I think a lot of artists get it twisted. They think that they’re doing something for themselves. They think it’s spending, but if it’s something that’s going to help you learn the skills that you need to learn in order to make more money, that’s an investment. And that’s a very different thing. I would say, getting an MFA is spending money.

Alex Uchida: (16:48)
I agree. Um, but yes, I was, I was able to sell and I’m almost earning my tuition back. So just, just for that, that confidence is, is worth it. I would recommend it to anybody and I have so,

Ann Rea: (17:01)
And you’re not even done yet. You’re not even done with the program yet. Okay. Wonderful. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy day to just share your experience and your lessons, because it does help other artists who kind of identify with you and see like, oh, there’s someone who’s kind of like me. She sounds a bit like me or she seems a bit like me and that just helps them. So thank you for doing that and thank you for doing the work so that you get the results because your success is my success, Alex, and I want you to just keep going. Okay. I will. And if you need help ask for it,

Alex Uchida: (17:42)
I will. Now I know how to do that. Now I have the competence to do that.

Ann Rea: (17:46)
No, no shot there. Take that shy self, put her in the box if she needs help. Okay. Yes. All right. Thank you so much. Bye.

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