Cracking the Four-Part Code

04.11.2016 |

Episode #1 of the course How do artists find their niche? by Ann Rea


Are you an artist? Say out loud, “I’m going to write a business plan to sell my art.”

Did that make you cringe? If so, you’re not alone. Most artists cringe when they think of writing a business plan for two reasons:

1. Artists are indoctrinated into thinking that making art is antithetical to making money.
2. Traditional business plans don’t work for artists because they’re designed to sell “goods” or “services.”

But an artist’s product is “emotion,” and traditional business plans just don’t account for this.

Think about it.

Does a painter sell paint stuck on canvas?

Does a jewelry designer sell bent metal?

Does an illustrator sell lines on paper?

Artists master their creative media so that they can express emotion.

People are not buying the artistic medium itself. They’re buying the emotional response that art triggers within them.

If you don’t understand your “product,” it’s impossible to communicate its unique value to those who will appreciate it: your niche.

When art evokes our emotions, it connects us with our humanity.

People value what moves or inspires them.

Why don’t we learn what our “product” is in art school? Because art professors, critics, and historians are not marketing strategists.

Why can’t we learn what our “product” is in business school? Just say the word “feelings” to a business consultant and watch them cringe.

Why do some artists become famous and others do not, despite their talent?

Even as a graduate of one the top art schools and an art history student tutor, I couldn’t figure out why some artists became famous and others didn’t.

For years I searched, trying to answer this question so that I could establish a niche for my art. I read many books on business, including all of Seth Godin’s books on marketing, and I consulted with my brother, the former dean of a business school and a strategic marketing consultant.

I still didn’t know how to make art and make money.

Then something dawned on me. I felt like I’d cracked a code—I’d found the missing link in art history. I call it “The Four-Part Code,” and it comprises four sequential variables that must be determined in the following order:

p style=”padding-left: 30px;”>1. Why = Who is the artist, what do they stand for, what do they stand against, and why?
2. What = Based on their why, what is the one problem that the artist believes is worth solving?
3. How = How does the artist solve this problem using their artistic and other skills and resources?
4. Who = Who has the one problem that the artist believes is worth solving (their niche)?


My realization was that the only reason an artist becomes famous is that they served a target market—a niche, or their “Who.”

The artist knew “How” to solve a problem for a particular group of people: their niche.

If the artist knew “How” to solve a problem for their target market, they were clear on “What” problem they were solving, and they dedicated their life to solving it.

Their passionate conviction was shaped by “Who” they were, what they stood for, and what they stood against. They knew “Why” this one problem was worth solving.

During 2005, my very first year as an unknown full-time artist, I fired my art galleries and moved to San Francisco, where I didn’t know anyone, including my target market.

I applied my “Four-Part Code” and my annual gross sales totaled $103,246.

In the next nine days, I’ll be showing how “The Four-Part Code” applies to five famous artists in history and three emerging artists.

Instead of submitting to the scarcity and permission-based art establishment, my “Four-Part Code” empowers artists to take the reins of their success.

The art and craft markets are undergoing a long overdue disruption, just like the music and publishing industries experienced in the late 1990s.

The bad news is that established artists will suffer if they don’t adapt to change.

The good news is that this market disruption is creating opportunities for those artists poised to take advantage of a new marketplace free of gatekeepers.

The tables are turning. With the help of the internet, artists are taking back their power by building their platforms, connecting directly with their customers, creating their distribution channels, and cutting art dealers out of their deal. Just like artists did centuries before.

The New Creative Class doesn’t need a middleman. They make art, and they make all the money.

During the following nine days, we will review art history from a different perspective. We’ll be determining how five artists became famous by looking at how they found their market niche.

Day 2: Michelangelo

Day 3: John Singer Sargent

Day 4: Andy Warhol

Day 5: Thomas Kinkade

Day 6: Ai Weiwei

Then we’ll look at how three emerging artists and former students defined their niche.

Day 7: Colleen Attarra, Eco Artist

Day 8: Daniel Barrett, Music Producer

Day 9: Kate Bradley, Children’s Portrait Painter

Day 10: We’ll examine how The Four-Part Code applies to all creative entrepreneurs.


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