A lesson on funding your art from Paul Smith

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There’re things I’ve been lucky enough to learn along the way and I have huge respect for those that pass on their knowledge as they discover the tricks to success.
One such experience was about ten years ago, watching Paul Smith talk at The Design Indaba in Cape Town.

The audience, according to Paul’s briefing, was a group of aspiring designers from all fields; advertising, graphic design, fashion design, industrial design, interior design, architecture… Truth be told, the Indaba attracted the best of SA’s industry, all there to soak up the genius of the star studded lineup of speakers.
Unfortunately we only saw him via video conference, but the impression was still made.

He stood up and warned us all – as young, idealistic designers who had to make a success of ourselves – that we shouldn’t be too precious about what we make, or how we make our income.
(I paraphrase so apologies for the odd word out of place. The gist will be captured.)
He warned that we should be careful not to fall into this trap.
We’ll need to make our ‘art’ commercially viable. And so many ‘true’ artists had fallen into this trap, and died poor and frustrated.
He then took on a strange yeti like pose, in profile, with one hand reaching in front of him and the other, reaching behind him (like a backhanded bribe in a Lagos airport).
“In my career, I’ve always done this: Taking from my mainstream business (front hand) to feed  my real art (back hand). And vica versa. Taking from the front end, to feed my real art.
This is very important.
The one supports the other, and doing only one, won’t lead you to either commercial or artistic success. You will be lead only to frustration.

He then used the example of his famous camel hair overcoat.
“In my London store, I sell 30 Blue ones to every Red one. But, if I hadn’t made the red one, it would never have featured on the Bryan Ferry Arena magazine cover.”

Lightning bolt moment for me.
Know your audience. Know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Don’t be idealistic about ‘it has to be one way or the other.’
Played smart, like Paul Smith has done, we can achieve both.

Make the Red Camel hair coat.
But don’t forget to fund your passion with enough Blue ones.

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