Ann: And we are alive. So this is Ann from San Francisco, California for The MAKING Art Making MONEY Semester. I’m here with Rick Midler, who is in New York City. I can see out of his window New York City Central Park. So you’re a student in The MAKING Art Making MONEY Semester, and you work in advertising. Is that correct?
Rick: Yeah, that’s right.
Ann: Okay. And you got a bunch of awards. Are those for advertising in the background there? I see those.
Rick: They are. There’s a bunch of them. This is the cool one.
Ann: What’s the baby? I see a baby there.
Rick: Yeah. That’s a This is a London International Awards.
Rick: It’s heavy, and it’s cool, so I keep it around.
Ann: You must have done something for that.
Rick: Yeah. I make commercial, and I’m not really sure what that one was for, but I won an Emmy.
Ann: Oh, wow, awesome. I’m impressed. Wow. One of my students won an Emmy. I feel like wow. That’s fantastic. Good for you. What was that for?
Rick: It was HBO. I did a piece with George Foreman that won an Emmy.
Ann: Wow, that’s awesome. So you joined The MAKING Art Making MONEY Semester because you obviously make an art for other people, and now you want to make your own art. So I’m just going to ask you three questions, and just whatever pops in your head, I’d like you to answer. By the way, we didn’t rehearse this. I didn’t think I was going to do this, but now I got you here, and I get to see you in person, it’s a cool opportunity.
So when you think about what your biggest challenge was before you started The MAKING Art Making MONEY Semester, what was it? What was your biggest challenge or question about selling your art and marketing your own art?
Rick: The biggest question was, do I want to if I don’t think I can? Why should I keep doing it? When I started making art….I mean, it goes back a long way. You know how artists have different periods, the blue periods or whatever?
Rick: I feel like since I’ve been making art as a kid or as a teenager, I probably had that full period. And if you look at the art from these different times in my life, they’re very different. They hold together because of me. And I never had any aspirations of being a great artist. Maybe when I was a kid I wanted to go to Europe, and…remember “An American in Paris,” where Fred Astaire.
Ann: Yeah. I don’t know. Oh, you’re an artist.
Rick: I think it’s Gene Kelly. He moves to Paris, and he sells art on the street, and he falls in love with a young actress or dancer, but then a patron comes along, who’s an older woman, who loves art and he…
Ann: And saved them?
Rick: …goes for the ride with her right. I saw that when I was young, and I thought that’s what I was going to do after high school – Move to Paris, fall in love with somebody while I’m showing my artwork on the street. And I went to college, and I went to the advertising instead.
I had a long career, very good, I would say a successful career in advertising, and I never stopped making art. And I’ve had shows, and I’ve sold handful of pieces, and never knew why they sold, never knew how to sell them. Always felt uncomfortable in shows. I felt really uncomfortable. And telling the same story over and over again, which mean it’s really hard for you because you do it a lot.
Ann: I have to do it a lot.
Rick: I know. But even in the in the course of one evening of talking about your art with people, you get to be a robot and an auto pilot, and it’s such a break. And they’re now real conversations with people. And I’m really good one-on-one when we sit alone, and we talk about these real things. I never really thought I got that, and I thought that was important to selling art. I never knew how to do it.
Ann: That’s like and very different conversation and a conversation you’re learning to have now. Right?
Rick: Yeah, exactly. Night and day. Now, if I actually go to an opening and talk about my art, it’d go a totally different way. However, I know better that to even go that way. I was talking to someone the other day, even before I met you and the course, I said, “I don’t care if I ever show in a gallery ever again. It’s just not that exciting, and nothing really sells, and I’m not even…” And here’s the thing. This is why I joined your course.
I’m in advertising, and I can get to the heart of a company through questioning them. We call it a CNA, which is a client’s needs analysis, where I’ll ask a lot of questions about why they started the company, why are they still working for the company, what do they want to get out of it. And not just them telling me how they want to advertise or what they want to look like. I have to have empathy for the client, so I know what to say.
And then I have to have empathy for the consumer and the audience to know how to tell the company’s message to the audience. And that’s what I’m good at.
Ann: And that’s good because you going to be using that.
Rick: And on top of it, I have a goofy sensibility, which helps with advertising, and using humor in advertising. I can write and do a lot of things. I’ve directed. I can make commercials, but only when I really enjoy a good conversation with a client.
Ann: Let me just ask you this. A conversation is one where you’re taking turns, right?
Ann: And a conversation isn’t one where you’re sitting there talking about yourself and your creative process? And when you…
Rick: Please tell me to be quiet.
Ann: No, no, no. What I’m saying is when you talk about being in a gallery you felt king of goofy. Right?
Rick: You’re right.
Ann: When you’re in those conversations, what were you actually talking about?
Rick: I was talking about not listening.
Rick: And when I’m working with a client I’m listening.
Rick: That’s a very good point. That’s exactly it. And just to finish what I was about to say really quickly was what I realized and really why I joined your semester is because I feel knowing what I know and how to do what I do, I can sell anything. I can sell the shit out of anything. I can because I’m good at it. I’ve been doing it for a long time.
I’ve worked with some of the toughest clients. I worked with the New York Stock Exchange after 9/11 when they were just devastated down there, and we needed to tell people to have faith in our economy. And these people were crushed. And a week before that, they were bulling me around like someone who didn’t know their business. I’ve met so many different types of clients and so many different types of products and services, and I don’t know anything about what sales are. And I make art.
Ann: Here is the point. You just illustrated really well. You can sell the shit out of everything. You got all those awards behind you to prove it, but here is where things get tangled up for a lot of artists. One of the big myths is that they have to sell themselves or selling their art because artist is so personal. It’s like you’re selling yourself. And even though, if you’re so skilled and so talented, even you can sell yourself.
Rick: Yes, that’s why we’re talking.
Rick: I needed to take a lesson on it.
Ann: You learned you’re not going to do that anymore, and you’re going to now lead with sharing your mission, and then you can start a conversation, which you’re good at by just sharing your mission. And then if it’s appropriate, the conversation can carry on to why it’s your mission, where you share your why. So it’s really pretty simple. It’s not that complicated any more, hopefully. I’m hoping it’s becoming less complicated for you.
Rick: It is. I just finished today this “visioning.”
Ann: Excellent. Okay.
Rick: I’m good. I really feel like certain things clicked over this past weekend.
Ann: Good. It takes a while to click, but it does click. Yeah, okay. That’s really good answer to my first question. I asked what your biggest challenge was before The MAKING Art Making MONEY Semester. You gave a great example. Who said talking about art is like dancing about music? No, talking about art is like dancing about architecture? It’s horrible. It’s boring. You’re boring. They’re bored. Everyone’s uncomfortable.
Rick: And they look lost when you start talking about art because you’re saying, “these…this error..this..this is…” There’s a certain energy that you get from grim.
Ann: No question.
Rick: When you start to be like that, and people look at…
Ann: …what you’re talking about.
Ann: So I know you’re just in the second course, which is visioning. There was eight courses, but if you could say, what’s the one biggest take away you have so far from The MAKING Art Making MONEY Semester?
Rick: Wow. The biggest takeaway.
Ann: Whatever pops in your head.
Rick: You said somewhere in here that this is not therapy and you’re so wrong. I remember reading that line in one of the web pages, and I was like, “Come on. This is!” And it’s funny because I’m simultaneously reading “The Four Agreements.”
Ann: “Good God.”
Rick: “Conversation with God,” so many good books about getting in touch with who you are and what you’re here to do. And I gravitated to those books pretty much every time I have an injury that puts down. Like I had a surgery in May, and lying on the couch not being able to work, not being able to do art, you start thinking and reflecting. It’s kind of what I call forced meditation, where you…
Ann: It is a good point. It is forced meditation.
Rick: And what’s funny about meditation, which I do, and one thing I read about meditation is that the main reason people stop meditating is because it works.
Rick: People meditate because they have a problem, they’re feeling anxious or stressed out, and so they turn to meditation. And it works. And now they’re happy, and they’re living a good life, and they don’t attribute it to the meditation. So they stop until they get slammed down again. Sometimes it takes that getting slammed down again to start meditating. When you’re lying on a couch, and you’re looking up at a white ceiling, and you realize that “Wow, I’ve just been doing that.”
So the biggest takeaway, to get back to your question, was I really got in touch with who I am and why I draw. I never knew why I did it. I started drawing in sketchbooks after meeting through advertising two really great illustrators Mark Ryden and Gary Baseman. And if people don’t know who they are, they should look them up because they’re fantastic artists.
Gary Baseman got famous by doing some animation for MTV, and he has characters, and shows, and books. Mark Ryden stuff is just insane. It’s beautiful work. And they’re both in the Pops realism category I guess if they had to do that. But in society of illustrators party, and people are standing around, and everybody’s got sketchbooks. And Mark Ryden and Gary Baseman are there, and they’re swapping sketch, and they’re talking, and they’re looking through sketchbooks.
And I have a sketchbook because standard gear for being an art director in advertising is to have one of those really hard cover black sketchbooks. You write down all your ideas, you write notes for meetings, you write your to-do lists, and you draw, and you do all that stuff. And so someone like Gary Baseman asked me to see my sketchbook because we’re all standing while I’m talking. And I handed him my sketchbook. Reaction on his face was just disgust.
Ann: Oh, really?
Rick: Because their sketchbooks were characters and art, and playing with pens, and developing pieces into bigger pieces. They were artist. They’re Illustrator.
Ann: Your art pieces themselves in sketchbooks?
Rick: Yeah, and mine was just a mishmash of assignments, and work, and corporate stuff that they did need to see. There were doodles here and there.
Ann: That’s pretty personnel to hand over just somebody.
Rick: But that’s what was cool about this. I felt so in the loop when I was these guys. It there was more not just the two of them. There’s like five or six of us standing in a circle with cocktails and sketchbooks. I didn’t want to hand my sketchbook over, and I did, and I was embarrassed. So that next day, I went and got a separate sketchbook, and I said to myself, “This is just for my drawings. I’m not going to doodle. If I doodle in my workbook, great, but this one is just going to be for art. That’s it.” And what happened…
Ann: So you…yeah, go ahead. Go ahead.
Rick: What happened was my very first drawing in my sketchbook was really tight, was really almost finished piece. And then I did another one, and I realized after doing a bunch of these sketchbooks that I went to finish on a lot of these pieces. That was my method. That’s what I did.
That weren’t work because I wasn’t an artist working. I wasn’t trying to develop a piece through a sketchbook. I was actually using it because I would go take a break from work, sit outside with a cup of coffee and I draw. And that was my thing.
What I realized was they became diaries, they became part of my emotions, my thoughts, my feelings, my fears, all kind of bled out onto these pieces. And I’ve been doing it for years, and I have stacks of them back home. And it wasn’t until your course where I realized really what I was doing with that, why that manifested the way it did. And sketchbooks are actually going to be part of my how.
Ann: Awesome. I can’t wait to hear that one on one so we can talk about that.
Rick: Sketchbooks are going to be a very big part of how I help people.
Ann: Awesome, okay. Well, let me just ask you this one last question. Let’s just say someone was sitting on the fence. There’s a lot of artists who follow me, and they come to my free online trainings, and they take all the resources books, and they’re perfectly welcome to do that forever, any day, and not a penny or dime. It’s fine.
However, let’s just say somebody’s been doing that, or they’re just sitting on the fence, and they’re not sure if they should dive in and apply to enroll in The MAKING Art Making MONEY Semester. What would you say to them? Should they dive in? Should they wait? What do you think?
Rick: There’s definitely no waiting. If you wait, you’re not going to do it. I agree with the way that you handle it with people who are about to join where your conversation leads to signing up or not signing up, pretty much. I really appreciate that because I think that putting trust in you is a decision. And I felt skeptical and nervous up to that point. I told my wife I was considering doing this. I showed her your videos and said, “I think I want to do this. I’m not sure about it.” – Trying to have her help make up my mind for me to do it.
And then I did it. I had the phone call with you, and I didn’t tell her for a couple of days. I was worried about how she would take it. And when I finally did tell her she got mad that I didn’t tell her when I did it. But for some reason, I was still skeptical even after hanging up with you and doing it. The reason why people should do it is because I’ve been helping people…by going through this course, people who aren’t even study partners and other artists who are going through the course where we help each other out…
Rick: I feel so alive and valuable after being able to help someone like Marilyn Rose out or Irene or Cumberland out. And when we have a good conversation and something clicks, and I feel like I just helped the client, but they’re an artist, and I’m not getting any financial gain out of this, I just love that I helped them.
I just got off the car with a good friend of mine who’s a creative director in advertising, who has his own mission and his own initiative that he’s about to drop and go back full time to advertising. I didn’t tell him not to go back to full time advertising, but I gave him a lot of advice that you gave me through this semester. And I’m going to be calling him after this to continue our conversation.
Ann: What advise did I give you that you gave him? I’m just curious.
Rick: Well, first of all, I told him to start and I told him to start writing down why he’s been doing it. He’s got a nice website. He’s been doing a lot of the things you’ve already been talking about without knowing that he’s been doing those steps.
Ann: Oh, that’s good.
Rick: He needs to take it to the next level from where he is now.
Rick: He does something that’s very…I don’t want to say what his business is or maybe I should plug it.
Ann: Okay, sure. What’s his business?
Rick: His Website is called Global Glue, and it’s about…His name is DJ Pierce, and it’s about couples coming together – Why people stay together.
Rick: He happens also to be a photographer, and a videographer, cinematographer, but he’s a really smart advertising man. He does what I do. He has his other side thing that he’s passionate about, but he does advertise also. And I asked him if he’s writing a book because I feel like the people who…because he said, “I don’t know how to make money doing this.” And I said, “You…”
Ann: He should join The MAKING Art Making MONEY Semester.
Rick: Yeah. But I told him that he should start writing…
Ann: Because it’s not just artists. An individual artist attracts a lot of visual artists, but the stuff I’m teaching apply to any creative enterprise whatsoever.
Rick: I think that’s also a great reason because I was going to see if my wife wanted to do it.
Ann: Yeah, perfect. Yeah.
Rick: I think this would help pretty much any anybody. Not just on stuck but figure out how to use the thing you’re already passionate about doing and living your life doing it.
Ann: On purpose. Yeah. What you said before it’s not therapy but I will say it is very therapeutic.
Rick: Yes. Well, right. It’s not legal. It’s not like official therapy.
Ann: No, but it’s very therapeutic to know what your creative purpose is. Like for me, I know it’s for my students. It’s very affirming. It’s every centering. It’s very grounding. You cut through all the bullshit that is the artist statement, that is art speak, and you get to the real heart of the matter.
Rick: Listen, I didn’t know I had that issues before you.
Ann: You’re going to be able to kill it because of your skill set. You really are. You’re stuck in this idea. Almost every artist is stuck in this idea that they have to sell themselves or they have to sell their art. And selling art is a losing battle. You got to just create value above and beyond your art and sell that. I don’t know any other way around. I’m open to learning, hearing another way, but I don’t know another way around it.
Rick: Right. And one last thing was about serving others and everything that I’ve been reading up until you and after and during the course, including the do you process, some of his book and beyond. It’s funny when you want to learn something, or you go to pursue something that it just comes flooding in, and they’re serving other people concepts. It’s been coming at me like hailstorm including your semester.
I think that is the thing that’s really going to help me get over the issues that I’ve had my whole life. That piece, that little connection to dedicate yourself, to make a conscious decision to connect with people, as opposed to being the reclusive artist. I see the connection between that and the solution to why I was shy when I was a kid, why I was nervous around people, why I was scared of authority, all those things.
So I think that it opened all that up, and the fact that that connects to my art, which I love. I love making it. I love looking at my art. One of my big wakeup calls was that my wife started putting my art up all over the place, and she goes, “If you’re not going to sell it, I might as well put it up.”
And then we had people over, and people said, “Oh, that’s great. You sell a lot of it?” And I’m like, “No you’re looking at it.” That’s it. And they’re like, “Oh, that’s a shame. That should be at other people’s houses.”
Ann: Yeah. As a tip, you could also have that same gathering, stick some prices on a wall, and have your iPhone with your square swipe reader and you can have an open studio and just invite people over. I used to do that when I first get started. It was just come over to my apartment at the beach, and I had art on the wall, I had a price tag, I had the old school mechanical thing they’re ready to go.
We didn’t have the conveniences, swipe cards. I invited existing collectors, and friends, and I just did it once a month, and it worked. I also lead other connections and other introductions. It’s a good way to stick your toe in the water because a lot of people are just scared of selling your own art. But remember this isn’t about you anymore, so it’s not going to be a scary.
Rick: Absolutely, absolutely. I’m actually really excited to see how my art changes and how my wife changes, how everything changes when this is actually launched.
Ann: You’re always going to get better without a doubt. Everybody goes through the semester does the work. Like you can just go through the semester and not do a damn thing. But those who go through and execute and you start selling your art, you have to make more of it. And you want to make more of it. So your art just gets better. And I never look at anyone’s art, but I do pick at it sometimes in the beginning and then I look a little later, and like, “Wow, they got better.” They’ll get better.
You have all the mad skills to make this work. There’s just no doubt in my mind that if anybody’s got it, now you know you’re not…Now that you know you’re going to create value beyond and beyond your art, now you know that value is only exchanged if you’re serving other people, that’s it. You got it.
Ann: Well, I’m looking forward to witnessing your success. I really appreciate you, also your participation in our group. I love to see when artists are actually meeting with one another. So just for people listening, these artists from all over the globe, who never met one another, and they meet like this via video calls.
And they go through specific exercises and some really great friendships form, and you get perspective on art life and business from people other than me, who are in the same process that you are. I think that’s very valuable.
I say I’m more proud of the community than I am my own courses because you guys are just so supportive of one another. And let’s just face it. A lot of artists when you get together or overly competitive and often outwardly you’re secretly jealous of one another. We just don’t have that here at all.
Rick: Right, yeah. And everyone is so sweet. Everybody is very kind, nurturing people. For that reason alone, just like you want to get the most comfortable bed to sleep in because why not? You’re not going to have a hard, crappy bed.
Ann: No. And night shifts. Avoid night shifts by the way.
Rick: But you should surround yourself with people that make you feel cozy, and happy, and good, and warm. I have a friend who’s a career coach, who was talking to me about networking the other day. And he was just talking about the difference between a warm introduction and a cold introduction, and how you start with people who are closer to your circle, and people who trust you and like you, and people who are warm.
And then you expand that circle as opposed to going too many layers out. Which is going to be no matter how you write an email, no matter how funny you are or how much you researched them on LinkedIn, and find out that one bit of information you can write in your introduction letter to them is still a cold introduction?
Ann: You’re so correct. And also even though we’re networking, I don’t go out to network. I think it is good to just go out with the intention of making friends, not intention of expanding your network.
Rick: That’s exactly it. And when I picked up the phone, it’s funny because the guy that I just told you about DJ was one of the people you need to write down and…
Ann: Oh, yeah.
Rick: What was it? It was who do you know Course two Visioning day 27. Right?
Rick: So he was the first person I wrote down. And I called them and it turned out that I called them at the right time because he was going through a little bit of a challenging “Who am I? What do I need to do right this second? I’ve been building this thing out of my passion for the last five years, and it hasn’t been catching on…”
Ann: Five years? Give them the application link to The MAKING Art Making MONEY Semester. Let get this shit done.
Rick: But it’s just interesting how I called him at the right time for him as opposed to when I called him I was thinking, “Okay, I’m going to see who he knows.”
Ann: Right. It’s going to be all about me. I’m going to get what I want.
Rick: Yeah. I’m going to need some chiefs of some tribes.
Ann: Yeah. But that’s actually the…
Rick: …and it turns out that the whole conversation was about what…
Ann: That’s the best outcome. For sure that was the better opportunity because what goes around comes around, and it might not even come from him. But I believe if you just make that deposit in the karma banks is going to come back round one way or any other. We don’t know how. Anyway this been great.
So just so you guys know, we had scheduled five minutes to have a conversation, and we blew through it, and so I appreciate your time and energy here, Rick. It’s valuable, and I appreciate what you shared. Yeah, thanks. I’m going to share this with other who are interested in having a listen.
Rick: Yeah, do it. This is a great course, seriously.
Ann: Okay, cool.
Rick: Honestly, this is the best piece of education I think I’ve ever had.
Rick: Because it’s about me. Here you go.
Ann: Who teaches you how to learn about yourself?
Rick: I’ve never taken a class except for this one. That told me how to stay close that were about me. That’s what I want to.
Rick: Thank you for doing it, and thank you for taking your experience, and you putting in so much work putting this thing together. And also what’s interesting is that as you say that this is organic, and it builds and to learn from failures and that your mission may change a little, things may change just a little bit here and there, and that’s okay.
And what’s interesting is digging deeper into you and what you’ve had in the artist that you thrived in The MAKING Art Making MONEY. And seeing the different iterations of what it has been and seeing where it is now, you practice what you preach. Well, actually it’s reverse. You preach what you practice. The lesson completely is a mirror of how you have even built the lesson itself…
Ann: Thank you.
Rick: …which is awesome.
Ann: Well, I don’t know what else to teach except what I experience directly. I always warn people, “Don’t buy courses or try to learn from someone who hasn’t actually done what you want to do.” It’s not a good idea. My master, my partner, Ron Douglas and I, who’s on Discovery Channel show, “Blue Collar Backers,” we talk about this a lot. That it’s just not cool to say you’re an expert, you’re going to teach people this subject you’ve never done yourself.
I don’t know what else to teach. These truly are the lessons that I learned and exercises that these are the books I read, and so I’m really glad to hear that they’re useful for you. That’s fantastic.
Ann: All right. Well, it’s a pleasure seeing you in person. I only have spoken to Rick on the phone when he applied to enroll so this is nice, and I’ll look forward to having our one-on-one when you’re ready.
Rick: Yeah, let’s do this again.
Rick: It’s awesome.
Ann: Cool. I look forward to getting your wife’s application and your friend’s application.
Rick: I’ll be talking them.
Ann: Okay. Bye.
Rick: Okay. Bye-bye. Thanks.