Marketing Your Art the Right Way

Selling Art, Not Selling Out

Max Makewell on Creating Your Own Identity, Overcoming Everyday Obstacles, and the Importance of Building Relationships – Cracking Creativity Episode 43

Max Makewell is a New York City based artist and muralist, but it wasn’t always this way. He grew up in a family of artists and started his career as an artist, but then transitioned into the startup world. It was only after spending a few years there that he came back to being an artist full-time. In this episode, Max talks about owning your identity, making your way through obstacles, and building relationships as the core of marketing your art.

Here are three things you can learn from Max:

You Determine Your Own Identity

Although he didn’t realize it at the time, Max grew up as an artist. His grandfather and mother were both artists. He grew up thinking everyone had artistic upbringings, but only realized what being an artist meant later in life.

He studied it for many years thinking he had to be an artist. It’s all he knew.

Then, he changed his course and worked for a startup for a few years. It was only then that he realized he wasn’t just an artist. He wasn’t a search engine marketer. He was someone who is creative when he produces something.

It was at this point that he made a conscious decision to go back into the arts. It wasn’t because his parents told him to. It wasn’t because society told him to. It’s because he made the realization for himself.

We don’t need others to tell us who we should be or what we should do. You can determine your identity for yourself. Don’t let others label you as something you’re not.

Obstacles are Unavoidable

No matter who you are or what you do, you will face obstacles in life. We face obstacles every day. There’s no use in trying to run from them. Instead we need to think about how to approach these problems.

Max thinks we should be like water. Water is malleable. It’s able to “assume different shapes” in order to make it past these obstacles. If we can adapt and endure through these challenges, we will make it through to the other side.

He believes that the best way to approach our biggest challenges is to think about the here and now. Figure out what your next move is. Just keep growing and moving in the right direction.
Instead of running from obstacles, figure out how to make your way around them. We all face obstacles in life, it’s what you do with them that really matters.

Marketing Your Art is About Relationships

One of the most important things to remember about marketing your art is, it’s about relationships. It’s a relationship between you and your audience. It’s a relationship between you and the person who is deeply affected by it.

It is much better to create a relationship with people who like your art then it is to just try a bunch of different tactics to sell it. People don’t like being sold to. Art is no exception. People want to feel connection with each other and the world. Art is the perfect way to do that.

Max thinks you need to have a great relationship with your audience. When you are in a great relationship, you “don’t look for what you can get” from the other person. They don’t look at what they can get from you. In a great relationship “you’re both in a great place, so you want to share with one another.”

When you have a great relationship with people who love your art, you mutually benefit from it. It’s not a give and take relationship. It’s a give give relationship.


  • about Max
    • grew up in family of artists
      • was encouraged from the beginning to make art
    • started in portraiture
    • took a break and did business
    • returned to art with fresh eyes
  • why he took a break
    • got fascinated with why people like one image over another
    • went into search engine marketing because it worked as a testing platform
      • you could see which ad makes people click and which didn’t
      • also did software engineering
  • family of artists
    • great grandfather – sculptor in Budapest of war memorials
    • grandfather – sculptor as well
    • mother was painter
    • was encouraged to work in different mediums
  • as a kid
    • went to grandfather’s studio every weekend
    • he made grasshoppers out of old materials, and Max would help him
    • learned to weld, hand wax, putting together sculptures
    • was allowed to create things from his imagination
  • one of his first creations as an artist
    • grew up in artistic environment, so he didn’t notice what he was doing was different
    • being creative/productive was a mantra of the family
    • one of favorite pieces was created in father’s factory
      • collected different parts and glued them together using gorilla glue
  • schooling
    • when his grandfather passed (around 14), he went to take private instruction
      • huge shift in what he thought was possible
    • went to art school and turned down rowing scholarship
    • went to Ringling College of Art & Design
    • then he went to Art Center for painting
    • then dropped out to study privately with other artists/mentors
    • pattern was finding someone who could draw and paint better than him and learning from them
  • mentors he studied under
    • first mentor was Frank Porcu – anatomist and artist
      • cadaver dissections, had them at Colombia Medical Center
      • studied the body as a piece of architecture
      • gave him understanding of sculpture and drawing
      • gave homework assignments from the Classics – Plato/Socrates/etc.
    • Art Center teacher
      • infectious in enthusiasm and master of color
      • explained colors in  mathematical, understandable, and consistent way
      • opened up Max’s understanding of color and pushed him further
  • what he did after learning from teachers
    • six years of private study then did teacher assistantship
    • started doing commissions for figurative portraiture
    • styles for his portraits
      • studying under different mentors allowed him to try on different hats
      • became style-less
      • executed portraits based on what’s in front of him
      • Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist
        • taking everything you’ve learned and compiling it into your own style
      • showed assistant what he was working on
        • assistant came back and show him a copy that he did
      • felt the most freedom when he found understanding and purpose

“I realized that’s exactly what I had been doing for the last ten years, I’d been copying my family’s art. I’d been copying this other instructor’s style, I’d been copying. And a copy is a form of understanding.”

“Being able to understand and copy from different places is so important, for me the real magic happens when I can compare and contrast two very different voices.”

  • lessons learned when he was away from art
    • took away the snowflake-ism and made it a more practical and easily assumable role
    • was much more freeing
    • doing what your parents want
      • not being sure if you chose it yourself or they chose it for you
      • liberating knowing he ultimately chose to come back to art

“Going from growing up with an identity as ‘I’m an artist. I come from a family of artists’ to going into the business world and being like ‘I’m producing this result to the result has nothing to do with my identity’ was a really powerful experience because it made me realize that I’m not an artist. I’m not a search engine marketer. I’m not an XYZ. What I really am is someone who tends to be more creative when they produce something.”

  • the artist label
    • we are all creative, it just depends on what medium you are in
    • anything can be creative from chef to accountant
    • creativity comes from every part of life
    • stigmas attached to artists
    • if you make something with full intention, you aren’t always in a state of bliss
      • it’s some of the hardest and most fulfilling work you can do
      • it requires a lot of work preparing and executing
    • journey being greater than the outcome
  • when working for startup
    • there were concrete goals
    • found his interest was more in inspiring other people

“I realized that from distance away from art, that art was something that always inspired others and I had never really seen that for what it was because I was always so close to it.”

  • meeting Chuck Close
    • showed Chuck his work and Chuck said he was going to kick his ass if he didn’t start painting again (Chuck is a quadriplegic)
    • a year and a half from then, he had a show in NYC

“It requires courage to face that expectation of your past, or what others might think, or all that stuff, but yeah it kind of just kept growing and now it’s got some momentum behind it. It’s really exciting.”

  • obstacles he’s faced
    • running a business requires support and a strong group of people around you
    • What level of the game are you playing at right now?
    • art makes it easy to have visions
    • doing the art is the privilege
    • everyone faces obstacles
      • Kanye West’s tweet on  obstacles and struggles
      • Daft Punk Unchained documentary
      • Most artists, when they find their voice, sometimes it creates a massive amount of wealth and material objects in their life, but the same artists tend to try to keep a hold onto those objects and they tend to lose their voice because of that – Kanye West in Daft Punk Unchained
      • Kanye as an artist vs. Kanye the person
    • representation vs. creative persona
      • relationship between buyers, artists, agents
      • trust as a challenge

“There’s obstacles every day and it’s really how you approach those as problems. You kind of want to be like water… assume different shapes in order to get past each one of those blocks.”

“One of the biggest challenges is just coming back to the here and now and be like, okay, what are things like right now and if I were to choose the ways things were right now… what’s my next move. I would say that’s the master skill to keep growing and moving in the direction you want and not really regressing cause you learn at the level you’re at and those lessons prevent you from backstepping too far.”

  • relationships Max has built
    • treating your social network as an avenue for support
    • surround yourself with the right people for you
    • find people who are excited about what you are doing
    • one super supporter vs. one hundred tepid supporters
    • “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” ― Jim Rohn
    • having the same problems as all the people that came before us (through thousands of years)
    • as your relationship with yourself gets better, the people around you get better
    • having different types of friends at different stages of life
  • getting back into art
    • was in startup world in San Francisco when he decided to go back to NYC
    • worked as a software engineer in NY for a while before he became a full-time artist
    • building a platform to support himself
    • transitioning back
      • having good representation of his work
      • photos, website, and story were important
      • made friends in the art world
      • put together show in Brooklyn – co-curated show that featured 20 artists
  • feelings during this period of career
    • felt certain he was on the right path
    • loves sharing his work with people and creating new things
    • doing something that is fulfilling
  • importance of nice photos/website/story
    • polarization of story is important
    • sharing how the work came to be and the context of it
    • creating curiosity behind the work for his Rorschach art
    • creating rapport
    • making your work moving for the viewer so they can relate to a certain part of their lives
    • making a connection with people makes it easier for them to buy it
    • staging the meaning of your work through juxtaposition
    • contemporary art has multiple walls of entry

“Presenting your work in the best way possible is one of the highest leverage things you can do, and then on top of that the other single most important thing is having a really clear story.”

“I think people want to know about the artist and then once they know about the artist then they can choose to interact with the work more easily.”

  • exhibit at Guy Hepner Gallery in NYC
    • group show with four other artists
    • featured Max’s Rorschach paintings
    • found a lot of support from his friends and family
  • Max’s story about creating a painting is a few hours
    • show asked him to provide a new painting the next day
    • went to the store, bought supplies, and worked with cousin that night  to create a painting for the next day
    • everything you’ve done to this point allows you to create the work you do today
    • Max used to create pencil drawings that took 3.5 months which was a benchmark as his development as an artist
      • today it takes 1/10 the time

“It was really exciting knowing that the previous 32 years of my life made it possible where I can produce that result in  a very condensed portion of time and still have it hold up to the other quality of the pieces.”

“It’s just an exercise or pushing your mind to the point where you can see… how far away you are from that end result and it’s easier to just go straight there because you can’t predict what’s going to happen.”

  • Picasso story about creating a drawing and priing your work
    • it takes a lifetime to be able to create the way you are able to
    • hard work and dedication as keys to making great work
    • 10,000 hours to achieve mastery
      • Max tallied his total amount of hours to 12,500 hours
    • abstract art stemming from academic background
      •  seeing the maturity within abstraction
      • telling where an artist is at through their abstract painting
    • pricing has little to do with training, quality of work will speak for itself
      • advocacy for work as a sign of respect
    • your work is worth what others are willing to pay for it
    • enjoyment of work is intangible
    • Max’s parents buying back grandparent’s work as a sign of respect
    • money as a consensus
  • marketing his work
    • art is a sharing market
    • you share your work with people or an audience
    • uses Instagram as one of his main ways to interact with people
    • using Instagram as a parallel to software engineering and analyzing people’s reactions
    • building up his following
      • in the beginning he went out and supported other people
      • also has friends that support him
      • creating a drawing at Pen & Brush gallery
    • people who respond to art are everywhere
    • relationships vs. tactics

“It’s like a great relationship. In a great relationship you don’t look for what you can get, and they get something from you. You’re both in a great place so you want to share with one another.”

  • future of his work
    • wants to have huge one man show with all his Rorschachs
    • also wants to do murals
      • loves the public stage and international audiences
      • big departure from Rorschachs in medium, audience, etc.
    • one of the keys to creativity is narrowing your possibilities, otherwise you are stuck with infinite options
    • creativity and the concepts of A & B
    • financial limitations as a factor in creativity

“Sometimes being creative, you can take very few things and make lots of different permutations which can be… very complicated .”

  • what he likes about the public stage
    • he wants to share his work and inspire others
    • the power to motivate just one person
    • having a space to move in to
    • playing field of Instagram vs. public murals

“If people look at the work and feel like their potential in life is a little bit higher than they imagined before, then it’s all worth it.”

  • favorite quote
    • when he was getting back into art, the idea of creating again was terrifying
    • the courage to move forward created confidence
    • do something that scares you each day
    • if you are scared creating something
      • make a plan of how you will do it & what you need to do then take action
    • tricking himself into doing work when he has a vision
      • 9/10 times it ends up being different
      • it’s about being in the moment

“Creativity takes courage.” – Matisse

  • morning routine
    • night routine that sets himself up for next day
    • writes down goal for next day
    • maps out his next day as best as he can
      • primes himself for the next day
      • just follow the sequence
    • limits of willpower and the importance of not having to think about every single detail
  • books, podcasts, documentaries
    • Daft Punk Unchained
      • two people who are uncompromising on direction and quality
      • also have integrity about their personal lives
    • The War of Art – great food for thought on creativity
  • creative people
  • definition of creativity

“Be able to synthesize things together… to make the sum better than the parts.”

  • being more creative
    • make a mess
    • mix two colors and see what happens
    • create a disaster and fail
    • nieces being crazy, then being crazy while painting tea cups
      • positivity of focused attention
  • challenge


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