The 15th / 16th century German artist was a pioneer and a role model for today’s sovereign professional.
Back in 2011, The Economist published this article in their Christmas edition: Portrait of the Artist as an Entrepreneur, the Economist. I wrote about it at the time, over on the Burning Pine blog.
Albrecht Dürer was a sovereign professional in so many ways. He was proudly independent. In an age when artists so often depended on patronage, he considered court painters to be parasites…
hanging round great men, waiting for a commission to fall from the lordly lips. He, by contrast, was an independent businessman. He made his money not by grovelling, but by selling copies of the woodcuts and engravings printed, since 1495, at his workshop in the centre of Nuremberg. He was not even a member of a guild, for there were no artists’ guilds in the city: he was a free individual, unaffiliated, making money and a reputation purely for himself.
Dürer was also keenly aware of his cost base (both the materials used and his limited time) and of the return on investment from various projects. Of his “Madonna of the Rose Garlands”, he wrote: “My picture … is well finished and finely coloured [but] I have got … little profit by it. I could easily have earned 200 ducats in the time.”
To a customer, he wrote, “I shall stick to my engravings, and if I had done so before I should be a richer man by 1,000 florins.”
By investing in his own printing press, Dürer was able to produce copies of his works and leverage his creative work more effectively whilst also maintaining control by producing the prints himself.
He also understood how to market his services. He understood the value of his brand, going to court in Nuremberg and in Venice to defend his trademark monogram.
Dürer took a strategic approach to levering his talent, he developed re-usable intellectual property and he built his own brand. He understood his business – his P&L – and his marketing. In every way, we have much to learn from Albrecht Dürer.
There’s a spin-off benefit, too. Even 500 years later, original Dürer prints are available on sites like Artsy for just a few thousand dollars. Not pocket-money, but not the mega-millions of original works either.