5 Things You Don’t Need To Sell Your Art (And 5 Things You Do)

If you want to achieve greatness, stop asking for permission

We’ve all been there. Staring down the barrel of some crazy, ambitious goal, some dream, wondering how the heck we’re ever going to pull it off.

A trend I notice in my own life is a lot of amazing artists and creatives doing awesome work dreaming of someday making a living from it. We want to get started, but we’re missing a lot of important pieces. We look at everyone that’s making it and think we need what they have just to get a foot in the door.

That’s not actually true.

There are all kinds of things we could have before we start selling our art, but the reality is that we don’t actually need most of them. They’re just barriers that we put up to keep from taking a risk and doing what’s really important – actually selling our work.

Here are the top 5 things that you absolutely, positively do not need in order to sell your art (and the top 5 things you actually do need).

Image by *eddie

1. Business Cards

What I really mean when I say “business cards” is any of those standard office items that act as a barrier to getting out there and starting. This could be a printer, a fax machine, an assistant, anything besides your art, really.

Sure, eventually you’re going to need a few things, but they should come as an answer to an actual problem rather than a prerequisite for doing business. Heck, in most cases, you don’t even need a business license to get things going.

You don’t need business cards or any of that other junk, but here’s what you do need: intense focus on your art and simplicity. When you’re trying to get off the ground, you don’t need the self-inflicted resistance that comes with all the business gadgets.

Focus on creating your art and finding people who like it. That’s all that matters right now. Besides, the less you need to run your art business, the less you have to sell to keep running your art business.

2. An Art Degree

Here’s something really important that we should get out of the way. Education comes in so many different forms, and even though a classroom is a valid one, a degree is completely unnecessary if you want to start your own business and sell your art.

There are very few people outside of the corporate world who care if you have a degree and, dare I say, those people are a waste of your time and energy anyway.

Here’s what you need instead: A burning desire to learn and change.

No one who buys your art cares if you have a degree, but they do care that you have an education and an opinion about what you create and sell.

Luckily, those two things are easily attained for a lot less than the cost of tuition. If you have a hunger to learn, you’ll find all the education you need for free.

3. An Agent

Someday you may get to the point where you need someone to look out for you and help make good business deals so that you can focus on creating, napping, and taking exotic vacations.

Today is not that day. In fact, that day just might never come.

There’s nothing wrong with hiring someone to keep your best interest in mind, but always remember that no one cares as much about your art or your business as you do. Learn how to take care of your art business yourself before you outsource it.

You don’t need an agent, but you do need basic business aptitude.

Don’t worry if you haven’t got it now. There are all kinds of ways to pick it up.

The fastest is to just get out there and start doing business everywhere you can. You’ll screw up, lose money, get burned, and learn a lot of hard lessons. But if you keep at it, you’ll fail forward.

The safest way is to read every art and business blog you can, take business classes and start as small as possible.

The best way is probably somewhere in the middle. You’ve already got a great start reading Lateral Action (you smarty).

4. A Masterpiece

If there’s one thing that aspiring artists continually destroy their businesses with, it’s their own self doubt. This is a topic for a whole other discussion, but the thing to take away is that you do not need to create the world’s greatest masterpieces in order to make it as a professional artist.

There’s a market for every type of art and you don’t have to be the very best in the world to sell yours. You just have to be the best in your customer’s world. That means being the best thing available to them in their own sphere of influence.

Think of the last piece of art you paid for. Did you buy it because it was the most technically amazing piece of work you’ve seen or did you buy it because it told a story you liked?

People like art that looks good, but they buy it because it makes them feel good.

Better technique comes with more practice. Practice telling better stories and the technique (and money) will follow.

Here’s another secret the pros don’t tell you. No one paid attention to them when they started either.

People pay attention to things that their friends tell them about. When you’re starting out, your job is to be persistent and tell stories that people want to share.

5. Permission

No one can give the permission you need to sell your art. I totally understand the need for approval – I’ve been there many times myself – but it’s a dangerous rabbit hole to go down.

You see, asking for permission and waiting for approval is a carrot on a stick. Once you decide to chase it, you’re forever grasping. Every step you take is on the back of someone else’s approval and the further you go, the more of it you need.

Not a good place to be.

You don’t need permission or approval to be you and do what you do.

Without doubt, it’s the hardest thing to overcome, but the rewards for doing it are endless. You’re not good enough the day someone tells you that you are. You’re good enough when you’re tired of waiting for that day.

At this stage, skill and aptitude have nothing to do with it. Hard to believe, I know. Truth is, everyone starts out “not good enough.” Only the people that actually start end up becoming good enough.

My Confession

Here’s a little confession: I’m pretty new to the writing world, myself. I’ve got no credentials beyond my award winning book report on Oliver Twist in 10th grade and if we cross paths tomorrow, I’ll have no business card to give you.

Do I write the most beautiful prose you’ve ever read? Heck no. But every day I try to tell stories that connect with people that are like me and it seems to be working.

That’s why I’m writing this post for you. You’re not going to come find me just because I’m here, so I’m out finding you.

The most important thing you can do when you start selling your art is anything. Sure, you’ll get a lot of things wrong, but then you’ll get a lot of them right.

Think of everything you wish you could have before you get started and then imagine how you’d begin if you could never have it.

Start there.

Over to You

Can you think of anything else you don’t need to start selling your creative work?

About the Author: Tyler Tervooren helps extraordinary people improve their lives by doing really scary things at his site, Advanced Riskology. He’s currently on his own quest to join the top 1% of the world.

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Responses to this Post

Comments

  1. It’s easy to get carried away with the set-up and the dream, and to fail to commit to the output of real art.
    Two things I try to remain mindful of:
    (1) You don’t need to be the best, or even in the top 10% or 20% of whatever your niche is to succeed – you just need to DO IT. When people say, “Hey, that’s not so awesome, I could do that”, the correct answer is, “Great! But…you’re NOT doing it.”
    (2) Work harder than everyone else AT YOUR ART and you will succeed. You just will.

    • To be lonely is the abscence of another
      To be alone is the prescence of oneself
      osho zen

      At some point in life the unknown of the dark must be answered
      We must all greet the sun at it’s dawn
      We will see the sun, we are not sure
      The darkest part of the night ,
      before the thin line of light lines the earth,
      the darkest part is when
      we are the light
      a light upon ourselves

      light of our own realized truthz
      c grenke

  2. Ren, #1 is great point and even I sometimes find myself doing it. I’ll see someone’s handiwork and say to myself, “big deal, I could do that.” But I’m NOT doing it, and they are. That’s what matters.

  3. Hi Tyler!

    Great post and I’d add one for artists looking to sell online:

    You don’t need a perfect or expensive website.

    I know a lot of people put off promoting themselves online until they have the best written, best designed website, and quite often it just needs to be good enough.

    Good enough and ticked off is far better than perfect and never finished.

    • Great post. Very insirational for an up and coming artist which I happen to be. Do you know of any good sites to promote yourself and start selling online?

  4. Soo true about the agent part.

    My best friend has been trying to “make it” as an artist for as long as I can remember. He’s put his faith in so-called agents many times and ended getting better results when he just gets out there and does it himself.

    Most artists can literally talk all day with great enthusiasm about their art and it’s meaning, but when it comes to getting out and “selling” it, the excitement turns to fear or laziness.

    For me, when I started seeing the marketing and selling process as art itself, things started to get moving much easier. It helped with the whole “I’m an artist not a sleazy salesman” feeling that a lot of artists face.

  5. Tyler,
    You make some good points here. But, I will take issue with point #1. Artists need to treat their business as a business. That means they need to invest in having the proper tools to help them operate the business effectively and professionally.

    Frankly, if someone is constrained by not being able to afford basic business tools such as business cards, and other such things, they are not in a position to create a business model that sells their art.

    It doesn’t matter what business a person wants to start, if they are underfunded, lack a solid understanding of the business they are in, or have unrealistic expectations about what it takes to be successful, then they are going to fail.

    That point aside, your other comments are correct. While having an art degree, an agent and a masterpiece can be helpful, they will not overcome a lack of initiative and desire.

    One of my art heroes, Constantin Brancusi, said this: “To see far is one thing; going there is another.”

  6. Amy – great addition. Selling, online or otherwise, is a process of building up. You don’t need to start out perfect, you’ll get close enough eventually.

    Andy – When you believe that the art you make can make a difference to people, selling it feels a lot less sleazy. It’s a hard mental game to beat for a lot of people, but if YOU don’t believe in your product, why would anyone else? Thanks for the comment.

    Barney – Thanks for the input. You say you disagree with point #1, but when I read your response, I think we actually agree. The point I’m trying to make is that when you’re starting out, you shouldn’t waste your money on things that aren’t going to make you more of it or help you expand your influence. Understanding your business is still paramount. I just hate to see people buying all kinds of things they think they need just because they saw someone else that had them. That’s never a good “investment” strategy.

  7. nice post, tyler. so true about permission–we often wait for experts or others whose opinions we value to give us the green light. sometimes when we talk about projects, etc. too much, fear and doubt creeps in and derails us before we can even get started!

    thanks for the reminders!

  8. Hi! Great post and insight Thank you.
    I wonder if where you live makes a difference but here in Canada if you don’t have a degree and follow a certain path your work is not taken seriously and the galleries wont show you first and second the your value will never be set for collectors. I think in New York and paris is the same.

    If the goal is to sell, is it still “art” and not something to decorate a living space… I don’t know…

  9. Believe it or not, this has turned my day around and helped me kick the Bad Attitude of Monday. Thanks.

    Now if only I could carve out some more time to do some hard work in my studio without interruption.

  10. A studio!

    So many artists want to go the old route and set up a studio but street art is wildly popular where I live.

    In fact, there are some pieces I’ve seen locally that have blown me away – what’s better is how you can sit down and chat with the people about their work instead of them being smug.

    There’s something awesome about wandering around the city and randomly finding a piece of art :)

  11. Fauve said:
    “I wonder if where you live makes a difference but here in Canada if you don’t have a degree and follow a certain path your work is not taken seriously and the galleries wont show you first and second the your value will never be set for collectors. I think in New York and paris is the same.”

    I say:
    That’s another thing you don’t need to start selling your art — a gallery!

  12. Thanks for the awesome post!

    I totally agree with you – many times artists get caught up in waiting for the right moment, or the big break, or the newest artist toy, when really all you need is an intense drive to make it, and the willingness to pursue your dream no matter what anyone else says.

  13. I do think it is necessary to have a certain spot where you can do your art (especially if it requires an easel or some other piece of furniture) but a lot of art-making is really pretty portable, (sketchbook, notebook, camera, etc.) but I see what you’re getting at with having to have a studio. I’ve never had a formal studio, just a corner in a room that is also used for something else.

  14. A studio, good one Murlu.

    Whatever space you have available to do your thing, there’s your studio.

    • My “studio” is the dining room our family of 5 shares! I use the Pub height table and I have a desk that keep my supplies. When we join together for a meal it’s Dinner in Mom’s studio LOL :) The kids all give great advice, critiques and encouragement. It is true though….at some point I need to be ready to share my paintings with others. It has been a year of painting and so far I have not given a painting away to anyone but my immediate family. This is the month I venture into waters unknown and try to get one up in a cafe, gallery or friends businesses. They have offered but I am a little nervous! Thank you for your great article….it was very insightful and encouraging!

  15. Great stuff. Yes, it is so easy to get caught up in the “I’m not good enough” loop, sell yourself short, or decide to just take another month to *really* work on your skills.

    Not worth it. I’m not good enough by miles, but people dig what I’m doing and I figure I’ll learn stuff along the way.

  16. Well, reading this post has certainly come at an appropriate time for me. I’m feeling completely stuck trying to make a start on selling, while worrying about creating the perfect branding and logo and worrying when I’ll actually have time to make the art …. you know how it goes. I had [yet another] idea last night which doesn’t fit in with the advice I’ve had so far …

    Thanks for the blogging equivalent of a gentle slap around the face … maybe I’ll get things straight in my head now.

  17. Good post Tyler, and grats on the guest post spot here.

    I have businesses cards, but rarely use them. The people that want them don’t need them (we’re connected somewhere else, be it Twitter, Facebook, email, etc). I’ve got a website that functions just fine as a business card.

    Like what you said about not needing a masterpiece…a lot of pressure built in to that concern.

  18. Hi, I found your website on the list of the 50 Best Blogs for creative thinking. Congratulations. I’m always interested in creativity of all kind. Great site.

  19. One of the best things I’ve ever read…and I can vouch for all of it thru my own experience. I’ve been pretty successful at what I do, and I can tell you that I still don’t have a business card, an agent or a college degree. I also don’t have a masterpiece yet, but I’m still working on that!

    Selling my art has been one of the hardest things because you totally put your ego on the line…you’re just ASKING to be rejected! But when people write to me about how my stuff has changed their lives, it gives me fuel to keep pressing on.

  20. Some advice I just read that was really good was to just shoot (photography) and show. Keep doing that over and over and you will not only get better at your craft, but you will sell, eventually. It might take time, but just continue that shoot and show.
    Thanks for the further encouragement in your post. Cheers

  21. Willie – I’m all about the learn along the way approach. If you wait until you know everything, you’ll never get started because that state just doesn’t exist.

    Julie – Glad I could help. Hope I didn’t slap too hard. :)

    Nathan – Yeah, not only do you not need those business cards to get started, you don’t need them to stay moving or for any other reason, really, when you’re working primarily online.

  22. Art degrees and the ability to articulate concepts behind one’s artwork are important in the old guard artworld, which is where you’ll find the work selling from tens of thousands to millions.

    This successful NYC gallerist admits he gives more weight to artists’ CVs with MFA degrees:
    http://edwardwinkleman.blogspot.com/2010/05/all-i-really-need-to-know-i-learned.html

    You can sell work to online customers for a few hundred dollars, but the first point of contact with an artist’s serious collectors remains galleries and traditional art spaces. For now. Even artists who boast about bucking the gallery system started out in it, and gained their crucial contacts that way.

    But if you’re selling printed work for a low price, or decorative art, or affordable commissions – all of which falls under the umbrella of ART for many outside the old-school artworld – sure, the advice in this excellent article applies.

  23. @ Elizabeth – Good point that the gallery system is currently the gateway to the highest fees and wealthiest collectors. It will be interesting to see to what extent that changes as self-publishing and self-promotion online become more common (and more respected) in future.

    One trend I’ve noticed with book publishers is that many of them now expect authors to be promoting themselves online, so that a lively blog / online presence is a definite asset if you want to land a book deal. It remains to be seen whether the art world will follow suit.

    @ Tyler – That reminds me, I’ve run out of business cards… ;-)

  24. I really like the image you chose for this post. It reminds me of a saying I heard one time “The world belongs to those who ask.” It really is true that you are whatever you say you are. I made a website that lets artists sell their art for free without charging % of sales fees or listing fees like Etsy or Ebay does. Doesn’t get a lot of traffic yet but as more Artists join, it will get popular quick. Just an FYI.

  25. Thanks for this. I was getting all worked up about my first “meet the artist” at a little art shop where my work is sitting (for the first time) and now I can breathe and realize that I can actually enjoy it and talk about why I love doing it and the joy I see in nature that inspires me. I think I will have a great day tomorrow! I am living the journey of where I want to be and what I want to do.

  26. You are so right about not asking for permission. I have seen artists, who do wonderful work, dissolve in self-hatred when some juror passes over their work for some subjective reason.
    If you create it and YOU love it, success has been earned. Please yourself and others will love it as well. If they don’t , so what. If it gives you please, ENJOY!

  27. W.C. Stewart says:

    Wonderful article! Thank you. Straight to the point and ultra inspiring. Everything you wrote about what artists dont need is true. Im a witness! Keep doing what you do to assist dreamc chasers like me. Again, thank you.

  28. I really liked this article. It is so true!

  29. Anyone else create art that they highly dislike most of the time and just want to burn it but then once in a while create something eye catching and amazing or beautiful and calming or just simply quirky and fascinating? That is me. My family is full of very creative, artistic people in both verbal and visual arts but we seem to have the curse of the artists and by the curse, I mean, little or no luck selling our creations. Oh well. I guess it will just make good family heirlooms or something and one day when each of us artists has passed away, maybe then our art will actually sell. Ha, just like all those famous and infamous artists from history who were worth more dead.

    • @Mary — I love my art. I sell my art

      Maybe that’s the key.

      If I highly disliked it most of the time, I doubt I’d even bother to offer it to the world.

  30. Very nice and truthful blog. Hope everyone, not just artists, read this. It will make their lives better. Thanks, Johnny

    ,

  31. I am the do it yourself type of guy and ma just learning about marketing my art.
    My art is rare and the pieces on my website are not finished but all my art pieces will be completely made of rare stone, stone carved by the forces of nature. I have started out donating art to charities. Some of the best artists were at the last one and I am told my art piece stole the show. I will get the newest pieces up on my website soon.
    I struggle between working for a living and trying to do art for a living.
    I thought I could just put my art in galleries but am finding out you are supposed to have an art broker, etc but I think I will go the do it yourself route as I believe my art should sell itself based on its rarety and beauty.

    I loved reading your articles and for sure, he who says he cant, never will, he who says he can and he will, already has:)

    Take care,
    Drew

  32. This is EXACTLY what I needed to read. Thank you. It’s funny that when it comes to the creative process I am quick to preach that there are no rules. Yet, when it comes to the business/selling….all of a sudden I have all these unwritten rules built up in my head. That stops right now.

    ;-> Felicia

  33. Jeremy Dyer says:

    Great blog. Enjoyed your cheeky and truthful insights. You are helping to inspire me. You rock! Jeremy

  34. I ran across this blog and was glad I did. I am an artist specializing in illustrations for children and women but I have no published work other then designs in my card shop. It gets super hard to keep one’s chin up when it comes to this industry because of many rejections at trying to land an agent, but I’m glad to learn I don’t have to have one to make it. I am on a few networking sites telling others about my card shop but I’ve sold hardly any thing. I want so much to be successful but it can get pretty depressing when ones art is sitting still financially. I’ve wanted to give up many times but the handful of fans I have in my family and friend circle reminds me I am talented and need to push forward. However, when I do feel like I want to throw in the towel I can’t seem to do it. I guess the key to success is to not sell one self short because then one may never know if success could’ve truly happend to him or her.

  35. I can think of three items that are very important when trying to sell your art.

    1. Business Plan
    2. Marketing Plan

    I am an artist by passion, but an MBA by education. I can tell you that the best way to attempt to sell your art is for you to have a direction and a plan. I know that artist don’t see art as a business. Art is a business. Artists that have become wealthy have done so because they understand their business and understand :

    3. Licensing.

    I am only selling my art but I can tell you that I have been working on these three aspects and on improving my art. One item you stated that I found extremely important was the fact that you need to have professional-looking work. This is only obtained through practice.
    Practice, practice, practice. Another thing – Innovation. Always work on making something that everyone else is not working on. Anyone can create an oil painting, but can you create it the way I am creating it?

    Innovation is the key to selling your art. Always work on new ideas, using old techniques if you have to. Techniques do not change it is the way that you applied them that can change.

  36. Jane Schatzberg says:

    Tyler, very interesting and insightful; I’ve just purchased a place to set up studio. I’ve been painting and loving it since I was young. Sometimes using dirt ground flowers and weeds to sculpt and create art; not thinking of it in terms of art but simply using my hands mind and body to make something to express myself. I grew up in Laramie wyo. one of nine kids. I’m in my fifties now and still struggling with selling and the channels that involves. I will always paint but I would like to be more successful in learning how to sell and lose the self doubt. Wait a minute, I think that comes from being a middle child who nobody really had much time for… art for me has always been a friend who lets me be just the way I am without guilt and concern I am accepted in this arena even if it is just in my head.

  37. Hi! Like your comments. Brief & too the point. Next how about having 5 musts! All the best with your quest.

  38. I have just discovered my love for painting. It has been very good therapy for some troubling issues. I often look at my paintings and I do not see them as a selling item. I would love to! I’m not that confident “yet”. This was really helpful! Thank you!

    • Alison – Your comment describes me as well. This was a great article and will hopefully help both of us gain confidence!

  39. yah, you dont need a business degree. there are many ways to sell your work, without taking some boring class, i am already putting time and money into learning different mediums of art, that way i have the time and money to make and sell art without having to blow my time in some boring class that i dont give an absolute shit about.

  40. Wrong! Almost all Wrong!
    I am an artist and also a business person. I have written two books on business planning and have taught over 1000 sucessful new entreprenurs. I am a sucessful artist and I have taught others to be successful and almost everything here is incorrect. Yes I can tell you are new to writting and yes I can tell you dont have a degree.

    People need education not only because it is a piece of paper but also because it makes you smarter. No, you can not teach yourself much. You can discover lots.

    Do not listen to this post.

    Get an education, in art. Write a business plan. Get a business card.

  41. Rod, may I add

    Get a dictionary. Despite your education, Rod, you spelling ‘writing’ wrong.

    Selling art involves having the talent, knowing the market, being persistent,
    networking, and working hard. Business cards mean very little.

    Art degrees are nice to have, but won’t help you sell your art.

    And don’t forget to spell correctly – otherwise you lose your credibility.

    I liked the blog – good luck to all artists and don’t give up!

    • To Cherly
      Spelling is for editors not artist. You also wrote in your second line “Rod, you spelling ‘writing’ wrong.” Nice use of the english language.

      Maybe you need some learnin to.
      The blog still sucks.

      • Rod, you’re welcome to disagree, as long as you are respectful of the writer, and of other commenters. Any other personal or aggressive comments will be deleted.

    • Hi Cheryl, thanks for your perspective.

      Please don’t direct personal criticism (e.g. about spelling) towards other commenters, I don’t allow this so would have to delete any further comments containing it.

  42. Today i was at my wits end, which eventually led me to this artical…there i found the cheerleader i didnt realize i needed untill i heard his cheering! I am a starving artist, but more impotantly i am a mother of two outragous children ( four if you include my dogs). i work a full time job to pay the bills, well most of them anyway. I paint my heart out, if u dream it, i can paint it.. If u cant dream it, ill dream it and paint it! I undersell my self becuse times are hard and my “real job” isnt enough.. Reading this artical has given me the push ive needed to expose the public to my artistic expressions. NO MORE SECOND GUESSING! NO MORE UNDERSELLING! My children are worth it, my art is worth it, IM WORTH IT… thank you for being the cheerleader, i never knew i needed! When i succeed know u had a part in it. And if u need a loan, consider it done. Sincerly, keeley

  43. I just want you to know that I was moved by this article. I have finally gotten the courage to just GO and this inspires me very much. I will no longer seek approval or permission for what my heart loves to do.

    Thanks so much for this!

  44. Thanks , this was a great reminder! Got anymore inspiring words :)

  45. You are right about the business cards. I have given out 1000′s over the years and not one of my sales have come from handing out a business card. There are three types of people in the world when it comes to putting your art out there. No. 1 will see it, like it, buy it. No. 2 will say very nice and ask for a business card which is code for I need an escape from standing looking at your art but wull let you down gently by asking for a business card. No. 3 looks for what they perceive to be something wrong with the painting, points it out to you and walks away with a smug look on their faces.

  46. Jen Bloxham says:

    Thank you for your inspiration. I have been painting sunsets for about a month now and have already sold 2. I love them and have never had a class. I gave abuout 14 of them away for Christmas and my fam and friends love them. I’m so excited. I have ideas of many other things I would like to do and am looking into workshops from local ppl to help me learn techniques. Anyway your blog really helped and again thanks. Jen Bloxham

  47. Jennifer Reiser says:

    Thank you Tyler!

  48. I am semi retired now in Alvin texas after a 50-year career in music and art in Nashville and LA…I have that famous’ degree’ in fine art from Stephen f. Austin university in texas. however, tho I painted small paintings all my life and sold, it was when the opportunity presented itself in Nashville that I learned the true meaning of a successful artist. I acquired commissions to create giant murals on elvis, the grand ol opry, famous coaches, ‘bear’ bryant and ‘big john’ merrit, mini murals on dolly, Waylon n willie etc…

    …here in Alvin someone approached me to give a seminar at the Alvin community college to a future artist’s class…

    I told them it wouldn’t be worth the money spent….

    I would show up, dressed neatly, hair combed, good deodorant, clean shaven and simply say to them…

    “young ladies and gentlemen…I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you and I hope inspire you to be a successful artist…I wont keep you long…

    my lecture consists of only one word: “LEARN TO SELL!”
    …thank you very much…have a good day!

  49. Thanks Tyler, great post.
    Just wanted to say I have been looking for ways to market my paintings but you know what? After reading this, the answer is quite obvious. JUST GET OUT THERE AND DO IT !!
    Thanks for the kick up the backside!
    Garry

  50. Good work Tyler, Good post.

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