Do you remember back when you were a kid and you made your first drawing?
After deciding that it was show and tell worthy, what did you do? Remember? You ran out of the room and yelled ...
"MOMMY! MOMMY! LOOK WHAT I DID!"
Hold that thought.
There's this stubborn, selfish and silly disconnect that exists and persists in the minds of so many talented visual artists today. They just don't get it. Funny, because I'm far from being Albert Einstein and it seems like common sense to me. In fact, it's really got me thinking about whether I've been wasting my own time all of these years trying to promote them and their work.
What is it?
I think it's this unspoken dictum amongst artists that if they get involved in the marketing and promoting of their work, they are traitors ... they're not true artists ... they're these hucksters who are subverting true artistry and they're exposing the priesthood of artists to the evils of contemporary commerce. In their minds, the two things cannot possibly coexist.
This is the poison cup that many artists drink from and insist on sharing with others to hold one another back. It can be fatal. It kills careers. And yet, they don't want to share what really matters. And when one of them wakes up, smells the icky witch's brew on their breath and breaks free of this brainwashing ... woe unto them! Their fellow artists attack them like rabid pit bulls.
In case you didn't know, art and commerce have been intertwined from nearly Day One. The Old Masters were frequently "marketing," if you will, their work to wealthy suitors. So contemporary artists, what makes YOU so special? How are you exempt from this?
Suddenly, Meryl Streep and Daniel Day Lewis have sprung to mind. Granted, they are not visual artists (although Streep's husband Don Gummer is), but let me state my case. Most critics and film goers consider them among the greatest actors in the history of the profession. Their work is impeccable and consistently rises to the level of great, contemporary craft and art.
And yet, whenever either of them has a new film out, what are they doing? They're sitting right there on some morning or late night variety show pitching their new product. Yes, it's their PRODUCT. A product is something that you have produced, hence the word, product. Art is a product .. of sorts.
Art is their project and their product. Art is what they've produced. More than anything else, barring a cure for cancer, art deserves to be pitched and spoken about. We pitch everything else. Why not art?
We can "pitch," art AND revere it at the same time.
Why are Meryl Streep and Daniel Day Lewis out there promoting their product? Because they actually WANT people to know about it and they WANT people to go SEE their latest work. They're out there SELLING their work to the general public. They're sharing ... and by sharing they always hope to set off a chain reaction. Art deserves a chain reaction ... a multitude upon multitude of eyes seeing it. Doesn't it?
Call me crazy, but marketing art sounds brilliant to me. Hello? Common sense?
Visual artists, you have GOT to STOP drinking the poison that's making you sick and clouding your vision. You're not thinking clearly on this issue. So many of you are equating marketing with "selling out" or sacrificing your artistic integrity. This is complete and utter nonsense and I'm calling you out on it. Nobody is demanding that you compromise your artistic integrity. Has anyone asked you to do that? Of course not.
People would have to actually care enough about art to ask you to compromise your artistic integrity, but they don't because they lack exposure to art partly because artists don't do enough to promote it. Are you seeing the vicious cycle here?
So many of you are attacking fellow artists who are actually using their brains and figuring out that artistic integrity and marketing and promotion are two, separate things. In fact, marketing and promotion, IF ... IF ... IF ... done correctly, can actually ADVANCE your artistic integrity. Marketing and promotion exist for the purpose of laying the groundwork for success and sales which can lead to more artistic freedom ... IF ... wise choices are made.
Artists today have got to WAKE UP. To quote the great musician Gil Scott Heron, far too many of you are in a ... "deep, cold, sleep."
If you do not WANT to engage in marketing and promotion of your work ... OR ... you don't understand how to do it ... OR ... you wish someone else could do it, but those days are over ... then fess up, own that and learn. But don't get jealous and question the artistic integrity of another artist who is doing it successfully. Everybody has to eat. If another artist is indeed "selling out," what does THAT have to do with you? Nothing. Let them reap the benefits or pitfalls of their own decision making. Let them be who they are while you ... DO YOU.
And here's another thing. As you well know, most people know very little about contemporary art. This is the sad reality. It's so painful to write this, but it's true. And what it means is that we all constantly have to go the extra ten miles to get people up to speed. It means that artists MUST - there is no way around this - constantly SELL their work as a concept to people.
When you as an artist are out there selling your work, you're sharing it. You are selling contemporary art as a concept to the general public. You're telling people that contemporary art deserves to be on the public agenda and front and center. Who better to do this than you?
You have GOT to STOP drinking the poison and stop seeing marketing and promotion as "evil things." YOU ARE STANDING IN THE WAY OF YOUR OWN SUCCESS and you're blaming it on someone else. It's time to grow up. This is how the real world operates. Do we like it? No. Would we rather be sitting in the sanctity of our studios and writing rooms 24/7? Yes. Is this reality? No.
By the way, many if not most people are hungry to learn about contemporary art, but they're intimidated by it. They want to know about it. TELL THEM. When you market and promote your work, that's all you're really doing ... You're simply letting the world know about what you've done. Someone has to do it. Otherwise, you're going to have a bunch of unseen masterworks sitting in the darkness and growing mold in your studio.
What? You've got that already? I thought so.
Art is made for show and tell. If you don't show and tell, you're disrespecting the very art that you claim to revere.
Do you know what I think the problem is? I think that when it comes to marketing and promotion - and some other things - many artists are seeking artistic solutions when all they really need to do is use everyday, garden-variety, plain 'ole, common sense. They spend so much time locked in their own heads inside their studios that they sometimes don't see the forest for the trees. Sorry guys, but someone needs to say this.
When you take control of the marketing and promotion of your work, you're playing offense as opposed to defense. When you do this, you're putting yourself in the driver's seat as opposed to the position of a kidnapped victim who is along for the ride to God knows where. When you take control of the marketing and promoting of your work, you're playing an active role in your own destiny as opposed to letting life just happen to you.
You CAN do this. The days of relying on someone else to do it are gone. What's that? You don't have time? Hmm. Somehow you found time for that "Game of Thrones" marathon. I say that with love.
Ultimately, I'm writing these words because I've gotten so much pushback from artists over the years on this issue. No one is asking you to be a "salesman." That's not the point. The point is - common sense again - if you don't tell people about your work, who will?
Now ... remember back again to that time when you were a kid. After completing that dubious yet delightful drawing, you ran and showed it to your mom. Remember?
That was long before you took hold of the poison that someone fed you from that jewel-encrusted cup. I can always smell it on your breath through your email. You've been drinking from the poison well.
But back when you were a kid, you actually let somebody KNOW about what you created. You were enlightened. You were sharing. You actually used your brain. You were self aware, yet selflessly advancing the cause of contemporary art without even thinking about it.
Ahh... Those were the days of enlightenment ... Remember? From the mouths of babes, a sweet smell.
Call me crazy, but to me, that sounds like black-belt marketing, kiddie style ... from Day One. So with everything I've said here ... whenever the very thought of marketing and pitching your work makes your stomach turn - believe me, I totally understand. I go through the very same thing with my books, but it comes with the gig.
Still ... remember how excited you were as that kid who couldn't wait to show your work to your mom or anyone for that matter who would look at it. You were full of life, energy and passion. Isn't that the same energy you infuse into your work ... even now?
In fact, I'll give you 20-bucks the next time you see a potential client, you run up to them with your latest creation and yell ...
"MOMMY! MOMMY! LOOK WHAT I DID!"
On second thought, cancel that. I must have been drinking poison.