Marketing Mondays: The New Emerging (or Re-emerging) Artist

More of Printmaing Camp on Wednesday
Click here for Day 1 and Day 2
Image via the Internet

An artist emailed me privately last week to chastize me for Marketing Mondays: "You are promoting careerism over integrity. I have lived in poverty all my life and although it has not been easy, my art is better for it."
Really? Poverty makes art better? How thoroughly have we been indoctrinated into the concept of angst and penury for artists that we cannot see that creativity and professionalism are partners? We don't expect gallerists or collectors to live in garrets and die of consumption; why should we expect that of artists? (Not to be ageist, but I'm guessing my writer is old school, like maybe maybe art school from the Fifties.)

The new breed of artists—and many mid-career and even late-career artists, who are purging themselves of ingrained old-think—are not just working in their studios but presenting themselves to the world.

A favorite recent example: Two mid-career artists, attendees at a conference, opened their hotel suite for an exhibition of their work. New Yorkers, they understood well the concept of the hotel fair. After conference hours, their "311 Salon," named for the hotel room number, became the place to be at. Work was seen. Sales were made. They raised the bar for what was possible entrepreneurially at a small conference.

And, of course, the Internet has changed things dramatically for artists. Where previous generations had the co-op gallery (a model that remains viable), we now also have websites, and—with some entrepreneurial motivation—online salons, exhibitions, businesses. Over the past couple of years we’ve seen Matthew Langley's
246 Editions offering high-quality but inexpensive digital prints of selected artists' work, a complement to such dealer-generated projects as Compound-Editions and Artist of the Month Club.
Businesses like this might not last longer than a year or two; sometimes that’s all it takes to get things moving. Then again, they might thrive for a good long time. Witness Jen Bekman’s 20x200 Project. My favorite here is David Schoener’s Hassla Books, a project the artist, who is a photographer, began as an art student in Massachusetts and continues as an artist/publisher in New York.

Many art schools, mindful of the need for their students to understand how to make a career for themselves after graduation, now offer courses in professional practices. (I teach one, but you know that.) Students are leaving school with an understanding of the artist-dealer relationship and realistic ideas about how the art world works; they're prepared with well-crafted, if sparse, resumes; statements; business basics; and career-enhancing instruments like business cards, websites and blogs. Compare that to the decade-of-reinventing-the-wheel that most of us underwent back in the day.

They also understand the value of having a goal and a plan to work toward it. I think about my own "plan" early on--a series of crummy part-time jobs which I maintained while in haphazard pursuit of a series of often crummy, dead-end exhibitions.

Not that we don’t want to work in partnership with gallerists and curators; we do. But it's a big art world out there, and this new breed of emerging artist has learned there's no need for artists to sit around suffering. They’re taking their careers into their own hands until a gallery relationship develops. Then they will be prepared to deliver in all the big and small ways that are necessary to work successfully with a gallery. And if that gallery relationship never develops, they still have a career to develop along the pathways already laid down.
And if you happen to be the old fart who wrote me that email? It's never too late to reemerge with a new attitude.


Susan Roux said...

Great post! There's nothing wrong with doing what you must to live your dream. Promoting oneself over the internet is a wonderful tool that didn't always exist. When a new tool is created, invented, there's nothing wrong with using it. Usually it simplifies a task.

Before, Fairs and Festivals were among the few ways an artist could be seen and promote themselves if they weren't represented by a gallery. This usually limited the artist to local areas. Now its much simpler and the internet provides a worldwide audience.

Its not too hard to see the benefits...

thomas drymon said...

i grew up in poverty, so little about it is romantic to me. as i grew up, went to college, and moved on, i realized that i couldn't produce work if i wasn't happy. and i wasn't happy being poor.

all of my focus was on paying the rent, affording supplies, eating. not to mention dealing with the psychological affects of long-term poverty. it was emotionally draining.

once i realized all this, i got a job, got comfortable and was able to produce work that was about my situation and others. rather than reliving my life in each new work, i was/am able to communicate what it was like without the emotional after-effects.

everyone is different, of course. for some, those circumstances are ripe for productivity and motivation. for me, they were debilitating.

(joanne, this is my first comment on your site, which i've read for a few years now. thanks for all the work you do on it. it is a great resource for me personally, and i really look forward to each monday!)

sherrie posternak said...

Well said Joanne. There is a difference between keeping your artistic integrity while educating the public to understand, enjoy, and purchase the traditionally less-commercial artworks; and the flip side-- producing your works with ONLY the audience and saleability in mind.

Pamela Myers said...

Art needs an audience to exist and it must reach that audience. This is particularly important if the work has a message or if the artist is attempting to create a dialect.

Unless of course the art is a completely personal exercise in which a response from anyone else is not needed or desired. In that case that work doesn't need to be shown.

For me, art is a form of communication. Its back and forth. I have a thought, I put it out there and hope somebody understands.

A little skill in navigating the art world increases my chance of finding those who understand.

Philip Koch said...

The way I look at it is this: every artist has to make some sort of compromises. Some compromises you shouldn't make as they are soul killing. Other compromises can work for you and keep you going making your art,deepening your vision, and all those other good things. It is a question of knowing yourself and what is right for you.

Every artist who has gone before us, Rembrandt, Georgia O'Keefe, Rockwell Kent, etc. have had to make compromises. It didn't kill them.

After many years of making art I'm proud of what I've accomplished and feel I owe it to my paintings to help build an audience for them. It feels like this completes the whole creative process. I try to present the work to the public in a way that shows I'm proud it. When you do this over time, people start taking an interest in your work and collecting it. You actually start having some significant income from your work instead of just expenses for materials and studio space.

One of the compromises I made along the way was teaching art. As my sales improved I was able to teach only part time. Most of my students are sweethearts and have enriched my life. Sure teaching is hard work, but it has paid me benefits on a personal and on an artistic level.

kristina dutton said...

wow! it's really amazing how some folks are just totally un-accepting of the changing and constantly developing art world! can you even imagine if andy warhol or van gogh had the kind of access we do now, as far as the internet, marketing, and social networking, the kind of things they'd do!? WE'RE FORTUNATE!

Anonymous said...

The blog is, after all, Marketing Mondays, so I always read it with that in mind. That the focus is Art Marketing, not Art Making. Even with the non-Monday posts, I take for granted that one of Joanne's areas of expertise and interest is marketing, and that that will inform her other posts as well. I follow this blog, in part, to gain a perspective that is different from my own and that, at times, challenges my thinking. I do find the career-ism aspect unappealing at times, but who says we can't learn from what we disagree with?

Anyway, I believe that every artist seeks (and hopefully finds) the balance between promoting the work and not having that promotion interfere with artistic integrity. Each person's balance is sure to be different, and the main thing is to find what feels right to you--even if it means living with fewer material comforts (which in itself is not a bad thing). Often I look at work in galleries that strikes me as more commercial than artistically interesting. Some days I see so much work that falls into this category that it's hard for me not to feel rather disgusted with the whole scene. Other times, like this weekend, I visited galleries and saw several shows that moved and interested me and I felt truly grateful that those artists are out there, working and exhibiting.

Finally, I would add that if an artist was influenced by a certain ethic of the 50s (and that doesn't necessarily mean that we are of that vintage, just that we've found something in that era that rings true), that doesn't make it less right than someone else, who might be more influenced by the 90's or 2000's. We all gravitate to what resonates for very complex reasons that deserve deeper reflection/conversation, not dismissal.

annell4 said...

It is interesting how each life is different. I do come from the "stone age." My experience was that my work was always represented. And I really just loved to work, then I had a trauma in my life and all I could do was my work. It was not until I lost my representation that I realized it was my responsibility. Then I had to find out how. And there were lots of dead-ends. I think I have a good plan now. And though I am seeking representation, I think I am also introducing my work to people who don't know about it. I loved your post. And I will come again. Thank you.

Trace Willans said...

As a mature age emerging artist I certainly don't wish to starve but I alos don't wish to have a job that takes away my art time. So my compromise is to make a range of things that are commercial that are still making and also spend time on my more artistic pursuits. I do hope that eventually I will mkae my living entirely from the art side of my practice. But at least I don't have a desk job.

Fi said...

Goodness gracious me, what a self defeating attitude. I look forward to the day when the poor=artistic integrity idea finally dies and relieves artists of the misery that it inflicts.

Thankyou Joanne for Marketing Mondays.

annell4 said...

I have a question about follow-ups? I have an old tape that says, if you have made contact, and haven't heard anything, they probably don't like your work, the follow-up seems like "begging." I know in my head that isn't right, but it is a nagging feeling I'm trying to change. Can you help?

Eva said...

Whoa, that idea of having an exhibition in a hotel suite set my imagination on fire. I've heard of dealers doing something like that. But an artist can that too, provided they've got the energy, stamina, contacts and the guts......thanks for the post!!

Rosemarie Adcock said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your article, and agree fully about the ludicrous notion that somehow if we can't pay basic living costs we will make better art; or let's go further into the stereotype, that the best artists are alcoholics or homeless drug addicts. Hardly.

grovecanada said...

The deep & false assumption that great artists were all poor hurts people like the one who wrote in to complain...The media has portrayed our greats as poor because it is romantic...If anyone actually bothers to read some of the real stories it comes out that many came from well to do families...Yes, they may not have earned much from their work, & to the world may have appeared poor, but the truth was, they all had secure & often quite wealthy fallback positions...The nuttiness that came from lead poisoning & the right brained personality made artists dress & live on the corners of life...which may have perpetuated the stereotypes...

Anonymous said...

Great post, Joanne!
When I moved to New York and got my first gallery in Soho, I thought now I could relax and leave everything to the gallery and just work in my studio (not completely, because I had a "day job" as well in those days).

I now regret that I did not do any promoting myself then, but I learned, I had to! Now, instead of waiting for my galleries to call me with some good news, I contact galleries in the US and Europe on my own and send them my website with excellent result.

My latest success story is that I now make great looking catalogue using photoshop and iphoto. It took some time to get the hang of it, but it was well worth the time expense. The results are amazing (actually hate that word)and a good thing is that I can order the catalogue as I need them and not have an enormous financial outlay from the start.I recommend this to all my artists friends.

Thanks so much for all your good advise, Joanne, I have great admiration for all you do aside from you beautiful paintings.