Art and marketing are entirely different fields, but when it comes to attaining a solid career, they’re entirely inseparable. I don’t really know anything about marketing, but it seems obvious what works and what doesn’t when it comes to selling yourself through your work.
Promoting art is a sales pitch. Great artists aren’t necessarily successful marketers, but artists who talk up their work enough can potentially sell anything to the starry-eyed buyer – whether it’s a colored print of a Marilyn Monroe photograph or mass-produced pictures of shiny cottages. Lady GaGa knows how to market herself more than she knows how to sing, and many are touting her as the next Madonna. Shepard Fairey successfully cashed in on street art which, ethical or not, looks great on a street corner.
I talked to Nelson Gallery director Renny Pritikin about success in the art world some time ago. He argued that even successful artists, in order to stay afloat, often have to teach in order to sustain an income. Advertising and networking is business as usual.
“You have to be willing to be a consultant, almost,” Pritikin said. “A lot of museum directors now have MBAs.”
So where does anyone go to market their work? The Internet? People talk about Internet marketing and Web 2.0 like it’s the messiah of communication and sharing, but nobody seems to completely understand how to use it. It’s a huge problem with older generations of artists who still need to make a living yet don’t know how to grasp website creation and marketability.
Success and failure in marketing extends to public and press relations just the same. The Arts Editor position gives me a mailbox at the Aggie, and despite the overwhelming publicist migration to e-mail press releases, I still get the occasional envelope press kit. Yesterday, I opened a package containing an EP by L.A. rapper Jay Blaze (cleverly titled “The Black Market”), whose fanbase doesn’t seem to exist anywhere further than his Myspace page.
The PR guy, Ralph, told me that he’s been a “loyal follower” of “theaggie.[org.] for several years,” and wants to “introduce [my] readership to Jay Blaze.” It was addressed to Rachel, last year’s Arts Editor. Here you go, Ralph.
It often comes down to simple meet and greets. Last week, I went to a photo gallery opening in L.A. for an exhibition on global water issues. Aspiring photographers with SLRs draped over their shoulders mingled throughout the room. One such hopeful, a skinny 50-something-year-old with white hair and a ponytail, approached my friend to discuss art.
“What’s your favorite picture?” he asked. A photograph of the Dead Sea was the closest obvious answer. “I’ve been there. It’s beautiful.” Rome and Paris, said the artist and experienced linguist, are also “beautiful.”
“You look like Tokyo pop,” he said, handing her his card. “You should come to my apartment studio in downtown L.A. and model purses for me.”
She didn’t. We did visit his website, though, which features his own graphic pop art, street vendor pewter jewelry and pictures of him with various celebrities at random parties. Prices range from $8,000 to $30,000, plus $200 shipping and handling. The website even features a song he wrote and recorded “to keep up with the hip electronic music everyone’s listening to.”
Handing out cards and making small talk at parties is a cheap way to sell one’s self, but what determines success is whether or not it works. Crashing parties and handing out business cards will ultimately get some website hits, but nobody’s going to spend $30,000 on cheap pop art. Especially if you’re weird about it.
JUSTIN T. HO thinks PR guys should send him more snail mail, instead of e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.