Sunday, February 01, 2009
How Not To Sell Your Soul
Actually I have one secret. It's a very easy secret. You get up early in the morning and you work all day. That's the only secret. Is there another one?– Philip Glass As more and more artists increase their online presence in order to be independent of commercial galleries, there's an exponential increase in long-winded articles, both online and off, giving artists marketing advice. Mostly, they're written by people who have conflicting interests – they're either gallerists or they own art networking or sales sites. The latter urge artists to join their online communities as well as establish their own sites and blogs. They talk at length about techniques to drive and sustain traffic to theses online presences. Some of their advice is even quite good. The trouble is, they don't talk about content. They talk about how to sell a product that you've made. For them, the business of art is really no different from any other online business. And yet it is, both online and in the real world, and those offering advice miss – don't even understand – the subtle emotional, aesthetic and other less easily mapped fields that exist between the collector and the individual artist and their work. In this context, most advice on selling is unrefined and next to useless: it's one thing to advise responding promptly to enquiries from potential buyers but it's another to find the right balance of information and integrity in that response, while at the same time laying the foundation for an ongoing relationship, even if the enquiry doesn't result in an immediate sale. And let's not forget, the artist should also use an online presence for much more than mere marketing. They should be be part of – and, even better, provoke – public dialogues on art, ideas and socio-political issues too (and not be afraid of the occasional fall-out).In the end, though, it comes down to this: To be a successful artist, in any environment, you have to make a considerable amount of art. And while you are making it, you have to show it to people, both in the 'real world' and online. You have to help people to appreciate its history – in other words, the context of how and why the art came to be made – as well as its ongoing intellectual and technical evolution. And you have to connect all this to yourself personally as the artist. It's not exactly quantum physics but it is demanding. Along with the art itself, you have to think about it – and, if you have a blog, write about some aspect of it – nearly every day.Some things can be learned by observing the actions of artists who are doing what you would like to do. Those artists' actions will reveal a much more compelling and meaningful motivation for making art than just the desire to to sell it. If your only motivation for making art is to sell it and your main intellectual preoocupation is not the work itself but how to productise it, then you're not an artist. You're just a self-stocking shop.