Thursday, May 13, 2010

Look At Me, Again

I'm often attacked for being a ruthless 'self-promoter'. It's a dirty word in the arts. There are others: a gallerist once described me (with obvious disdain) as 'pro-active' and recently, an older artist called me (in a rejected comment on my blog) 'sleazy'.
In the art world, getting behind your own work in the same, unrestrained way that film-makers and rock musicians get behind theirs is taboo. Gallerists, curators, critics and art dealers denounce it as 'selling out' and 'crass' (or worse, if you happen to be Damien Hirst), if only because it further weakens their grip on the power to determine what is good art – and more, what's good for us.
The web enables artists to side-step the traditional, filtered (or 'curated') system to deliver their work straight to a receptive audience, an audience empowered to think for itself. The artist can communicate directly and in detail to this audience and develop a dialogue with it. They can turn it into a knowledgeable fan base that might, over time, help sustain them both emotionally and financially.
Ironically, the same individuals who castigate me for being a 'publicity whore' – and there are as many artists as dealers among them – complain that their work doesn't sell.
Of course it doesn't. Usually, it hasn't been exposed to the right audience. The problem with galleries is they expect the audience – which, in their mind, is always the same 300 people and worse, belongs not to the artist but to them – to turn up at their bricks-and-mortar premises. But anyone with a rudimentary understanding of modern marketing can tell you that in the networked information age, you have to take your brand and product to a virtual forum – populated not by a faceless mass but a 'million-fold audience of just one' (as Creed O'Hanlon described it) – and let the audience engage directly with them, in their own way.
This is, if anything, the polar opposite of old-school hype: it is not about broadcasting loud, intrusive, showy, one-way messages but about creating easily navigable, customisable points of access to information and images that people can process or explore in their own time, then encouraging them to re-distribute these to their friends.
I don't understand those artists who try to corral their rights and prevent anyone reproducing their images without permission (or, worse, payment). Promotion is most successful when there is memorable content. If people can download that content – which, in the case of my paintings, is not the same as the actual, real world work – and share it, they become partners in your marketing and communications strategy. And you sell more.
An artist's work might be thought of as inaccessible – it might be too refined, self-indulgent, highbrow, repulsive or obscene – but if enough people get to see it, then the odds are that a percentage will relate to it and respond. Sub-cultural outsider and punk rocker G.G. Allin led an army of fanatical fans, despite the fact that his music was poorly produced and his live performances involved rolling in and eating feces and attacking audience members. He found the fans he had because he focussed only on reaching those who were open to his anarchic persona.
We can each find whatever we're interested in online, no matter how arcane, along with others with whom we can share it. We don't need the elitist curatorial inclinations of traditional galleries and art institutions to collect, redact or interpret anything for us. Apart from anything else, they're too bloody slow and their language is obscure if not entirely unintelligible.
They're not nearly as smart as the artists themselves, who are using the web to regain independence – and attention – on their own terms.

20 comments:

danimations said...

Well said Hazel - you've delivered another empowering post for the benefit of us fellow fierce independents. You'll be a fine elder statesman for cultural change in your twilight years ;)

Aminah K. ♠♣♥♦ said...

Look Hazel, there are times in life when you just have to give some people the finger. I like your work and your writing. How you market yourself and your work, is solely your prerogative. If people can't understand you then they shouldn't look at your work in the first place!

Keep doing what your doing and stay strong!

Detlef Cordes said...

The artist as a seller of content has to use her/ his product as a means of PR. Which is difficult for musicians, easier for fine artists where there is nothing like the original. Alas - there are different resolutions of print ...

I think monetary value isn't attached to the individual product but to the artist who produced it. So the strategy for the web you are outlining makes a lot of sense to me.

Kay Ross said...

You go, girl! Don't ever be ashamed of promoting yourself. And you're right - any artist, author or business owner must grab the reins and be responsible for promoting themselves directly to the public, rather than depending on agents, galleries, publishers and traditional media outlets to do it for them. Isn't that the whole point of all the social media tools that are available to us these days?

Mona said...

Hazel/
Yeah you are right and you can tell the others "Arkell v Pressdram (1971)"!!! Made me laugh following the anti-libel win in the UK today!
Keep on keeping on just the way you are...
Regards/

Miriam said...

A very interesting post, and one that speaks to me very much. Thank you. And I suppose, thank Detlef...because if he had not posted a link to it in Facebook, I might not have seen it. And so goes proof of your theory.... I

Fogbound said...

Good post! The internet has opened a whole new world for promotion and connection. The old rules don't apply and traditionalists struggle with that. You're doing a great job with it- keep going. You've got lots of supporters.

andrea said...

Thanks for the input on copyright paranoia. I managed to offend a couple of artists when I expressed the same a couple of years ago. It's simple logic really.

Betsy Lewis said...

Brilliant post Hazel. I have been told I was pushy . . . but then the male gallerist backed off with "in a soft way." I am actually a soft spoken person. I know how to follow "the rules" in the art world, so that I can get along, but I do feel passionate about many things. In a woman "passionate" is often perceived as "pushy". My passion gives me my voice artistically and in the market. Social Media is changing how we are doing business . . . thank goodness!
Betsy Lewis
http://betsylewis.blogspot.com

Tammy Vitale said...

And there are artists who contend that there is something about art that means it isn't a business. Baloney. Selling art is no different than selling anything else. The artist is an entrepreneur with all the good things and bad things that go with that. Glad I found you thru a twitter post. I was just having this conversation with a friend!

Aaron B. Brown said...

Art is in the eye of the beholder, and the more eyes you can reach a greater your chances for success as an artist.

On twitter I recently ran across an artist who was once married to my aunt. He painted an abstract portrait of my family and gave several of his works to my grandparents in the 70s, who hung them prominently in the family home.

A few decades later when I asked my grandmother if she would bequeath one of these paintings to me in her will, she informed me that it was already spoken for. Apparently everyone in the family coveted these works and had been asking to inherit them. I ended up receiving the family portrait, which I decided to leave in the family home in its place of honor.

So I was rather shocked when I saw that this fantastic artist who captured something of my family at a particular moment in time, an essence of something intangible yet so real in that portrait, something that no photo ever had or perhaps could, I was shocked that he no longer describes himself as an artist. In fact he has become an arts writer and critic for the Times Picayune in New Orleans. I sent him a message and e-mails inquiring, but I got no reply, which leads me to believe that he has given up his painting and put that part of his life altogether behind him.

I tell this story because I imagine it is the story of many artists, who finding themselves unrecognized and unappreciated by the powers that be in the art world, and who reluctantly give up their artwork in place of other pursuits. In the case of this particular artist, it saddens me to think he no longer paints, it saddens me to think of what he might have created, and it saddens me that someone with so much talent was seen by so few.

I take solace in the fact that artists today have the ability to reach out directly through the net, as Hazel has done, I think that is the future. It's the best thing for artists and the best thing for the future of art and the art world.

Lindsay said...

You're friggin' awesome! :)

Mr. Kim Guthrie said...

So what you're saying is it's ok for inept so called artists of the like of David Bromley or Jason Benjamin to foist their crap on the world. Repetitive, cloying, uninspired product because they are tireless self-promoters too? Speaking of which Hazel I'm a 'Follower' of your blog and have posted a link to yours on mine. How about returning the favour? I enjoy both your articulate rants and your attitude love Kg.

Maria Brophy said...

The people who say that art and money should be separate are those that are either 1 - starving artists or 2 - bad art consultants!

Regardless of whether your art is "great" or "repetitive, uninspiring crap" - if you get out it out there & people buy it, than it's a contribution to the world. Being paid for it allows you to continue making that contribution.

Dixon said...

Inspiring and thought-provoking. Your arguments are well formulated--I would love to see this mini-manifesto in action. Here's to a blog that's worth reading.

n. said...

damn straight - particularly on breaking down that traditional (or rather: capitalist, enforced) concept of only allowing people tangible, lasting access to your art (ie, downloading an image) if they pay you for it. for a start, i think knowledge and culture should be accessible to everybody, not just those who are financially well endowed; but as you say, for artists taking control of their own finances - and thus marketing - it's like a shop giving you their products in a branded bag - but if someone posts your (un-paid-for) image on a popular blog...that's far more free advertising than even the most well-used tote.

the heirarchy of art monetization is something i've thought about - and gotten angry about - a lot, also. you can't call yourself an artist unless you support yourself financially from your work - but if you make too much money you're selling out. you're not a successful artist unless you're well known - but if it's awareness built upon any platform but a long-established commercial gallery, it's just celebrity. suddenly one can earn 'too much' money through one's art.

i'm fascinated by the myriad possibilities this sort of financial restructuring provides for dramatic changes in power structure.

Steff Metal said...

Excellent article, Hazel. As a writer / artist I am looking to the internet as a way to develop my own concept of an art/writing career. I do think the art world has outgrown the "gallery" concept - and it's time for artists, writers, performers and creatives to explore different ways of bringing a product to those who value it.

I've always considered art as something to do for a living - I've never had any notion that my work is somehow "above" monetary value. As an artist - I create something of value, same as a skilled baker or fitter and turner or carpenter. I want to work with my talents and get paid for that work - and I don't see how that's different simply because I create "art".

Joanne said...

I couldn't agree more with what you've said here. I've just finished my photography degree and I'm faced with trying to make a living from the craft I've studied and practiced for the past 3 years and it's terrifying. You have to be your own biggest cheerleader. If you don't get behind your work 100% you can't expect anyone else to.

Georgiana said...

Hazel,

I keep feeling compelled to respond to your blogs! Your arguments are so contentious yet agreeable, to my mind at least.

However, I would disagree that artists who are moving in traditional circles, i.e. the art gallery networks, are not self promoters. Whilst they are foolishly happy to hand over a large portion of their profits to the galleries who, as you quite rightly point out, have a very limited promotional scope, artists do still do a good deal of ground work themselves. However, it is not as overt as what you are doing (I’m not being critical of your business methods). What artists do to promote themselves is to be ‘seen’ at as many art functions as possible, get invited to lecture at universities, form cliques that facilitate the success of each other by critiquing each other’s work (favourably of course) and shutting out anyone who doesn’t fit their mind set or who in any way challenges their view point. It comes down to social manoeuvring.

Whilst at art school if you play your cards right and win favour of the right lecturers then they will allow you to have access to some of their connections. Via their ‘approval’ the gallery system then gives you an opportunity and as long as your peers approve of you, then you are allowed to ride up the channels. Those channels being either starting at the right artist run spaces (often with some of the lecturers on the board) or being selected as winner of key art prizes (once again with lectures or their friends on the board) or being selected to pursue an academic career (they control the marking of students to gear who can be selected and who can’t).

Notice how this method of artistic ‘success’ has nothing to do with the buyer? The buyers are then ‘told’ what is ‘good’ art by which artists are selected by the gallery owner. But the selection of the artist is largely based on social manoeuvring, not on the quality of the art. How many artists can walk in off the street with no ‘art world’ connections and expect to get a show with a gallery such as Rosalyn Oxley’s or Anna Schwartz?

Most high profile commercial galleries wont even look at you unless you’ve done your ‘time’ through the right channels and essentially seek peer approval. So, artists are promoting themselves amongst each other and the galleries but not with their public.


Betsy,

It’s interesting that you have experienced that kind of prejudice as I have found it too. It seems ironic that the ‘art world’ can be an environment so open to new ideas and yet it does seem still so male dominated and there is a perception of how women ought to be!


Aaron B. Brown,

My father’s best mate from art school, Gus Cohen, has been painting and drawing for nearly 50 years now and whilst he has exhibited, he is a completely unknown Australian artist. Unfortunately he can’t come to terms with technology and is not the best verbal communicator at the best of times but his work is incredible. He has a massive body of work that is a perfect example of an artist doggedly exploring his own themes and reaching maturity through them. Conceptually they are brilliant but he seems to fail at communicating this with the art world elite. If only he had the ability to deal with technology he might reach his audience.

I worry that his life may end (he is very unwell) and that his work may not be acknowledged. He should be noted as one of Australia’s key artists but no one knows him.

Georgiana said...

Hazel,

I keep feeling compelled to respond to your blogs! Your arguments are so contentious yet agreeable, to my mind at least.

However, I would disagree that artists who are moving in traditional circles, i.e. the art gallery networks, are not self promoters. Whilst they are foolishly happy to hand over a large portion of their profits to the galleries who, as you quite rightly point out, have a very limited promotional scope, artists do still do a good deal of ground work themselves. However, it is not as overt as what you are doing (I’m not being critical of your business methods). What artists do to promote themselves is to be ‘seen’ at as many art functions as possible, get invited to lecture at universities, form cliques that facilitate the success of each other by critiquing each other’s work (favourably of course) and shutting out anyone who doesn’t fit their mind set or who in any way challenges their view point. It comes down to social manoeuvring.

Whilst at art school if you play your cards right and win favour of the right lecturers then they will allow you to have access to some of their connections. Via their ‘approval’ the gallery system then gives you an opportunity and as long as your peers approve of you, then you are allowed to ride up the channels. Those channels being either starting at the right artist run spaces (often with some of the lecturers on the board) or being selected as winner of key art prizes (once again with lectures or their friends on the board) or being selected to pursue an academic career (they control the marking of students to gear who can be selected and who can’t).

Notice how this method of artistic ‘success’ has nothing to do with the buyer? The buyers are then ‘told’ what is ‘good’ art by which artists are selected by the gallery owner. But the selection of the artist is largely based on social manoeuvring, not on the quality of the art. How many artists can walk in off the street with no ‘art world’ connections and expect to get a show with a gallery such as Rosalyn Oxley’s or Anna Schwartz?

Most high profile commercial galleries wont even look at you unless you’ve done your ‘time’ through the right channels and essentially seek peer approval. So, artists are promoting themselves amongst each other and the galleries but not with their public.