When is Art Marketing just marketing?

And when is it about the artist, the locality, the artwork, or the economy?

Hard questions.

I Just Have a Big Mouth

In the last six months or so, I have had so many people come up to me (mostly other artists) and say what a terrific job I am doing in marketing. Marketing?! What marketing? I just have a big mouth, that’s all.

If I am doing something, I say so. If I am involved with other groups, I say so. If I am involved in your group, it is because I believe in it, and/or I am proud of it. I wouldn’t be hanging out with you if you didn’t have something positive to offer the community. I wouldn’t be hanging out with you if I didn’t have something positive to offer YOU! These days it seems it is really hard to get people involved in outside artist activities… So be happy that anyone is involved in your project, whether it is me, or Joe the Plummer! Be happy that I’m blabbing (or blogging) about it! You should be too, why aren’t you?

Some people have done their blasting of their work through the charities, and their donations. Very commendable, but when do you draw the line and say, “okay you guys, you’re bleeding me dry?” Some people have done their blasting of their work through galleries, or through exhibitions, or through their activities or their organizations they belong to (ie Rotary, Red Hats or __Fill_in_the_Blank__). That is great! What you are doing is utilizing the greatest asset that we have at our disposal, that of cooperation and community!

Is it marketing? Sure. Any time you open your mouth to say what you are doing, you are marketing. For example, even when I am not marketing my art, if I am doing a unrelated activity, I am still marketing my art, because I am known as an artist. The art is seldom separated from the artist, how can it be, really, when you think about it. The art is a reflection of what is inside of you, you are a walking advertisement for your work. So walk tall!

Three Main Groups of Artists

The way I see it is that you have three main groups of artists.

  1. The first group are hobbyists, and they put on an artshow to hopefully make a few sales, show people what they’ve done, have a good time. It’s a pleasure based activity, not one that is really grounded in personal achievement and ambition.
  2. The second group are what I call commercial artists, usually full time but not in all cases, who create a specific type of work for a specific type of clientele. Still pleasurable, painstaking, but these artists are in love with what they do, and shows that they have are very targeted towards the needs of these clientele, very much a niche market.
  3. The third group of artists are those who are full time artists, but again not in all cases, who create work just because they love to create and are always on the look out for new ways in to their ideas. These artists look at their artworks like they are diamonds, with many facets of expression and interpretation. These artists love to have shows so they can interact with the public and share their discoveries. The artworks do sell, but not usually right away – in my cases, I’ve had works sit for about six years before anyone saw the same potential and excitement that I did.
  4. There is another group of artists who show in artist run centres who rely on art marketing by the galleries, and rarely sell, so for that reason, I am not going to include much about them here. Having said that though, there are many artists who combine two or three of these “categories”, simply because they can, and they have that ability.

Buying from an Art Gallery vs Buying from the Artist

Let’s talk about the locality – where the shows are. Are they in a town who supports artists, and who buy a lot of art? Or are they in a town whose residents go to art shows, but rarely buy anything. Are the art shows in a gallery or with other artists? The benefit of being in a gallery is you have the apparent blessing of an establishment stating “this artwork is worthy of purchase.” Am I supportive of galleries? Absolutely. My work is in galleries, why wouldn’t I be supportive of them? Galleries take the guess work out of an art purchase. Galleries have already done the homework in terms of the artist, the artwork and the potential future. In my case, the galleries I am in are in a different place than I am, and I know that my reputation is a strong one, strong enough to carry to be where they are – and I know they sell my work because I receive a nice cheque every now and then. But, having said that, I believe it is a wise and daring client who would be more interested in purchasing the artwork from the artist – these clients have the time to do their own homework, and while they may purchase from a gallery from time to time, they enjoy the pleasure of hunting out new blood. These are the types of clients that I like, as they are explorers themselves. They aren’t afraid to go off the beaten path of the regular gallery route to discover a hidden nugget – they are cultural hikers.

The Economy

The economy has been really tough in the past year and a half on those of us who pay our bills from the results of artwork sales. I mean, really tough. Talk about going in to a black hole of nothingness. So what do you do? Do you complain and sit back and say, it’s the economy…? or do you adapt? For me, I adapt, and I make sure other people consider adapting too – for example: if big works aren’t selling, make small ones. If paints cost a lot of money, learn to use another medium that doesn’t cost a lot. You are creative!! Explore, be inventive, go beyond the apparent barriers, and you will surprise yourself. Make noise – eventually it will turn into song.

Does Artwork Really Sell Online?

Yes, it does. There is no other way to say it. I remember back in 2004 when I was looking for a way to get my work out of Kelowna, and I started to sell on ebay. Sure ebay wasn’t the regular route, but it has never been my path to go the regular route. I was doing very well – my first piece was $900 30×40 oil painting to a fabulous woman in Ontario, and it only increased from there. I remember going to a marketing course “Are you Export Ready”, put on by the Alternator Gallery, the local artist run centre, in 2004 or 2005. I was told at that time I was not export ready, even though I had already sold more than a few thousand in the few months that I was online. I attended the course to learn about exports and regulation, and learned enough to find the rest of the way myself. Anyway, I digress. There was a discussion about where to put artworks for sale, and someone at the back said “you can always sell on ebay!” Everyone laughed as if it was a big joke. I was very hurt by that, as these were people I admired and respected. It is now 2009, and I have five years of online sales, a huge number on my email list and I could not ask for any better clients. These are people who really connected with my work and appreciated it. What more can I ask for?

The point that I am trying to make is that don’t dismiss the oddball ventures. Be courageous. Don’t follow the crowd. Gallery owners troll ebay, because it is a nice snapshot of what is going on in the world. As a result of my sales and exposure on ebay, I was able to move over to Ruby Lane in 2007, which is where I am now. With my start on ebay,  which includes over 700 artworks sold literally around the world, in the past five years, being published in a book about life drawing by University instructor Harold Stone, picked up by a gallery in Hong Kong, and met some tremendously savvy business people in Tom King’s The Business Group, (also on ebay, gold and platinum Power sellers) people whose business is selling online – millions of dollars a year. How better for me to learn than to be with outstanding people? And I am proud to say that I have been able to help them too.

None of this would have happened if I listened and was intimidated by the people I respected and admired, and allowed their behaviour to modify mine. What I did consider was why I respected and admired them, I guarantee you that this has become less.

The Artwork

If you do some artwork and don’t tell anyone about it, that’s all fine as well. Some artwork is very personal. There are a lot of works I have done that no one knows about because quite frankly, I don’t think they’d “get it”. I don’t even “get it” at least not yet, maybe in a few years things will become clear as to why etc. That’s usually how it works, hindsight and all that.

The Last Word

All I can say is that 80 percent of marketing is being strong enough to stand up and say something out loud to many people who may or may not be listening. It doesn’t really matter if they are listening, it matters that you are standing up and saying it.  People are going to remember your name because they either:

  • really love your artwork, or
  • really hate it, or
  • can’t believe that you are telling others about it, or
  • because they can’t believe you’re such an unrealistic dreamer.

All of the above are completely acceptable, because they are going to remember your name.