|Photo Credit: Evan Goldman|
1. Who should think about marketing his or her work as an artist?
In all seriousness, marketing is a skill - just like making art is. You don’t want to wait until you are producing masterpieces at the easel to begin learning how to apply to shows, develop a website, manage a social media presence, or talk to prospective galleries and buyers. You want to go through your "awkward- student phase" of marketing while you are still going through your student phase of making art.
Another way to think about marketing is to understand that cultivating a career in the arts is like owning a company. Like with any business, in order to be successful, you need a CEO to chart the course, CTO to work on the web and social media aspect, CFO to check on the financial viability of your operation and on taxes, legal department to handle contracts for commissions, PR department to advertise for you, and of course, a sales force. All of these people are you! Making the art itself represents just the "manufacturing plant" of this business. If you don’t advertise, learn how to sell and use technology, and network, then, you just might end up with a warehouse full of unsold merchandise.
2. To whom should artists be marketing?
When you start, start locally. It is cheaper, easier, and you are more likely to net results when targeting your local community. As your reputation builds, and you learn what works and what doesn’t, only then, you might want to expand your range, budget and ambition.
Many artists exhibit their work in juried group shows, many of which are listed on sites like TheArtList.com or ArtShow.com. There are thousands of shows to apply to. One factor I encourage emerging artists to consider is geography: Determine a distance that you are willing to drive your artwork (30 minutes, 4 hours, whatever) and only apply shows within this distance. This is recommended in part because of the high cost of shipping. For modestly sized works (up to 18x24"), it can cost $30 to box up a painting, $30 to ship it, and don’t forget about the return shipping fee, which you must purchase in advance. So, you’re in for approximately $100 a piece, per show, in addition to the entry fee.
Delivering your own artwork to local exhibits also gives you an opportunity to talk with the organizers. They might be more inclined to advocate for you if they know who you are, have talked with you about your work, or even like you. I once got a solo show out of such a conversation. It’s good to be a person to them, and not just a piece of art.
Another important aspect of marketing is learning how to talk about your work. You want to project an air of professionalism at a show of your work, whether it is a group or solo show. You may still consider yourself a student, but that is not something to tout in a public forum, like in an exhibition, an application proposal, or to prospective patrons. Also, learn certain buzzwords or phrases that easily convey what your work is about. Try to boil it down to as few words as possible, practice those phrases, and begin to own them across all platforms of your public persona (website, promotional materials, and in conversation).
3. What are some basics Do's and Don'ts of marketing your work as an artist?
Do cast a wide net. Apply to group shows, join local arts organizations, go to art events in your area, apply for competitions, grants and residencies, talk to other artists, accept speaking, jurying or teaching opportunities. Build your brand through repetition.
Don’t get discouraged. I wear it with pride that still, after 20 years, I get rejected from half of the shows I submit my work to. If I’m not getting rejected, that means I’m not being aggressive enough.
Do study what others have done, and make it yours. Picasso said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” So, observe other artists’ websites and social media, exhibition records and talking points, and then own the best lessons you can draw from them.
Don’t only apply to things you think you will get. Apply to shows, competitions and residencies that you don't think you can win. You will be surprised just how many you might get.
4. Why is this an important topic to lecture on? How do you integrate marketing know-how into your curriculum at the Academy in Rockville, MD?
There is only one other topic that is more important to discuss in a program that claims to offer students the ability to become professionals in their field - of course, that other thing is how to paint, which we do quite admirably in the atelier.
It has always astounded me that discussion of the business side of one’s art career is a taboo topic in so many art schools. It’s as if these institutions believe that upon graduation, their students will be magically endowed with a skill set that often contrasts the sensibilities that brought them to their chosen artistic field in the first place. It’s an absurd notion, of course, and one whose time has expired.
In the atelier, we devote a significant portion of the third, thesis year to learning about the business. We cover everything from how to enter shows, photograph artwork, frame and price art, write grant proposals, develop a website and social media presence, and we even discuss how to teach. I sincerely want every one of my students to be able to operate at a professional level of art making, and I believe that every one of them can in fact achieve that.