Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Why You Need to Put on Your "Publicity Hat"

There are a myriad of reasons why artists often feel awkward about advocating for their own work.

Notice that I don't use the "M" word. Many artists consider "Marketing" to be a slimy, distasteful task, associating the activity with psychologically manipulative men with fake smiles who convince us to buy products that we don't need. I realize that there are those who think that these men occupy a ring of hell slightly below lobbyists and GMO executives. One of the attitudes I often encounter among artists is a fear that, somehow, just thinking about how to "market" their work will somehow seep into their studios... that thoughts of "the market" will ooze under the studio door at night to corrupt and compromise their work.

Other artists tell me that they were raised in a family environment where humility was espoused as a virtue... they believe that it just isn't polite to talk about yourself or your accomplishments. Humans want to be liked, of course, and we all know egotistical artists who chronically and myopically monopolize conversations with talk of their own work, and no one wants to go drinking with them any more.

Women, not surprisingly, often have additional concerns about being perceived as "pushy": studies have indicated that the same traits we call "assertive" when exhibited by men are often seen as "aggressive" when exhibited by women.

Add to this a fear of rejection, and that many artists chose to become artists precisely because they have more introverted personalities. Who wants to go to another event and pass out business cards? It's much easier to just stay in the studio.

So, we mostly just avoid the whole self-promotion thing. We just keep making and stockpiling work, hoping that the Art Fairy Godmother will someday notice how hard we have been working, reward us with a Guggenheim retrospective, the galleries and museums will take over, and then we won't EVER have to think about that nasty marketing stuff again.

Except, deep down, you understand that the Art Fairy is not coming. Every artist reaches a point when they realize that if THEY are not going to be an advocate for their own work, no one else will either.

It is frustrating to have great ambition for your art, see others' work consistently getting attention, and yet, be stymied by how to make these things happen for yourself. And the truth is... being successful at getting your work "out there" (under the noses of the right people, in exhibitions, coming up in search engines, featured in blogs and periodicals) requires thinking about your work in a new and consistent way. But how do you do it without feeling like Slimy Marketing Guy?

You put on your Publicity Hat.

When you are in the studio, you make the uncompromising art you need to make, but, once it leaves the studio, you think, "Ok, I put so much thought and effort into making this work, how am I going to maximize the opportunities for it, to make sure it is seen and appreciated by the right audience?" Your newly hatched work deserves some attention. (And if you aren't convinced of its worthiness, consider taking this workshop.)

Selling is nice, but that's not why I put on my Publicity Hat. I believe in the power of art, that it can change the world. I sincerely believe that my art, and the art of the many talented people I associate with, is something that people need to be exposed to. Art is my religion, and I am evangelical about it. And, luckily, the Art World is a pre-selected, receptive audience... it is not like trying to sell hockey pucks at a fashion show.

Like many artists, I hate, H-A-T-E, selling: as a young person, my few retail jobs were short-lived. And I am sometimes prone to social anxiety, like many creative people. But I believe that my work should be seen, and my brain works in such a way that I have figured out how to make that happen. I think of this part of my job as an ongoing game, a kind of strategic mentality with a noble goal.

In the "Publicity Hat" workshop, we spend time overcoming psychological obstacles to promoting your work, then proceed to thinking about audience, how to maximize any opportunity and use it to build new ones, how to share information about your work in a way that feels natural, even how to dramatically extend your radius without ever shaking a hand or making small talk. We will cover some sneaky tricks, as well as nuts and bolts things like mailing lists, social media, and how to write a press release that will stand out, but the most valuable thing you will acquire is a new mindset.

This new attitude of being a constant advocate for your work will make you think in a way that is custom-tailored to the art that you make, yet expansive enough to allow for growth and adaptation to changing technologies. It will add pages to your resumé, but, more importantly, will help you expand the reach of your vision without compromise.

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