May 31, 2010

Marketing Tips for Artists...OR...Marketing/Schmarketing

The Chris Tyrell talk I mentioned last week, Marketing Strategies for Artists, was on this past Saturday. Seeing it as a great opportunity for getting some “trade secrets” from a man who's been actively involved in the art world for a couple of decades (as artist, curator, writer, teacher), I sacrificed a precious Saturday morning and drove an hour in the rain to take it in.
I wanted some practical ideas on how to make the unsavory part of the creative process, self-marketing, more appealing.  More user-friendly.  More "try this at home kids".  Surely not too unreasonable an expectation from a talk on "marketing strategies" is it?  Well, an hour and a bit and some personal anecdotes later, I was no wiser.

The man talked, and told some stories, and said some stuff that might sort of, loosely, be interpreted as advice on marketing strategies.  But, ultimately, he said nothing new.  Nothing that made me want to run home and start self-promoting.  If anything, judging from some of the comments I heard around me, and the looks on people's faces, what he said was actually discouraging to a number of the people there.  
Here are the main points he made:
  1. You need to be creative in your marketing strategies.
  2. It doesn't matter how good your work is (with a few exceptions); what really matters is how many people you know, how good your contact list is, and how well you use that list. You really don't need a lot of talent at all, just good contacts.
  3. The art world today is a much different place than it used to be, traditional approaches are vanishing, and you'd better be computer savvy or you won't succeed.
  4. Exhibitions in galleries are usually a waste of time and money and so is publicity.
  5. There are too many artists. Most people who make art will not sell it.
  6. Those people who do sell are people who have a good story behind who they are (i.e. a man who's huge success had more to do with his being a firefighter in "real" life than with his art itself).
  7. Abstract, impressionistic work is impossible to sell.
  8. People will buy your work if they feel indebted to you somehow so try to give something away for free and then call in the debt.
Ok now everyone, get out there and create something... 
The thing is, all of the above is no doubt true. Abstract art is a bitch to sell; a lot of fantastic art will go unsold; the art world is changing and computers play a huge part so you'd better learn as much as you can about them; most artwork is sold to people the artist has some kind of relationship with; it sure helps to have some kind of story that sets you apart from all the others.
But I bet most of the 30 (plus) people who came to hear that talk on Saturday (many of them of a "certain age" and not super comfortable with the whole computer thing) already know all about the hurdles artists today face. That's why they came to the talk, hoping to hear the guy who wrote the book offer suggestions on how to get around those hurdles.  They sure as hell didn't come there to be told: "Yeah, being an artist these days is tough isn't it? "  And because that's essentially what was given, I left that talk more bummed out than inspired.  I went away with: "Wow, that Chris Tyrell is clearly a better writer than a speaker".
Still, it's got me thinking.  Was I expecting something unrealistic?  Are there really any strategies for marketing beyond the obvious?  Ultimately, if you want to sell your art you have to get out there, get to know as many people as you can, tell them about your work, engage them by telling a good story about it, and about yourself, and just keep at it.  You have to learn how to be a "people person".  I know that don't I?  So did I maybe go to that talk because I was hoping for some kind of "cheat" around that?  Or was the guy just a bad talker?  Could he have given more?  
I guess I'm not totally decided on the answer yet am I?



1 comment:

Libby Fife said...

Quite a "Well, duh!" moment. I hate when you are hoping for some real insight and empathy and then get something else altogether. Still, maybe you can salvage something out of that. Let me know when you find out what that is:)