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Self-Promotion: a Required Skill for 21st Century Artists

Sunday, 11. February 2024 22:02

The traditional path to a career in the arts is no longer available. It used to be that the artist would spend time honing their craft, then produce a product. Using networked contacts, the artist would then locate a gatekeeper, and if the product were deemed worthy, it would be sent out into the world. With the exception of the contacts and an occasional interview, the artist was free to devote time to creating the next work.

Today the artist still has to produce a product and maintain a network of contacts, but also has to have a social media presence. Actually, the artist needs more than just a social media presence; the artist needs to become an influencer. So great is the need that some believe the profession of artist no longer exists—“only ‘influencer’ remains.” What this means is that the artist needs to establish a “personal brand,” learn the technology associated with a number of social platforms, decipher the algorithm that will push postings on each of those platforms, and—most importantly—post consistently. That means time away from making art and spending more time on self-promotion. Soon, the artist is spending more time working on their brand rather than on making art. As musician Ricky Montgomery says, “Next thing you know, it’s been three years and you’ve spent almost no time on your art. You’re getting worse at it, but you’re becoming a great marketer for a product which is less and less good.”

Some celebrate this phenomenon. It’s more democratic, they say. What they don’t say is that when the artist is self-promoting on social media, they are competing for attention with everybody else on social media, whether they are artists or entrepreneurs selling new and exciting life styles. They are, in fact, competing with the world. And, it’s not as democratic as it seems. The gatekeepers are still there, except now, they not only worry about how good the artist’s work might be, but how many followers the artist has on Instagram, TikTok, X, Threads, YouTube, or Facebook. Gatekeepers are now looking for a guaranteed audience. Not only are there stories about writers who do not have enough of a following to be published, but there are instances of actors who were not cast because their competition had a bigger following on Instagram. No one is immune; Rebecca Jennings, in her Vox article, “Everyone’s a sellout now,” notes the case of a 65-year-old accountant who is “being encouraged by her company to post on LinkedIn to ‘build [her] brand.’”

And if the artist is opposed to self-promotion for whatever reason? Too bad. This is the society we live in today. So, yes, an artist could produce a fantastic work of art, whether it be a book or painting or photograph or sculpture, and never have it see the light of day because of lack of self-promotion. Joan Westenberg says that “we have confused popularity with skill. The number of hearts, likes, and followers determine a writer’s worth—not the quality of their prose.” And that may be sad, but until something changes, that’s how it is, and any person who wants to survive as an artist had better add self-promotion to their list of required skills.

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Then We Decided to Try to Monetize Our Art

Sunday, 27. August 2023 22:21

We got into the arts for various reasons: we were good at it; we enjoyed it; we had something to say and our art gave us a means for expression; it gave a place to feel safe; and so on. There are probably as many reasons as there are artists. However, very few, if any, of us got into the arts to make money. And so we dipped our toes in and began to experience the joys and frustrations of the art world. We took classes; we read; we practiced; we experimented; we tried various aspects of our art; we tried other arts; we finally found our artistic homes. Still the idea of money never entered the picture. So we entered some shows; we auditioned for more professional work; we experimented with styles; we took more courses; we studied more on our own; we talked to other artists; we began to try to balance work with art, sometimes neglecting the rest of our lives.

Then we decided to try to monetize our art. Things suddenly changed. We didn’t audition unless the pay was sufficient; we didn’t enter shows that did not have some sort of significant award; we began to set up online stores; we investigated how to promote our art on social media; we discovered that sales and promotion were work—and time-consuming. So perhaps we compromised. Now our whole world was our work—but we were still trying to balance. This time it was the business of art and the creation of art.

Some of us began teaching as a way to be paid for our art. We got to talk about aspects of our art most of the day and at the same time got to make art one way or another. And we got a check at the end of the month. Some of us found that our entire lives were spent on our art—teaching and practicing took all the time there was. And for some of us that was okay.

Then some of us began to try to develop an audience for our work. Some of us began to tailor our work to what we perceived to be the wants of our audience. We started worrying about our “type” and wondering if we could somehow change it. Perhaps we compromised. We started trying to find our niche. We began to worry about what shows would play to our audience. We became concerned what music the audience expected of us. Naturally, some of us began to create for the market.

Then one day we woke up and realized that we were no longer in the business of making art; rather, we were in the business of producing commodities. No longer did we make art; now we created product, the whole purpose of which was to satisfy the needs of the marketplace. And some of us were okay with that; we still got to be creative and we got to make things, and that was enough—for some more than enough.

Others of decided that the commercial aspect of monetizing our art was strangling us; we still had all the frustration of making art, but little of the joy we had experienced early on. So the problem became what to do about it. Some dropped out of the commercial world and found other ways to make a living, while still enjoying making art. Some found ways to modify the creation/marketing balance, and thus created a better situation. Still others found ways to make the marketing aspects of the job creative and enjoyable, and achieved the best of all possible worlds.

Unfortunately, one solution does not fit all; each artist is different and must find their own way. And each will. The pull that art has on us is too great to ignore. We always have and always will find ways to live and continue to produce art.

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Your Art Doesn’t Have to Speak to Everybody

Sunday, 9. April 2023 22:33

It’s fairly common knowledge among artists that not everyone will like everything we produce. A piece has to resonate with an audience member to be appreciated, particularly to the point of purchase, and even then it’s a hit-or-miss proposition. Ask any artist who has rented a table at an arts fair and displayed work, or who has tried to get poetry published, or a comic accepted anywhere. In some of those instances there are gatekeepers, while in others, the art is presented directly to the potential audience—either physically or electronically. Still it’s unpredictable who will like what, and even more random when trying to determine who will buy what.

Many of us cannot afford to keep renting art show spaces, or self-publishing with no accompanying marketing effort. But we can’t not show our work; the result of that would be absolutely no sales. So we seem to be caught, and do the best we can—showing our work when opportunities we can afford present themselves, and holding back when we have no affordable alternatives. Given this situation, what are we to do?

Since not everyone is going to like everything we produce, we need to examine the relationship between our work and our potential audience. We need to realize that our work and our audience should match. This realization often leads artists to modify what they do so that what they try to say does appeal to everyone. This, of course, waters down the artist’s voice and, more importantly, the message of the piece.

Rather than modify our art, we would do better to concern ourselves with our potential audience. To increase our chances at finding those who might find our work resonant, we could do one of two things: (1) If we can find an existing potential audience whose members are interested in the sorts of things we have to say, we increase our chances of sales tremendously. (2) Failing that, we might develop an audience whose members are interested in the subject matter of our art.

The first alternative is perhaps a little easier—it means that we don’t enter every art fair we can afford, or show our work in every possible show. Rather, it means that we pick our shows carefully, that we research what sorts of work have been shown in the past and whether there are particular criteria for work that might match our own interests. Show listings are not all that difficult to find on the internet. There are a couple of web sites dedicated to directing artists to shows, and usually the criteria for the shows are clearly stated. This is not something that can be said of most art fairs.

Developing an audience is a more daunting task. However, there are at least a few conferences a year, and a number of books devoted to just that. Admittedly, these are aimed at the live theatre market; however, there is much they can teach artists in all media. Theatre folk are constantly trying to match material that they want to produce with potential audience and determine ways to increase the size of that audience. Some are very successful at it, so there is much they can teach the rest of us.

The point is that once we realize that our art doesn’t have to speak to everyone, the sales/marketing side of our artistic lives become just a little easier. Once we learn to curate and cultivate our audience, we can spend more of our time concentrating on actually making the work that matters to us, and that is the important thing.

Category:Audience, Marketing | Comment (0) | Author:

The Trouble with Taste

Sunday, 17. July 2022 22:35

A friend of mine, a professor of art, did an interesting experiment several years ago.  He had a book called The New Erotic Photography, which is essentially 591 pages of images that the editors, Dian Hanson and Eric Kroll, considered erotic. Looking through the book, he decided that some of the images were truly erotic and some were not. So he asked individual students to go through the book and place a sticky note on the pages with images that the students thought were genuinely erotic. Regardless of questions of propriety or the informal, unscientific nature of the experiment, the results were very interesting. Students marked 53 images. Only 14 pages were marked twice, 8 three times, and 1 four times; none were marked more than four times. Admittedly, there is no way to know the total number of students who participated in the experiment or, because of the limited number of colors of the sticky notes, how many images each particular student tagged.

I have done similar experiments myself: one with a book of paintings and sculptures, and one with photographs. The results were similar to the experiment that the professor ran. Only a few of the images really impacted me, and even fewer were sufficiently compelling that I would have hung them on my walls had they been available.

So what is the point of these stories? Probably something that most of us already knew: the appeal of art is unique and individual. Of course, there is some agreement on what makes a good painting or sculpture or photograph; otherwise any discourse about these arts would be impossible, but beyond that, deciding which art actually “speaks” to us is a very personal thing, conditioned by any number of variables unique to each individual, including, but certainly not limited to our sense of aesthetics, our experiences, our prejudices, and our sense of self.

Is it any wonder then that artists have such a difficult time earning a living from their art? The task of creating work that will appeal to a sufficient number of individuals enough for them to spend money to own that work is daunting at best and nearly impossible at worst—unless, of course, one is doing commissioned work. But in order to do commissioned work, one must become known. And that happens in any number of ways: making work and entering shows or contests or finding retail outlets that will handle work for a percentage of the sales, putting art on social media or any number of websites. Still the odds against making significant sales are quite steep.

Still artists have choices: they can modify their work to appeal to greater number of people, assuming they can figure out what will make their work more generally appealing. Or they can continue to make work that they want/need to make and hope that by targeting where they show it, they can reach an audience with similar taste.

Both paths have positives and negatives, and which path an artist chooses to take is strictly up to that artist. But the likes and dislikes of an audience must be taken into account in some way or the other if the artist is to be successful. And unfortunately, there are few formulas that will work because, as the old saying has it, “There’s no accounting for taste.”

Category:Audience, Marketing, Uncategorized | Comment (0) | Author:

You’re Always Auditioning

Monday, 15. April 2019 0:08

Auditions suck. Just ask any actor. For that matter, ask any director. The problem from an acting point of view is to demonstrate that you are the best choice to perform a given role with—if it’s a generous audition—a couple of prepared monologues and a cold read against people you’ve never met. In just a few minutes you have somehow convince a director that after you’ve learned the lines and had some time to work on the character, you will be able to bring this character to life on the stage. It’s an impossible task. And it’s just as bad from the director’s point of view.

This is why directors use other means to help them make their casting decisions. Some even use casting directors, who also use methodologies in addition to the actual audition. Directors will call other directors and their friends to find out about potential actors. They go to shows and observe the actors, how they work, how they perform, what they might be capable of. They network. They invite actors they think might be able to do the job to come in. They interview. Then they hold an audition, sometimes to see if what they thought was true really is true.

Directors are in the judging business; it’s what they do. And they mostly do it all the time. The wise actor learns, hopefully sooner rather than later, that s/he is always auditioning.  Audition time is not limited to the time the actor is actively auditioning.

Here are a couple of stories to illustrate. A good while back an actor I know went to an audition. She is a bubbly out-going person and a man walked by as she was getting out of her car. They had a brief conversation about the difficulty of finding parking spaces. Then they met again in the elevator that she was taking to the interview/audition. Again they had a brief up-beat conversation. They both got off at the same floor but went in different directions. She checked in for the interview, waited a few moments and was ushered into the interview room. Behind the desk sat the man with whom she had just made friends. Her formal audition went well, perhaps because she had already auditioned and didn’t know it. She got the job.

The other story didn’t turn out quite as well. We were casting a musical; when I say we, I mean I was the director; additionally there was the musical director and the choreographer. We were doing an open callback, which is to say that all those called back were in the room. There was one actor we had pretty much decided would be the second lead, but we wanted the callback to confirm that decision. The actor that we had in mind was in the room when we got there, as were a number of other actors. As we got settled, we noticed that the actor we had in mind was not only overly loud and boisterous for the situation, but he was displaying an inordinate amount of egocentricity. His behavior was offensive and unacceptable. Each of us decided individually (we discovered later—we did not discuss it at the time) that we would rather not put up with that behavior and attitude for the rehearsal period. Fortunately, there was another actor there whose callback was excellent; he was the actor who got the role.

Behavior and attitude before and after the actual audition matter. In fact they matter all the time. It’s something actors need to know.  And it’s not just in the theatre that this happens. Wedding photographers, for example, are auditioning every time they meet potential clients.  Even when they are shooting, a potential client is watching and judging—deciding if this is the person they want to do their wedding. Graphic artists are always auditioning for the next project. Painters are always auditioning for the next commission or the next show or both at the same time. Writers audition for readership for their next book. Both stage and film directors are always auditioning for producers. No one escapes.

Like stage directors, people who seek creative services ask others; they watch, they evaluate—before they ever get around to calling for an appointment.

Not only actors, but every creative person who sells his/her work is always auditioning; there is no down time. It is something that we all need to be aware of—all the time.

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Let Go

Monday, 19. June 2017 1:41

You may have heard that the Albee estate denied the performance rights to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? because the producing organization, the Complete Works Project, had cast an African-American in the role of Nick. The director, Michael Streeter, spread the word in his Facebook status and the story took off. Responses have appeared on all media and support both positions. Nobody questions the right of the estate to deny rights for whatever reason, but there is great diversity of opinion on whether this is a good or bad choice.

A friend who is a director and actor said that he thought he would have to side with the Albee estate in this particular situation, but that he wished that playwrights would release their death-grip on their plays. And they do have a death-grip, whether the playwright is living or is represented by an estate.

The first such restriction I observed was shortly after the Mickey Mouse Protection Act of 1976 in a contract for a college production of one of Neil Simon’s plays. The contract said that not a single word could be changed. Since that time, such a restriction has become standard, and one of many. The Albee estate-Complete Works rights denial is the first time I have heard of a copyright owner rejecting a specific cast member.

“Artist’s Rights,” can be taken to ludicrous extremes. For example, Arturo Di Modica demanded through his attorney that because he created Wall Street’s Charging Bull, he should have been consulted before Kristen Visbal’s sculpture, Fearless Girl, was installed just feet away. Di Modica said that “the adjacent art has changed the meaning of his work and violated his legal rights” (ironic, given that the bull, like the girl, was installed without permission).

There are two reasons I agree with my friend’s “death grip” comment on playwright’s rights. First, theatre is a collaborative art: there is an originator of the script and then the interpretation of that script by a production company. This is similar to the composer/conductor-orchestra relationship. The fact is that by allowing any group to produce the work, even with restrictions, the licensing agent is allowing interpretation. Set, cast, blocking will be different in each production. Restrictions applied to professional productions are not required of amateur productions. Some restrictions do not take into account the specific audience that will see the work. These taken together produce an inherent inconsistency in licensing with regard to protecting the “artistic integrity” of the work. Indeed, And at least two of the articles I read (here and here)—citing Shakespeare and Chekhov as playwrights whose work is interpreted in a number or ways and whose work lasts—suggest that if the Albee estate continues its current policy, it well essentially condemn Virginia Woolf to obscurity.

Both Tennessee Williams and the Williams estate have taken a position almost opposite the Albee estate’s position. Williams allowed his work to be done by almost any group, and the estate has followed suit. The results have been a broadening of understanding and appreciating Williams. For example, a 2008 production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof featuring an all-black cast demonstrated that the play is powerful regardless of race.

The second reason, in my mind, applies to all artists:  Once the artist declares the piece done, it exists in the universe as an entity unto itself. Regardless of his/her rights, the artist needs to have enough confidence in whatever s/he has created, that s/he can let go of the piece and get on to the real work of the artist—creating. A solid work can stand on its own—if the copyright owner will let it.

Category:Communication, Marketing, Presentation, Theatre | Comment (0) | Author:

Creative Entrepreneurship: the Implications

Monday, 2. May 2016 0:12

In his article The Death of the Artist and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur” in The Atlantic, William Deresiewicz details what he sees as the implications of the latest art marketing paradigm. Some of these are direct interaction between artist and collector, artist diversification and versatility, and others that do not seem onerous. However, he decries a number of potential implications for arts and artists, including the following:

  • Works of art will become commodities, consumer goods.
  • There will no longer be an audience, but rather a customer base.
  • Art will become more like entertainment, less like art: familiar, formulaic, user-friendly.
  • It will be “the age of the customer, who is always right.”
  • Work that is “safer will be favored.”
  • “The measure of merit will be the best seller list.”
  • The artist will be “only as good as his/her last sales quarter.”
  • Artists will “spend more time trying to figure out what customers wants rather than what they want to say.”
  • Aesthetic judgment will be reconfigured because ratings and reviews render everyone’s opinion equal. Taste will be democratized; there will be no more gatekeepers. This will mean that no one can tell an artist his/her work is bad.
  • Breadth will displace depth.
  • As “winds of market forces blow the artist here or there,” artistic interests and directions will shift; there will “no climactic masterwork of deep maturity.”
  • Art itself may disappear, replaced by craft; artisans will replace artists.
  • “A vessel for our inner life” will be lost.

While some of these implications of the new art marketing paradigm don’t sound so bad—at least to me (the resurgence of craft and the artisan, for example), on the whole it sounds pretty awful. Art as we know it will disappear. Except it won’t. What Deresiewicz fails to recognize is that we have been living with this paradigm for some time now with not too many ill effects.

This “new” paradigm is nothing more or less than the Hollywood paradigm applied to other arts. This has been the working paradigm for the production and marketing of American film (and to some extent American theatre) for a hundred years. The results have not been devastating; American cinematic art still exists.

Yes, the majority of films are strictly commercial. After all, from its inception, the movie industry in this country has been about making money. This has led to some copy-cat work, an endless number of uninspired sequels, and formulaic movies that are only a little more imaginative than a daily work schedule. And all but a few are made with consummate craftsmanship by true artisans.

But then there are those artisans who aspire to do better, who are willing to take a risk on a film that is out of the mainstream, a film that is indeed “a vessel for inner life.” There is, it seems, in every generation of filmmakers, two or three directors who are not motivated by money. Oh, to be sure they have to be sufficiently entrepreneurial to raise enough capital to actually make the movie, and there is an expectation that the resulting film will not be a financial loss, even if it doesn’t generate $100 million and action-figure sales. Still, these directors, these artists, produce exceptional work within this paradigm.

And a paradigm that can give us the work of Chaplin, Lubitsch, Hitchcock, Scorsese, Eastwood, Kubrick cannot be all that bad. It’s not that it’s a dreadful paradigm; it’s that it’s a paradigm different than the one we’d planned on.  Perhaps we, as artists, should stop wringing our hands over the terrible state of art marketing and instead concentrate on the opportunities that a new paradigm brings.

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A New Paradigm: the Creative Entrepreneur

Monday, 18. April 2016 1:40

In his article The Death of the Artist and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur” in The Atlantic, William Deresiewicz makes a statement that echoes one in the last post: “Everybody understands by now that nobody can count on a job.” That established, he goes on to say that the new paradigm for those in the arts is the “creative entrepreneur.”

Deresiewicz  details the previous paradigms for art:

  1. Artisans who were master makers and who were financed by patrons. This paradigm existed in one form or another until the late 18th/early 19th
  2. The solitary genius became the paradigm for artists during the Romantic period. This view of the artist also brought us “Art for art’s sake” and Gesamtkunstwerk. The artist was a cultural aristocrat, a rock star of the period, not bound by rules that governed other mortals. It’s an idea that that still has some currency.
  3. The artist as professional appeared in the mid-20th By that time, art had become something of a religion and “in America especially, art, like all religions as they age, became institutionalized.” This, of course, led to museums, opera, ballet, and theatre companies, arts councils, funding bodies, educational programs. Artists acquired the trappings of professionalism: professional degrees, professional positions (usually in higher education), awards, fellowships, credentials.

Deresiewicz says something that artists are loathe to admit: the paradigm of the artist is based on the market of the period. And the market has changed considerably since the middle of the 20th century. In the early 21st century the most successful marketing is done by entrepreneurs using the internet and the cell phone—bypassing 20th century institutions and marketing directly to consumers. It has happened with commodity merchandise, music, video, gaming, and now art. “Audience” has become “customer base. “

There are a number of implications to this model which Deresiewicz points out. I find that I cannot agree with all of his conclusions, particularly the most dismal, but I appreciate his bringing them to our attention (and will discuss them in the next post).

The real problem is the artist’s application of this information. If he/she is no longer institutionalized and can no longer can count on a job, entrepreneurship is the best available alternative. Each artist must do what Hazel Dooney was advocating several years ago: bypass gatekeeping institutions and market directly to his/her audience.

The push toward entrepreneurship demands that artist know something about marketing, thus the “proliferation of dual M.B.A./M.F.A programs.” Coupled with the idea that we, in our careers, will have five or six jobs perhaps in multiple fields, artistic entrepreneurship strongly suggests that the artist must be literate in multiple platforms. And this is just within the art world. (The always-suspect “day job” is not considered here.)

This sort of thing is already going on, of course. An Equity actor I know, in addition to acting, is an author and a poet, and teaches—mostly workshops, some connected with cultural arts organizations and some self-booked. He also does anime voice acting and has done set construction from time to time. He works primarily in the arts, but in very different aspects of the arts.

Likewise, photographers often expand their practices to include not only weddings, but also senior photography, infant photography, portraits, boudoir, industrial, headshots, even pet portraiture, all of which used to be strict specializations.

Artists of all stripes are marketing and selling on the internet, either through their own web sites of through one of the hundreds of arts market websites such as Etsy, RedBubble, and FineArtsAmerica.

While I’m not sure that I like the term “creative entrepreneur,” the idea does seem to be appropriate to the world in which we live. We don’t have to like it, but we do have to deal with it. And in dealing with it, we can either fight the paradigm or embrace it. I rather suspect that our survival as artists depends on our embracing it. Just how we interact with this new way of doing things, however, can be just as individual as our art.

 

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It Took an External Nudge

Sunday, 1. November 2015 23:36

Many of us have multiple to-do lists. Mine consist of day-job lists, theatre lists, photography lists, household chores lists, shopping lists, and others. Needless to say, many of the tasks fail to get done in a timely manner and continue to occupy a place on the list—sometimes for weeks or months. Periodic reviews always result in the same “Oh yeah, that.” And “I need to get to that.” And they continue to occupy a place on the list while newer, more pressing matters get take precedence.

Then something happens and that item soars to the top of the list. Recently I had such an incident. One item on my list was “finish web site.” The project was a complete makeover of my photography site, which, as the to-do item indicated, had not been finished. The major changes were complete and what was left was tedious and time-consuming and not very interesting. So it got put off.

Then early last week I got a text from a friend telling me that she had shown some of my work to a person who came with an impressive set of credentials and who had indicated sufficient interest that she was planning to look at the website later and that she might get in touch with me. Photography inquires had been slow, so this lifted my spirits considerably. Then I remembered that item on my photography list. Quickly I grabbed the nearest device, my iPhone, to check the site—I wasn’t sure exactly where I was in the process of updating. The first thing I saw on the opening page of the mobile version of the site was an error that I had not known was there.

As soon as I could, I sat down at my desktop and began to find and fix first errors and then obvious unfinished work. In just a few hours, I had the site looking pretty good. The errors that had shocked me were repaired in all versions of the site. A couple of galleries had been activated, and some images had been resized. It no longer looked broken or incomplete.

But it wasn’t finished. As I had worked to fix things, I discovered other things that I wanted to tweak—and I will, but at a less urgent pace. The item is still on the list, but it’s priority has shifted because I became aware of what I should have known already—that the web site is all some people know of my work, and, more importantly, I never know who might be looking at it at any time, so it needs to look as good as possible—all the time.

The larger lesson is that an artist should not have to wait for an external nudge to do what needs doing. We teach and are taught that we must learn to create without external validation, that we must be able to evaluate the quality of our own work without waiting for outside praise or criticism. The same thing applies to putting our work out there. Another friend of mine holds that art demands an audience. Given that, we must motivate ourselves to let our potential audience see our best work presented in the best possible way. And we must keep current; we must make it a practice to nudge ourselves.

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Gaming the System

Sunday, 1. June 2014 23:21

A friend of mine, a photographer/sculptor, and I recently attended an annual international art show, a fairly prestigious one, that we have been to several times. One of the things we noticed was that there was a great similarity among a number of pieces in the show as well as among the pieces in this show and last year’s show—and the one before that.

Afterward, we were discussing the show and the noticeable (to us) similarity among the pieces being shown, and about how an artist could, if he/she really wanted to, could come to a couple of shows and figure out the recipe for securing a place in that show. Then the artist could make a piece to fit the show. If one’s skill were sufficient, having a piece in the show should be no real problem. The task would be even easier if the jurors or curators were the same from show to show or if the show were held at regular intervals.

He went even further, saying, “If you wanted to write a recipe book on how to make art that would fit the bill—for any show, that show could serve as your guide. Wonder what would happen if someone would do a book like that?”

My guess would be that such a book would be ignored, or at best marginalized. It’s something that no one wants to hear, but it’s something that anyone who has been involved with the art world for more than a year and is sufficiently analytical knows. It’s a system, and like any system, it can be played and rigged. Everybody knows it, and many capitalize on it. Much of what is produced is created exclusively to be shown and/or sold in particular places; it’s about success in the art world—and money, of course.

John Seed, writing on The Huffington Post said, “I sometimes feel like the art market is a ship that has been taken over by dollar-waving pirates: the same ones who brought us junk bonds and the mortgage meltdown.” There is no indication of which specific artists he thinks are catering to these dollar-wavers except that he is talking about Dan Colen and unnamed others.

My friend does name other artists: “That’s exactly what Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst have done—game the system. They looked around, figured out how it worked, and made things that would fit the recipe.”

Seed acknowledges the motivation for such art production by quoting Colen: “It’s such a paradox. You come from this place where you want fame; you don’t want to be bourgeois, but you want to be successful. You want to be accepted, but you also want to be going against the grain. You want to be on the outside, but you want to be on the inside.”

Seed adds, “The way I understand Colen’s ‘success’ is that it is a social phenomenon, not an aesthetic one.” And there you have it. This approach, cynical as it is, is not about the artist’s message or philosophy; rather, it is about achieving success in the art market. And, as Seed points out, many critics (Jerry Saltz excpted), as well as others in the art market, support such efforts.

The question for the artist is then: if you can figure out what will allow you to show your work in this or that show or venue, what will allow you to sell, what will make you successful, why wouldn’t you do that? And there is no correct answer. You certainly can do that; others have and have bought houses in the country with the proceeds. Some have taken a different path, and produced the work that they wanted to, work that said what they wanted to say, work that they were able to pour themselves into, work that, to them, was necessary. Sometimes it sells, sometimes not.

Each artist has to decide for him/herself. Choose well.

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