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Is Art Marketing an Oxymoron?

(Originally published in 10/03/2010)

I´d say no, but I can only speak about my story here, about applied and commissioned arts, but not about the beast that is called the “art market” on which I don´t really exert a thought at this present moment.

Art should have a value and a message, but it should still be affordable and tangible, empirical perceptibility at its best. deluxe1_web

Let´s face the reality; most people not familiar with an artists life associate “artists” with dead painters whose works are sold for millions to museums, galleries, and millionaires’ collections. Everyone who doesn´t fit these categories is susceptible to the starving artist syndrome and would be better off making an income elsewhere.
Most people are unfamiliar with today´s options for making a living from their art.

In the 20 months of working full-time as an illustrator and artist, reading and contemplating about the meaning of marketing was good, but it was even better to apply what I have learned directly!

I see marketing as a part of my job and it pays off!
As an artist, I tend to act and behave like a company, functioning as five professionals in one (salesman, marketing expert, artist, designer, clerk, etc). It ain’t always easy.

It´s crucial as an artist to value the commercial aspect of your career. It helped me to get more joy out of marketing, formally my ball and chain back when I had a day job. It’s surprising how much perception can change if you understand how things operate. Observing the art-business from the view of a company helps.

Luckily we live in times where everything can be learned via YouTube, blogs, tutorials, tele-summits and symposiums or even through newsletters that allow everyone who wants to achieve a goal find the perfect method of learning. As nice as painting and learning new techniques might be, be sure you practice marketing daily!

What ultimately helped me better my marketing skills was to make a list:

  • What can I do ?
  • What can I get better at?
  • Where do I have deficits ?
  • Where do I need to ask or hire a professional ?

Its important to find out what I can do and where the limit are. For example: I´m better at writing (Email communication), online promotion, updating portfolios, blogs, website, design, but I´m not strong with phone calls, especially first time calls. Speaking in front of an audience is also something I tend to ask a professional for (if possible).

The next step is to define my target market through observation and statistics, finding a niche and a way to penetrate that market; for example: locally and regionally the demand for original art is low and more often than not the territory of established artists. So I followed the path which Gottfried Helnwein took, going international to license art and illustrations for covers on mainstream media. Provocative art with bold messages is something suitable to my time management and possibilities as well.
Also I focused more on digital creations since publishing and promoting online not only saves time, it’s easier for revisions and sharing files with agencies, authors and publishers. This means more time for family and personal art projects.

Currently my schedule looks like this:

  • 40% Commercial commissions (licensing, book covers, etc.)
  • 25% Private art commissions (characters, portraiture)
  • 20% Promotion (blogs, community, portfolio updates, social networking)
  • 15% Personal art projects and sales (and physical exhibition of these)

Sure, if in five years exhibition possibilities expand and the demand for my personal art increases around 10-20 percent, I wouldn´t bother. But I would change the focus to embrace the mix of challenges and projects. It´s all about what satisfies me the most.
These guys from my twitter marketing list helped me greatly; I highly recommend reading through! Feel free to suggest some in the comments that I might have forgotten or simply didn´t know yet!

Additionally, there are some nice posts on ArtOrder about marketing ideas for artists and illustrators. Freelanceswitch and Artmarketingsecrets have some interesting stuff about that matter too.

Being good at painting, sculpting and being full time creative is one thing, but putting the name out there so that interested and searching parties get a hold of you is the crucial part. Getting to know your clients and the market is the key that decides if you have success in your niche or if you are forced to resign or change career paths.

Time management helps you to reach these goals and define the importance of things.  I also highly recommend the 70-minutes lecture about time-management by Randy Pausch here.

About the Author Oliver Wetter

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