Despite the almost daily news of art sales in big auctions or artists turning out million dollar NFTs, the truth is that most of us are simply toilers in the vineyard. If you know the vineyard story, it’s about work. Just work. Getting paid for that work and not thinking of ourselves as special or deserving more than anyone else.
The publicity around the big, big prices makes us a little antsy at best and downright envious at worst. We may or may not be pushing to sell our work, but in certain moments we want to know how it happens. And why we have not yet been discovered. Why our paintings are not in major galleries. Work harder, we’re told, not harder at our painting but work harder at our marketing.
Ye Gods and Little Fishes! My Inbox is filled on a regular basis with ads for ways to market my art. Not cars, not grocery items, not suits and ties or skirts and blouses or shoes, not containers of WD-40, but art! Paintings, sculptures, collages — the entire gamut.
I’ve been an entrepreneur most of my adult life and have sold one thing or another – consulting services, flowers, writing classes. I know about selling, but I don’t confuse that part of my life with art.
Here are the words on the subject of a couple of other artists who did very different work from each other at very different times in history:
“I hope always to earn my living by my art without having ever deviated by even a hair’s breadth from my principles… to please anyone or to sell more easily.”
–Gustave Courbet (1819 -1877)
“The ugliest spectacle is that of artists selling themselves. Art as a commodity is an ugly idea … The artist as businessman is uglier than the businessman as artist.”
–Ad Reinhardt (1913 – 1967)
So I ask…When someone buys a work of art, what exactly are they buying? A few (or a lot of) square inches of canvas and paint? A few (or many) inches of metal, ceramics or some other material in the shape of a human body or something more abstract? A smudge of charcoal or lines of ink on a piece of paper?
Let’s be clear.
Art is all of those things and none of them. So what exactly is art? The ability to put the right colors together, the right lines? I don’t think so.
I think people who buy art are buying risk. They’re buying effort and the willingness of the artist to appear naked in public in his or her bedroom slippers. People who buy art may say it’s an investment, but there’s more to it than money.
People who buy art are buying emotion, some connection between the image or the colors that they may not be able to quite identify. This has happened to me. I saw a painting once that was done in the colors of the lounging pajamas my late mother wore when I was a child, and I was so touched by it that I shed tears in the gallery. This was not what I told anyone about why I liked it. I talked about color and line, but if I had bought that painting it would not have been because of color or line.
I can read this emotion in the people who contact me with longing in their voices to say they love this piece or that, but can’t afford it. My impulse is to take the piece off the wall and hand it to them, a gift to someone who appreciates and enjoys the work, who has some unspoken connection to the painting.
Yes, I have art shows now and then and yes, I always hope to sell something. The red dots on the sold pieces is motivating on its own, but the greater reward is hearing from those who like the work and can say so, period.
It’s not for me to ask or know the why of it.
2 thoughts on “Marketing Is Not Art”
I believe the same is true for writers, especially poets. Love your bedroom slippers! 😉 Moll
An insightful and thoughtful piece. Thanks Molly.