If you want people to SEE your art- congratulations! There are more opportunities for artists to increase their visibility than ever before! You can create a work of art in your basement (or other studio of choice), snap a picture of it, post it online and people in Tokyo can see it before the paint even dries. You can even film yourself working on the piece and upload it to YouTube so people can see the “artist in action” – gaining a following and audience before the work is even finished. You can even write a blog about the creation of the work and have people know the tiniest nuances of your intent as an artist. It’s an incredible time to be alive as an artist!
However, if you want people to CARE about your work – then we live in different and far less positive times indeed. For the very same reasons I mentioned above, anyone can put anything out there for the world to see. The very same portal (AKA the internet) through which artists can exhibit their work brings us all manner of other distractions. It’s hard for a viewer to focus on the subtleties of your monochromatic watercolor series about the ennui of suburban America when they could just as easily watch a squirrel waterski or observe how cute baby sloths are. I’ll even give you a moment to google baby sloths before you continue reading…. Ok. Time’s up. They are pretty cute, though.
The truth is if you want your art to rise above all of the noise that is out there (not just on the web, but in real life) you have to be absolutely incredible. Either you must have work that is so unusual and outstanding that it must simply be seen to be believed or you must be an expert at marketing yourself. While we all put great effort into making incredible art, we should all put more effort into marketing incredible art. I’ve recently come to believe that those going to college or art school to forge a career in art should double major in both art and marketing/business.
I think that the American Dream has errantly taught us, “If you build it they will come,” (or was that Field of Dreams?). We have such a strong desire to believe that we either are or will become the greatest artist of all time that we often forget that we need to push our message, our work, and our brand out there for the world to see. Every artist believes they are the best. While we might not come out and say it, because we are far too humble on the outside – we all have a tiny Kanye West (or Muhammad Ali for the older generation) sitting on our shoulders, telling us that we are “The Greatest.” If we have any doubts as to whether or not we are the greatest, they are quickly resolved by circumstantial excuses, like “I would be the greatest IF: I could figure out how to make a website, or lived in New York, and my favorite – if I lived in a different time.” Some of those things can change, and some of them can’t – but they are all incorrect. No artist is the greatest because it isn’t a contest. Although no artist can be the greatest, they can be successful and success is measurable only by the terms that the artist sets for himself.
Sometimes I find myself surprised that the public isn’t more interested in art, but with all of the things they could be doing or watching other than looking at art (March Madness, anyone?), I wonder why anyone would be interested at all. As artists, we have a lot to do to prove our worth. We know the importance of value of our work on a personal level. We know the powerful and positive impact that art can have on a life. We know the satisfaction that comes from making something great with our own two hands, being able to step back and say, “I made that.” If we fully believe in our own greatness, it shouldn’t be hard for us to spread that message to others.
Although art must overcome a lot of the flotsam and jetsam of other media, we need to be sure that we are making art that is worthy of attention. We must not only compare our work with the great artists that have come before us, but also compare the strength of our work against viral videos of kittens playing piano or the latest pop video. When making new work, you must ask yourself – if I were browsing the web, would I click this picture? If I were a stranger seeing this work for the first time, would I share be excited enough to share it with others? Secondly, if we are to gain any level of success we must focus on marketing our work with the same kind of focus and dedication that we utilize in the art studio. You’ll never reach any kind of success waiting to be discovered. You have to push your work into the public realm if you want it to be seen and appreciated.
This article originally appeared in the September Artists ONLY, an enewsletter full of calls to artists, exhibit opportunities and inspiration for professional and aspirint artists. Click here to receive Artists ONLY in your inbox!