I Can't Sell My Art Because I'm not Dead
and the Media Are Idiots
Q: I'm sick and tired of so-called famous artists like Picasso, Warhol, Renoir, de Kooning and Monet getting all the attention. They're dead. And if there's any attention left over, the same famous living artists who have been doing the same thing over and over again for years or decades get it. As far as I'm concerned, they're almost dead. And then there's artists like Hirst and Koons who get press for big sales almost more than for their art.
For example, a gallery showed my art at a recent international art fair and dozens of other galleries showed art by hundreds of other living talented contemporary artists, and the only art the media covered was by brand name artists like those mentioned above. I'm a talented artist and so are the others whose work was being shown. I sold one small piece and many other artists sold nothing.
So here are my questions. How do we educate the public about all the artists who are young, talented and dedicated to producing all kinds of wonderful art? How do we get the media to start paying attention to us instead of those same few names over and over again? How do we get art buyers to stop thinking about what they collect only in terms of money, investment, and boring brand-name artists? Most importantly, how do we convince more people to buy more contemporary art by younger artists like us?
A: Being an artist is a tough job as you have just pointed out, but at the same time, it's similar in many ways to most other professions. Take the business world, for instance. Like famous artists, only a handful of CEO's of major corporations get media attention on any regular basis while people like Bob, the owner of Bob's Triple-A Tool Store in Tinytown, gets little or no attention. In spite of Bob's lack of media exposure, though, he probably makes a decent living, and like Bob, plenty of less-well-known out-of-the-spotlight artists have also figured out how to make decent livings creating and selling art both online, direct from their studios and at galleries... all this with little or attention from the media.
When you use the word "media" in your email, you are most likely referring to mass media publications like major Internet art sites, high profile art publications, television networks, and similar national and international outlets that occasionally cover art. The nature of mass media is that they cover art, artists and anything else that appeal to the masses, and not people or stories with only limited appeal. In the same way their art news focuses only on the most famous artists, sports news talks about the greatest athletes, music news highlights the top musicians, entertainment news is about the most talented actors, and literary news features the best-known writers. If the mass media reports news that only a few people are either aware of or care about, then hardly anybody will pay attention, viewerships and readerships will decline, advertising revenues will dry up and they won't be considered "mass media" for very much longer. Make sense?
You say "so-called famous artists" get the lion's share of media attention to the detriment of all the talented younger artists out there, and you're right-- they do get plenty of press. But give credit where credit is due. First of all, they're genuinely famous, not so-called famous. They started out as unknowns just like every other artist who has ever lived and gradually became famous over periods of years or decades by consistently producing, exhibiting and selling great works of art. They deserve every ounce of media attention that they get. Never denigrate accomplished artists like that whether they're well along in their careers, retired or no longer alive. You're not doing yourself any favors by going negative and complaining.
The good news is that since the inception of the Internet, more and more fine art "media outlets"-- websites with narrower more specialized coverage and audiences-- are alive and well and getting the word out about all kinds of artists at all points in their careers and with all levels of accomplishments. Plenty of smaller local, regional and specialized arts magazines (both hard copy and online), blogs, websites and social networks exist that focus more on the types of art, artists and art scenes that you speak of. These outlets introduce and feature newer younger artists on a regular basis and provide content that educates the public on all kinds of levels. The facts of the art game are that if you're still an early or early-mid-career artist, you'll probably appear in small to medium sized arts publications, online and otherwise, until you begin producing art that catches the attention of broader audiences and major players. In other words, you'll have to work your way up the ladder of success just like all successful artists have had to do before you.
The other good news is that thanks to social networking, artists have more opportunities than ever before to call attention to themselves and their art, and to advocate on behalf of themselves in ways that were impossible to even imagine only a few years ago. In other words, you can now be your own media outlet 24-7 putting the word out about your art and accomplishments to the world. If you've got the moxie, you can bet people will notice, your online audience and following will continually increase, and sooner or later your pals in the media will begin to take notice... and maybe even begin to feature you in blogs, interviews, features and more.
Regarding your complaints about art and money concerns of collectors, the great majority of people who buy art want some degree of assurance that they're spending their money wisely. You certainly can't blame them for that. To illustrate this point with an extreme example, supposing an artist fresh out of art school prices his first completed painting at $100,000. He's never sold a work of art in his life, has absolutely no experience, resume or track record of sales whatsoever and zero experience in the art world. Obviously, no collector in his or her right mind is going to buy this artist's art. It's way way way overpriced.
Continuing along money lines, perhaps rather than gripe about collectors being overly concerned with the financial ramifications of their art-buying decisions-- which they have every right to be-- make sure your art is priced competitively with art by artists at similar points in their careers and with comparable resumes or exhibition histories to yours. Or price it even lower (the more attractive your asking prices, the greater your chances of selling). Should anyone ask, be able to justify and substantiate your prices with tangible evidence that either you regularly sell art at comparable dollar amounts, art similar to yours regularly sells at comparable dollar amounts, or that the time, labor and cost of materials involved in creating your art justifies the asking price. That's how you overcome the reluctance of collectors to "invest" in your art and in you as an artist.
With media attention and financial considerations among collectors being what they are in the art world, young and struggling artists must take comfort in the fact that making art is not only about making money; it's about making art. If you got into this art game primarily to make a lot of money and are now upset because you're not making enough of it as fast as you thought you would, then you're in the wrong profession and you'd better get out now. If, however, you became an artist in order to express yourself, create the art you've always wanted to create, and have the commitment, will and determination to continue doing so until someone takes notice, regardless of obstacles or adversity, then keep up the great work. Perhaps one day your dreams will come true and resentful young artists will complain about your fame, fortune and excessive appearances in the mass media as well.
(light & sound installation by Andris Kasparovics)
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