Thursday, May 13, 2010
Look At Me, Again
I'm often attacked for being a ruthless 'self-promoter'. It's a dirty word in the arts. There are others: a gallerist once described me (with obvious disdain) as 'pro-active' and recently, an older artist called me (in a rejected comment on my blog) 'sleazy'.In the art world, getting behind your own work in the same, unrestrained way that film-makers and rock musicians get behind theirs is taboo. Gallerists, curators, critics and art dealers denounce it as 'selling out' and 'crass' (or worse, if you happen to be Damien Hirst), if only because it further weakens their grip on the power to determine what is good art – and more, what's good for us.The web enables artists to side-step the traditional, filtered (or 'curated') system to deliver their work straight to a receptive audience, an audience empowered to think for itself. The artist can communicate directly and in detail to this audience and develop a dialogue with it. They can turn it into a knowledgeable fan base that might, over time, help sustain them both emotionally and financially.Ironically, the same individuals who castigate me for being a 'publicity whore' – and there are as many artists as dealers among them – complain that their work doesn't sell.Of course it doesn't. Usually, it hasn't been exposed to the right audience. The problem with galleries is they expect the audience – which, in their mind, is always the same 300 people and worse, belongs not to the artist but to them – to turn up at their bricks-and-mortar premises. But anyone with a rudimentary understanding of modern marketing can tell you that in the networked information age, you have to take your brand and product to a virtual forum – populated not by a faceless mass but a 'million-fold audience of just one' (as Creed O'Hanlon described it) – and let the audience engage directly with them, in their own way.This is, if anything, the polar opposite of old-school hype: it is not about broadcasting loud, intrusive, showy, one-way messages but about creating easily navigable, customisable points of access to information and images that people can process or explore in their own time, then encouraging them to re-distribute these to their friends.I don't understand those artists who try to corral their rights and prevent anyone reproducing their images without permission (or, worse, payment). Promotion is most successful when there is memorable content. If people can download that content – which, in the case of my paintings, is not the same as the actual, real world work – and share it, they become partners in your marketing and communications strategy. And you sell more.An artist's work might be thought of as inaccessible – it might be too refined, self-indulgent, highbrow, repulsive or obscene – but if enough people get to see it, then the odds are that a percentage will relate to it and respond. Sub-cultural outsider and punk rocker G.G. Allin led an army of fanatical fans, despite the fact that his music was poorly produced and his live performances involved rolling in and eating feces and attacking audience members. He found the fans he had because he focussed only on reaching those who were open to his anarchic persona.We can each find whatever we're interested in online, no matter how arcane, along with others with whom we can share it. We don't need the elitist curatorial inclinations of traditional galleries and art institutions to collect, redact or interpret anything for us. Apart from anything else, they're too bloody slow and their language is obscure if not entirely unintelligible.They're not nearly as smart as the artists themselves, who are using the web to regain independence – and attention – on their own terms.