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Art As Marketing

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Art As Marketing

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my first photography show
by John Waiveris, April 2005

"Art is a habit-forming drug. That's all it is for the artist, for the collector, for anybody connected with it. Art has absolutely no existence as veracity, as truth. People speak of it with great, religious reverence, but I don't see why it is to be so much revered." - Marcel Duchamp

What is Art today? Barely 100 years ago, Marcel Duchamp shocked the world with "ready-made" art such as a bicycle wheel bolted to a stool or a snow shovel labeled "In advanced of the broken arm". Today things are different. We live in an era of images. Instead of hiring a painter, we can buy a print from Ikea for less than $6.

So why would someone pay $26,000 for a painting? Art is simply marketing in its purest form. Perhaps we can learn something from the way that art is created and sold.

"Art among a religious race produces relics; among a military one, trophies; among a commercial one, articles of trade." - Henry Fuseli


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R. Mutt's "Found Art" fountain in a new form
Have you ever been to an art auction? The first thing they do is tell a story about the artist. What makes the person unique? What struggles were they going through? You don't buy the artwork, you buy the artist and the story. The same is true for other things in life. Most purchases are really inspired by emotion. Logic comes in later to support the choice.

It doesn't matter what you sell; create a story that explains what makes your service different or better. Don't just state the same things as your competition. Stand out and excite people with a sense of purpose.

"An artist never really finishes his work; he merely abandons it." - Paul Valéry

In addition to the story behind the work, there needs to be a story behind the craftsman. What beautiful struggle is represented by the work? It's almost as though people want to buy something more important than "ordinary life".

"If the world really looks like that I will paint no more!" - Claude Monet, flinging away a pair of glasses for which he had been fitted to correct a severe astigmatism


Galleries represent a difficult relationship for most artists. They take 50% of the income from sales, and "don't produce anything on their own." The truth is that most artists aren't very good at marketing themselves. The gallery owners work hard to create a big mailing list of followers, and create events and a place for people to see and experience art (along with free wine and cheese). They are the salespeople that create perception and close the sales.

That's not to say that artists cannot market themselves. It is just a distinct activity that is separate and maybe even MORE important than the process of creating the work. To retain more of the profits - learn to behave like a gallery owner. (or decide that galleries are a market unto themselves.)

"Art is a jealous mistress and if a man has a genius for painting, poetry, music, architecture or philosophy, he makes a bad husband and an ill provider." - Ralph Waldo Emerson


In the end, it all comes down to perceived value. At my recent photography exhibit, someone asked "Was there really a $26,000 painting?" I responded, "yup, and $16 earrings". The irony is that both are handmade and the more expensive one is signed. That's not to say that it's more inspired or has a better story.

Scarcity seems to be one of the best ways of increasing value. A limited edition print can only be purchased by a limited number of people. It adds to the story, adds a personal touch (the numbering), and adds a little bit of competition (supply versus demand).

Another way of increasing value is through testimonials and third party reviews. Art magazines and newspaper articles tell the story and add credibility to the work.

"I'm not really foreign, you know. I just do it to appear more sophisticated! I mean, nobody'd buy Evian water if it was called Blackburn water." - Balowski, in The Young Ones


Last, value can be destroyed just as easily. A very successful artist friend commented "Never sell yourself cheap. Never have a sale. Never budge on price."

Hopefully we can all learn something about small business marketing from our friends in the art world.

"Any schoolboy with a little aptitude can perhaps draw better than I; but what he lacks in most cases is that tenacious desire to make it reality, that obstinate gnashing of teeth and saying, "Although I know it can't be done, I want to do it anyway."" - M. C. Escher

John Waiveris writes about Small Business and Online marketing for Invisible Gold, LLC. For more information visit or call (860) 285-0172. "Your website should be Easy to Edit"

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