Art vs. Marketing: Five Ideas to Consider

What’s the difference between selling out and simply selling?

I found myself arguing with myself over this post when I put it up last week or the week before, feeling oddly insecure and conflicted. I ended up making it a draft again, unposting it and pulling it offline.  Yes, there were typos, but I think it was more that I had some problems with feeling authentic addressing the issue.   My success in the arts is modest and my own skills at using the internet to market are certainly not advanced.   Who am I to tell you what to do?  Some of my advice goes against common consensus on internet marketing.

That said, I found that I had the most conflicts  with the section called  post and publicize carefully, so I’ve included the original draft and some revised thoughts below.

Sometimes I feel sickened by using the internet  to publicize my paintings.  It gnaws my brain into small pieces and inflates a sort of Virtual Persona Girl who has a crabby,  fragmented, and narcisstic ego. That is certainly one form of selling out, and a dangerous one.   That said, I’ll  begin again…

What’s the difference between selling your soul and simply selling your art?

Many of us can envision– or have experienced–  life  before or without a television, but few younger people  today can reconstruct the era of a world without  internet.   The Web now reaches its tentacles into every moment of our lives and every part of our bodies. ( I have a theory that cellphones are the new cigarettes, but that’s for another day.) Artists are engulfed  in a tsunami of information and marketing possibilities. It has become harder and harder to decided what to do, or decide if what you’re doing is worth it.  Here are a few ideas for those who feel adrift in the flood.

The route to success is not soley through the internet, or through sales.  Many masters were obscure in their own time. I’m not suggesting that this is the way to go, or that you shouldn’t bother to try to publicize on your own behalf.  But I will say that the  artwork has to be strongly felt, beautifully crafted, and cohesive to make a mark.   Artwork that is well-made will find an audience and buyers of some kind, with or without Twitter.  You do need to clarify what success is for you.  There’s a wide range on the spectrum.  Are you Vincent Van Gogh, Matisse, Thomas Kincaid, Bouguereau?  Are you looking for a small circle of people who love your work, or do you want to make big money?  Somewhere in between?

Don’t chase genre.   “Landscapes sell.”  I’ve heard this too often to count.  The other thing I’ve heard is “I’d love to do more abstract work, but it won’t sell.”  The flood of images now available online and print has sensitized us to cliché and to inauthentic artmaking.  Now more than ever, it has to be your own, even if your own work is very odd.

Find your own relationship with internet marketing.  Marketing online will periodically change, and you’ll have to master new skills.  It will repeatedly and radically shift its form, and  you will have to find your own way through the maze.  No one solution will fit without alteration over time.  It’s useful to ask  “Who is my real audience?”  Why are you doing social networking, for example?  If it is to socialize, you’ll be successful.  If it is to sell, it may not work for you.  Use networking to build authentic, friendly support systems.  They may bring far more than you can anticipate.  There’s no magic equation for marketing.  And if you do things which feel false to you, simply to market, they won’t work anyway.  Choose to focus on a few venues that feel fun and manageable to you.  Be polite.  Publicize others.  Spend time online doing unto others what you wish they would do unto you– viewing, commenting on, and appreciating artwork.

Pipe smoking in Lascaux! Those were the days.

Post and publicize carefully. Don’t rush to show too many works-in-progress,  unless that is part of a plan or goal.  “Works in progress” are intriguing, but save your energy for the finished work. Sometimes work can appear more impressive online than in reality, but it needs to be the other way around.  If you find yourself “tweaking” your images too much, you may be over-identifying with an online image, not your original impulse.

Here’s where I started arguing with myself.  I do think we can use blogs as a journal; they can clarify direction and act as a reflection.  If we can use notebooks to move our artistic process along, then we can also use the internet as a to0l to amplify our creative process.  Regarding the “works in progress” riddle– what to show, what to hide, what to contain– I’ve decided to show selected works-in-progress online, but limit their  frequency. In my last post, Six Phases of Creativity, I decided to put the raw or “draft” works in context by showing them sitting on my worktable.  I have a strong feeling that marketing really can overtake and subsume the production of quality art.  Look at Thomas Kincaid.  I think we must always delicately adjust our courses, and to consider containment or withdrawing from marketing as an option.

Though painting-a-day posts have their place, posting prematurely– or too often– can be mildly deceptive to the viewer, and  can rob the work of energy needed to explore the work.  After all, you’ve already gotten a charge from having it seen online.  On the other hand…

The quest for the perfect art shot.

Get your work out to everybody possible.  Make links available and write simple email show notices.  Don’t get caught in the false reality of virtual approval.  The statistics and numbers give us a feeling similar to gambling.  They are fun, but not real, and have addictive qualities.   Shows, sales, and real-life appreciation by actual, not virtual humans is what feeds us.  The internet can be a net that falsely traps us in distant admiration, or it can be an open, inspiring road to reaching out to more people in an authentic way. Success may choose an indirect route, and require time, that rarest of all elements in the shifting cloud of Internet.

Cow Carrying the Neolith on Her Back, acrylic on canvas, 24″ x 24″, by Suzanne Edminster

Acknowledgements: Thanks to photographer Marco Zecchin, whose wonderful premise “Art is Sacred” is the cornerstone of his marketing philosophy and workshops.  I enjoyed using the magnificent, rare and unpublished photos of Lascaux in 1947  from Life Magazine.  My thanks to author Matt Ellis, whose article on David Gaughran’s blog provided the inspiration and framework for this post.

9 thoughts on “Art vs. Marketing: Five Ideas to Consider

  1. too ironic that your pano at the top is my “unfinished” collage/painting of you! Love your way with words and ideas…hey, maybe we can trade art when your portait is “done”. I love the line in the movie “pollack” when Jackson tells the Life reporter asking when he knows a painting is done, “well, how do you know when your done making love?” gotta love it (the line and the art you make)


  2. Sunshine Suzanne,

    I really like how you constructed this post. I was sitting here thinking, ‘hmm, nifty, what is up with all the cave art? Why does he have his feet in the air?’ and then at the bottom you showed your art and it was revealed to me that it was your inspiration.

    ‘The Web now reaches its tentacles into every moment of our lives and every part of our bodies.’
    – This is a stunningly perfect sentence.

    ‘( I have a theory that cellphones are the new cigarettes, but that’s for another day.)’
    – A true theory. 😀 I am in the forest every day, and I often see people walking there while doing things on their phones. It really seems bizarre to me. Being in this beautiful place, surrounded by sublime magnificence, and then not even really being there because one is inside of a little electronic box. I am thoroughly thankful that I somehow have escaped any speck of desire to do such a thing.

    I was working really hard to learn/do all this internet stuff, but now, I focus more on ‘real world’ things, and am much happier.

    Thank You for being you!


  3. Sunshine Susan,

    I really like how you constructed this post. I was sitting here saying ‘Hmm, nifty. What is up with all the cave art, and why is that dude’s feet up in the air?’ and then when I got to the end, I realized that you were describing your inspiration for the painting.

    ‘The Web now reaches its tentacles into every moment of our lives and every part of our bodies.’
    – Incredible sentence. Sometimes those tentacles suffocate, others, they tenderly touch.

    ‘( I have a theory that cellphones are the new cigarettes, but that’s for another day.)’
    – True theory. I am in the forest every day. I often see people walking there while doing things on their phones. It seems quite bizarre to me. There is all this incredible beauty and magnificence around and they are not even there to see it. Instead they are inside this tiny box they are carrying. I am very thankful that I am lucky enough to have escaped having the desire to do such a thing.

    Yes, a hundred likes on Facebook is interesting and can be exciting, just like you say, but does it mean anything if no one buys the piece?

    I was trying the art-a-day thing for about 4 months. The pieces were just not that great, and I was spending so much time taking pictures and preparing the posts, that it became drudgery. I have no desire to go into that realm again.

    I do what feels good now. It works a lot better. Every day, what feels good changes. Maybe I do or don’t want to do ‘internet’ for a month, and that is okay.

    Thank You for being you!
    Sending swooping swans…


    1. Christine, thanks. Yes, I put up all the cave paintings to represent art before the internet as well. I don’t want to become a nay-sayer to the internet; I have benefitted from it so much. I just think we need to temper it a bit. It’s good that you commented on the picture-a-day idea. I think that can be fabulous under certain circumstances, but it may also have its pitfalls, as you said. This was a hard post for me to write. I love the idea of the “tender tentacles” as well. Maybe the internet is really a mimic octopus!


      1. Sparkling Suzanne,
        I don’t see you as a ‘naysayer’ at all. Like all things, it has the capacity to be very nourishing and health-giving, and it also moves completely to the other end of the spectrum.

        Thank You for having the courage to write the hard posts. 🙂

        Sending sips of sunshine…


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