At The Very Least, Coming to Terms With Consistency
While art is never a “one size fits all” approach for both artists and consumers, one of the most important aspects to consider in one’s artistic journey is the concept of branding. When you hear the word branding, there is usually something that comes to mind- probably a logo (you might be thinking Nike or Coca-Cola, etc). What you may or may not realize is that nearly everything and everyone with a tangible product and a price is a brand, whether intentional or not. You may think that Bob Dylan is a folk singer, and a person, (which is true), but he/it is also a brand, and the brand will long outlive the life of the actual person. Picasso is a brand. Porsche is a brand and with any brand, comes a certain set of expectations from consumers when products enter the marketplace. Sure, as an artist you are entitled to grow and change. Change too quickly and too often however, and it creates confusion. Take again for instance Bob Dylan. Sure, he has many different definable “periods”, but as a whole, his fundamental brand identity remains intact. Change has become a predictable part of your investment into his persona. Some artists are so stuck to a particular style (i.e. the “one trick pony”) that when they try to change, simply die out. Needless to say, if you are to survive the course of time, changing tastes and changing trends, you must be brand-adaptable without seeming too forced. Sudden unpredictability can create “wow” (think Banksy’s self-destructing art) but your fundamental sense of brand identity must be mastered before building the type of audience who might actually take notice.
Divorce Yourself: Live Vicariously
By and large, to be successful at nearly anything (including art), you must consider your brand, and how you intend to bring that brand and the underlying products to market. The great news is that you can live vicariously through your brand. Who you are as your brand and who you are in your home life can be two separate things, and they probably should be. We say this because so many of the artists we look at cannot separate the two. There is not bigger “turn-off” than to have excellent art only to click on the artist’s social media and see a stream of family and pet photos- and no other art. This is not to say that having friends and family are unimportant, but separating your brand and your personal life is essential. Having a solid story is part of a successful brand, but the story should be somewhat compelling and stick to the “why’s” of “why buy?” or “why does this matter?” If your art involves family and pet portraits, by all means, the fam photos can be a welcoming marketing tool. But know this: nobody will buy art featuring somebody else’s family. That aside, the “lone wolf artist” is exempt from the above. The lone wolf is so fused into the artistic lifestyle and their persona, that usually no self-divorce is necessary. You cannot try to be the lone wolf- you either are or you’re not.
So You’ve Got a Great Product?
So you’ve created that masterpiece and now what? Sign the work right?! Congratulations, you have now just successfully branded your art. The interesting and sought-after thing about artwork is that every piece (or product) is unique, and the signature is the brand identifier. Some artists keep it minimal, while some sign, seal, and package works of art with actual logos and/or studio/business names. Regardless of the approach, it all falls under branding. It’s ok to have a few products out there before having a brand. Don’t try to force the brand or put the cart before the horse but also, don’t wait to try to make every single thing perfect before launching. According to Jon Michail’s 5 Vital Rules of Personal Branding:
“The very best personal brands will always come from repeated trial, error, mistakes and failures — not from instant perfection — because instant perfection is a myth.”
After going through the motions of your vision, your style, your early works, etc., you have at some point hopefully come to the conclusion “I am an artist“. That’s at least a start. It can be a strange hat to wear at first (i.e. “Imposter Syndrome“) but let’s say you just finished your latest masterpiece or run of prints, and you are left with that ever-bothersome question “now what?” The “what” is what you are going to do next? Even more dreadful: “why should someone care?” If art is your hobby, and it simply makes you happy, and you believe that everyone deserves an equal share, that’s wonderful, but then this business is probably not for you. Giving your work away could actually be fulfilling under some circumstances (to the right people in the right moments) and if you are a street artist (i.e. you are maybe creating art for free), you are still pushing some sort of brand or a tag. Street art and murals are definitely a way to be seen, but how much street art do you walk or drive by on a regular basis and actually know the name of who created it? (It can bolster your brand however, when a consumer knows that you created street art, and are now selling a consumer-grade painting in a gallery. Disclaimer: Please don’t go spray painting walls.) Lastly, if you want to keep everything hidden and prefer to wait until you are dead, that’s fine, but not a viable strategy. Dead or alive, your brand should supersede you.
Generally speaking in art, your name is your brand, and it should become synonymous with your works, and vice versa.
Question #1: When somebody thinks of your name, what do they think? For the majority of us and newcomer artists: Nothing. So probably a better question to ask here is If somebody should think of your name- what would you like them to think?
Break it down to just the essentials. Simply being an artist is not a unique identifier.
Question #2: How do you make your message stand out from competitors? This is why super genre-specific group shows sometimes might be a bad idea. Say the show is called “Abstract Art 2022” and there are 20 abstract paintings all similarly sized. What would cause your work to stick out from the group? Either you are earth-shattering, have an established brand, or undercut everyone else’s prices. Let’s face it, most art is not earth-shattering and this is why a lot of art sales are hit-or-miss. Someone really loves the work of art- but is not sustainable if art is your declared profession. Branding does not equal marketing. (It’s never that easy, right?) If you are not willing to compete for turf and participate, it may be best to go back to hobby.
Question #3: Why would somebody want to buy my particular brand? Notice here it says brand instead of “art”. Usually someone buys art just because it looks nice or matches their dishes, but they may not be investing in a particular brand. A lot of sales happen this way as mentioned, and that’s fine (hey, a sale is a sale). However, to become more successful in sales (including galleries), the artists with particular brands or “reasons”, often see higher dollar amounts, and repeatability. So often as a Gallery, we get interest in something, and then turn to an artist’s website (or catalog), to show a buyer a wider range of work, coupled with the artist’s story or successes. This is where consistency comes into play.
There is nothing more of a turn-off for a gallery and buyers than lots of surprise inconsistencies. Often, more serious buyers want to get into the why’s and the “what’s in it for me’s” (WIIFM). This is where the artist’s website or catalog comes into play. Imagine a gallery sits down with a prospective buyer and goes to your website- what are they going see? Are things organized/categorized? Styles? Dates? Consistency? This is not to say that every single work of art should be the same and you have to be a robot. Consistency is showing that you work in a particular style (or two), have a presentation style, and it shows as part of a brand that you actually value your output. On Instagram, one of the modern tests of consistency is looking at somebody’s actual profile- and seeing how the historical flow of images looks together over time. Be your own self-curator.
Poor consistency is looking at a site where an abstract painting is next to a realistic graphite commission of a neighbor’s cat, next to a clay sculpture, next to a Ford logo, next to a nude with odd shaped breasts and poor proportions. We understand art is everything and people like to dabble, but you have to make sacrifices, and that can be scary. Practice your proportions before uploading those nudes, if that is a route that you want to go. A great example is from a successful photographer who visits our gallery as a buyer. As a professional, he began narrowing down his photography, such as removing “weddings” from his offerings and website. “It was scary” he says, because you are cutting off a source of potential revenue. However, if your goals are bigger and you are purporting to be a “high artist” photographer showing at galleries, having “weddings” on your website can be confusing. So, put your best foot forward, stick to something, and the rest should hopefully follow. A gallery might rather see 4 consistent pieces on a website, than a page full of dozens of random half-baked nothings.
It may be of some solace to know that many of these same rules apply to galleries as well, and any type of brand/launch, regardless of product. For now, we are clicking “post”- nothing is perfect. Please share your thoughts and comments and see you next time!
(The topic of branding will likely come up again in future posts…)