Friday, April 6, 2012

Personal Professional Promotion

Although I would like to think that we as artists can let our art speak for itself and that it will be draw enough, there is so much content out there anymore that everyone has to engage in some kind of promotion in order to draw attention to what they are doing. Without it, no one will know that there is any such thing going on. And any typical Friday evening has a half dozen or more events going on simultaneously, so people must pick and choose what to see and most art viewers just aren't going to go out of their way to hunt for anything with other more accessible options.

I'm not very good at it though, as is evidenced by how little feedback I get even when I do put myself out there. So I am trying to determine what I can do to better this, to draw more attention to what I'm doing without bombarding people with too much information. I recently got in a couple of conversations regarding promotion, and it got me thinking about the need for both a personal touch and professional detachment and what that entails. So I am going to articulate some of those thoughts here.

A personal touch can be good, especially early in one's career, because it offers a connection and bespeaks an interest and commitment on behalf of the promoter that encourages people to go more out of their way to listen and look. Early on, an artist is drawing friends and family out to see their work, and so showing is of a very personal nature.

But being too personal, especially over the development of one's career, can come across as pathetic, desperate and needy, like a starved plea for attention. It can create an unhealthy accessibility that allows for too much connection, opening up for others to feel too friendly or close, take advantage, become creepily obsessed... And it can even be a turn off, especially in professional practice with reputable galleries & institutions, patrons, interviewers, and so on, and so can hinder further advancement.

Detachment is necessary, especially among the more well-known, out of a need to become less accessible. But too much detachment can be interpreted as evidencing an inflated sense of personal importance, and thus can be a turn off because it can seem condescending, aloof and self-righteous. This is especially true early on in one's career when trying to assert and develop a name for oneself because there just aren't as many connections to be had. People will question, "Who does he/she think he/she is?!" because they don't already know the answer. Almost no one will go out of their way to connect with someone who is virtually unknown but seemingly expects the world to follow what they do without more enticement than just the artist's name.

Artists just aren't come upon haphazardly, but like fossils embedded in rock there is a lot of digging and hard work that goes into any such "discovery". It's best to do as much as you can to draw attention to yourself in life rather than waiting to be found, as that typically only happens in death when it happens at all. So promotion is necessary for any artist to succeed at getting their work out there where it can be seen, start conversations, be bought and sold, etc., and a lot of people want to know the person behind the art at least to some extent, especially early on.

It's challenging to find balance: personal vs. detachment; too much vs. too little information; how much lead time is needed to promote and how many times one can promote the same event before people start tuning out... That balance is as individual to each artist as his/her artwork is unique, and is constantly evolving with career. What works for one artist likely won't work for another due to different working styles, fan bases, connections, approaches, demographics, location, timing, etc. Each has to find his/her own path and even after ten years, I'm still struggling to determine a course of action that works for me.


Colin said...

It's a difficult thing, determining your approach to promoting yourself, what to share, when to hold back, ect... There are more distractions from and competition for people's attention today than ever. While I'm glad to see a local arts scene thriving in St. Louis that's probably more than double what it was when I came here 15 years ago, it seems you can't throw a rock over your shoulder without hitting an art show, spreading "the crowd" thinner than ever. It's good practice to pull back sometimes, but sharing a little personally also can help- people want to "know the artist". That said, even with the base emotional charge in some of my work, I've come to realize the value of a mystery in what's left unsaid.

ChaoticBlackSheep said...

Thanks for stopping by Colin. I imagine you have a different take on this with as personal as much of your work is and I really appreciate your insights. It is great to see the arts thriving; it would be doubly great to see the crowd grow to where it's not at risk of thinning out so. I think it's happening but it takes time.