Wednesday, September 15, 2010

There's A Line Between Dignity and Being A Dancing Monkey

In today’s world of marketing, every artist has major decisions to make regarding their work and how it’s presented.  How marketing affects your collector’s perception of you and your brand is vital to your continued success.
     Many artists become somewhat obstinate about having others dictate their artistic path, but come to the wrong conclusion and you can spend the next 10 years trying to get a bad decision back.
     As an artist, you must traverse a minefield that is filled with “marketing mafia men”.  It is littered with regretful artists who, with rose-colored glasses, jumped at an opportunity that seemed too good to be true.  And unfortunately, too many times, their suspicions proved to be accurate.
     Before you get involved with any marketing plan, here are a few things to consider:

1.     Does your work add to a marketing concept or is your work the entire concept?  Chances are, if the application of the concept hinges entirely on your work, you don’t need the marketing man.  If it’s a good idea, you can do it yourself. 
2.     How does the application affect future sales and collector perception?  If you would be embarrassed for your collector to see a particular application, then go with your gut.  You’ve worked long and hard to create, brand and protect your image.  Think “long term” and act accordingly.
3.     Don’t be the dancing monkey with no backbone.  Run your own show.  Don’t let the middleman marketer run your business.  There’s a magic little word that artists always have a problem using …. NO!  This is your work product and you are branding your image.  If you get bullied into t-shirts or teacups, then you have no one to blame but yourself.
4.  Find a niche.  Many artists’ work can fill a niche for other marketing applications.  Some are good; others will land you in a highway gift shop next to the rubber tomahawks.  Look at all the possibilities and try not to focus on the money.  If you listen to the money, chances are you won’t be happy in the long run.
     I try to consider every opportunity from my collector’s vantage point and think in terms of longevity.  Being a professional means you must entertain all these questions and know how you’re going to play it.  Here’s an example of something that was just presented to me.
     I’ve committed to do 16 paintings for a western cookbook with my good friend Kathy McCraine.  The book is first class and fits my customer’s expectations for my product.  Kathy’s writing and photography blend seamlessly with my work.  We both compliment each other.  So far, no problem.  We’ve agreed to exhibit the paintings at the Phippen Museum for the book release and book signing.  Still no issue.
     The Museum calls and wants to put the cover image (one of my paintings) on cooking aprons for sale in the gift shop.  My spider senses start to tingle.  My friend at the Museum is a savvy marketer with a strong advertising background.  She senses my concern.  We find common ground by agreeing to a very limited run for opening night, along with a high level of quality for the product.  The application is tailored for the event, the quality will be very good, and the supply is limited.  My collectors will see the connection with the event and not see me as embracing the western apron business.  Obviously, these are two very different perceptions.  One involves dignity, and the other replicates a dancing monkey. 

All content © Mark Kohler Studio.         


  1. So for artists just starting out, with nothing, how far is too far. When you have no name recognition or brand you have to start with something. What would be some good examples of things to do, Calenders, seasonal cards? I'm sure it is all subjective; what works for one may not work for others, but from a collectors standpoint do you hear of a recognized line set forth that may not fair well?

    David McMullen

  2. David,

    You're right. This is very subjective. Each individual must use his intuition and determine if the opportunity is right for their work. I wouldn't even think of entertaining other applications of my work for two years. Work on creating stunning original works of art and sell them.

    There are no hard and fast rules as far as collectors are concerned. It depends on your style, price point and subject matter. If you paint motorcycles like David Mann did, then t-shirts are perfectly acceptable for your clients. But that wouldn't work for someone like Howard Terpening. So you have to know who you are as an artist and what niche you want to fill. Sorry to be so vague, but it really is artist-specific.