Welcome to the 15th edition of Open Call. Today we are talking a little bit about the importance of making emotional and personal connections.
Email us at [email protected] with any questions you have, concerns, success stories, challenges, or any other topic you’d like to discuss with a Gallery Director. Every other Monday we’ll publish a few of our favorites along with my replies. If you don’t see your email published, it does not necessarily mean it won’t be saved for a future installment. There have already been way too many good questions to make it into just one edition.
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I think my biggest challenge as an artist right now is finding my audience and making an emotional connection to them. I’m taking a marketing class that’s geared towards artists right now so I’m hoping it will fill in some gaps for me.
Thanks so much,
Thanks for writing. I think there can be a relationship between both of the things you’re talking about – making an emotional connection with others through your work, and marketing your work – but for the sake of keeping this short and organized I’m going to talk about them like they’re two different things.
Taking marketing classes, business classes, etc is a very good and smart idea for anyone who aspires to be a full-time artist or at the very least taking a proactive interest in learning more about business, marketing, etc. There’s a fairly common misconception that you hear especially from emerging artists that ‘good’ creative work will just sort of become successful on a very wide plain and work that isn’t very good will not compete on any sort of mass level, but obviously that’s not true. Often you’ll notice this in the negative when you hear people who feel upset because they believe that something of lesser quality is more recognized. It’s another topic entirely but that sort of thinking to me is a waste of time. And besides, if that were the case then the Billboard Top 100 would be all of our greatest musicians in order, and the most watched show would be synonymous with the freshest and best writing on television. Not that there isn’t quality at the top, there is, it’s just not a rule so there’s clearly something else at play and that’s usually business, and marketing, and promotion, etc.
Another thing that’s great about working to understand marketing as an artist is accepting that these things are an important part of what you do as well as being interested and engaged in them is helpful in keeping a healthy perspective as you grow as an artist, and watch other artists come up around you and succeed. When you understand that success, or the rate of success one sees as an artist is not always in simple terms good and bad, but the combination of many different important skills and successes, and a little luck too, it’s easier to find things that you can learn and benefit from all around you. It’s no longer a matter of ‘why does so and so have more followers, I don’t think their art is that good’, and more a matter of, well, so and so is good a social media – what can I learn from so and so to be better myself. And that’s a much healthier place to be.
As far as human connection, my advice to you would not be to worry very much, about whether or not the work you make is inherently designed to appeal to other people’s emotions. At a basic level, art exists and persists because of the uncanny human ability to see ourselves and our own personal experiences and feelings in it, but for you as the artist I would be more concerned with what it means to you. Maybe that sounds idealistic of me, but it’s not as if I believe that there aren’t artists who have succeeded by pandering to others and maybe don’t feel their own work so much, I’m sure there have been because there are all types who have found success. But as far as giving you advice, my advice would be to keep your work as something that is true to you, and if you work hard, improve, and learn how to be savvy and smart in how you promote it, you’ll relieve yourself of that burden and draw an audience who will feel connected to it on their own.
Been following your IG for some time. In response to your Open Call I’ll make it short and sweet…I’ve been an artist since I could remember. I turned art into a career (I design and draw graphics for my fabrics and tees. my pinup line is sold worldwide.) Although I’ve had success in the fashion world, my true love still lies in art. I paint and draw in many mediums and would like to exhibit my work. It’s not about money, I simply want to share and be involved in the art community. What is it that really grasps at curators and directors for them to want to display? I’m in Los Angeles and see so many talented artists – I’d like to know what makes one stand out?
I think you’re on the right track. Speaking only for myself, there are a bunch of things that get me interested in an artist. It’s always a combination of things, maybe their work really resonates with me, or they’re really good at getting themselves and their work out there, or they’re a present and engaged member of the arts community, or any combination of those and other things. What you’re doing, the latter, I think is one of the most fail-safe ways to do that. It’s something within your control and I believe that it can often be one of the most rewarding ways to spend your energy outside of making your art itself, especially as you’re trying to get your foot in the door. Get involved, listen, network, learn, and help. I think these things come back to you and people who are engaged and involved in community building are always present on my own radar as a gallery director.
There are other tips too as far as showing in galleries. I would suggest that you do your research before submitting. Make sure you’re submitting to the right places and that you really believe your work fits. I don’t think you have to be positive, but for example Arch Enemy is a new contemporary gallery that focuses on a lot of figurative work, very narrative stuff, pop surrealism and similar. I believe within our general mission we still maintain a diverse array of artists and work, but we still get submissions from artists who make abstract work or conceptual work and when this happens, there’s just not a lot we can do with it. Also be sure that you learn a gallery’s submission guidelines if you’re taking that route – I think it’s always a good rule to take an interest in learning about how someone else does their thing, if you expect them to take an interest in what you do. If you have questions as to whether or not a gallery shows new or emerging artists for example, I think that if there’s a way to make that question part of a natural conversation. For instance, when you’re out and about being part of the community that in itself will 9 out of 10 times get a better result than cold emailing… but in the absence of that situation, writing something short and sweet while demonstrating some knowledge of the place you’re writing to goes a long way.
I find my main challenge as an artist is remaining with one style only. I would say I have three main styles, although there are themes and techniques that I use throughout all of them, that tie much of it together, as if it comes from a similar place.
I have heard from multiple sources that it’s extremely hard to succeed in the art world unless you have one distinct style from which to build your brand. I would like to know your opinion on this and if you know of any successful artists who have more than one style?
I think your sources are half-right. I think that if you work in many diverse mediums, *generally*, it’s beneficial to focus on what seems to resonate well and apply more effort to that area. It’s true that having a recognizable brand can help greatly with success. That doesn’t have to be some corny PERSONAL BRAND shit that some people believe sucks the integrity out of your work – this can simply be developing a style that is widely recognized as your own. I’d bet that many, if not all, of your favorite artists make work that you know is theirs when you see it. You don’t need to be told or instructed that they did… and that’s not a coincidence.
However, in my opinion, it’s absolutely okay to experiment and work with other styles and I do know many successful artists who are well known for one thing but work in additional mediums and do so in ways that are successful. Sometimes the context of the work helps. For example, there are well known artists who do mural work that may look very different from their gallery exhibitions. I know several artists who have successfully worked with both painting and with sculpture. They may be better known for painting, but the 3D stuff is so great too and people eat it up when they make those pieces. So, it’s not so much a matter of limiting yourself, and more a matter of being mindful of how you market your work and connect with your audience so as not to create confusion.
If I were you, I’d continue to make create in any medium you want to work in so that you can explore those areas and improve and make better work. I don’t think you need to stop doing anything and should be able to make whatever art you want. However, take notice if one medium seems to be making a stronger connection with people than others are and when you see that happening, on a professional level, perhaps that’s the style that you should put forward when you promote yourself and a place where you should focus.
Thanks for writing!
Patrick Shillenn is the co-founder and director of Arch Enemy Arts in Philadelphia. He doesn’t think he has all the answers. He just wants to have the conversation.
Follow him on IG @pshillenn & Twitter @mathclub