The visual arts industry is a significant one. Many visual artists are also entrepreneurs who manage their own marketing and PR. Even superstars who are represented by top galleries have the ultimate responsibility for their careers. With that in mind, we checked in with Caroll Michels, a leading art marketing consultant, career coach and artist-advocate to get the pulse on how this unique sector handles reputation management. As the author of How to Survive & Prosper as an Artist: Selling Yourself without Selling Your Soul, she is well-positioned to know.
How has the Internet given artists more power over their careers?
The impact has been enormous on many levels. The Internet has allowed artists to replace slide packages, a less effective and costly marketing tool, with websites that tell an artist’s story loud and clear. If done correctly, websites offer artists an opportunity to present a dynamic visual representation of their work and win the interest of the various components of the art world, including museum curators, galleries, and art consultants who sell work to corporations, potential collectors, public art agencies, and sponsors of grants and artist residencies. Artist websites can also provide good background information to assist writers and art critics with their articles and reviews.
Another benefit is for those artists who are willing to include specific artwork price information on their website. Such a feature would serve as a protective measure against some of the financial hanky-panky that unfortunately transpires in the art world.
Many artists, primarily in the millennial age group, use their websites as “stores,” to sell their work online. Their target audience is the general public versus members of the art world and serious art collectors.
What are the pros and cons for artists who are selling artwork directly from their websites?
On the plus side:
– Artists eliminate paying the exorbitant 50% sales commission that most art dealers charge.
– It also gives artists a strong sense of autonomy and independence from the subjective whims of the gallery system, which can be very harsh, cruel and nonsensical.
– Generally, and with exceptions, of course, artwork sold through artist websites tend to be priced less than $500, which is in the comfort zone of consumers who are looking for art to decorate a room. Many artists are receiving a steady stream of monthly income, which helps to defray the high cost of student loans and high rents.
On the negative side:
– A commercial website can box-in artists into the consumer market and eliminate eligibility in various career opportunities, including, for example, participation in exhibitions and representation in high-end galleries, museum exhibitions, public art commissions, artist residencies, and grants and prestigious awards. Although these venues do not state in their submission guidelines “artists who sell work directly from their websites need not apply,” generally it is an unspoken rule.
– Vying entirely for the consumer market does not encourage creative exploration or experimentation. Just like any other “store” owner, artists with commercial websites will consciously or subconsciously create artwork that they know will please the public.
– Younger artists do not anticipate the likelihood that when they grow older they will have a yearning to receive art world recognition, which also means coming face-to-face with issues relating to their legacy. If they spend their entire career catering to the consumer market, this recognition will not happen.
What is the most important way for artists to claim responsibility for building their reputations online, and what are the most common ways they fail to do so?
One of the most important ways for artists to directly participate in building an online reputation is through the use of press releases. In the 20th century, press release targets were limited to print publications, and radio and television. In addition, print publications required a lead time of 4-6 months. Today, target markets for press release dissemination offers many more possibilities, including blogs, e-zines, and digital versions of print publications. And, of course, the required lead time has shortened considerably.
Unfortunately, the press release is a tool underutilized by artists. Although a press release should be written to announce and describe anything newsworthy, the problem with many artists is either they are too humble, or too absorbed with aesthetic problems, or the bumps of daily living to recognize what about themselves is newsworthy or they view the media as an inaccessible planet that grants visas only to famous artists. As a consequence, many artists let press release opportunities pass by.
Your book, How to Survive & Prosper as an Artist, has been updated and republished six times. You also publish the Artist Help Network, an online career resource a based on the appendix of resources in that book. How has the rise of digital publishing and social media contributed to your continually updated editions of both?
The first edition of my book was published in 1983. The original edition and three subsequent editions included an appendix of resources that consisted of two categories: organizations and publications. By the time the fourth edition was published in 2002, the advent of websites flourished, and I added to the appendix of resources URL information. I also added the new categories: software and websites. Parallel to the 2002 edition, I introduced the online resource the Artist Help Network. It serves as an adjunct to the printed version of the appendix of resources. It is a work in progress and is continually being updated with new career resources for artists.
I also refer clients to specific web pages of the Artist Help Network for information on topics and questions that arise during consultations.
What reputation-building advice do you have for visual artists that surprises them the most?
Tone down your blogs and the frequency of email blasts. Balance the information that you are sharing about your work or news about your work with interesting tidbits, quotes, and links to articles that might or might not be arts-related, and have nothing to do with you. All and all, you do not want to be perceived as having a “narcissistic personality disorder. “
Caroll Michels works with artists throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, and South and Central America. Articles about her work as a career-coach and artist-advocate have been appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Los Angeles Times, and many other media outlets. She is chairperson, board of directors of the Sarasota Dance Festival, Inc. and a member of UN Women, Gulf Coast Chapter.
This is the tenth in a series of interviews with experts whose work relates to online reputation management.
Photo by Virginia Hoffman