Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lessons from American Idol about creating and marketing art

I missed Barney Davey's post back in April about Art Marketing Lessons from American Idol - and thanks to Tracy Wall for highlighting it on her blog Art Strokes. It's a thought-provoking post - and it seemed like a good day(!) to review the marketing lessons provided by Simon Cowell et al and Barney.

Allium Series - Prelude
12" x 8", coloured pencils on Arches HP
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I'm one of those people who avoids the early stages of American Idol and only starts watching as they get down to the final twelve - when it starts to get interesting in terms of seeing who is a genuine original, who responds to advice - and whether I can spot who's going to make the final and who is going to win!

I've 'respun' the lessons from Simon, Randy and Paula with a few more comments of my own below - based on the three themes identified by Barney in his post.

Be Original

  • Don't copy the style of other artists. It really only serves to remind people of how you fall short of the standard set by others.
  • In the history of art, the first division are all the artists who created a new way of creating art; the second division are all those who come within the 'school of''. If you want to be in the first division you have to be original.
  • Learning about how others make their art can help you with making your own art - but only if you take the technical lessons learned and then employ them in a way which is completely individual to you.
Make great content or theme choices
  • Technical excellence simply isn't enough. Your art also has to make a connection between you and your audience - and connections come through ideas or stories or emotion.
  • Great artists are authentic.
    • Authenticity comes from telling a story which comes from within you - about things which move you, about experiences you've had, about subject matter which you find fascinating. It's one of the reasons why we've seen the rise of the singer-songwriters and why some of the song choices on American Idol can be so 'wrong'.
    • 'Fake' is the reverse of authentic and tends to be associated with doing what you think is popular and what makes money for other people.
    • Being authentic enables others to feel the same emotions as you. Being 'fake' can run the risk of making other people want to 'gag'.
  • Making connections with your audience comes from making choices about the content or theme which fits with who you really are and what really interests you. Paint what you know from your own perspective. Find out more about what really interests you - and then paint that too. All of this provides content for your artist's statement - and explains why some seem credible while others come across as complete tosh!
  • Creating work which resonates with your audience comes through:
    • remaking something familiar in your own 'voice' ie making sure that your version is distinctive and not just 'more of the same'
    • creating something which is genuinely original that people respond to - which is almost always something which is technically excellent combined with real thought, real knowledge and real emotion.
Presentation is crucial
  • How you present yourself to the world and how you do business speaks volumes - and influences whether or not people buy your art. Making yourself accessible and making connections helps people to get to know you. They might even grow to like you!
  • Getting 'the look' right for your subject matter and idiom is very important. Paying attention to how work is presented can really help to persuade people that you are 'the real deal'.
    • How many times have you been really 'wowed' by your own work once you found the right mat and/or frame for that work?
    • How often are your expectations about price about artwork set by the context and the company that it keeps?
    • How many times do you buy art when the place it is being sold feels friendly and accessible and attuned to who you are?
  • Less is more! If you have a very strong ethos around strong colours and designs make sure that you also find some buyers who share that preference. Just as magnolia walls sell houses in the UK make sure your presentation of your artwork doesn't put people off. Plus always remember that buyers will very often reframe art they buy.
  • The frame is 'the dress' - but will that little black number really take you everywhere? It's probably best to try keep up to date with options and trends around presenting art and to understand how these can vary from place to place. For example, the trend in London at the moment seems to be very much around plain, simple, low key frames in muted colours. Ornate and gilded frames just don't fit the contemporary art market around here.
  • There's also an issue around how artists dress for private views - but I suspect there's no right answer on that one! What do you think?
Writing this has been really interesting. Looking back at the above - I can see I'm going to have to pin this up to remind myself of a few of these points!

Do also go and read Barney's blog where he also expands on these perennial themes - after all they don't change as seasons come and go. If you need any more prompting try the following

Seven Savvy Points to Ponder from American Idol

  1. Don't let the critics deter you when you are right, but be smart enough to know when they are right.
  2. The purest talent isn't always the biggest winner.
  3. Find a niche large enough to carry your interest and to build a market.
  4. You can sometimes stumble and fall and still pull through if you retool to come back strong with work that touches your audience.
  5. If you aren't particularly likable, you have to be interesting, admirable or compelling in some unusual way.
  6. You can't bore people into success or buying your art.
  7. If you become successful, use your clout to help worthy causes
Barney Davey - Art Marketing Lessons from American Idol
I wonder if Simon Cowell collects art?



harry bell said...

Some very interesting points there. Thanks for posting. There are still some artists here who think that arriving at a Private View dressed in their studio clothes is the way to present their craftsman's credentials. They may be right, but I always make an effort to dress up for the occasion. I figure if you look successful, people will assume you are, and a successful artist must be one worth buying.

Making A Mark said...

Good point! Does that mean that you can only afford to be really scruffy once you've become really successful?

For those who are thinking about making a comment about the being 'fake' point, please note that I've revised this from the text as first published which on reflection came across as a bit too much like Simon Cowell!

If you subscribe I suggest you take a peek at the revised text.

Laura Frankstone said...

This is interesting and useful. Authenticity is the key for me, without question. I have to have an emotional connection to the content of my work, though that emotion may not be readily apparent to others. (For some reason, for example, I love spiky, spherical shapes and have no sense of why I respond so strongly to them. If I have no idea, how could anyone else?) I'm happy you didn't advocate painting for a market, but rather to think about how to present and market what you've painted from the heart.
Speaking of spiky, spherical shapes, I love your allium drawing and once more I note you and I have a little parallel thing going on ;D.

Making A Mark said...

Thanks Laura - that's a very useful summary of how to market art .....

Think about how to present and market what you've painted from the heart.

...and you have no idea how many more of these spherical spiky beasties you'll be seeing. I've begun to realise that what I like particularly when drawing plants and flowers is the abstract structures and shapes which underpin natural forms. I think that's why I had that whole sequence of cacti and succulents last summer.

I have a whole sequence of alliums planned in my head - from the small tightly packed light green balls to absolutely huge exploded purple balls of tiny wee flowers - or pedicels as I have learned to call them.

Deborah Paris said...

Lovely drawing Katherine and an interesting post. Using American Idol as a launching pad for a discussion of about marketing your art is a perfect example of retooling, rethinking and finding connections between seemingly disparate things- which is the essence of originality. Well done!

Rose Welty said...

Katherine, this is a truly thought-provoking sketch. I've lately been thinking about directions to move in and have become utterly discouraged and felt rather listless. This post provides some good thinking points...I'll definitely print this and have more of a think (in a year and a half of blog-reading, I've only printed one other post!)

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Katherine for the link!

As an artist struggling to find my own voice, I often teeter between what I like to do and what I think might sell at my next show. That confidence is what I need to keep repeating to myself; thanks for your added comments and insight.

I see creative ventures as creative ventures, and so much rings true no matter if they're visual arts, written arts, musical arts, movement arts, ......... am I forgetting a group?

FCP said...

Very interesting and thought-provoking. Thanks for taking the time to ponder and share this.

Barney Davey said...


Thanks for your take on my original post. Just as my post suggested artists do, you took original thoughts and made them fresh by adding a powerful unique perspective. Nice job of making it your own and bringing more value to the conversation!

Someone emailed to ask how big a fan of American Idol I was mentioning a previous post titled The Power of Believing in Yourself. It tells how Chris Daughtry, a former AI contestant, never lost faith in himself and went on to great success on his own terms. It encouraged readers to not give up when they truly believe in themselves. I hadn't made the conscious connection between the two posts. But, in thinking about them, I unabashedly can say I truly enjoy the show. How can one not delight in seeing deserving unknown talent find just rewards?

Anonymous said...

Really thought provoking post - I think the one I'm personally struggling with at this point is the personal content/"niche big enough to carry [my] interest". Particularly as I'm in the midst of exploring subject matter in a practically opposite direction of my work for the past ten years...

Making A Mark said...

Thanks everybody - and thanks to Barney for having a good idea in the first place and I'm glad you all enjoyed my reprise - singing somewhat different notes!

Also thanks to Barney for highlighting the lesson from Chris Daughtry. One of the things I enjoy about American Idol is that, if you look between some of the showbiz/ratings oriented bits it really has some very powerful lessons to teach through the experience of other people. It's not just about how much a good faircut can improve a chap's chances!

Whoohoo!!! The right David won!!! :D I'm leaving this deliberately obscure for all those Brits who don't get to see the show until tonight and tomorrow night. I just can't wait and always look on the news first.

Rita said...

Fantastic post Katherine, and it's one I suspect many artists will benefit from.

I like the addition of Barney's comments about Chris Daughtry and the belief he had in himself to succeed. At the end of the day we're really the only ones that have to answer to ourselves and (insert age old adage here): if we don't believe in ourselves and what we're capable of then why should anyone else?

Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts on this, valuable as always!

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