Art Comment Quarterly
Welcome to Art Comment Summer '04.
In this issue your humble editor relates to you an experience of his, that in my mind, begs questions about the role of celebrity in the promotion of an artist. Celebrity is used to market everything from razors to politicians. Should celebrity be considered as an integral part of an artist's overall marketing plan too?
Perhaps we can get some answers from Art Marketing expert Sue Viders. ArtVitae.com has been given a pre-publication look at Sue's latest publication '10 Steps to Marketing Artwork, 3rd Edition'. Our review of that book follows. 'Ask Sue', an interactive question and answer column will soon be launched on the ArtVitae.com web site.
A Brush with Celebrity
I recently attended an art show opening in Waterford for an artist named Patrick Morrison. I didn't know of him, but there was a quote from the rock star Bono on ArtVitae.com's invitation to the show. My wife, Geraldine, unfortunately for me, as it turned out, had to be out of the country for a family event when the show was scheduled to open. As she is a big fan of U2 she had suggested that I go along without her to see who might be there.
When I got there the artist was being interviewed by a TV crew. After that was done I introduced myself to him and chatted. I mentioned that I had seen Bono's name on the invitation and that my wife was a big fan, and asked if he would be coming. He said no unfortunately Bono was in France for some event, but he had someone else to open the show for him - Sir Ben Kingsley. Wow, I knew I should have brought my camera I thought to myself.
Then in walked an expat American artist friend of mine Jessica (who lives in a castle near the Rock of Cashel) and rock star Phil. She gave me her usual big kiss on the lips (Jessica always drives Geraldine crazy when they chat by telling her things like she was partying with Mick Jager, Bono, and the Edge at the after party of her last show in Dublin).
Then I saw another friend, Paul form Bennetsbridge, enter and we spoke for a while. I could see Sir Ben out in the hallway giving interviews to a swarm of press. Then walked in Abdul. He is a huge collector in Waterford who I know fairly well. We chatted for a while. Mary from the Waterford Healing Arts Trust was there too.
The gallery was really beginning to fill up now. There were lots of 'beautiful people' with the look of money, who were obviously and loudly discussing which of the $10,000 paintings they should buy. Red dots were popping up everywhere on the walls. You could feel a building crescendo of excitement, and bravado, and celebrity.
As I was, by chance, familiar with many of the 'principals' in the room, the shutterbugs I think had mistaken me for someone to photograph, and was feeling pretty cool. I had a pocket full of Geraldine's ArtVitae.com business cards that I was liberally passing out to any accepting palm.
Then came in internationally famous artist Gottfried Helnwein and his wife Renata (more castle dwellers just down the road from us). Just to boost my image even more they greeted me with big smiles on their way to give hugs and kisses to Sir Ben who had now entered the room.
Then the opening began and a few local politicians whom I didn't know (one was wearing a huge gold ceremonial necklace - so I assume he was the mayor) gave much too-long speeches and talked about Sir Ben's academy awards and which of his movies was their favorites. Further exposing their provincial excitement at Sir Ben's presence, they failed to mention the art on the walls.
Sir Ben's speech was pretty good, as one might expect. When he mentioned that he admired Ireland because Ireland had never attempted to invade any other countries, he got a good round of applause. He also hinted that he owned six of Patrick's paintings himself.
Then I saw Katinka who lives in a cottage with her harpist husband Steve up on the side of Slievenaman Mountain nearby to us. She and Steve are delightful gentle people. I asked where Steve was and she said that he was at the Helnwien's castle preparing to play his harp at the after party for the exhibition. They wanted to perform some Enya style music for Sir Ben (but what about the artist?). Then I felt deflated. I hadn't been invited to the castle. I felt the cameras were really not flashing for me. I thought to myself, if Geraldine were here, I would definitely beg my way into the party for her sake, but that I, alone, wouldn't let the 'forgetfulness' of the fickle glitterati bother me.
I saw another couple I know, Billy and his American artist wife Karen. Billy a local musician told me he was also invited to play his guitar at the Helnwien's after party. It seemed I knew half the crowd there. The young wide-eyed girls and guys in the crowd still seemed to be wondering who I was that knew so many big wigs. I realized that my haircut was long overdue (Geradline has been on to me about it for some time), and I thought maybe they think I'm some old Pop star too.
Then Jessica, bless her heart, spotted me, pulled me directly into the inner circle of the eddying whirlpools of social strata, and introduced me to the artist's wife, Keri, who was a Japanese-American from Ohio. I recognised her broach as being a reproduction broach of the ancient Scynthian culture of the Ural Mountains in Russia. She said, yeah, she had received it as a gift and thought at the time that is looked like a museum reproduction piece, but really liked it. She was very easy to talk to. I talked about how the Celtic, Nordic, Scynthian, and Arabic regions formed a common cultural and stylistic bridge all those many mellinia ago. I did good.
By this time I was right in the vortex. I was rubbing shoulders with the artist and Sir Ben and their immediate entourages. Jessica asked me if she would see me later, and I pathetically replied that I had not been invited. She immediately disappeared and momentarily reappeared with a printed sheet of directions to the party. I said, sure I know were the castle is, I don't need directions. She said, bring the directions. I understood.
After a polite period of time chatting away, I took my prize, folded in my pocket and drove home to feed the cats and make myself a tuna fish sandwich - so I didn't show up looking hungry and needy at the party.
Gurteen Castle is spectacular from the outside and on the inside. I confidently drove up the 'private' lane knowing I had my 'directions' sheet folded in my pocket. When I got to the door, it was closed and I could see through the windows people dinning under big candles. There were two large German Shepherds in the garden. I began to wonder if I was doing the smart thing. As I approached the door it opened and I recognized the Helnwein's Austrian personal assistant whom I remembered from my previous visit to the Castle a couple of years ago. Sparing me the embarrassment of producing my 'directions', she actually recognized me - I think. (The first time Geraldine and I went there, she also 'recognized' us and greeted us by name - even though she had never before met us. It was a little spooky then, as it was again this night. Later she collected three of Geraldine's business cards from me??)
Luckily, the bus carrying the artist and his entourage arrived just as I was to about enter. I didn't have to enter into the grand room spectacularly on my own. Inside were all the local musicians fiddling and strumming and plucking away. On the other side of the room was the roaring open fireplace, large enough to dance in itself. The rest of the giant room with its three story high ceiling was filled with overstuffed chairs and settees stuffed with grand looking people. There was a grand piano laden with glasses and ice buckets and all sorts alcoholic drinks in bottles next to the staircase that lead up from the ground floor of the grand room to the two gallery floors above from which the private chambers are accessed. I added my tribute bottle to the stash on the piano. Just then the Helnwiens and Sir Ben and his entourage came down the staircase. It was magic.
Just about everybody from the gallery and many more were there. Katinka spotted me, and congratulated me for my last-minute invitation coup. She said she was not a good mingler, and I told her I usually depended on Geraldine for her mingling skills. Gottfreid was giving a tour of some of his latest paintings, so we tagged along with the tour into the ballroom. As the group passed from the ballroom back into grand room Katinka and I were studying Gottfried's latest 30 foot long Irish landscape painting. Sir Ben turned back into the ballroom to have a second look too. There we were the three of us alone in this giant ballroom staring at this painting. There was some affable enough eye contact and pregnant silences. I could see that Katinka wasn't about to test her meager mingling skills on Sir Ben Kingsley, and I was no better. Eventually he walked several paces back from the painting to get the long perspective, as one would when looking at a 30 foot long painting. Maybe he was trying to judge if it would fit in his living room.
Then he, in a very kind and polite manner, asked us in his beautiful classically trained voice if we could stand a bit to the side as we were blocking his view. It was fantastic. He had spoken directly to us, and we didn't even have to embarrass ourselves by opening our dumbfounded mouths.
As anti-climactic as the rest of the evening was, there were still some more fine moments. Good ol' Jessica spotted me again and escorted me into Gottfried's studio. There was a fantastic 20 foot by 40 foot portrait painting, in progress, of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber (I know you're tired of hearing it, but yes he too lives in yet another big castle just up the road from here.) Everyone was saying how shy Sir Andrew was, and that is why he wasn't here tonight, and didn't his shyness show up well in the portrait. I wouldn't know. But the painting is truly astounding. In the right two thirds of the painting Sir Andrew's diminutive life size figure is theatrically spotlighted within a massively deep black backstage. (Jessica was picking up his large tubes of oil paint on his workbench and reading the colour names. There were three extra-large tubes of black paint - and they were all different colours of black. Cool.) The left one third of the painting depicted a huge vibrantly red velvet stage curtain and various ropes and cranks and other back stage paraphernalia. It could be Gottfired's best work. It wasn't just the heady mood I was in, I'm sure.
The music had been non-stop all night. I had decided to make my departure several times, when another musician would volunteer to perform. There was a lot of Irish music. One fine lady whom someone had set me next to got up and sang without accompaniment some tragic Irish ballads with an amazing operatic voice. It was fantastic in the great volume of the grand room. Billy sang some great blues songs he had written himself.
Then someone ordered all the bottles off the grand piano and it was pulled closer into the hall. An attractive man dressed casually with very long hair who had seemed to be in the inner circle sat down to play. His performance was one of the true high points of the night. I was right behind him, and I could see that his hands moved across the keyboard with incredible speed and accuracy - and beauty. When he finished the piece everyone stood up and clapped and screamed wildly. They egged him on to play two more pieces. Nobody around me seemed to know who this guy was. I recognized another musician I knew named Warick, so I asked him who he was. His name is Parker. He is a composer and writes scores for movies and TV. He was great.
My neck was getting stiff from all the standing, so I decided to make my departure. I told Ranate that she sure throws a swell party. She seemed to be amused by that, and said that they often pass by our house on their way to Dublin, and would they mind if they just popped in sometime. I said yes, of course, no problem (and I thought to myself, Jeez, I hope Geraldine is home when they pop in).
[For those persons who think that they might be among the characters referred to in the above article, I hope you will receive my words in the same tongue-in-check humour in which I offer them.]
10 Steps to Marketing Your Artwork
If you are like me, during all my years in art schools, as fine as the course work was, I received virtually no education on the practical business of being an artist. So it was of great interest to me when ArtVitae.com was given the privilege of previewing the release of Art Marketing Expert Sue Vider's latest publication, the 3rd edition of "10 Steps to Marketing Your Artwork".
I must admit that I didn't like a lot of what I read in Sue's book; because she was dead right and I didn't want to hear the truth. We artists are too quick to blame others for our failure to sell more of our artworks, or we even take the cavalier attitude that we really don't care if the buying public, mired as they are in their massive aesthetic ignorance, fail to appreciate our divine efforts. Sue's both-guns-blazing approach blows giant and painful holes right through all our petty excuses.
Presented in uncompromising detail, Sue examines and explans her 10 steps: establishing your goals, adjusting your attitude, market research, creating your product, building an identity, promotion, presentation, getting out there, and follow up.
As this book and her other art marketing training materials are for sale at modest prices from her website www.sueviders.com
, I won't give away any of her trade secrets. However, I have been a practicing artist for too many years to mention, and I was still able to benefit from this book on a number of points. Sue even had an answer for Katinka's and my shyness problem (see our brush with celebrity article above) - but I'm not telling you her solution here.
Artists of all levels of development from beginner to accomplished professional, and from various geographical locations can gain important insights form this book. Even though some of Sue's materials are expectedly written more specifically from her American perspective of the art market (you will have to excuse her references to chocolate chip cookies and herbal tea) the underlying principles she presents are universal are at their core.
As Sue poetically says in one of her points, "If you continue to think like you've always thought, you'll continue to get what you've always got."
Remember, 'Ask Sue', an interactive question and answer column will soon be launched on the ArtVitae.com web site. You can ask her your own questions there.
While the internet is one very important and indispensable means for an artist to market him/herself, it will never replace the function of the traditional gallery entirely. Nothing can replace seeing a work of art up close and in person. Accordingly, and in a continuing effort to improve the services provided by ArtVitae.com, they have begun to host exhibitions of their artists in real galleries.
Their first 'brick-and-mortar' venture is their 'Unplugged' exhibition at the Narrow Space Gallery in Clonmel, Ireland. Aisling Kilroy of the Narrow Space selected a number of artists from the site to invite to exhibit in her gallery. We were frankly surprised and a bit overwhelmed by the number of positive responses from the member artists around the world. In addition to Irish artists, France, the UK, America, Italy, Russia, and even Iraq will be represented in this exhibition.
The next 'brick-and-mortar' venue for ArtViate.com artists will be the Art Fair Ireland in Dublin in November. Plans for London and New York are in the works too.
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