Andy Warhol once said, “Making money is art, working is art, and good business is the best art.” Warhol, known as much for his art as for his shrewd sense of business and marketing, transformed the way artists approached the business side of their work.
And yet “marketing” is perhaps the most scorned word among artists.
The art world, like any other industry, operates in a market environment. Art needs an audience, and marketing is the bridge that connects them. As artist Vakseen astutely points out in our podcast interview,
“Everything is marketing when it comes to an artist, and it’s about just exposing as many people as possible to your work.”
In his early music career, Vakseen admits he overlooked the importance of marketing. Like many artists, he was reluctant to be in sales, “We had our own product, and I didn’t want to push that to anybody on a personal level hand to hand.” However, his experiences in the music industry, particularly his role as an executive, taught him invaluable lessons about the necessity of marketing.
Reflecting marketing expert Seth Godin’s popular notion that “marketing is the act of making change happen,” Vakseen’s perspective on marketing shifted from chore or sell-out blustering to being a medium to effect change and reach a wider audience.
In the current, highly competitive artistic landscape, understanding and applying marketing strategies is not only advisable but essential.
Strategies for Self-Promotion
In today’s world of art and creativity, self-promotion is key. But how does one navigate this crucial aspect without coming across as overly self-serving? Vakseen offers some insights based on his experiences in both the music and art industries. He notes, “There’s still the business side of me that comes in… people love Michael Jordan [so paint Michael Jordan]. It doesn’t take a genius to be able to put two and two together on certain things.” This signifies the importance of understanding your audience’s preferences and aligning your work accordingly.
Austin Kleon, a New York Times bestselling author of books about creativity in the digital age, suggests a “show your work” approach. Artists should let others peek into their creative processes ‚— the sketching, rough drafts, and prototypes ‚— not just the polished, final product. Vakseen validates this by consistently sharing his works-in-progress and final pieces on social media.
Artist Shepard Fairey’s iconic “HOPE” poster for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign is a classic example of self-promotion. Originally created independently, the poster’s popularity saw it officially adopted by the campaign, catapulting Fairey’s work to global recognition. It illustrates the power of strategic self-promotion and its potential to open doors to new opportunities.
David Bowie’s star power rose exactly because he wrote “Space Oddity” to coincide with the moon landing, and he was lucky enough that BBC used it in their airing, which replayed for an entire day before a rapt country, a lucky stroke that makes playing a Superbowl Halftime Show look like a local open mic.
Websites, blogs, and social media offer a vast audience and instant feedback. However, it’s important to maintain authenticity while doing so, as Vakseen explains, “I’m a very private person.” Balance is key – share enough to intrigue and engage your audience, but not so much that it compromises your personal comfort or the integrity of your work.
Cultivating a Business Mindset
It’s vital for artists to strike a balance between their creative impulses and the practicalities of the art business. As Vakseen astutely points out, “There’s still the business side of me that comes in.”
One of the biggest mistakes artists can make is to neglect the business aspect of their work. Andy Warhol was a master of merging art and business, once famously quipping, “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art.”
This points to an interesting perspective we’ve written about here before: the way you get attention for yourself, your art, or both is, in fact, a creative act. Or at least with the right mindset, it can be.
Consider one aspect of your art as being a product. Don’t alter your vision or pander to the crowd, but do consider your audience and tell the best story to the people most likely to resonate with your work. If you find yourself hawking hair products to bald people, either find a new audience or a new angle.
Embracing a business mindset also involves recognizing and harnessing opportunities for growth and innovation. Artists like David Hockney have continually evolved their practice, adopting new technologies and mediums, keeping their work fresh and relevant. Hockney’s embrace of iPad art is a testament to his growth as the result of both a business and creative mindset.
Case Study: Applying Vakseen’s Principles in Real Life
To fully understand Vakseen’s insights into the confluence of art and business, let’s look at a real-world example: Banksy.
Like Vakseen, Banksy appreciates the importance of marketing. Cultivating an elusive persona to pique public interest was his first masterstroke marketing tool — though one difficult to emulate specifically in an era when anonymity is so easy.
His outdoor murals often pop up unexpectedly, sparking conversations and media attention — a strategy that aligns with Vakseen’s point about “exposing as many people as possible to your work.”
When it comes to self-promotion, Banksy stands out. He lets his provocative artwork speak for itself, capitalizing on viral sharing through social media, further magnifying his reach. This mirrors Vakseen’s strategy of frequent online posting, which he acknowledges as “necessary” despite his private nature.
Banksy also exhibits a keen business mindset. He’s not merely creating art for art’s sake; he’s also mindful of his work’s impact and resonance with his audience. In 2018, he staged a self-destruction of one of his pieces at a Sotheby’s auction right after it sold for $1.4 million, turning the event into a worldwide sensation. This audacious act exemplifies Vakseen’s principle of “creating for commercial success” and pushing boundaries to make something life-changing.