I know this is something that isn’t in the same vein as my usual rambling blog posts, but one of my assignments for Uni this week was to write a blog post / essay, so instead of setting up a whole new blog for just one post, I figure you guys can deal with reading about my three favourite artists, who have successfully manipulated the art market through effective branding techniques! Personal branding is the one marketing tool that I wholeheartedly employ in the day-to-day running of my business, so I’ve really enjoyed looking at ways other artists have utilised it to create their own ‘niche’ in the world.
Important lessons in Branding, and their successful application in the Art World.
“There’s always a very fine and complicated line between art and commerce. The art world seems to despise and deride commerce, but yet the art world thrives off commerce.” – Alexander Gilkes, Global Marketing Director Phillips de Pury
All too often, Art and Business are viewed in opposition to each other. However, it is becoming increasingly more common for artists to embrace the importance of marketing, and the most important marketing tool in creative industries is personal branding.
A brand is a public projection of who you are, and what you do for your audience. It is the message that differentiates you from your competition, by expressing what makes you unique and memorable, encouraging your target audience to connect with you emotionally, and building loyalty.
Certainly, within the self-help movement, the concept of ‘branding an individual’ is heavily ingrained, aimed at providing individuals with strategies to improve their business success.
Unfortunately, a huge number of artists view the idea of ‘person as product’ in a negative light, suggesting that this creates ‘packaged’ art, with too much of a commercial focus. Of course, an artist’s motivations to create are as varied as their individual personalities, so it would be incorrect to assume that all artists are seeking either critical or commercial success. (Lehman and Fillis)
But artists looking to entertain commercial success require a strong brand narrative, to be successful in the market. Where visual mediums are concerned, the distinction between the artist and their art is often blurred. For example, a large percentage of artwork held by collectors or exhibited in museums is fake, so how much is a fake Picasso worth? The same as a genuine Picasso…as long as nobody knows it’s a fake. The value of a painting lies primarily in the name of the painter (the brand), not in the painting. On the other hand, a real Picasso is worth very little if everyone thinks it’s a fake. (Ries)
Without question, when I think of art as a ‘brand’, the first name to come to mind is Andy Warhol.
One of the most influential artists of the 20th Century, his obsession with ‘celebrity’ and mass-production created an instantly recognisable and widely reproduced art style, which, backed up by his own out-of-the-box sense of personal style, developed into the ‘Warhol Brand’. This permeated every aspect of his lifestyle, leaving no separation between the ‘artist’ and the ‘art’ – He was the brand.
Warhol’s work echoed the advertising trends of the ‘50s and ‘60s, as he worked in illustration and advertising in New York City, following his studies in Commercial Art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. (Trepsa)
Most commercial artists have the ability to organise information and knowledge of fine arts, visualisation, and media. This is something that Warhol excelled at. He knew that in order to make a living in fine arts, he had to apply the principles of advertising to his ‘brand’ – Marketing was an integral part of his work, not an extra step. Building a small group of dedicated followers has always been the backbone of good marketing, and Warhol’s studio – ‘The Factory’ – was the ultimate playground for his many friends, collaborators, assistants, and followers.
Here, Warhol began making silkscreens, so that he could mass-produce art in the same way big companies mass-produced consumer goods. To increase production, he enlisted pornstars, drag queens, socialites, drug addicts, musicians, and free-thinkers to help him. They became known as the ‘Warhol Superstars’, helping to create his paintings, starring in his films, and embodying the legendary ‘Factory atmosphere’.
Aside from prints and paintings, the ‘Warhol brand’ produced films and sculptural works, as well as silkscreen prints on commission. These commissions were usually made up of a single silkscreen for USD$25,000, with additional canvases priced at $5,000 each, in alternative colourways. Later, with increased demand for his work, he increased the price of the additional canvases to USD$20,000 each.
Following his death in 1987, the estate of Andy Warhol signed an agreement with Schlaifer Nance & Company, giving them exclusive rights to the use of his name and works in all manner of products. “There have been Warhol skateboards, Warhol editions of Dom Pérignon champagne and countless Warhol fashion lines, including Pepe jeans and Diane von Furstenberg dresses.” (Appleyard)
The executor of Warhol’s estate, long-time friend and manager Frederick Hughes, signed off on the licencing arrangement, saying that the negotiations had begun two years prior to Warhol’s death. “Warhol had been ”very intrigued” by the proposition, and had given it serious consideration. He disliked the hypocrisy of the ‘high art’ point of view. He felt it was a new era, where artists could be involved with things like licensing, and where their images could have a broader appeal.” (McGill)
It’s safe to say Warhol anticipated how marketing works today. Celebrity, pop culture, collaboration, and blurring the boundary between ‘the product’ and ‘the producer’, are still key factors in modern marketing.
“Business art is the step that comes after art. I started as a commercial artist and I want to finish as a business artist. Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art.” – Andy Warhol
Of course, there have been many other artists throughout history who have made branding a priority, one of whom I mentioned earlier – Picasso.
Picasso was one of the first artists to think about his work in a more global manner. He was a great painter, but he knew that his innate talent alone wasn’t going to be enough to catapult his career as an artist. He had to create a way to define himself beyond his art – to prompt fascination and intrigue – if he wanted the art world to stop and take notice.
Picasso knew he could raise the value of his work, and sell more art, if he created a captivating brand persona. Long before Beyonce, Rihanna, Bono, or Madonna, he was known by a single moniker. He knew that this would set him apart from the other artists of his time. He also made sure to be the one responsible for talking publicly about his life and upbringing, as well as the motivation behind his work. He knew that if he didn’t do it, someone else would, and they likely wouldn’t do his story justice. (Adamson and Hostetler)
This should be the case for any brand. In order for a product to succeed, it has to be good, but people also want an original back story that they can connect to. It isn’t just the ‘what’ but also the ‘who’ that motivates connections between consumer and brand. Both things have to work in conjunction.
Picasso understood the power of public relations as a branding tool, and he was also acutely aware that successful PR is the art of convincing the media to tell your story in the same way that you would tell it yourself.
Picasso was also very adept at ensuring his work ended up in the hands of the right collectors. He saw that, at the time, the savviest art collectors were based predominately in Paris, and that if those collectors had his work, it would increase, or at the very least support the value. But, almost more importantly, Picasso knew how to control the flow of his distribution. He knew better than to flood the market, keeping his work in high demand, and ensuring there would always been keen buyers. (Adamson and Hostetler)
Careful consideration around price and positioning of an artists’ work will always be hugely important, and this all comes back to the artists’ personal agenda, and their vision for their brand, which is something that Picasso orchestrated exceptionally effectively.
“When I was a child my mother said to me, ‘If you become a soldier, you’ll be a general. If you become a monk, you’ll be the pope.’ Instead I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.” – Pablo Picasso
There will always be artists who take a different approach to the distribution of their work, embracing the opportunity to flood the market, and an excellent current example of this is Damien Hirst. Like Warhol, he worked with a team of assistants in a ‘factory-like’ setting, pumping out hundreds of his iconic ‘spot paintings’
Hirst only painted five of them himself because ‘he couldn’t be fucking arsed doing it’. When asked about his own work on the spot paintings, he openly explained that he thinks “They’re shit compared to … the best person who ever painted spots for me was Rachel [Howard]. She’s brilliant. Absolutely fucking brilliant. The best spot painting you can have by me is one painted by Rachel.”
On her resignation, another of his painting assistants asked for one of the spot paintings. Hirst told her instead to ‘make one of her own’. “The only difference, between one painted by her and one of mine, is the money.'” (Hirst and Burn)
Critics argue that some of his images (in particular the spot paintings) have been ‘recycled to the point of meaninglessness.’, and disagree with his claims of ownership over work created by other people, for him. But, of course, Hirst maintains that these critics ‘miss the point’ – “The hand of the artist isn’t important. You’re trying to communicate an idea.” (The Economist)
He sees the real creative act as being the conception, not the execution, therefore all work created under his ‘brand’ belongs to him as the artist.
Right from the beginning of his career as an artist, Hirst was aware of the importance of creating a persona that people would connect with, becoming someone memorable. He knew that in order to build up the funds required for the work he wanted to make in the future, he had to effectively market the work he had at hand – “I can’t wait to get into a position to make really bad art and get away with it. At the moment if I did certain things people would look at it, consider it and then say ‘f off’. But after a while you can get away with things.”
Through partnerships with important and influential art collectors and dealers, such as Charles Saatchi, Larry Gagosian, and Jay Jopling, he built and maintained a ‘hype’ around his work, resulting in huge demand for anything ‘Hirst’. In order to drive sales, and increase his public accessibility, he founded ‘Other Criteria’ in 2005, to produce a collection of unique artworks and publications, as well as a wide range of mass-produced apparel, prints, homewares and jewellery.
‘Other Criteria’ has steadily expanded since 2005, now representing 82 artists, and has contributed hugely to Hirst being named the ‘United Kingdom’s richest living artist’ in the 2010 Sunday Times Rich List, with his net worth valued at £215m.
As a student, Hirst had visited the the 1983 Hayward Gallery exhibition of work by Francis Davison, a relatively unknown collage artist. He was surprised to find out that none of his contemporaries had heard of Davison, even though he’d had a big show in a major public gallery. Davison in died the year following the exhibition, in relative obscurity, and Hirst was motivated to ensure that that never happened to him. (Spalding) He decided he would become famous in whatever he did, and, through hard work and strong entrepreneurial business decisions, has done just that.
“Becoming a brand name is an important part of our life. It’s the world we live in” – Damien Hirst
The ultimate goal when applying marketing principles to art is to enhance the accessibility of artists, creating and fostering an environment where the public can appreciate and understand art, without the pre-requisite need for an education. “The art world needs to cease preaching in an academic manor and needs to look at ways that it can be more simple more matter of fact, and learn to choose a new vocabulary that engages with people that don’t have the privilege of art world academia.” (Gilkes)
Approaching art from a business mind-set is an easy way to ensure your audience are invested in learning more about your work. People doing their groceries the world over have a loyalty to particular brands, whether that loyalty is due to price, quality, or just good advertising. Businesses know how to market their product to an audience, and careful brand management helps to make a product relevant to the target audience. The brand represents the sum of all valuable qualities of a product to the consumer. Additionally, effective branding can result in higher sales of not only one product, but of other products associated with that brand. This is particularly relevant to artists, as public interest generated by even one work can trickle down to the rest of your portfolio, assisting in developing a loyal fan-base.
All of the artists referenced earlier have one thing in common – a strong sense of brand identity; the outward expression of their brand, reflecting how each artist wants the consumer to perceive their ‘brand’, and by extension, their artwork. Over time, a product’s ‘brand identity’ evolves, shifting and changing with the market, which is mirrored in the way successful artists grow and change over the course of their careers, gaining new ideas and concepts from the way in which their work is received by the public.
With the increasing opportunities for exposure, through the internet and social media, it is hugely important for artists to embrace the relevance of personal branding, in order to bring their art to the people who matter most – the consumer – because without an audience, what’s the point?
Hopefully this post gives you all a reasonable understanding of how valuable a marketing tool personal branding can be, and you can all take away some ideas for adequately promoting yourself, whatever your ‘product’ happens to be!
Keep reading to view my bibliography, and to learn more about personal branding methods!
Adamson, Allen, and Sue Hostetler. “What Picasso Knew: Branding Tips For Artists From An Art Basel Insider.” Forbes. 22 May 2013. Web. 4 June 2015.
Appleyard, Bryan. “A ONE-MAN MARKET.” More Intelligent Life. Nov.-Dec. 2011. Web. 09 June 2015.
Gilkes, Alexander. “The New Art “Brand”.” Interview by Victoria Morphy. Voices of Tomorrow. Aug. 2010. Web. 04 June 2015.
Hirst, Damien, and Gordon Burn. On the Way to Work. London: Faber, 2001. Print.
Lehman, Kim, and Ian Fillis. “Survive in the Art World: Market the Brand, Sell the Product.” The Conversation. 04 Aug. 2014. Web. 04 June 2015.
Mcgill, Douglas C. “Marketing of Andy Warhol.” The New York Times. 09 Dec. 1987. Web. 09 June 2015.
Ries, Al. “What the Art Market Can Teach Us About Branding.” Advertising Age. 10 Feb. 2014. Web. 04 June 2015.
Spalding, Julian. “Why It’s OK Not to like Modern Art.” The Times. 08 May 2003. Web. 09 June 2015.
Trepsa, Inguna. “5 Lessons in Branding from Andy Warhol.” Antemeridiem Designs. Spring 2011. Web. 03 June 2015.
The Economist. “Portrait of the Artist as a Brand.” The Economist. 8 Feb. 2001. Web. 10 June 2015.
Visit Quicksprout for a complete online guide to personal branding, with some really easy-to-follow tips and tricks for marketing yourself and your business!