The entrepreneurial artist: Marketing & media / communications context (Part I) (2001)

R.J. Preece (ADP)
Creative Business & Entrepreneurship | 21 November 2011
This text is from a guest lecture entitled "Some issues in artwriting and communications, and the context of the entrepreneurial artist" given to senior fine arts program students soon to graduate at London Guildhall University in June 2001. Similar lectures were later given at Goldsmiths College, University of London; Manchester Metropolitan University; Birmingham Institute of Art and Design; a Castlefield Gallery (Manchester, UK) organized festival talk, and at Glasgow School of Art (2001-02).

In this presentation, I’m going to present a sort of position paper, drawing on what turned into a case study. I will talk about my ideas of combining media and communications strategies, within a visual arts practice.

For me, these ideas are constantly changing, and they have changed considerably over the past 14 months. What I’m going to present is the current state of these ideas, framed by a recent experiment I worked on with an artist.

As a starting point, I’d like to show you four voices from the art world:

[A] “Being an artist kinda sucks— before you get to a certain level. The work is one thing and that’s the most important. But on top of that, you’ve got to be your own businessman, your own PR man.”

[B] “In my experience, I’ve found nobody really helps you get into shows— and better shows. You’re always competing with other artists, and it’s very hard to get to ‘another level’. International contacts are guarded, sometimes considered elite and mysterious— it’s ridiculous really.

I think you’ve got to do it ALL yourself, until you get into a big gallery.”

[C] “I finally got into a major museum’s group show, and I thought it would mean that I had ‘arrived’ somewhere. But then, it ended up being a curator contextualising me in their context. It was huge group show— with so many people. You cannot really be noticed by the media in this way— unless you are the ‘chosen one’.

The show padded my CV, but I can’t decide if it was better than nothing [laughs]. It was not a breakthrough at all.”

And then I recently said to another artist, after reviewing his documentation: “I don’t understand this. You’ve been in all of these shows, and you’ve been involved in all of these projects. Your work is even around some very big names.”

“Why am I the first person to be writing a major feature on your work?”

And he said:

[D] “It’s very frustrating because with these kinds of projects, PR is always the last thing in the budget. Further up is the catalogue. We’ll make a catalogue, 1000 copies, put in some curatorial writings, and sell them— and that’s it.”

“And, of course, 1000 copies are never sold, the catalogues sit on the shelf collecting dust, and the organisers wait for everyone to come to them.” [1]

Four experiences.

All very unique, but in many ways, all very similar.

Maybe these experiences are not representative of the entire art world. But maybe they are. I haven’t done an academic study.

But, there is no denying that these four experiences reflect past and present frustration, both in the art world and their positions as aspiring independent artists. That is, independent artists with choices— as opposed to being chosen by art world powerholders.

Entrepreneurial artist (intro): 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | Entrepreneurial artist (framework) | Entrepreneurial artist (results)

[1] The first artist quote was received during a magazine interview. The other quotes were given in an informal context with the middle three only offered under the condition of anonymity. (Nov. 2011: One really should consider how anti-business rhetoric, which begins, develops and strengthens in university art education, and how dominant group pressure makes too many artists present the appearance of having no interest in art business matters, and the effect on other artists and fine arts students. When real, this only makes artists easy prey for those that take business issues more seriously, not to mention the psychological effects of thinking they are "not good enough" aesthetically which can be life-long and quite damaging.)