The Art of Burning and Shitting (alternative title – ‘Dissent and Dissentry – an Occupational Hazard’)

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A little while ago two things happened that amounted to me burning a bridge to the New Zealand Art world, and then shitting on my own doorstep.  This is noteworthy because apparently it is not an uncommon problem for Artists.  It is also a problem that highlights some of the paradoxes that self-marketing Artists must negotiate.

But first to the burning and shitting…

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The burning anecdote involves an email exchange with a prominent New Zealand Arts Organisation. The shitting episode involved a local gallerist.


In the first case, I was in conversation with the head of an NZ Arts organisation (let’s call them ‘C’) about running a pilot project to help Artists manage their careers and incomes better (click the ‘#7/11 Project’ link to read more).  I required no involvement from them – just that I was allowed to demo the pilot from my space at their fair.  But as time went on I got the feeling that they were not really interested, and that I was being given the brush-off.

When it dawned on me that I had been wasting my time, I became frustrated, and quoted a line about supporting Artists from the organisation’s website, back to ‘C’.  This provoked a deterioration in communications, ending with me being told that ‘New Zealand was a small country’ and that I should ‘be careful not to burn my bridges’, to which I hastily quipped, ‘why should I care about burning a bridge that goes nowhere?’.  Uh oh…

It felt good to get it off my chest, and I was certainly being true to my indignant inner voice, but…

Woe betide the dissenting voice in any small community.

And that may be an occupational hazard, because dissent is a common motivator for many an Artists work (popular contemporary example – think Ai Wei Wei)… In fact, unless you are satisfied with Art as ‘adornment’, dissent is an intrinsic element in any healthily functioning Art’s culture.  But you try arguing that to any establishment figure content with the status quo…  Dissent may propagate change after all… Rupture… Revolution even. And what comfortable wage-earner wants that?

Yet another paradox in the Art v’s Marketing dialogue…  Dissent is essential, yet dissent may be networking poison. 


The second incident involves a public embarrassment…

A couple of years ago, I saw the local gallerist chatting to someone at the bar area of a local cafe, so I wandered up and waited for a gap in the conversation.  After 30 seconds or so, she turned around to me and snapped, ‘Listen buddy, if you want to talk to me you’re going to have to make an appointment.’….. Humph! I was offended at my very public short shrifting, so I walked away, and we have not spoken since.  In doing this, I was consciously rejecting her offer of what felt to me like an unbalanced relationship.  And, because she is ‘The’ gallerist in the area, I effectively accepted her offer to ‘shit on my own doorstep’.

Now, with national, and local bridges burned, doors to the NZ Art World seem all but shut… I had gone from being ‘the Artist to buy’ during my inaugural exhibition at the NZ Art Show in 2013, to outcast in the blink of an eye… And that is the way it has been ever since… With no outlets to sell my work, I have effectively cut off my own oxygen supply, and made a Sisyphean task even more Sisyphean.  Hence ‘From 0’.

Why did I do this to myself? Couldn’t I see that these connections held sway over my destiny?  They could have greased the wheels, but instead I prompted them to slam on the breaks… Couldn’t I have bitten my tongue! For my own sake…!?  Or would that have gone against the way I’m coded?

Whatever the answer, it seems I’m not alone… Joanne Mattera devoted a post to the subject of ‘Burning Bridges’ in her ‘Marketing Mondays’ blog, which prompted 19 comments from Artists relating their experiences of busting out the matches.


Can it really be true that we Artists are our own worst marketing enemies?

Or can we learn to acquire the grace required for career advancement?

Does a sensitive nature, and a tendency toward black and white thinking preclude us from moderate, pragmatic professionalism?

Or should we console ourselves with the idea that absolutism leads to great Art. And that by remaining unbowed, we are better prepared to deal with the fallout should dissent become dissentry?

Crucially, is it possible to reconcile these apparent contradictions? 

I suspect that the answer, as always, lies somewhere in the middle…  And, as the protagonist in this Sisyphean tale, I am bound to keep searching for it.


If you agree, disagree or would like to share your thoughts and ideas on dissent, burning or shitting , please do so in the comments section below.


One Reply to “The Art of Burning and Shitting (alternative title – ‘Dissent and Dissentry – an Occupational Hazard’)”

  1. Hey Paul, great post. I think marketing sits uncomfortably with the artist because art and marketing are two such different worlds and it is the rare being that naturally inhabits both.

    I don’t see artists as absolutists with a tendency towards black and white thinking. Most of the artists that I love are better at questions than they are at answers. It is this ambivalence towards the status quo that makes great art but terrible marketing. If you can’t reduce a work of art to 140 characters then you can’t market it. If you can reduce it to 140 characters is it really art?

    Being an artist, I love the paradox of trying to market art but it really does my head in some days.

    Good luck with your own travels and may the promise of the internet, to bypass gatekeepers and put you directly in touch with your own audience, be realised.

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