Art v’s Marketing… A Love, Hate Story?

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23 minutes and 52 seconds into this BBC documentary, the Artist Yinka Shonibare and gallerist Stephen Friedman let us into their world, and for the next 3 minutes, the anatomy of an established Artist / Marketer relationship are dissected for us to see… (click below to view the whole documentary, or click here to skip to 23 mins and 52 seconds)

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For those Artists living in hope of some kind of ethically harmonious logic to the Art v’s Marketing story, the ball starts rolling discouragingly, when Steven announces that Yinka’s Artwork appears ‘Right in the centre in the front room, of course, where you belong’.

This will be anathema to Adrian, (see comments section of previous post ‘Why Are Artists Bad at Marketing?’) and countless other Artists whose bullshit detectors will be sending black and white signals to their amygdala’s… ‘Fawning, sycophantic, disingenuous, aggrandising’, being just some of the adjectives bouncing around, no doubt.  And Stephen appears to validate these concerns by flailing in his description of the substance of Yinka’s work… By adhering to a salesman’s facade, and by never sounding convincing about anything other than the marketability of the Artist, and his work.

But should we allow caricatures like this to turn us off the idea of marketing?

On Yinka’s evidence, certainly not, as he proceeds to treat us to an open account of the benefits that such a working relationship can bring. Stephen is credited as being responsible for allowing him to live and work as an Artist, and for enabling him to give something back to the emerging Artists of tomorrow by way of a trickle-down mentoring program, which would not have been possible if it were not for their enduring relationship.

So, discounting the apparent incompatibility that exists between Artist and Marketer, Yinka and Stephen have established a mature, symbiotic partnership built upon mutual respect and mutual self-interest. And as hard as it may be for the ethically discerning Artist to come to terms with the language of salesmanship, isn’t Stephen just doing his job after all? Which in turn enables Yinka to do his? Hasn’t he liberated Yinka from the Artist v’s Marketing problem? And, shouldn’t we, as Artists seeking to liberate ourselves from the daily grind of supplementary jobs, not allow some concessionary ‘grey’ thinking to invade the otherwise ‘black and white’ way that we conceive the Artist v’s Marketing story too?

Whether that means seeking to establish a working relationship with a gallerist, or learning to formulate an individualised marketing plan that is aligned with our personal values and ideas, there is one thing that is for sure – without some form of engagement with this topic (or a large slice of luck – see flowchart at the top of the From 0 webpage), an Artist’s work will fall like the proverbial tree in the forest… With no-one around to hear it. They will continue cleaning toilets and serving coffees, and be denied the satisfaction of having socialised their work.


If you agree, disagree or would like to share your thoughts and ideas on the relationship between Artist and Marketer, please do so in the comments section below.


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