We have a lot invested in this ride!

September 20, 2009

My dear friend Adam wrote a profound piece in his blog today about marketing, art, and of course, Bill Hicks – namely that although, yes, marketing has its demonic dark side, the man could have benefited from targeting his demographic. I’m still mulling over Adam’s thoughts and their implications for art – should we as artists eschew certain venues in favor of others where we think people will “get it?” Where does that kind of thing go over the line from targeting to pandering?

Anyhow, I also feel like my own demographic would enjoy a positive drug story. This also, by the way, sums up my own religious philosophy and I’ve never even taken LSD.


8 Responses to “We have a lot invested in this ride!”

  1. Adam Says:

    should we as artists eschew certain venues in favor of others where we think people will “get it?”

    Realizing I didn’t actually address that point, let me be a little more clear about it here. I think targeting is a really useful tool for someone unknown. Why use resources you don’t have (like money, or time you could be spending on things that matter to you) trying to play rooms in cities that just don’t care? I’m thinking it’s wiser to save those resources for a second, less safe wave of touring/showing, that could be applied on top of the first. Establish the spaces from which you can build a following, use these as a step to the riskier spots. But then, I’m just sounding this out. Lord knows if this is actually good advice.

    • Sonja Says:

      I think that for visual art, a lot of this is done for you – so to speak. So many galleries are juried these days that you’re not going to be able to get your shit on the wall if the gallery staff doesn’t think that their particular audience is going to grok what you’re doing. So, then I guess it becomes more about what galleries to submit to and all of that if we’re going to talk about targeting… I think it’s pretty easy to check out what a gallery is showing and figure out in five seconds if it’s in any way similar or relevant to your own work. I’d never really thought about it much, but this sort of thing is sort of self-reinforcing in that if you can find galleries that show your kind of stuff, you’re never really forced to push the envelope or even confront your own audience.

      Of course, you do have to get your stuff in the gallery to begin with, which is its own kind of hell that has nothing to do with marketing per se and everything to do with straight up selling your soul.

  2. Adam Says:

    Much of the same can be said for publishing (in fact, I think it’s almost exactly the same process, except that editing may be a bit more intense and formalized in publishing), and that’s probably why publishing doesn’t freak me out. 7 years as an editor took the edge off.

    It’s the prospect of formally entering the performance world that’s a bit more than I can fathom right now. Let’s keep talking this through.

    • Adam Says:

      …and it’s so daunting because you’re now selling a hybrid art/entertainment experience.

      The work in the gallery may be funny, provocative, etc., but its primary criterion is Art. I think the verbally-performed work has a pretty high ratio of entertainment to art, and must keep people in their seats for the length of the show.

      It’s hard fitting all the considerations in there; this show should be entertaining, or at the least, enjoyable, as well as profound, problematic, etc.

      • Sonja Says:

        Art has its own pressures – sure, you don’t have to keep an audience entertained, but if you’re going to try and sell your work, you have to think about whether or not someone is going to want to pay money to look at this crap day in and day out. And that’s after you’ve decided to “sell out.” Because oh yeah, there’s this romantical notion that making art is an end unto itself and that anyone who decides to make art based on what does (or even what *could*) sell has already signed a contract with Satan and isn’t a true artist in any sense of the word.

        (See for example: My Div III. I sold *THREE* pieces at my show. No one else, that I know of, sold work. No one else graduated with an “asterisk shaped diploma.” People wanted to pay money to look at my crap forever, but my professors hated it. Because clearly, I have no soul.)

        The whole exchange of money for goods and services gets very, very tricky when those “goods” and/or “services” are art related. Big mess.

  3. Adam Says:

    Dig. But let me stop you right there and clear something up before we go further. I have a big, big pet peeve about visual artists claiming the word “art.” Poetry does not become art when it reaches an unprecedented echelon any more than art becomes poetic when it says something with profound economy. We have to share the word. /short version


    That’s right, you do have to consider who’s gonna wanna look at this thing you’ve created, day in/day out, don’t you? God, that’s wild. I obviously consider rereading, but the most part-of-the-visual-landscape time my books have to weather would be on a coffee table. And more likely on a bookshelf, the spine exposed.

    Your profs thought your work was soulless? Hm. I tend to go to this place where “art-related goods” are concerned: the amount someone is willing to pay for an artifact is the arbiter of its value to that person. Example: I see a piece of yours at a show and it runs $600. I mull it over all night and decide it’s worth $50/month (provided that’s agreeable to you) to me to own it.

    This gets a little muddy when you break $1000 for most of us, I think, but the logic holds. When you break $5000 it moves from the object’s value to the individual into the realm of marketing value, where the sale is about the artist’s reputation, career, etc.

    Because publishing is an art/industry of collections and reproduction, all parts of the formula are inverted, but the result is the same: will they buy it? What will they do with it then?

    I guess what’s worrying me about the one man show is that folks will have to make an on-the-spot commitment to attend (for $15, $20), then another to buy a book (another $18 or so). Somehow, the thought of $35 on a moving performance-experience and a book is just as hard a decision for me as $50/month (for six months) for a collage I can’t imagine furnishing my apartment without. What they’re buying is the initial experience and the ability to relive it.

    • Sonja Says:

      Oh dude, I’m just using “art” as shorthand for “visual art” – I’m not trying to claim the term for anything other than my own laziness since you know what I’m talking about and I don’t want to have to type out “visual arts” every time. I’m not denying that poetry is art or writing in general is art or music is art. I’m going to have to stop you if we start getting into “performance art,” but I think we can all agree that’s a pretty murky territory.

      And yeah, Judith Mann & co. even wrote in my eval that my work was “trite” and no real thought was put into it whatsoever.

      It’s interesting to break down exactly what people are getting when they pay for “art” of whatever variety. People will easily plop down $35 on beers in one night, an experience that won’t be relived, but they get all tight-assed when the same amount is charged for art. I hate pricing shit, really hate it, and when someone tries to haggle with me, I want to poke my own eyes out. My favorite was at my Div III show when someone asked how much I’d sell one of the larger pieces for, I thought about it and said honestly “No less than $100.” She blinked a lot and said “Well, I was thinking I’d give you $20 for it.”

      MY DIV FUCKING 3, PEOPLE. Yeah, art means different things to different people and I guess people don’t realize that when you buy original art (of whatever medium), you’re buying more than the net cost of the raw materials. You’ve got to pay for the labor as well. And whatever amount of the artist’s soul that may or may not have gone into it. I try to be reasonable about pricing my stuff, but if I’ve got something that’s hanging in a gallery, which means I had to pay to frame the whole damn show – and outside of Hampshire also means that I have to give up a chunk to commission for the gallery – you’d better believe you’re not getting it for $20.

      Nor are you getting it for $20 when the show comes down, because that just sends the message “Like my stuff? Wait until I take it down! Then I’ll give it to you cheep!” Nope. No sir. Once it’s priced, it’s priced. End of story. Unless you’re like, my BFF or something. Then I just flat out feel bad taking your money. But that’s a different matter entirely.

      And reminds me: I still haven’t gone to the PO with your peacock. And no, I haven’t forgotten either. He’s unframed, and I’d rather you didn’t like, stick thumbtacks into him, but I trust you’ll give him a good home.

      • Adam Says:

        people don’t realize that when you buy original art (of whatever medium), you’re buying more than the net cost of the raw materials. You’ve got to pay for the labor as well. And whatever amount of the artist’s soul that may or may not have gone into it.

        And that gets to the heart of it.

        I just made a guest registry for a couple friends to put out at their wedding last weekend. While what I charged them isn’t relevant (it wasn’t much) what they identified the charges were for was really enlightened. Essentially, I billed them at cost for the materials, nominally for the layout design; the bulk was for my ideas. They understood that immediately. They told me last week, just before the wedding, that if they hadn’t known me, there’d be no such book at the festivities. We could put some effort as an arts community into explaining what you’re really paying for.

        It goes in another direction, too. It’s them folks who Make It Look Easy, the masters, who inadvertently give the disastrous impression that there is no process. Of course you’re 200% right when you say you’re paying for labor, soul and materials. I’d add you’re paying for experience, craft, the work that didn’t make the cut, and frankly, that particular artist’s direct line to her particular muse. ALL OF WHICH ARE LEGITIMATE EXPENSES, and none of which we have any trouble rationalizing when buying a $50, gorgeously packaged bottle of booze. If only Dan Akroyd would shill my books.

        I think this gets to a fundamental fear of art in post-WWII America. In the last 60 years, (and I blame Yoko for much of this) our artists were kicked off their pedestals and meat-tenderized into self-mocking, self-fulfilling clichés. When the art is so goddamn aloof (thanks again, Fluxus) that a generation of average citizens not only can’t see the relevance but can’t even get a foothold on what it is, they will tune it out. Meanwhile, the academic art community, with a stunning investment in the production of art only they can explain, will refine, refine, refine it until we’re left with two choices in their eyes: produce the unexplainable or sell out. (“A postmodern dialogistic hegemonic thrill ride” does not count as explanation.)

        I know that’s some gross oversimplification. Just trying to make a point.

        So here we are, the children of that generation, trying to make documents of our experience, which we hope are in fact documents of the larger experience. And trying, nominally, to make a living at it. If we’re attracted to academic aesthetics or ideas, how could we not be the abstract bourgeois to the bombers? If we’re hell bent on being meaningful to the layman, how could we not be “trite,” soulless sellouts to the professors? Like everyone, we have to write our own rules.

        The course I’ve tried to chart has been with academic scrutiny and street-side concern for meaning, and I try to hide the effort. When you get a book from me, I spend ages trying to make it read like it just tumbled out that way. I’ve been writing this section of this book for 2.5 years. There are 62 poems in it, as of this morning, and 35 have been cut. If it took 100+ poems to find the right 60, then you’re paying for the 100+. And you won’t feel bad about it. Because the right 60 poems will do things together that the extra (not really very good) poems would get in the way of. You’re paying as much for my skills of creation as omission. Lord, could we get someone in Performance Art to try that for a change?

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