Sunday, October 08, 2006

Does Your Personality Sell Paintings?

Is the artists image just as important as the work he or she creates?

We all know of the image of the eccentric, lunatic, or brooding artist. These stereotypes are made popular in film and novels. My question is, does it pay to have a persona or to be who you are? Is your personality included in the package when you sell a piece? I've asked myself these questions before, but a recent exhibit made them fresh in my mind.

I met a painter during a large group exhibit I attended recently. I noticed her the second I entered the large exhibit room. She was talking with a group of patrons who had crowded around her work. Other artists who were exhibiting with her seemed to be shadowed by the chaotic light that sprang from the energy of her performance. Was she faking? Was it all an act? Was this real? I felt compelled to observe her display.

Her eyes seemed to be wide and wild while she laughed loudly at practically everything that was said to her by her viewers. Some of them returned her gestures while others seemed to be startled. The only pause in communication came in the form of a shy curator bumping through the crowd in order to place red stickers near the paintings that were sold. During this entire process curious observers, such as myself, remained in the artists presence. She held her audience.

This went on for over twenty minutes from the time I had entered the gallery. This artist had captivated her audience by her wild charm, eccentric nature, and provocative choice of discussion. She did all of this while making sudden movements that made her appear to have some sort of affliction. This display, along with her bright red dress, seemed to be a focal point for everyone who entered the building.

Eventually I broke from the crowd in order to observe the work of the other exhibiting artists. The rest of the exhibit seemed 'dead' compared to the area where the 'crazy woman in the bright red dress' (As one person defined her.) was still putting on an exhibit of her own. The other artists had not sold any paintings!

The other artists stood around as if they were bored or angry. A few of them ate snacks while discussing studio space and the price of materials. It was at this point that I started to ask myself about how the personality of the artist correlates with the sell of work. Do viewers expect to see a 'show of personality' along with the show of work? Did ranting and raving help the woman in red to sell her art? A number of questions popped into my mind.

The others did seem rather dull when compared to her. Most of them did not attempt to approach anyone who walked near their paintings. The few that did passed out 'business cards' instead of actually talking about their art. A livewire personality seemed to do more for the woman in red than 100 business cards could ever do.

What puzzled me the most was the fact that the woman in the red dress was not the most skilled artist present nor was she the most known. There were other artists there who had already made names for themselves in the community. Not only were they far more skilled than the woman in red, but they also had established buyers. However, their patrons flocked toward the woman in the red dress while they stood with their arms crossed.

I stood outside after the exhibit had closed with a few of my art-related friends. We discussed various art topics. The woman in red left the gallery as my friends and I conversed. She came up and listened to us for several minutes. The wild spark of personality that she had displayed during gallery hours seemed to have left her.

She did not seem to speak in the same tone. In fact, her behavior was the complete opposite of how she had been during the exhibit. She was no longer wild and loud. Instead, she seemed shy. She hardly spoke a word and her actions were very reserved.

I noticed that there were a number of discarded artist business cards on the ground as the woman in the red dress walked away. Maybe those artists should rely on their force of personality (or invent one) rather than relying on tiny slips of paper to sell their art.

Do you think this artist was putting on a 'show' in order to attract potential buyers? After all, she no longer made the sudden movements or wild open stares when she talked to me outside of the exhibit. Would the other artists had sold more if they had used a 'persona' as well (If indeed she was putting on some form of act)?

How common do you think this practice is? Can you think of any well-known artists who are 'not what they seem'? Have you observed similar situations personally? Do you roleplay during your exhibits? Do you think some of the more famous artists may have put on 'fronts' as well? Does it matter? Is it just part of the creative process? Should we expect our personality and art to be sold as a combined package? Discuss.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

10 comments:

jkretch said...

sure - theatrics can sell... and confidence will also sell, however, if there isn't the talent to back up the work - I think that you can only go so far. I think that most of the notable artist in the past where not very good salesmen...

Anonymous said...

I think that you are judging that woman far too harshly and quickly. could it not be possible that she was feeding off the energy of the interested patrons, which made her a bit more manic at the time, and therefore loud and overanimated... and then afterwards, as things wore down perhaps the adrenaline high led to a bit of a crash which made her appear to be more shy and sedate? this is perfectly normal not only for people who actually suffer from bipolar disorder, but also for those who simply have manic depressive tendencies or energetic personalities. this behaviour does not make someone a hypocrite or a fake. many people have quick mood swings as a result of brain chemistry; excitement, fatigue, endorphins, adrenaline, etc... these are all excited by things as simple as chocolate, caffein, and social situations.

to me, it didn't seem like your entry was actually considering the issue of personality related to art sales at all... but rather, the tone of your entry read as if you had already made up your mind and you were looking for a place to rant about a woman who annoyed you at an openning.

if you are actually interested in the topic then perhaps you should do some reading on the topic of psychology as it relates to mental illness and creativity, as well as on advertising and the relationship between image and product. there are very strong correlations between all of those things, and i'm sure it won't take you long to find some articles and books on the topic.

Anonymous said...

I think that you are judging that woman far too harshly and quickly. could it not be possible that she was feeding off the energy of the interested patrons, which made her a bit more manic at the time, and therefore loud and overanimated... and then afterwards, as things wore down perhaps the adrenaline high led to a bit of a crash which made her appear to be more shy and sedate? this is perfectly normal not only for people who actually suffer from bipolar disorder, but also for those who simply have manic depressive tendencies or energetic personalities. this behaviour does not make someone a hypocrite or a fake. many people have quick mood swings as a result of brain chemistry; excitement, fatigue, endorphins, adrenaline, etc... these are all excited by things as simple as chocolate, caffein, and social situations.

to me, it didn't seem like your entry was actually considering the issue of personality related to art sales at all... but rather, the tone of your entry read as if you had already made up your mind and you were looking for a place to rant about a woman who annoyed you at an openning.

if you are actually interested in the topic then perhaps you should do some reading on the topic of psychology as it relates to mental illness and creativity, as well as on advertising and the relationship between image and product. there are very strong correlations between all of those things, and i'm sure it won't take you long to find some articles and books on the topic.

Balhatain said...

Anonymous,

I've studied the link between creative individuals and mental illness for two years when I was still in college.

I'm not going to state that I know everything about the topic, but I do know that we don't want to lump every artist onto the 'mentally ill' train.

Eccentric behavior does not make one mentally ill nor does it make one 'fake', as some people would put it. However, it was a little odd that her behavior changed so much once the show was over. So was she simply putting on her 'game face'? I suppose you would have had to been there yourself to decide.

In most cases... if she were mentally ill, as you suggest, she would not have switched from one mode to the other so quickly. She would have still been 'pumped up' over the show and the work she sold. The rush that can lead to manic states would not have left so quickly. She would have most likely been stimulated for sometime after the show if she did have those disorders. Especially since she had the chance to shine when conversing with her peers outside of the exhibit.

Also, if she was 'mentally ill', no problem. I'm not the type to hold that against anyone. However, since you mentioned it I must give my professional opinion on the matter. I'm a QMRP/QHSP.

I should mention that I have three years of experience working with mentally ill individuals. I can tell you that working directly with mentally ill individuals is very different than reading about a few cases in a text book. There are some things books can't teach. You learn to pick up on signs of mental struggle.

I am aware of some traits that others would miss unless they have direct care experience. Anyone who works in the field would know of what I speak. I've seen people during manic phases (charted them.) and I have observed how they behave as they 'come down' from the 'chemical high'. I don't really think this woman was disturbed.

I based my opinion on the statements of people who attended the show and my own observations of those around me. I actually found it very interesting on an academic level as far as interpersonal skills are concerned.

I believe my post fully covered the topic. The simple fact is that the woman sold more paintings than any other artist exhibiting that night. Was it due to her lively personality during the exhibit?

I feel that her chaotic charisma may have played a part in her success. So, based on my observation it would seem that personality can very well play a role in selling art. The question is, did she 'roleplay' in order to boost her sells? If she did, I don't hold it against her. It was good marketing on her part.

Many famous artists that I enjoy were known for behaving in ways that did not reflect their personal life when in the public eye.

I found it interesting that the well-known artists at the exhibit did not sell. I feel that much of that had to do with the fact that they failed to match her spirit. In a sense, her personality 'stole the show'. They were dull compared to her.

So, is there a direct link to the personality (or s created self-image) of the artist in regards to how well they sell their art?

Keep in mind that the media has created an image of what an artist is supposed to be. I've known of many aspiring artists who have taken drugs because they felt at the time that they had to in order to be artists and to be famous.

No, I'm not suggesting that this woman was on drugs. However, it would seem that some artists will go to great lengths to fit the 'image of the artist' that the media has made popular. Perhaps she was emulating that image? Is it wrong for me to suggest it?

The art is not the only thing critiqued during an exhibit. The artist is observed as well.

Robert said...

I think in the current art world image has taken on a very important roll, but I would not say it is just as important. The work has to stand on its own or it won't stand the test of time. Most patrons of major museums don't know the biographies of every artist represented yet they will still feel an emotional draw to certain works. As for the woman in the red dress, it's hard to say since I wasn't actually there. From past experiences when you start to draw people in you get a rush and talking about your work just increases that energy. I have also seen that display of energy change drastically in myself. I think that has a lot to do with the environment. when you are talking about your passion you lose yourself in the moment. When that moment is passed you don't necessarily lose the high but you become self aware. If she was acting in my opinion that's a lie and her art may be just as big a lie, because I do think an artists persona and his or her work go hand in hand.

Balhatain said...

Robert,

Thanks for your comment. I think you hit the nail on the head with your insight.

I can give an example of an artist who has lived a lie. Thomas Kinkade.

Mr. Kinkade has marketed himself as a Christian artist... the self proclaimed, 'Painter of Light'. (His work targets devout evangelical Christians). However, his business practice and interpersonal behavior does not reflect his religious views. So, I suppose this makes the and his art both a huge lie.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Kinkade

"Kinkade also is alleged by former colleagues, employees, and even collectors of his work to have a long history of cursing and heckling other artists and performers, and is alleged to have openly groped a woman's breasts at a South Bend, Indiana sales event. He also is rumored to have a proclivity for "ritual territory marking" through urination[9]. Kinkade responded to the Times' allegations with an apology[10], attributing his misconduct to a period of stress in his life."

A lie is a lie. However, as I write this I remember that the definition of artist includes people who are skilled at trickery. Perhaps a painter can be a liar and still be a fine artist... even if his paintings do not tell the truth about who he is or what he believes in.

Does art have to have an inner meaning or connection to the artist who created it in order to be considered art by other?

Robert said...

Balhatain,

Does art have to have an inner meaning or connection to the artist who created it in order to be considered art by other?

No, Yes, No, I mean... That's about the extent of it. For my own work there is a connection, for others work I have a personal connection, for the piece of news paper that the ink was smeared that I have hanging on the was I have a connection.

Julian Black said...

Having exhibited in group shows, and having sold work on the craft-fair circuit, I can say from experience that selling yourself as a creative person really does help sell your work. In fact, I would say it is crucial.

I saw this especially at craft shows, where I observed many of the same vendors at different venues over several years. Two examples:

There was one woman who painted vibrant, vivid watercolors of sassy women. She sold cards, t-shirts, and prints of her work, as well as originals. Her work was appealing, but she hid at the back of her booth, dressed in sloppy t-shirts (not even her own!) and jeans, and barely acknowledged people who stopped to look at her work. Looking at her, you'd never guess she was the artist. I had a booth across from her at one show, and noticed that lots of people stopped to admire her work. But since she couldn't engage any of her customers--and made herself practically invisible to them--a lot of those potential buyers kept moving. When she told me what her sales were for one "good" show, I was shocked; they were less than half of mine, despite the fact that my work didn't have the same broad appeal hers did and I didn't offer lower-priced impulse-buy items. She also had heavy losses due to shoplifting.

Contrast her with a woman who made beaded jewelry. The bead lady sat near the front of her booth, dressed in colorful clothes that complemented the style of her jewelry, and she also wore her own jewelry. She greeted everyone who paused at her booth, including dogs and small children. She talked about her jewelry, and where she got her ideas, pointed out unusual and antique beads, and made it clear that she also did custom work. She encouraged people to try pieces on, and would get up and help customers choose the right pieces. She would spend the entire day chatting and laughing and drawing people in with the force of her personality, and was known for being "a real character." She sold tons of jewelry, including some very expensive pieces, and since she was constantly engaging the people at her booth, she had only minor losses due to theft.

The bead lady cultivated a gregarious, somewhat outrageous persona in order to sell her work. In real life, she was still engaging and funny, but in a much quieter way. She also wore much more subdued clothing, saving her wilder outfits for shows.

She openly admitted that she was selling herself as a personality along with her jewelry, and her rationale was that most people are fascinated by artists, and wish they could live bold, free, creative lives. Most people are conformists, and many of them long to break out and do something outrageous--but they're willing to settle for buying a handmade piece of jewelry from a wild and crazy artist. They are, in a sense, buying a piece of that outrageousness for themselves.

And damn if she isn't right. I learned a lot from her, and ended up developing my own artist-persona. I stopped wearing my usual all-black, and began wearing dramatic, unusual clothes in colors that harmonized with my paintings and display. I dyed my hair a brighter red, and wore bigger, bolder jewelry. In effect, I became a living extension of my work. I made myself memorable, and made it possible for people to see where the art had come from.

I also quit sitting off to the side in my booth, and started standing out front. I made eye contact with people, and talked to anyone who stopped to look at my art. And it worked. My sales rose dramatically.

So much of advertising today is focused on lifestyles--clothing, cars, and other common objects are sold by fitting them into stories about an ideal life. Buy this car, and you can experience success. Buy this kitchen appliance, and you will not only be a more creative cook, but you will also show off your good taste and appreciation for design. Buy this wicker chair, and your living room will have the feel of the seaside vacation home you can never afford.

Art, like any other object, has to have value for the buyer beyond the object itself. Yes, people do buy art simply because it's pretty, without knowing anything about the artist, but they usually don't pay very much for it or hold it in very high regard. But to get people to buy original art, and be willing to pay a good price for it, there have to be intangible qualities attached. The art has to not only be visually pleasing, but it also has to click with the buyer's fantasies about status and success. It also has to tap into their dreams of a different world and a different way of life. Many people long to do something creative, to stand out from the crowd, to be more confident, to be the center of attention. Many people would like to be able to dress and act as they please, unafraid of other people's opinions. By playing a public role that embodies these qualities, an artist can become a magnetic presence, fascinating people and drawing them in. It can make them look at your work with a different eye, and tip the balance between simply liking your art and wanting to own it.

That public persona need not be fake, either. My artist-persona is simply an amplified, more dramatic version of my everyday self. The woman in the red dress you described above, however, seems to be creating a new "crazy-artist" persona from whole cloth. While it works to sell her paintings, that kind of performance must be exhausting. It is possible to present a larger-than-life persona without also coming across as mentally ill.

The other artists stood around as if they were bored or angry. A few of them ate snacks while discussing studio space and the price of materials.

In other words, they might as well not have bothered showing up.

I think every artist alive likes to think that his or her art will sell strictly on its own merits, and that buyers will need no prompting in order to fall in love with it. There seems to be something about the artistic temperament that recoils at the thought of having to actively sell one's work, as if it were soap or cans of tuna. It took me years to get over that, much less decide that the performance aspects of selling art can actually be fun.

Balhatain said...

Julian,

Thanks for your insight.

You are correct. For example, a car dealer never sold a car by just standing around.

That is not to say that we, as artist, should sell 'lemon' pieces of art. We just need to make sure that we interact with people with they view our 'line of goods'.

It shocks me how some artists will call others 'sell outs' when they actively try to sell work. The way I see it, if you exhibit you are striving for a sell. True, one person may be more out for a sell than another, but that just may be good business practice. Some people are just hypocrits.

Corps have a 'company image'. Thus, artists need a 'company image'. They are their own company, so to speak. If they can't sell their own work... who can?

qi peng said...

Actually if you are as brilliant as Trisha Donnelly, you could ride into your first solo's opening on white horse, say a message of surrender, and then ride back out.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0268/is_10_40/ai_87453043/

Casey Kaplan must had a total blast with Donnelly's coup d'etat.