Is Good Art About Hype or Talent?
Hello, Dr. Maisel, I wonder if it’s possible to make it on talent alone or is hyping your art three-quarters of the battle? You know which answer I hope to hear! But I fear that the real answer is, hyping your art is essential. Is it? Lydia L., New York City
Thank you, Lydia:
Let me give a slightly tongue-in-cheek answer to a very serious and important question, as a little humor may help the medicine go down more easily.
Is there a gene for selling? If there is, Liberace had it. The music he played was everyday music that any good pianist could have played, but only one in a million good pianists would have made his fortune from it. The music mattered but the show mattered more. Liberace explained, “I leave out the notes my listeners aren’t interested in.” The music was a means to an end—the end being full houses, fame and fortune. The package of costume, candelabra, fireworks, camp, and embracing ritual mattered more than the music. If you are like me, you want the thing to sell itself. In my case, I want a book to speak to the editor who reads it and hopefully publishes it. In your case, if you are a painter, say, you want a painting to speak to a viewer who looks at it and hopefully buys it. If naïve means pure of heart, rather than foolish, we are blissfully naïve. But, sad to say, naïve also can mean foolish. I am not that foolish and I have learned that I can only sell a book to an editor by spending page after page in the accompanying book proposal explaining what I’m prepared to do to market the book—that is, how I am going to be Liberace.
What are the equivalent tasks for a painter? If the thing is unlikely to sell itself, how will you sell it? Let’s be whimsical for a moment and consider how buzz is created. A new club creates buzz by telling the bouncers to stop even celebrities from entering, making getting in a trial and an event and creating two categories of people, the select who get to enter and the commoners who remain huddled outside. What if, instead of throwing open the door to your studio, you only let certain people enter, based, say, on whether they had printed out an online ticket beforehand? The second you say, “Sorry, you needed a ticket to get in,” won’t people just die to gain entry to your studio?
How is a mutual fund sold? Not according to what companies the fund invests in but according to its rate of return. If it made 80% last year, people must have it. So you may want to make signs for your studio, signs at least as large as your paintings that announce that art appreciates beautifully—better than virtually anything else. Can’t you just see those signs posted everywhere in your studio? “Van Gogh appreciated 7000% from 1989 to 2010!” “Unknown painters who suddenly became known saw their painting prices skyrocket 800% in ONE YEAR!” (By the way, I am making up those numbers—don’t quote me.)