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Is Good Art About Hype or Talent?

Is Good Art About Hype or Talent?

Eric Maisel

How are new cola drinks or sports drinks sold? In part, via free samples handed out at busy street corners. Why not go to the busiest corner of your town and hand passersby small painted canvas swatches, maybe an inch square, torn for effect, as you announce, “If you want the whole canvas, come to 123 Elm Street on Sunday at 4 p.m.!”? The activity of handing out torn swatches is known in the advertising business as a stunt and there are professionals who make excellent money doing nothing but dreaming up stunts for companies and for individuals. Do you have a stunt in you?—or, even better, one stunt after another? Ah, and don’t overlook “free.” Apparently people will buy anything as long as some part of the interaction is “free” to them. They may not buy a shirt at $80 but they will buy the same shirt at $160 if the second one is free. Therefore you might think about doubling the price of your paintings but throwing in a second one for free. “Buy one, get one free!” seems to be coded at the same genetic depth as “tiger approaching!” and “yum, chocolate!” The variations on this theme are infinite: one-cent sales, half-off sales, half-off after six p.m. sales, 35% off all the blue paintings sales, and the following lovely marriage of several marketing ideas, “Free financing!”

An entourage also helps. Where would Warhol have been without his posse? What about walking down the street surrounded by your most attractive friends and making one little scene after another—fifteen people stopping to buy a newspaper, fifteen people hopping a single cab, fifteen people sharing one sandwich—until the press is obliged to arrive and murmur, “Who are you and what are you doing?” Since celebrity-hood is generally about nothing more than this, why not always leave home with bodyguards, sycophants, and friends in costume? I bet that within one week you will become the most famous, most recognized, and most coveted person in your neighborhood.

Of course, these are all half-joking suggestions. But how much of it is a joke and how much of it is dead seriousness? If your intention is to sell as well as to paint, what does that mean, imply, and require? Are you or aren’t you obliged to dream up advertising campaigns, sales events, stunts, and self-promotions? And if your fervid hope is to avoid all of this, what will take its place? I know what you want to say: just the goodness of the work. Your prayer is that the work will speak for itself and sell itself. I am entirely with you on that. But I fear that somewhere Liberace is smiling his patented million-dollar smile and slipping on his best ermine housecoat.

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