Should You Disguise Your Artistic Identity to Sell Art?
Hello, Dr. Maisel, I’ve been wondering about the following question. Is it smarter to “be myself” when I present myself in the art marketplace (and I’m not so sure that “me” is either attractive or wanted) or should I try to adopt some persona and “be somebody” the marketplace wants (if I could figure out who that might be)? I’m guessing the standard answer is “be yourself” — but I wonder if that is really all that savvy? – Frank R., Boulder, Colorado
Thanks, Frank!the art marketplace? Think of the elementary school teacher who would love to smile but who has learned that to maintain order in her classroom she must adopt a certain stern attitude until Christmas. She would love to smile; but she knows better. Like the elementary school teacher, do you have good reasons to adopt a public persona that is different from your everyday or studio persona?
Quite possibly you do. There are two ways to think about your public persona. One is that adopting a public persona is a way to practice “doing better” in public than you typically do in private. You might craft a public persona that allows you to exhibit more confidence than you actually feel, be clear when in your own mind you feel fuzzy, ask pointed questions that you might let slip if you were only having a conversation with yourself, and so on. In this sense your public persona reflects the changes that you would like to make to your personality: you would actually like to be this more assertive, clearer person.
On the other hand, maybe you are happy with who you are but recognize that your irony does not play well in public, that your frankness tends to be received as brusqueness, and that the qualities you take pride in have to be modulated or moderated in a public setting. In that case, you can create a strategic public persona that matches “what the world wants” and that allows you to interact effectively with gallery owners, customers, collectors, framers, media representatives, and the other people with whom you operate. In the first instance you are using your public persona both strategically and also to improve yourself; in the second instance, improvement may not be a goal but strategic self-presentation certainly is.
If you are not paying attention to the difference between what is required of you in public and what you can permit yourself in private, you are likely to present yourself ineffectively in the marketplace. Indeed, these dynamics are often played out right in an artist’s “artist statement.” Many artist statements are abrupt and downright rude, demanding that if the viewer doesn’t “get” the painting she should immediately take herself to a remedial “What is art?” class. The artist’s resentments, disappointments, and grandiosity spill right out into his statement, making for a missive that the artist would call frank but that a viewer knows is combative and defensive.