So it seems terribly mercenary to sit there and break down a successful artistic practice into a formula for success with a click-baity title. Artists are supposed to be above the machinations of the soulless corporations: lofty and untainted and set apart from the rest of society and it's greedy ulterior motives. But training young artists to be cloudcuckooland-ers where the rules of marketing either don't apply or are some hazy unthought of notion is dangerous. The starving artist is romanticized in film, but sad in reality. As are the scores of 20-something BFA/MFA burnouts that finally give up art to pursue a real career. Because we don't treat art like an actual, viable career. It's a passion, a following, a release, a calling with a class on the boring business stuff tacked on the side. But the art I create is only a small fraction of what people are investing in when they buy my piece. It's why an authentic Michelangelo is worth ten times that of a skilled forger. It's the brand: the cult of the personality.
Everything I throw out into the world through letters, social media, images, websites, etc. is building my brand, whether I am intentional about it or not. The power to control how I am perceived is available through these tools- if I know how to be effective. To create a consistent package that people can invest in. That's not what I expected to have to do when I first got into art. But what if there was a way to cut through all the crap and create a method that not only made it easier for people to grasp what I am trying to do, but also had the potential to make my approach to my artistic practice more efficient? I'm on board to take a stab at it! First:
A line you can pitch as a unique, instantly recognizable look
I know a Martha Grover piece when I see it. Or a Jeff Campana or Katharine Morling. Once in an interview, I asked if my committee preferred my portfolio to display the full capabilities of my range or to demonstrate my ability to follow a consistent thread of development. The answer, as I have heard many times since, was in favor of the latter. Choosing a consistent style to be known by does not mean I cannot develop other lines concurrently or that I am pinned down forever without the ability to develop and mature. But successful artists realize the importance of making deliberate choices about what work they put out and what they do not to pursue/emphasize.
A technique that can be associated with that look
The workshop circuit is a great part of the artistic experience: providing opportunities to network, share skills, earn a living, build experience and generate ideas. Being open to a workshop may not necessarily mean you do something that no one else or a very few people do, though it certainly can. It could also mean you do a technique incredibly well- as with Julia Galloway and mishima. As her bodies of work develop and evolve, the mishima technique crops up over and over again to the point where some approaches have become synonymous with her name. Developing a consistent approach to formation or construction or surface opens doors to opportunities to share your knowledge with other people and for them to associate those techniques with your name.
A personal narrative people can see in your work
When I work with another ceramic artist, I try to get a mug from them. This object embodies our relationship- when I use it, I am reminded of that person. I want my pots to take some of the essence of my personality and convey it to the user. Whether it is the brilliant madness brimming from the work of George Ohr, the repressed sensuality of Kristen Kieffer, or the nostalgic playfulness of Brett Kern- you can feel their personalities bubbling through.
A theme that translates to the academic and the everyman
In the vein of number 3, this aspect focuses more on the concept behind the piece. If the personal narrative connects the maker to the pot, then the theme connects the pot to the audience. What makes the work matter? Using Kristen Kieffer again- her themes center on how function and beauty are married together in utilitarian forms. In the more academic sense, this speaks to the complications when the nostalgia for the beauty of the past mixes with an appreciation for modern demands for utility. More straightforwardly: It also reflects on the act of using beauty to transform everyday life. The kernel of the theme remains intact, but can be expanded upon to suit different audiences and applications.
Inspiration for others. Your give-back to the community.
We may not all have Roberto Lugo's story, but we can all have his passion. We each have our own unique struggles and talents- our own opportunities to impact and change the world around us. When someone is investing in your work or teaching or residency, they are also investing in you. What is it that you are offering? Is it a mere exchange of money for goods or services? Or can they see in you the seed of a better tomorrow? How will this world be better because you are in it making your art?
Many of these questions I asked myself during the writing of numerous statements and bios. Some I had not considered before. But the kicker, I think, is to reverse the cycle of dragging and expanding. To condense the answers upon answers we drag out to the essence. That is why I want to shoot to answer these with one sentence and/or image. Because I can easily expand when someone asks me to. But what a challenge to know myself and my work so well I could point you in the right direction in a sentence. And, as twitter knows, sometimes a sentence is all we get.