Here on Kauai there are a lot of people with “Tommy” written on their clothing. When you think of “branding,” names like Coke, Nike and Marlborough also come to mind. A long way from the world of art. Art has integrity, uniqueness, we like to think. It’s perhaps surprising that people would walk around advertising Tommy Hilfiger — the guy that actually took their money for the duds. Then again, we artists do something similar:
The minute you put your first work of art on somebody’s wall, you’re starting to brand. “Joe Bloggs” it says down there in the corner. Others see the brand and say, “We need to get a Bloggs too, dear.” Later, works will be referred to as “Early Bloggs,” or even “School of Bloggs.” But more than that, like Nike’s “Just do it,” and “swoosh” logo, it’s not only the product, it’s the image that we’re buying. It’s a lifestyle choice or a statement of persona. I know there are lots of artists that don’t even want to think about this — but when you put your stuff out there you are making a branding choice and collecting sympathetic collectors. We can all think of artists whose work is cozy, edgy, cutesy, peaceful, powerful, childlike, shocking, controversial, bland, anti-social, sensitive, safe, liberated, conservative — you name it. Next time you’re looking at some work, yours or others, look for the underlying spirit, the agenda, the message.
Our profession is distinct. For the most part we build our brand one work at a time. Each work is unique because we are unique. Some of us may make a lifetime of issuing many brands, but that in itself becomes our brand. Our lifestyle, our attitudes and preoccupations put the spin to our brands. The fruits of our efforts find walls, are honoured, respected, talked about and enjoyed because of the connections they make. By happenstance or by calculation, while we labor in our individual solitudes, we build our own brands.
PS: “The Buddha said, ‘Monk, you and you alone are your refuge. You and you alone are your pathway.’” (Buddhist saying)
Esoterica: “No Logo” by Naomi Klein discusses the growing pervasiveness and social consequences of big brands and the big bucks that are invested to make us think we need them. It seems that we artists are in a position to frustrate the McDonaldization of our small planet. Pass the pupus.
This letter was originally published as “Your own brand” on January 29, 2002.