People often ask me what it takes to be noticed. One recent email asked if animal flesh hanging off a canvas was okay in a series against animal cruelty. Another writer told me she was making her canvases poke out at people, giving a three-dimensional feature when you looked down a gallery wall.
“Go for it,” I answered privately to both of them, but in my heart I had misgivings.
One of my early dealers once said to me, “Bob, you need a gimmick.” At the time, his gallery was filled with bulging, growling, brightly-coloured Styrofoam canines that sold just as poorly as my dogs. The gallery soon went poof, and at last report the Styro-guy was driving a truck for FedEx.
Goodness knows, if you have enough learned people agreeing on a gimmick’s lack of gimmickry, maybe it’s not a gimmick.
On the flip side of the omelette, many artists work in standard formats, standard sizes and standard paint. Their work may abdicate in-your-face differentness for some other way of getting noticed. It may be simply taking aim at that illusive thing called quality. And like a quality eye surgeon, for example, their work may take considerable study, time, and perhaps a deft touch. These artists live in the hope that folks may see the difference.
One lady wrote to say she was now making all her work with fugitive materials to emphasize the transient nature of life on earth. Jams, jellies, and peanut butter (without preservatives) were among her media. “Excellent, I said, “Especially if the world’s going to end in the next few weeks.” I mentioned this because another subscriber had just written to say it is.
“I dreamed I needed to make paintings of irregular shape and thickness,” wrote another. “While they defy framers and are difficult to get into homes and galleries, they are certainly noticed. The idea came from my subconscious. What do you think?”
“Great!” I said. I was running out of things to say. Then I tossed her a quote by composer Arnold Schöenberg, no slouch when it came to dragging interesting stuff up from his subconscious: “There are many tunes still to be written in the Key of C.”
PS: “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” (Eric Hoffer)
Esoterica: Twenty years before Sigmund Freud published his ideas on the subconscious mind, the Boston (USA) poet, professor, inventor and medical doctor Oliver Wendell Holmes gave a lecture at Harvard entitled, “Mechanism in Thought and Morals.” Widely published in its time, Holmes described what he called, “the underground workshop of thought.” Holmes noted the underground workshop pushed up both useful and useless ideas. The job of the above-ground mind was to filter the stuff that came up from downstairs. He thought the upper mind was also a gift and should be regularly engaged. But he was an old-fashioned guy.
The gimmick of big
by Dallyn Zundel, Orem, UT, USA
When I was a student at Art Center in 1991, I remember hearing a teacher tell us (tongue in cheek) that if we can’t do it well then we should at least do it big! Now that I am a teacher I understand the concept of this idea. Don’t rely on gimmicks, tricks or trends. Get good at what you do and keep getting better. A lot of hard work and time commitment will go a long way!
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The problem of finding buyers
by Marat, Russia
The fine art of getting noticed. NOT A BAD SLOGAN! But what painter say about his own art it’s a bad!? Everybody think that his pictures is fine and have a chance for buy or even made a mark in history. When this happen and who this will? I think on this question is to hard to answer. Maybe if some painter draw something what not drew not one before him and if his drawing fine and best off all in some theme? Some pictures maybe for brain and need understanding. They are drawn for elected, for that who their will understand. But as much such people which will understand and will want to buy? I met many people who like my pictures but nobody of them not to bought. They do not collect pictures. Where I can find the people who will understand and will buy the pictures? I must solve two problems wanting to find buyer. It will be more simply for me to draw usual pictures and sell them then sells pictures who need understanding. But I hope that in some day I will meet some men who will help me to do this.
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It’s all about marketing
by Pixie Glore, Spain
I’ve just joined an “Art Salon” on marketing your art. It is modeled after the book I’d rather be in my Studio. It seems to me that the best advice is the time honored practice of old fashioned marketing, of course along with the new technology — consistent “ad” campaign of business cards, brochures, postcards etc. She suggests putting at least 50% of your time into marketing — whew — that’s a lot for me! Setting marketing goals at every meeting, we hold ourselves accountable. Along with that there is mutual sharing of ideas, and much support and encouragement from the members. No one is talking “gimmicks” that will surely fade or get lost amongst the other one zillion other gimmicks.
Honesty is always best
by Nikki Coulombe, Lewisville, TX, USA
Exhibiting Art is a highly competitive field, so clever marketing, extra efforts and guile are all part of a successful career, but it’s not just a superficial picture (or other Art form) that’s on display when we reveal our work publicly. If I am a painter, however I think I can pretend integrity, I cannot. Reflected in every detail from the foundational frame underneath to thumbprints on the Plexiglas, it is the artist who is really on exhibit. We are always vulnerable, but quality does not go unnoticed. “Real” Art, like the stuff in history books, whether primitive or Fine – is the excellence that only humans can offer.
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What do you think of your art?
by Mike Fenton, Parsippany, NJ, USA
Having spent a good deal of my life trying to please others, trying to be unique enough to be appreciated in some positive way, I’ve concluded this is a Don Quixote mission. When I began painting seriously, after a career in the corporate world, I found I was doing the same thing all over again. As a counselor I used to tell folks, “If you keep doing what you always did, you’ll get what you always got.” So, I decided to paint to please myself.
My rationale was simple. Art is about the artist and his/her craft, and not about getting noticed. If you want to get noticed, go into show business. The worst case scenario is that you might not sell or be noticed but you will have been honest with yourself. I found that since I made this decision my work is better, and sell about the same, but I am much happier about me and my work. So, what I think of your art is of no consequence. What do you think of your art?
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by Natalie Italiano, Philadelphia, PA, USA
I recently had the opportunity to ask a question to a Zen teacher, and I asked for guidance in dealing with all the ego-related issues that surround art-making and which get in the way, such as worrying about what others might think, and worrying about whether the work will sell. While I recognize that as we are learning it is important to rely on the opinions of others who have more advanced skills than our own, and that a market for our work is a necessary thing if we have to pay the bills, these worries can get in the way and be suffocating, creating a climate of fear, which is the antithesis to the creative process.
His response was, “Focus on your inspiration, not on your desires”……..Wow. That makes so much sense to me. So if you have spent adequate time studying and developing your skills under the guidance of experienced teachers, and Styrofoam is what is in your soul, go for it. But whatever you create, be authentic. Your authenticity is what will get you noticed, not the wishing for it.
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Gadgets and gimmicks
by Robin Shillcock, Groningen, Netherlands
For an artist, getting noticed is primordial. You need to stand out one way or the other. As a beginning wildlife artist I painted corvids like rooks, crows and ravens; I knew them intimately because I raised them as orphan babies and felt comfortable depicting them. There not being popular birds in the wildlife art world helped me stand out. That was thirty years ago. My crows returned to the wild and hopefully produced babies of their own, I moved on to other things. If not, my crow paintings would have been seen as a gimmick, which they weren’t.
To stand out there are a few givens, even in times of change (which is always where art is concerned), first of all: QUALITY. There’s no substitute whatsoever for quality in the handling of your materials and skills. Second: ORIGINALITY. What is your angle? Is it a fresh approach to the subject at hand? It means you have to be aware of what others are doing in your field. Third: CONTINUITY. You show you are serious about your art by doggedly going on, and on, and on.
All these help to put you down as an artist of firm stature but, alas, there are no guarantees! I know fine artists who are producing work that seems out of place in our times. Some, like Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum, draw worldwide attention, their paintings sell for prices into five digits. Others sink into their private Slough of Despond.
The marketplace teems with gadgets and gimmicks, and gives us artists a good example of how it works: people soon tire of the trick, and look for new highs. In art gimmicks often work, too. For a while at least. There’s the example of “art” produced by a completely talentless person who got raving reviews. Another example: In my hometown a young woman had a triangle of skin surgically removed from her belly, and sewed a realistic pistol from her own flesh. It was meant as an object of art and a statement against war, and she made it on to the front page of national newspapers. I haven’t heard about her since. No doubt she is brooding on a new trick.
As a painter I’m a traditional, incorrigible realist, but I sometimes try for new ways of presenting work — for my own pleasure and perhaps to raise an eyebrow or two. It could be a different-shaped panel, an unexpected addition like a painted label or bit of gold leaf, or a used box for a frame. It all depends on the painting, on what I want to emphasize. So I say, do what you must, and live with the consequences!
Four winning factors
by Lin Stepp, Knoxville, TN, USA
From my experience, the factors it takes to be noticed are (1) good work, (2) good marketing, (3) a unique stamp, and (4) a good attitude.
GOOD WORK — The bottom line is — no matter what method you use to gain notice, to get your work out before the public, or to promote yourself through in-person contacts or social media … eventually someone will interface directly with your art. They will bring home your painting, your photography, or — in my case — your latest book. If they regret their purchase — tire of your work hanging on their wall, don’t like your art or your story the more time they spend with it — it is unlikely you’ll be “noticed” again. Your work needs to be excellent so it won’t disappoint.
GOOD MARKETING — It is critical — in whatever art work you work in — to find and build your fan base. You have to find ways to get out in the public — through shows, events, speaking engagements to clubs and organizations, through new avenues of social networking, and through old tried-and-true methods of door-to-door work appropriate to your media. You need nice brochures, business cards — introductory pieces — and you need a good website to acquaint people with you and your products.
A UNIQUE STAMP — This basically means that you have found your style and voice so your work is identifiable. It speaks of you — your uniqueness — of who you are and how you work. Perhaps your work reflects a setting or a particular style or includes trademark elements that make your art unique to you. In some way, your ongoing work should have recognizable, distinctive characteristics that form a link to you — and who you are — to the viewer.
A GOOD ATTITUDE — Finally, as you — and your art — get out and about in the world, it helps if the artist, as well as the art are “likable.” Research has shown consistently that people are more likely to buy your work if they like you. Sales persons with optimistic, positive attitudes sell more than those with pessimistic, negative attitudes. Happy, friendly, outgoing people are sought out more than unhappy, grumpy, complaining people. When you cultivate a good attitude that draws people to you — they’ll also be more likely to take a look at your art.
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by Brian O’Neill, Bellingham, WA, USA
My medium is ceramics, and I’ve been at it for over thirty years. Nine years ago I decided to make it my full time career, and have been slowly but surely growing a list of galleries that carry my work.
I am one of those artists that, as you say, “lives in the hope that folks will see the difference” between quality and something “other.” I have received much validation of my work, and won an award or two. All to the good, lovely for the ego, but increasingly frustrating if you’re attempting to make a living wage, and the dollars are not as forthcoming as they need to be. This is when the lure of “blowing the doors off” and making a radical departure from one’s known path is tempting. Not a bad thing to do, if for the right reasons.
So I have some empathy for the desire to find a gimmick in lieu of an evolved personal look, if the motivation is financial. In an attempt to boost sales, I am creating a line of tiles that will be sold online, and through other venues than my sculptural work. Not unlike producing prints from your original paintings. Whether this becomes a steady “bread and butter” thing remains to be seen, as I’m not interested in becoming a factory producing volume.
by Ron Gang, Kibbutz Urim, Israel
To gimmick or not to gimmick — that is the question. The contemporary landscape artists that I see in the museums here have an added element, that without it I believe they would not be where they are. There are clear political or social commentaries read in the works. Curators here seem to believe that art has to make a social statement in order to be “relevant.” That leaves me holding the bag as it were. The statement I want to make is “love nature” or “live the beauty around you.” So I just keep on keeping on aspiring that each new work will be a little better than the previous one.
I just recently completed a five-canvas panorama, 4.4 metres long in total, painted piece by piece en plein air. Will the “gimmick” of a larger work get more attention? It’s a challenge doing something more ambitious and it adds excitement to working. Yet it is still me, doing what I do and believe in, painting and researching my beloved environs — just trying to do some good painting.
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Today’s gimmick — tomorrow’s classic?
by Toni Ciserella, Marysvale, UT, USA
Some people act outrageously to get attention and as I have often pointed out to my daughter, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease but it’s also the first to get replaced.” Nothing is worth the attention but that which is not seeking it. Yes, in-your-face, gimmicky, outrageous fads might draw attention to themselves and might even be written up by art critics as being cutting edge… but they still must be based on sound truths whether we know that truth or not.
And truth be told, what was considered outrageous in its time either becomes a classic or brought out and put on parade to humiliate those of us who were foolish enough to buy into it.
Infinity With Ring and Shadow
Transfer print on Fabriano 8 x 8 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Carol Monier of Buenos Aires, Argentina, who wrote, “Gimmicks are for lazy people, nothing will ever replace hard work and long hours in front of the easel. Some of them get away with it, like Botero and his fat people. I am not saying that he does not work hard but a great painter like him could surely do better things. But when you see that the Moma hangs canvases bearing used tampons and condoms, you weep.”
And also George Forder of Pietermaritzburg, KZN, South Africa, who wrote, “As a writer I love my subconscious. But whilst it does throw up stuff that’s art, it also has a habit of just throwing up stuff. Sorting out what is creative and what is “personal issues” seems to be important. I’ve noticed some of my colleagues latch onto the weird stuff, in the way a drowner latches onto driftwood. Like driftwood, the stuff is often temporary.”
And also Asheley Elizabeth who wrote, “I think it’s fantastic to not notice ‘the people’ noticing because you’re too busy creating!”
Enjoy the past comments below for The fine art of getting noticed…