The fine art of getting noticed

Dear Artist, 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.” Best regards, Robert 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  

“Cowboy Montage”
original painting
by Dallyn Zundel

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!     There is 1 comment for The gimmick of big by Dallyn Zundel

From: Ken Flitton — Jan 29, 2010

Super Painting!!

  The problem of finding buyers by Marat, Russia  

mixed media
by Marat

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. There are 6 comments for The problem of finding buyers by Marat
From: Anonymous — Jan 28, 2010

Dear Marat, I could never agree more! Seems good about color, worlds within worlds, no? Just to do not the past? Follow heart buyer will come. Best of luck to you. Stella

From: Anonymous — Jan 29, 2010

Marat, stick to painting; writing isn’t your forte!

From: Ken Flitton — Jan 29, 2010

What a remark from “Anonymous!” How good is your Russian?

From: sharon cory — Jan 29, 2010

It’s not easy to sell the usual, either. It’s available everywhere and in every format. At least if you paint the work that you’ve put your brain and your heart into, you’ll create a legacy that you can be proud of.Somebody will notice someday.

From: Loretta — Jan 29, 2010

Nice sentiment. But what if you have to pay the bills too? If the exquisite and esoteric sells, then fine, but it isn’t the bulk of what sells for me. It’s the conservative which I can sell in my market. Here’s a quote from Vincent Miller the publisher of International Artist: “with a choice to be happy (by painting) and wealthy too (by selling) why not choose a path that gives both and occasionally paint subjects that sell?” Love your work, Marat! Keep on!

From: Hiria Ratahi — Apr 17, 2010

Hello Marat I love your painting, yes! people love to admire your paintings and they don’t buy, but for me you have raised their awareness and appreciation of artwork. Your work has made an impression on their life for that moment……………the day will come when buyers will be after your work. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  It’s all about marketing by Pixie Glore, Spain  

“Warrior Wo”
watercolour painting
by Pixie Glore

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  

“A Portrait of Alzheimers – A Heart Filled to the Brim”
mixed media
by Nikki Coulombe

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. There are 7 comments for Honesty is always best by Nikki Coulombe
From: Robert Hutchison, Oklahoma — Jan 28, 2010

Nikki, your letter is one of philosophy, and I can neither affirm nor deny the value or accuracy what you have said. However, I can vigorously attest to the powerful effect that your picture had on me. It is well done, yes, but it also gave me immediately a visceral jolt which I still feel in my belly as I write this; never before have I seen any image which expresses so poignantly the lonely tragedy of Alzheimer’s.

From: paul deMarrais — Jan 29, 2010

excellent painting. I love how your subject has been moved over to the corner and looks away from the viewer. This is what happens to the mentally ill in our society. They sense their ‘differentness’ and move into isolation.

From: Darla — Jan 29, 2010

Paul — Perhaps I can add some insight about the isolation of the mentally ill. After many years, I went back to my home town to attend my father’s funeral. My aunts and uncles were very nice in what was surely a time of stress for them, too. I thought it might be time to start attending the yearly family reunion again. The next year, I went and took my 18 year old autistic daughter, whom they had been asking about, with me. I thought we had both become suddenly invisible! My own mother didn’t want to be seen with us. My brothers went out together every day and left us sitting at the house. When the mentally ill are no longer cute little children, they are no longer seen by society. The withdrawal becomes mutual.

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Jan 29, 2010

Nikki, I agree with what you are saying, and I also agree with Robert and Paul about the impact of your painting on me. It is stunning, both artisticly and emotionally. Thank you.

From: Anonymous — Jan 29, 2010

This kind of response is what Art is all about: purpose, awareness, attempting understanding and communication in the face of emotions, no matter how uncomfortable they may be; expression, empathy, Care. Thanks, I really appreciate reading your comments and the open interaction about this subject.

From: Anna — Jan 31, 2010

Wow Nikki! Congrats on so effectively communicating such an emotive subject! Very impressive. You have done what I admire most in art, “moving the soul” An elusive thing for many artists, myself included.

From: Nikki — Feb 02, 2010

Thanks for your feedback and critique of any kind. (the Anonymous comment above is mine also – I forgot to enter my name when posting)

  What do you think of your art? by Mike Fenton, Parsippany, NJ, USA  

“Dwelling Place of Spirits”
original painting
by Mike Fenton

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? There are 3 comments for What do you think of your art? by Mike Fenton
From: Lanie Frick — Jan 29, 2010

I agree with you Michael. When an artist truely takes your final question serious it can be life altering. So glad you posted your thoughts.

From: Jenny — Jan 29, 2010

Thank you for your post. I find it reassuring to say the least. I, however am reluctant to even call myself an artist. I like to ‘play’ with paint at least on paper for now. I recently turned 50 and decided that I had denied my passion for art for too long. I often wonder if I have any talent. My husband said something the other day that offered me another perspective. He asked me.”Do you enjoy painting what I do?:” To which I replied, “yes.” Then he said,”Well as long as you enjoy what you are doing isn’t that all that matters?” Simple enough approach, sometimes those are the best. Jenny

From: Andrew Baker — Jan 30, 2010

Love the painting.

  Be authentic by Natalie Italiano, Philadelphia, PA, USA  

“Lauren with Purple Drapery”
oil painting
by Natalie Italiano

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. There are 3 comments for Be authentic by Natalie Italiano
From: Nina Allen Freeman — Jan 29, 2010

your painting is wonderful!

From: elize — Jan 29, 2010

incredibly excellent in all ways….

From: sharon cory — Jan 29, 2010

Love the painting

  Gadgets and gimmicks by Robin Shillcock, Groningen, Netherlands  

“Dreamtime & Lapwing chick”
oil painting
by Robin Shillcock

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  

“Book cover”
original painting
by Lin Stepp

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. There is 1 comment for Four winning factors by Lin Stepp
From: Jan — Jan 29, 2010

I like your common sense approaches and agree wholeheartedly!

  Online gimmick by Brian O’Neill, Bellingham, WA, USA  

by Brian O’Neill

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.   Being yourself by Ron Gang, Kibbutz Urim, Israel  

“Laid-Back Trinity”
oil painting
by Ron Gang

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. There is 1 comment for Being yourself by Ron Gang
From: mesu — Jan 29, 2010

Ron, your landscapes always speak to me, love them. Can’t imagine that they’re not selling, they are wonderful paintings, wish you the best!

  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.   [fbcomments url=””]    woa  

Infinity With Ring and Shadow

Transfer print on Fabriano 8 x 8 inches by Iskra Johnson, Seattle, WA, USA

  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!”    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The fine art of getting noticed

From: Ron Unruh — Jan 25, 2010

If the world is ending in a few weeks, artists who hope to sell jam and jelly canvasses should hope that terrified believers in the imminent apocalypse are prospective buyers looking to hoard these foodstuffs in underground bunkers because unconvinced collectors will likely not hang the pantry contents on their walls. I will stick to the key of C for a while.

From: Richard Smith — Jan 25, 2010

I think you need to define gimmick. I just saw a terrific series of programs on the Impressionists and Monet, in his quest for color, painted the same subjects over and over again in different light conditions. I’m sure the Establishment of the day considered that some kind of gimmick but then today we would consider the formulamatic [I invented that word but you can use it] paintings of his day as being kitschy and gimmicky. I think it’s all a matter of honesty. If you come up with a new and clever way of seeing things and putting this in your art then that’s not gimmicky. But if you seek to contrive something for the sake of being noticed then that is being gimmicky. Is there a synonym for gimmicky? I had a good talk with my wife the other evening about this very problem in my own work. I come up with these great ideas about how to depict this, that or the other thing and then when I see others that have done exactly the same thing I think, what a load of crud. I have to agree with her when she says I over think things and try to come up with ways to please others. I spend too much time thinking about what to say than how I’m saying it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there’s a lot of important things out there that need to be said, but some of the greatest art hasn’t been about what’s been said, but how the artist said it. The artist hasn’t tried to be clever or create their work with some kind of hook to it, they just do it the way they need to. Picasso did still lifes, Rembrandt did amazing portraits and thousands of years ago some unknown did a horse, deep within a cave. They weren’t trying to be gimmicky, they just had their own way of doing things. One of my favorite examples is Jackson Pollack. Tossed paint on the canvass because that’s what he thought he should do. Ten thousand wanna be’s then tossed paint because they thought it was a cool gimmick. Pollack did something unique, others tried to copy. It’s been said lots of times, just do it your own way, and others will appreciate it.

From: Judith Harvey — Jan 25, 2010
From: Madeleine Kelly — Jan 26, 2010
From: Phyllis Bleau — Jan 26, 2010

I absolutely loved this column. So entertaining, but a little frightening to think how far painters might stray from actually developing their talent, all in the name of getting attention. It’s true that it takes longer to get noticed if you are working on your craft, but when you finally do garner some attention, it’s genuine admiration, not just breath-holding amazement, or worse, barely-contained revulsion. Thanks for another insightful piece!

From: Andrew van der Merwe — Jan 26, 2010

Quality schmolity. Originality always trumps quality. Some great African artists prove this point beautifully: Jackson Hlongwane and John Muafangejo, to mention two of my favourites. These artists had no formal training, no clue about art history, perspective and the other stuff you learn at art school. What they had was a fresh take, a passion, a mission, a relevance. I struggle to see the point of comparing quality and originality. Of course, quality is important where it comes to getting noticed, but only when the quality it is original, ie, when a new standard is being set. Eg: Michaelangelo. Issues of whether the original work is gimmicky or contrived or immature or just a flash in the pan, or whatever, are side issues. The bottom line is, if it has been done, it’s a has-been idea.

From: Susan Holland — Jan 26, 2010

It helps to have some age on you when you address this subject. And it helps to have lived with fine art on the wall all your life. One of the qualities of a piece of art that you love to live with for many years is its timelessness. Of course there are many who decorate their house every few years and throw out the stuff that has become unfashionable and buy new trendy stuff that is “different.” I suggest that if you want to get a gimmick, make it something about how you display your art rather than making it part of the painting (or other work) itself. A distinctive way of framing, for instance, or a signature way of fastening it to the wall, or even a unique signature in maybe a unique place. But just as the clothing of yesteryear (bellbottoms, pompadours, pants on the floor) gets old and comical fast so does gimmicky bling on paintings. Of course if you can make enough money in a three year stretch by making paintings out of peanut butter and jelly to pay your way for the rest of your life, you have every right to do so. But what will you do for an encore? And what do you do about the thrift shop that has your p & j paintings in the back room being sold for the frames? Is that the stuff you build a lasting reputation on? I think not.

From: Andrew van der Merwe — Jan 26, 2010

The point about gimmickry and sustainability is taken but I fail to see how it has anything to do with quality. One of my favourite pieces in life, has hung on the wall of a friend for at least 15 years and it never fails to delight me. It is a naive, poorly crafted, replica of a fictitious road sign, and was no doubt made at the roadside somewhere. It was supposed to say “gone fishing”, except that the artist was illiterate and didn’t know where to break the line, so it reads “gon efishing”. I never tire of it. (There is also something about the “efishing” which only a South African will appreciate). I don’t remember the name of the artist. I believe that subsequently the area has filled with other crafters imitating this artist and they do a brisk roadside trade. They don’t interest me as much.

From: Melissa B. Tubbs — Jan 26, 2010

From what I have seen, most artists who come up with a gimmick do it not only to get noticed but to get noticed more quickly than other artists. These gimmicks often do work — but for all the wrong reasons. Most viewers shake their heads (maybe chuckle) and move on as quickly as the gimmick was noticed. Also, gimmicks never really seem to actually have anything to do with the artist’s art. If an artist comes up with an original way of creating their art, that is a whole different story. Originality can get an artist noticed quickly but with longstanding results. I believe that quality is always “in.” Whatever an artist creates should be done to the very best of their ability. Quality ensures a timelessness to a work of art no matter the style of that art. I think that those who spend time coming up with gimmicks to make them a success would spend the same amount of time in honing their skills and abilities would see a better kind of success. I would rather be known for the quality and consistancy of my work than to be known for the gimmick I could come up with. This quote always makes me smile and keep on working: “It was by perserverance that the snail reached the ark.” No one ever said it’s supposed to be easy.

From: Andrew van der Merwe — Jan 26, 2010

My friend refreshed my memory. The artist was called Chicken Man. I’m sure he had a proper Zulu name, but that is how he liked to be known. There is another piece my friend has. The sign says “beware of vogging”, which is a mixture of English and Afrikaans (vog = fog) In the triangle above that panel there is a car on a steep incline (like I said, he was illiterate). This piece lived on their television and whenever PW Botha or some other Nat politician (Apartheid days) came on they’d all say “beware of vogging!” Frankly, people who make a big deal about the quality of the art, probably just don’t have that thing that really counts.

From: Dwight Williams — Jan 26, 2010

Andrew, Andrew, Andrew, you seem to fixate on folkart and that’s fine. It can be great stuff. BUT there is other stuff too.

From: Jan Kirkpatrick — Jan 26, 2010
From: Dorenda Crager Watson — Jan 26, 2010

I think you have to be incredibly careful if you strive to be known for a “gimmick” in your art. Is it something you truly love to do? Is it something that you can do forever if you become known for it? I think of actors that become famous for one role; some ride the wave forever and others succumb to the monotony of one note.

From: Arnold Finnegan — Jan 26, 2010

Hanging flesh off paintings, making them pointy, wonky formats — all so terribly dated, shopworn ideas.

From: Andrew van der Merwe — Jan 26, 2010

Gosh. Dwight. Are you actually patronising me?! Firstly, Jackson Hlongwane and John Muafengejo can hardly be classed as folk art. Neither can Chicken Man, because he was an original. Secondly, the slavish service that traditional folk art gives to quality shows how remote you are from getting my point. I am merely presenting these artists as examples because of the greatness of their art despite its quality by Western standards. In fact, folk art makes my point quite nicely and I dare say that any artist who pursues quality above all is in danger of positioning himself a little closer to crocheted baby bibs on the continuum between folk art and so called “high art.” Don’t get me wrong. I take quality very seriously. I am a calligrapher and I never stop pursuing quality in my letter forms. No matter how good I get, I am always trying to do better. I do a thing over and over until I get it right. But quality is a rainbow, and I like the way Chicken Man puts it in its place for me. A perfect, skilfully executed piece of art is not necessarily a live piece of art.

From: Suzette Fram — Jan 26, 2010

You have to do what you love. As an abstract painter, I use different methods of texturing the canvas which gives much interest to the final product. Is that a gimmick? If it is, too bad. I do what I love and if I am happy with the final result, then that’s all I care about. Is it quality? Who’s to say so. By whose standards are we measuring quality? It’s all completely subjective and we should be careful not to be too judgmental.

From: Jackie Knott — Jan 26, 2010

Hanging flesh off a canvas? And you actually told the artist “Go for it?!” Oh, my, Robert. Not to place too much responsibility on your status as a successful artist, but did stunts like that help you in your own career? I doubt it. Getting noticed is not the same as developing a following or being admired for works of excellence. Shock value is worth very little. Thereafter, you better have more substance to your work than that. Gallery schmuck may make us ooh and ah for its social commentary but few of those works survive the test of time. When the show is over those works usually end up in the basement. There is an immediacy in some art. It can be as topical as breaking news. But, the next week it is old news, especially when a hundred more artists pick up on the same gimmick. Influence can kill personal development of our art. We’ve all heard the story about Elvis making his first recording. He was asked, “Who do you sound like?” He answered, “No one.” Ah. His was not a gimmick – it was wonderful individuality wrapped in pure talent that forever changed music. Would that we all could paint in our own “Elvis” style. There will never be a substitute for quality in individual style.

From: Boxy — Jan 26, 2010

I would encourage readers to forget that quality is a charecteristic only of the best and that there is a place under the sun for everyone – and that quality wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t for junk and gimmicks to compare it with. If everyone can just forget all that and write from your own agenda point of view, this debate will be very entertaining. Thank you for dedicating your time to provide that entertainment! One needs some of that from time to time as a break for all this education provided by more insightful people.

From: Jim Millar, Kansas — Jan 26, 2010

Hookers get noticed.

From: Hetty Rieger — Jan 26, 2010

Funny how your letters are so timely…for the last few years of my life i really believe the visual arts are dead…not the performing arts…the visual…as i read your last letter, i thought of Rauchenberg and myself…when i first saw his work, i was an eager and pompous student who thought it was pure shit…(believing you have to know how to draw #1,must paint with oils and know the rules to break the rules…kind of like jazz…to improvise be-bop style)well, i’m now 69 years old and am totally doing a Rauchenberg…all the pretty pictures of oceans and landscapes and (I was going to write people but i love Lucien Freud, and the likes of Alice Neel and so many more)…all the beautiful photography…has been done over and over and over again…by the greats…everything has been said…so where am i going with this? i myself am painting my dreams…i use found objects, news paper clippings and finish by using every media in my studio…i love graffiti (Jean Michael Basquiat is one of my favorites)…i worked in the industry for 30 years as a scenic…so now i can do my own thing and since art (visual)is dead to me…i now paint my dreams not expecting anyone to love my work and want to buy it…but if looking at my work…seeing the humor…and somehow relating…that to me is payment enough…enough said…we’re all artists in this world (con artists that is)

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Jan 26, 2010

Hookers also regularly get arrested… …because of course… …sex still has an unbelievable amount of criminality attached to it. So my art needs big tits and should be sexually based? A lot of art has big tits and is sexually based. Hmmm… not mine. My being male and working in a medium that is still not only considered female- but is about 98% female- has ended up having a gimmicky quality to it- though the gimmick facet was not up-front intentional from me. I’ve a single piece in a Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum mens show that opens next week. I am the one male who has hung in more of them- to date- since the early ’90s- than any other. And their mens shows get more traffic than any other- because people simply can’t believe men work in the medium. Men? Who sew? Nope- can’t believe it. I really never thought it would end up being such a gimmick. Regardless- I would never have made it this far if my abstract work was both uninteresting and poorly constructed. It is neither. And although this may sound judgmental- sooner or later ONE has to find their own voice. You have to put in the time. You have to do the work. You have to stop taking classes and workshops (for the most part) and have an original thought. You have to master your abilities and skill-set yourself. And you have to pay your dues. Later in my life I was able to discern that I was paying my dues to ME. And I’m almost there! Robert! Why does your site not have a page where working artists can post upcoming show openings/details? We are all working. I’m sure many of us have regular gallery openings. Why can’t we post them on your site? Or am I actually missing something?

From: Elizabeth J Billups — Jan 26, 2010

THE OLD ADAGE: TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE… Has always been my personal motto! Of course, this does not guarantee sales, no more than trying to find a gimmick would. But at the end of the day, in your own soul, you can rest in the knowledge, that your day was not a farce! I realize that with today’s seemingly somewhat shallow “activities” of many, and the great need to be “entertained”, at almost any expense, (and often times, with the least amount of “mental” aptitude!) that this “disease” of WANTING or NEEDING to find acceptance ONLY thru sales…that perhaps the easy way out, or “up” (?) may appear to be finding a gimmick… And perhaps with finding one, you could become “rich” financially, until people grow tired of the farce! But then what? Although NOT FINDING financial success, by being true to your self, at least your soul can rest in the knowledge that you did not spend your life blood, giving back to the world, only shadows of what you could have been! What price does a person want to pay, “to get notice”? Yep, it is a real dilemma, Be true to oneself, and maybe be poor financially… Or play the “farce” and gimmick, and rack in the money… I guess it just boils down to what YOU AS A HUMAN BEING FIND THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN YOUR LIFE! OF course, being true to oneself DOES NOT MEAN YOU CANNOT HAVE SUCCESS… It just might take longer for something of that magnitude, to catch on, with the public, that can make or break a person’s spirit and career!! I guess also to survive the years of “breaking into a successful career” an artist is truly blessed if they have a handful of people who truly believe is what the artist has to offer… And in the end, this is the more enduring! Both spiritually, emotionally and hopefully… Financially!!!

From: Jan Werdin — Jan 26, 2010

That has to be the funniest post you’ve ever written! Too much so called art is lauded while the quality pieces are passed over for now, but will stand the test of time.

From: Susan Richardson — Jan 26, 2010

I am one of your devoted readers who rarely responds but always thinks about what you have written. I just adored this letter on no gimmicks. Loved the examples, loved the quotes — each one a gem. Thank you so much for this inspired, from the heart, from the mind, no gimmicks essay. Thank you for everything you do to inspire and educate the artistic community.

From: Jo VanderWoude — Jan 26, 2010

Thankfully, as artists, we are given the freedom to create whatever we wish. However, if the art can’t stand on its own, it won’t last and it won’t be sold. We can choose to create art that is an attention getter but a long term solution is – quality never goes out of style. “If you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to be a terrible warning.”

From: Adolfo McQue — Jan 26, 2010

I find to be different and be noticed what one needs is to work harder, see more, and try to create an iconic image that people will remember, something that you care for deeply and hopefully that feeling will be noticed by public. Today with more and more people painting and trying to sell, its became very difficult to stand out in the crowd, there is no protection for the professional, but each one of us is unique and if we concentrate on that we will be noticed.

From: Andrew van der Merwe — Jan 27, 2010

I suspect a good number of artists here would have written off Salvadore Dali and Jackson Pollock as gimmicky when they first came on the scene. I agree with Richard Smith and I think this conversation isn’t really going anywhere without a definition of a gimmick? It doesn’t help much to have obvious examples like painting with peanut butter and jelly. A gimmick is by definition a bad thing but using oddly-shaped canvasses is not by definition a gimmick. In my own experience, getting noticed, is not only about doing something original and doing it well, but about networking, meeting the right people. I can safely claim to be doing something original (Google the term beach calligraphy) but I’m likely to have fizzled out into obscurity by now if it weren’t for meeting a wonderful Belgian woman who encouraged me and organised my first showing. That was the catalyst for growth in my art.

From: Darla — Jan 27, 2010

Andrew — I would definitely say that Jackson Pollock is a one-trick pony, whether it’s merely a gimmick depends on whether you think his work has something to say or not. Salvador Dali — there are lots of gimmicks IN his work, but he uses them to stretch and play with the viewer’s mind. He’s played with a lot of things not normally found in painting — stereo vision, tricks of visual perception and perspective. And his painting skill is phenomenal! He also used some outrageous gimmicks in his marketing and publicity, and hurray for him! Anyway, gimmicks are for the sake of novelty/ for the sake of getting attention/ for the sake of sales, which leads us back to that prime mover, money. If you use a new technique to actually help get an idea across and not just for attention/shock value/sales, then perhaps it’s not a gimmick. If the art ITSELF is merely novelty for the sake of marketing alone, then it IS a gimmick. I agree with the person who said it’s better to use gimmicks in your presentation and framing than in your actual art. The presentation is part of marketing, which is where gimmicks belong. Novelty to get a new idea across is good — but you have to be make sure it actually has some substance behind it.

From: motorcyclepainter — Jan 27, 2010

Salvador Dali got off the plane in New York carrying (and eating) a giant sandwich. The photographers and critics loved it. That was his art.

From: John Cromwell — Jan 27, 2010

Apart from the odd dull and obvious posts, this is by far the liveliest and best informed forum on art on the internet. As a collector, I have been reading you guys for several years, and I have a better understanding of the inside workings of artists’ minds. Thank you to all for your wit and wisdom.

From: Angela A’Court — Jan 27, 2010

Living in New York everyone is trying to get noticed…… recently visited the Monya Rowe Gallery for the Josephine Halvorson show. Nestled in between other galleries with work vying for attention here was beauty and tranquility….the painting makes you take notice – quietly talking to you, asking questions. Josephine is like her work, intelligent and completely genuine – a relief from others who try to shock.

From: Rosanna — Jan 27, 2010

I’ve been shocked so many times by a ‘new idea’ read (gimmick) in art that now whenever I am with others who are bemoaning how ‘horrid’ some new show or many times a grant recipient’s work is, I simply say, “You don’t have to be ‘good’ you just have to have thought of it first.” Often one feels like a participant in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” . I know everyone is talking about it but I just can’t see what it is. Perhaps the main value in a gimmick is how it gets a reaction and causes other artists to do some introspection on their own work and ambitions.

From: Russ Henshall — Jan 27, 2010

Sittng quietly watching TV the other night, I found myself being drawn into the programme. My interest was caught by several simple caveman type drawings which had been chipped out of a rock face in Central Africa. Such simple lines chipped out by that ancient artist, yet so wonderfully meaningful, so illustrative. A magnificent monument to the times in which those early folk lived. Simplistic (really?) sketches of giraffes. tigers, emu and the like all drawn from life, One picture caught my attention: It was of a crocodile. Marvelously simple, yet 10 or 12 lines only. Paucity? Yes indeed, before such a word had been coined. England

From: Sally Macgregor — Jan 27, 2010

I do find that the idea of using tea bags and biodegradable materials in art a bit sketchy. If you are in the group of artists like Nancy Rubens who made social statements in her installations the point was well taken. To the artists that are trying to “Make it” I believe that the idea of “Beauty” is a much maligned topic but an idea that many artists would do well to find in their work. My suggestion would be to use the best quality artist’s materials you can find and strive to achieve beauty in your work.

From: Sue Knopp — Jan 27, 2010

About Gimmicks: We are supposed to be doing our bliss …not tricks like a dog to get attention! Do what comes to your heart,and then show it. Someone asked me what I would tell young artists, if I had one thing to say. I said,” get a day job!” and I have done it and I mean it. You need income and health care, but to sell your art and soul by gimmicks is silly … might as well be a doorknob. It is tough ,,but also heaven to be an artists in your bliss. I actually had more energy to work at nite after working 8 hours for the state in an office..I think it was a release of tension. good luck we are all just learning.

From: Liz Ortuzar — Jan 28, 2010

For the most part, I agree with your observations that gimmicks aren’t necessary for an artist to get noticed. But sometimes, the gimmick works. Manet decided to do something totally different – and was shunned! Monet, Degas, Morrisot and the other Impressionists went with the idea. I think the gimmick has to have VALUE. What’s the point in making art in peanut butter? What is the value in it? By comparison, what is the value of painting a moment in time, as the Impressionists did? Precisely that – a fleeting moment in time has been captured for many viewers to appreciate (and take part in) for many years to come. Warhol, as well, showed us that art can be appreciated differently – we are surrounded by it, after all. In short – a gimmick is great if it has value.

From: Mohammad Ali — Jan 28, 2010

After doing Ph.D. in Art from School of Art,Ohio University, i came back to Pakistan with the hope that i will do my best at home. But unfortunately, due to bad political, social and economic conditions, i did not succeed in making my living with art. It has been hand to mouth income from art, and i am raising my family from the salary i get from teaching art in a local university. I am painting since last 30 years, but there isn’t any environment for appreciation of art and artists. Galleries are the victims of poor economic conditions. I am already 58 years old, and future of art is bleak in my country. I am requesting for your help. (Mohd Ali Bhatti)

From: Selwyn (Sell) Owen — Jan 28, 2010

Well, call me crazy, but I always thought that to be noticed as an artist (Painter) one had to be seen. To be seen ( Noticed) I thought one had to produce work of a certain quality. The next stage of course was inevitably quantity following the thought that if I did a lot ; I might get a little. But then Quality is in the eye of the beholder.

From: John Stevenson — Jan 28, 2010

To be noticed I think there is only one way. Be the best at what you are doing, short of that; at least be seen to be improving.

From: Paul deMarrais — Jan 28, 2010

We certainly like gimmicks in our society. I think it a reasonable commercial goal to seek. Some gimmicks end up paying very well for the gimmick creator. In the end, you have to have faith that whatever style you practice has value, and stick with it. You have to have faith that your persistance will pay off. You have to have faith someone will notice and appreciate your effort. In the end it’s all about faith.Those who have it enjoy the journey regardless of the outcome.

From: Catherine Stock — Jan 28, 2010

I have just finished five exhausting days helping a friend select merchandise for his shop at the Maison&Objet Salon in Paris. The selection is huge, bright, extremely competitive and totally overwhelming. One of the last things we selected were simple, natural, and beautifully made vegetable brushes made in Sweden by blind people. At the end of the day, you have to block out the blare and seek the soul.

From: Gordon Wright — Jan 28, 2010

My motto is ” BEAUTY FLOWS OUT OF SIMPLICITY.” My comment on this letter is Bulls…t Baffles Brains . But not for long! Paint from your heart and from your soul the things you love in the way you feel that is you ,and be happy .Anything else is contrived . That said it may take a life time if ever to get there. But what fun trying. Kennebec Lake two hours west of Ottawa.

From: Michelle M. Madalena — Jan 28, 2010

I always get noticed because I am always making decisions that seem to get attention. I really didn’t realize this this is just who I am.

From: John ferrie — Jan 28, 2010

Dear Robert, OK, having a “gimmick” has worked for Damien Hurst, Ill give you that. People often think that”gimmicky” tricks work, but it has been my experience that it does not. Paintings of irregular shapes and finished with PB and J are fine at art school, but I would steer away from recycled food materials if you want people to sit up and take notice. Even Robert Mapplethorpe had a decade of solid and ingenious work before his “seven dirty pictures” were deemed lewd and lascivious and his work had meteoric and global recognition. I would say to any artist, and I have, make sure your work is quality. That is 20 exquisite paintings that have a strong through line and is good solid work. So many artists, who have no inventory, are sitting back waiting for a gallery to sign them to a contract of fame and fortune. They think that at this point that all the creativity is going to kick in and they will paint all the work they have built up. Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a media whore and get as much exposure as you possibly can. I recall a flash point of my career when I saw Vicky Gabbereau at a function I was working as a waiter at. I went over to her and told her she needed to put me on her show as I was John Ferrie and I was the hottest artist in Canada! She looked at me like I had three heads, but reluctantly gave me her card and after about 50 phone calls to her producer, I was put on her national TV show and I was painting to the nation! Little did anyone know that I left the studio at 11 am and went back to the restaurant and worked the lunch shift! It is all part of the journey… John Ferrie

From: robert wade — Jan 28, 2010

Don’t overdo the praise with insincere baloney and don’t kill enthusiasm with destructive criticism, there’s a soul waiting to be encouraged or destroyed by your response. It’s a heavy responsibility we have to bear as teachers and mentors. In us they put their trust! We can make or break them, be gentle. In the Book of Ecclesiastes it states……. “Better to be criticised by a wise man than praised by a fool” Obviously Painting Workshops existed in Biblical times, too.

From: Dennis Marshall — Jan 29, 2010

Art is a journey to discover that which resonates within you. An artist needs to find his or her path . I paint landscapes and abstracts I could care less about the question of whether or not I am original. I keep on trying to move forward with each painting leading to the next one. If art is basically some form of communication then those who choose gimmicks are communicating something. Whether or not I decide to receive this communication is another question. If an artist chooses to put a shark in formaldehyde that is their choice. I have chosen not to participate. I think that the best art moves a person to go beyond those tangible qualities that can be described either in writing or even verbally. There are still certain basic fundamentals that are needed to paint and/or draw. I think that there has been way too much emphasis on being original over the past few years. There has also been way too much attention to process and not the final result. It is like praising the hammer and nail but not putting up the sheet rock and finishing the job. BTW- If Salvador Dali were alive today the TSA would never allow him to board an aircraft in the US with a sandwich.

From: Rose Kibble — Jan 29, 2010

thanks for this article, just what i needed to reassure myself. I have a father in law who is involved in business development and marketing, who has been insisting i take my work into a more commercial slant, even suggesting i get t-shirts printed, mugs, books etc. No thanks thats not why i create! Yes one has to make some form of income to live, but please dont sell my soul for the sake of a few dollars to be printed on a t-shirt. He even suggested i should be out surveying people to find out what sort of art they want???? and then ‘make’ that. I have a feeling he just doesn’t get ‘art’ or ‘creativity’

From: Theresa Bayer — Jan 29, 2010

The best gimmick is training and practice, so that the artwork is good enough to attract buyers and then word will get around. One’s creative vision is sacred, so I don’t talk much about it. Show, don’t tell.

From: Liz Reday — Jan 29, 2010

Bring back Andrew and the folk art! I’m interested in this concept of “quality” that gets bandied about. By quality, does that mean an over worked realistic style painstakingly copied from photographs? What about a rapid plein air sketch done in 15 minutes that perfectly captures the light or a cat or a child at the beach? Is a Cy Twombly quality? This is interesting because those of you who have had the pleasure of seeing a large Sargent painting close up will notice the perfect and slapdash strokes that capture in brevity much more than, say, the academic salon painters in their day. The words “gimmick” could be applied to true originality by unsophisticated persons unaware of contemporary art. The word “quality” could be applied to overworked sentimental Hallmark type paintings by some. Remember Kinkade? Also, I’ve nothing against marketing, but spending 50% of ones time doing that and not painting seems sad. Life’s too short. Be simple, be sincere.

From: robert c anderson — Jan 29, 2010

the funniest thing about the original comment, is robert genn’s own comment that he feels he pays little attention to marketing… i had the pleasure of meeting him for the first time in person in 1989 in victoria and my first thought about him was “this man is a very good artist, but above all, he is a marketing GENIUS”. i then purchased and read his first book In Praise of…. and in it he spoke of his days in art college in los angeles, and how he used to borrow classy cars for a week (in order to paint commissions of them) and drive up and down the strip “getting noticed”. Robert is a very fine artist, but he is a GENIUS at getting attention, and if you doubt that, this vey website is the ultimate proof… above all, he has the attention of every one of us mere mortals…. keep it up Robert, it is that above all which is truly inspiring…..

From: Mary Carnahan — Jan 31, 2010

“Quality” in art means heartfelt vision combined with skillful composition and actual drawing or painting technique. I think quality artwork has at least one of those aspects. None of those things will make art sing by themselves, but a piece that lacks all of them is really noticable in a bad way. Quality doesn’t mean conforming to the prevailing artistic currents, or being photorealistic. One person’s quick sketch is as noticeable as another’s intricately detailed painting. Quality means artistic vision executed with skill, and/or grace, seriousness, and attention to detail.

From: Mary Carnahan — Jan 31, 2010

The difference between “gimmicky” and “an inspired new approach” is the quality of the overall effort. Gimmickry applied to poorly conceived, sloppily executed art is like an attempt to misdirect attention away from the art. A “gimmick” as part of a really well done piece is just another aspect of what makes it sublime.

From: Dorothy, Ont. Canada — Feb 01, 2010

Robert C Anderson said it all! Robert certainly does get noticed!! A note to Lin Stepp: Your painting is fabulous! Colour and depth amazing! Thank you.

From: Susan Tschantz — Feb 06, 2010

Quality is a hard thing, and very subjective. Convincing the patron of quality can be just as hard. They don’t know. So they tend to buy “brands” they recognize. Getting this recognition takes time.

From: anon — Feb 08, 2010


From: Joyce Barker — Feb 09, 2010

I think so-called “gimmicks” are just versions of an artist’s style. It’s a way to distinguish yourself from the crowd. Taste in art is purely individual, so some will approve and others will not. As long as it is pleasing to the eye in general, what is the problem. I think too much is made of this word (gimmick). Personally, I welcome an interesting “gimmick” in my work. Sometimes we need a little boost in our art.


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