+Your own brand
January 29, 2002
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 honored, 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.
The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thank you for writing firstname.lastname@example.org
I have extreme issues with the thoughts of an artists brand, especially comparing that to a corporate logo. If the artist is conscious, noble, and committed to expression, one would hope the artists brand nudges people in the direction of mental freedom, whereas corporate branding and logos only seek control, and the corporations use that control to confine us. Artists, or at least most of us, are not consciously branding our product in the hope that people will only buy our product, leading to a monopoly, with the intent to jack our prices when we have control of the market. Maybe I'm naive, and I know that now artists are made to feel that they must enter the art world not as a discussion with artists/curators/patrons/normal folks, but as a market in which one must create demand for one's product. This social/economic situation in which art is irrelevant to the majority of people and pop culture is the only culture left to America, was created by corporations and brand economics. Maybe artists' work and corporate brands are similar, and I just curdle at the idea. When I read the opening of the letter, I was revolted to think so. I usually think of brands as the type of thing that's killing art and why there's so little good art around. Lately I've been looking at graffiti art and internet art as new ways of combating precocious and the view of art as product, Art needs freedom to grow, and demand to shrink. I'm all about paying bills, but those concerns enter the picture after the art is made.
Joey Lindsey email@example.com
The greatest corporate brand to go under the name of an artist is Walt Disney. Its also one of the worlds largest corporations. Others such as Thomas Kincaid and Wyland are trying hard to become household words. In Hawaii you might have noticed that Wyland has gained "synergy" by linking with Disney. Names such as Picasso, Dali, Vasarelli, have become institutionalized.
Joe Blodgett, firstname.lastname@example.org
What a shock to think that we are in the business of branding. But obviously, every stroke, every composition, every creative idea is part of our unique brand. Others may indeed copy our brandlike the Rolexes you can buy in Asia for peanuts. But its not the genuine article. What we as sincere and serious artists do is to make genuine articles.
+One of a kind
I'm afraid I can't agree with your letter on "Your own brand" In my opinion, while I agree with you that an artist creates a style and its his name or brand that sells his paintings - usually it is a one off, and not massed produced by someone in Hong Kong. I for one resent having to pay for a "name" having seen the factories that reproduce thousands. Especially, when in Hong Kong or Bangkok you can buy them for $3. When I purchase a painting it's because I know that it was one of a kind.
Julia Norker, email@example.com
+Outrageously large logo (ego)
In response to your comments about signing paintings way down in the corner. Well, let me tell ya, I have a better plan which calls for utilizing an entire 22"X30" watercolor sheet with my signature. In the lower right or left-hand corner is a landscape painting of approximately 1"x2". Richard Nelson, Maui, USA firstname.lastname@example.org
It is difficult to find a single "brand" and stick with it. Gerhardt Richter, a German artist, has been able to change his brand several times over the years since the sixties, and been successful each time, even though he confuses the heck out of the critics!
Elizabeth Schamehorn email@example.com
+Quick hit art
Too much of the art in Santa Fe is "quick-hit" art driven by the competition to sell to walk-in traffic. And the "brand" is certainly a part of this. The image can be more or less layered with continuing resonance and subtlety or NOT. If it has an immediate impact, then the buyer may be encouraged to keep looking and go into more mysterious areas, but if it doesn't have an immediate brand to start with, it will more than likely not sell and not be displayed. Or if there is a name or an image that accompanies the art, that may do as a starting point.
Jane Shoenfeld, Santa Fe, NM, USA firstname.lastname@example.org
+Paint your own logo
When my boys were little (and we were on a very tight budget) they wanted sneakers like all the other boys in school had. I forget the brand, but they were basic black canvas high-tops with a logo on the ankle (a star in a circle, if I remember correctly) and they were very expensive. Especially for shoes they'd grow out of in a month. I found a cheap version of the shoe in a discount store (with no visible label) and talked my kids into accepting them with the promise that I'd paint a logo on their shoes. The boys had lived with an artist all their lives and they understood the concept "handmade is better than machine made" and they happily wore their shoes, proud that the stars on their shoes were hand-painted by a real artist.
Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA EBlairstar@aol.com
I make small sculptures in clay, some of which are whistles and ocarinas. This year I decided to try something new, hang tags. Hang-tags are the sort of thing I had been scoffing at for years, figuring they were too commercial and weren't worth the trouble. Well, those hang-tags were worth the trouble after all. My sales at both at an art show and at a gallery increased because of them. Furthermore, the gallery owners, my customers, and my artist colleagues all commented favorably on them. I made the hang-tags on my computer. I used really nice linen paper stock in a sort of olive gray green. My logo went on the front of the tag (it's folded) and inside a little explanation of the artwork. And on the back the price sticker, which is removable if you want to buy the artwork for a gift. The art I make is the same; it has not been commercialized. But the presentation of it has, and this has made it more salable.
Theresa Bayer email@example.com
+Make it a routine
In regards to your twice-weekly letter, The Kauai Ferry, Alfred Stieglitz was quite correct. One of the most important lessons I've learnt is that the only possible way to have it ALL is with structure and the discipline to keep to it, to make it a routine. Days, weeks, months, years can be frittered away with doing housework, shopping, cooking, 'phoning friends, watching TV especially, gardening etc. at the wrong time. I used to wait for ages for inspiration to strike - then drop everything in an ultimately exhausting frenzy of creativity. These days, come 8.30am - the answering machine goes on and I enter my studio space until lunch. Whether I just stare into space, 'imagineering', play in my visual diary or paint a masterpiece. The important thing is to keep to that routine. That way I get more paintings done, my home is better organized and life generally runs more smoothly. It works for me as I'm not so stressed and distracted by all the things I haven't done (they too have their structured time), I also don't have the easy 'out' when painting isn't going so well, that the house/garden/shopping etc needs doing. I sometimes play a game with the housework. I put on my timer for however long I've assigned to the task at hand, some loud music, and then just GO for it. I have managed to clean the house, including vacuuming, in an hour!
Margot Hattingh, South Africa firstname.lastname@example.org
+Update on studio
A couple of months ago I asked you about designing a studio. I thought I would give you an update. I never to do things the easy way and I wanted the best possible location for my studio. Since I still have to work full time, I bought a new house and moved in a week ago. The back of the house looks over a beautiful large open field, which is part of a county park. I plan on building the studio on the back of the house and that will be the view from my studio, within 25 minutes of the capital of the free world. Now the interesting part, demo (of a concrete pad) and construction. Of course I've not done a project of this size, but I'm up for it.
Sandy Triolo, Silver Spring, MD email@example.com
(RG note) For more on Sandys studio see http://www.painterskeys.com/clickbacks/studiotips.htm
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