Personally, I think when artists express this concern, they are really asking a hidden question and revealing a hidden fear:
- The Question: Do they have permission from the ‘star-makers’ to do their own marketing? The anti-branding of Thomas Kinkade by snarky critics was very effective. Their derision was irrelevant to Kinkade's market, but it certainly instilled fear of commercial marketing (and distaste for one very effective body of work) in the minds of artists! What they all seemed to ignore, was the fact that Kinkade's market was not the typical artist's market. He was targeting the people that artists (who want to make a living) abandoned long ago.
- The Fear: Due to the widespread misuse of statistics and language, and to its association with mass produced goods, 'commercial' marketing in general smells in-authentic. It also sounds like it's out of scale for the typical artist career. The very word 'commercial' may be the source of resistance.
Both the question and the fear reveal a need for more information:
- Everyone who wants to sell their art needs to self-brand. It creates a consistent and ‘sticky’ message. When you pay big money for Manolo Blahnik shoes…notice that it’s the artist's NAME which accrues all the mystique and value created by the quality of the shoe.. A marketing professional can help you assemble a memorable and classy combo of typeface, coloring, and catchphrases to use throughout your marketing pieces.
- Placement is essential. Your brand will acquire the perceived economic value of the product that surrounds it. This applies to art shows, galleries, print publications.(This is why Kinkade needed his own galleries.) If you show in a yard sale, you can make a sale, but only at yard sale prices. The higher up the socioeconomic ladder you travel, the more it costs to be presented and presentable, both in marketing production and in your own social skills. The price of your work reflects these costs.
- Marketing can begin as simply as determining the subject matter and style that best reflects your spirit and promises a long creative pathway. Fill show walls, website pages, newsletters, and gallery fliers with that style work + your name. Repeat. Repeat some more. Ta-da! Branded and marketed. If you desire further reach and targeting of your audience, professional services are well advised.
- Use the commercialism necessary to reach your buying audience. Marketing makes the knowledge of and access to your work convenient to the buyer. Each target audience (and there are subsets within each), has a specific expectation in price, subject, and quality.
- The mass market (suited to prints, mass production,)
- The upper middle-class market (suited to artists with local reach and local pricing with traditional and regional styles and subjects.)
- The academic and private collector markets (Unique artistic voices reflective of a collection theme or of private collector taste.)