online is the answer - what's the question?

The survival kit of the 21st century artist

As an artists who wants to survive financially you know there is more to it all than being educated, talented and hard working. One public secret to this is going online in a big and equally public way.

how to survive as an artist

If you want any time left to produce your art then online presence is the answer. You will come further, faster and cheaper online than by any other promotional means.

In short you need the online jungle as:
1 opportunity finder
2 show case
3 a place to receive mention and
4 a barometer of gallery perceptions.

As the latter is a paralysing concern amongst artists, it receives extra attention here.

1 Opportunity finder

Just about anyone an artist would want to talk to can be found on the web. In addition, there are a number of useful sites emerging that are dedicated to artists finding new opportunities in the form of awards and grants, entry dates on competitions and invitations to residentials. The impressive website Re-title with its newsletters is a place any artist should frequent.

2 Show case your art online

Get your work out there, and no it is not possible to be over-exposed. Join the various art networks such as Saatchi art, redbubble, or Behance or anything else that is the flavour of the month.

Then create your own portfolio site or have one for free at Vix. Enter any or all of the naff social media that sprawls up everywhere. The usual suspects here are Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram accounts. But Youtube and Vimeo are also great places to discuss your art, show your studio or display your artistic process.

Facebook has the reputation of ‘look mum’ non-events, but for many artists the social network has become a turning point in their commercial career. At the very least they enjoy a dialogue about their work that they would otherwise not achieve.

Pinterest is mocked as the girlie one of the socials, and the proof is in the pudding both demographically and content specifically. But pins of art do remarkably well in there. Instagram is also to be reckoned with. On Instagram, the top art collector Jens-Peter Brask looks up emerging talent before it identifies itself as such. The winning formula is his head and his iphone and the convenience of instagram.

As an artist all of these online efforts are interconnected nodes that beat a path to your door. For years Karinthy’s hypothesis of 6 degrees of separation between any two humans were subjected to academic head- and arse scratching. However, with the advent of personal computing, no one was in doubt anymore. In marketing terms, art is not significantly different from interconnectivity and exchange of other commodities. It is a ‘numbers game.’

If one in 10,0000 pairs of eyeballs considers buying your work, what would happen if there were one million pairs?

Here the clever reader would interject something about market saturation and communication noise. But all things being equal, you do not win as an artist if you do not play the game at all.

Concentrate, Take a deep breath, purse your lips and do blow your own trumpet. You cannot rely on others doing it. And that even if you argue for your introverted nature or the white cube dogma of letting money chase art and not art chasing money.

3 Find people who want to write about your art online

An artist career is often propelled to new heights by being written about. Accept any mention from bloggers, magazines or critics regardless of who they are. If they don’t find you, do not fret about contacting them. Your success rate might even improve by attaching digital snaps of your work, an artist statement and a biography. Before you ask, you are cordially invited to write us.

The emphasis is on online mention. Of course, there is nothing wrong with printed press coverage as long as you understand the following subtleties: On the first day a paper is read as news, on the second it wraps fish and chips, and on the third it is binned. One advantage that the online press has over its printed counterpart is that it stays online forever.

The PR value of someone saying how wonderful your are will be listened more to than yourself saying it. In the unlikely event that the press says anything negative, remember there is no such thing as bad publicity according to Phineas Barnum who famously coined the phrase.

4 Does a strong online presence affect how galleries perceive you as an artist?

Here comes something about the old art world and lost virginity. Conveniently, it helps answer whether galleries frown upon artists who are quite visible online. See you never know whether you need the traditional art world, and then it is worth assessing how it perceives your online efforts.

The old (f)art market

As an artist you might have a contract with a gallery, and with that territory comes a sense of loyalty that you want to honour. If it works, you are one of a chosen few, and the food chain artist-gallery-critic-collector cements your place in the primary art market. Over time, it ensures that you receive regular sales and critical mention. One day you are mid- or late career, and your works begin to resell at auctions, and you receive royalties for doing nothing other than others like museums reproducing your back catalogue.

Undoubtedly, galleries are great at marketing artists to collectors. In so doing, they help artists reach their true market value, curate their production into a coherent body of work.

Running a gallery is a tough business and according to academic research by Robertson & Chong most gallery businesses fold sooner or later.

Therefore, galleries guard their investment in artists jealously. They prefer that you are underexposed art virgin of great promise. Then they are the ones to flip the switch and call the shots. They want to be the ones who exposed you in show rooms, the media and art fairs to gain from the biggest appreciation of your market value.

Hence, one thing galleries are really good at is telling artists that all hell breaks out if they do not sign up for a monogamous working relationship. Gallery representatives carry on by telling artists that too much of their output in all the wrong places would ruin their careers. THe economic principle of scarcity mentality is at play here, it is being argued. That is, too many outlets would give collectors and one-off trophy hunters the wrong ideas. The 4Ps of marketing spring to mind as does the word ‘bollocks’.

If you are not selling much of your art through your gallery contract, and the gallery owners insist on exclusivity, you better withdraw from the contract legally. Then seed your efforts where the grass appears greener — and we are not talking astra turf here.

One thing is the past wet dream of artists being virgins in self promotion. Today galleries receive more unsolicited artist enquiries than they can handle. There is so many artists graduating from art academies all over the place, and that means that the artists they find are those who have promoted themselves effectively.

Galleries need a convenient filter mechanism and the online art space offers exactly that

In the 21st century galleries find artists because they are to find on the web.

Loyal or not loyal might be a crime without a victim

What art dealers have always known is that art collectors are loyal to the good name, reputation and taste of the gallery. Loyal customers know the value of a gallery and receive useful benefits such as first refusal on new work from an artist that the gallery can reserve.

Those who are disloyal to art galleries always have been and always will be. If a collector wants to find an artist and trim off a gallery, they find the artist and buy directly. Today it takes seconds via LinkedIn, Facebook and artist portfolio site.

A legitimate question an artist may pose here is: Does having a good online presence single you out as disloyal for any present or future gallery contract?

No, not really. In the past collectors, hellbent on finding an artist, just picked up a telephone book and bypassed the gallery, art consultancy, or art dealer. For those of you born after the 1980s, a telephone book was a directory the size of an Encyclopaedia Britannica volume. It was issued by a now fossilised state monopoly and contained landline numbers that sometimes worked.