Many artists don’t like the B word “Branding”. They think of it as an evil of consumerism and mass marketing. On the other hand, the moment you decided to put your work out for sale, you have created a brand. What is a brand? A brand is not just a logo. A brand is what you’re known for. Good branding is the act of becoming known for something that you do, above any other people or company doing similar things (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jerrymclaughlin/2011/12/21/what-is-a-brand-anyway/). Your “brand name” exists objectively; people can see it. But your “brand” exists only in someone’s mind. It’s their perception about you.
Think about it, you have a business card, a website, a price list, postcards and maybe a catalog. Not to mention your social media posts promoting your work. Unless you are making art inside a cave and not doing any of the things listed above, you are already working on your artist brand. It’s just part of the game we play today if we want to get our work accessible to more people.
Some years ago, I accepted the idea that my name is part of my brand. As an artist, my name is my brand name. It is directly connected to the work I make. And, as such, I think about how to appropriately manage my brand (perception and what I am know for). Let me be clear, commerce is not my motivation for creating art, otherwise I would have changed the style and scale of my work long ago (large work is hard to sell). Just like most of you, I make art because I have an inherit need to express what I think and what I feel. I am unhappy when I stop creating things. There are works that perhaps will never sale and I am ok with that. However, when the work is done, it exists within the context of a commercial world system. And since all of us have to make a living somehow, art enters the marketplace. You don’t have to compromise your art in order to think about the brand. As I posted once in my Facebook page: “Art is not about the money but you need the money to make the art that is not about the money”. And that brings me back to think about branding.
Big companies have Branding Managers working to maintain, protect and maneuver their brand. As artists, we should also think a little or a lot about this. It’s up to you how much effort or thought you want to put on this. Contemporary artists like Koons and Hirst make no joke about this. Their names are carefully engineered brands in a changing art world system. In October 2007, ARTNews published an article about the branding of Damien Hirst (http://www.artnews.com/2007/10/01/the-branding-of-damien-hirst/). Once the brand is strong, you can simultaneously market dot colored paintings for hundreds of thousands of dollars around the world. At the same token, the bigger the brand, the bigger the stakes and the difficulty to maintain it. It actually has the potential to go downhill as we have seen with Hirst recently (http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-11-21/damien-hirst-jumping-the-shark#p1).
One of the main principles of branding is consistency. Consistency creates brand recognition. Before my kids knew how to read, they saw the McDonalds arch and they knew what it meant for them “happy meal”. Can’t help it. It’s the simplicity and consistency that makes the brand memorable and recognizable.
Why do you think I have not changed my social media profile picture for the past two years or so? Because that is also part of my branding strategy. I am creating a voice that is visually associated with that little black and white picture. It never changes. That may be an extreme for most but for me, it matters because I do many things (make art, curate, teach, run a gallery, design, etc). I can’t tell you how many times I have met wonderful people during openings who knew who I am because they can recognize me from that tiny profile picture. And, they seem to know the various things I do. That seemingly insignificant choice, helps me position myself better.
I am not trying to tell you what to do. Just think about it. There is a lot more to say about this in future posts. If you don’t believe branding is worth thinking about, work inside a cave and don’t give your name out to anybody, throw away your business cards and delete your website. Maybe someone else will find your work and make a big brand out it when you are long gone. Does that sound familiar Mr. Van Gogh?
Just a thought….
Sergio, I’m loving your post. Hoping that you can assist me with my dilemma. I have my brand called Soulful Artistry which target the graphic design sector. I wanted to somehow incorporate my name as an artist under my brand. Ex: James Nelson of Soulful Artistry. Is that permissible?
Hi James. I don’t see any problem with incorporating your name. I think it’s a good idea.
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