How to Make Friends & Influence People

Dreams By Randall Munroe http://xkcd.com/137/

I’m sure you’ve read, at least one article on how to market yourself to people online. These usually use the word “brand” or “branding” along with “market” and “presence.” Usually they come in the form of lists of do’s and don’ts  for selling art, or mail order sex toys, or art made out of mail order sex toys. Although those last two probably sell themselves just fine. I mean, some stuff sells itself and just requires someone on hand to take payment and dispense the gin, drugs or whatever. Unfortunately art isn’t included in that wonderful list of things people will purchase without any sales effort at all.

Most BS social media and art marketing advice basically recommends being an always-positive cheery little brand-bot, doing nothing that might scare anyone. But also while being “yourself” or “original.” Which, aside from being contradictory and full of shit, is a prison sentence in the deepest hell imaginable.

You’re supposed to “be yourself” but also “inspiring” and always “positive” so that your customers will buy lots of stuff from you.  You’re supposed to be “authentic” and allow people to connect to a real person, yet at the same time you can’t do anything that might offend any single viewer out of  the 2 billion people on Earth with an internet connection.

Now things like negativity, struggles, political beliefs, frustrations, tragedy – these are all normal damn experiences and feelings for people. If you don’t experience those things then you’re a sociopath.  And if you’re always positive, you’re not authentic; except authentically in need of professional help.

If you’re some big corporation or company with employees and a marketing department, you can afford to put on a fake persona. A group of employees  interacts on your behalf with your clients during the workday and then goes home and drinks heavily to forget what they do for a living. You can afford to be a  two-dimensional blank slate onto which your customers project whatever they’d like to see, because you’re a corporate entity and not a real person.

But if you’re an artist – there is only one of you. The persona you project in your business is the one you have to LIVE with, because the business is basically you.  The personality of an artist is part (a small part but it’s still there) of the work being sold. So if you’re marketing a two dimensional, fake-happy, never-scare-the-sheeple image, then that’s who you always have to be.  Because your collectors expect it and associate that two-dimensional identity with your work, you can’t ever be negative, or frustrated, without taking a big risk. And no matter what, you cannot ever express a political or religious  opinion that is publicly attributed to you. Because no matter what side of an issue you take, the earth will open up and swallow some of your easily spooked collectors. Poof. How ya gonna act now clowny?

The cruel twist is that, being a two-dimensional cutout of blandness disguised as a person isn’t very effective. Yeah, you will attract a wider base of support but that base doesn’t have a lot of commitment to you.  Why should it?  You lack passion. Yeah, you don’t offend anyone but you also don’t connect with people on any level except the superficial. Authentic deep connections are built on taking stands, on being passionate, independent  and through taking risks.

Think back to the netherhell of high school. Or at least the least painful bits. No not that wardrobe malfunction incident at the swimming pool during gym class. Just high school generally. What happens to the kids who wanted to be popular more than anything else ever? Did they get admitted into the popular group? Or was their perfume of Desperation (by CK) too powerful to stand? Was the popular group even all that great? Or were they constantly in fear of being kicked out of their peer group for some small manifestation of individuality, until they finally snapped and ran off with a carny during the  local Dairy Days Festival?

Yeah. It’s better to be a truly authentic  individual who offends 99% of humanity but makes a deep and powerful connection to the remaining 1%.  Because that remaining 1% will support you no matter what happens. Not only that, but you won’t be living your life buckled firmly into a two-dimensional marketing straitjacket. That 1% will help you storm the gates of Hell with only a mouthful of spit to fight with. They will also buy your art (which is slightly easier on them). Realistically, you’re probably not going to offend 99% of humanity no matter how authentic you are. Hell, even I don’t piss off that many people and I’m a trained professional.

Sure I swear a lot. And I’m excessively intolerant of conservative nut-jobs and fools. This has the added benefit of ensuring that I don’t have to work with either conservatives or fools. My political views are not secret or carefully phrased to avoid causing offense. This means that I severely piss off, at most, around 45-50% of the American people (I’m not addressing you wonderful international fans because it’s not a problem with you guys. I LOVE you people).  On the other hand, I paint generally dark paintings of naked people and intimate commissioned portraits of (usually) naked people. That 45-50% of ‘Mericans that I piss off? Yeah they don’t usually buy that kind of art. In fact, a good number of em don’t buy any art at all.  So am I really pissing off people who’d realistically be interested in my work? Sure. Probably a few of them would otherwise be interested, but not enough to really matter.

What about the other 50% of the ‘Merican population? Well, realistically, only about 10% would probably be interested and only 1% would think of purchasing original art (these are rough generalizations). That 1% isn’t just interested in my work, but also the work of all sorts of other artists, so how do I attract them? Well, I do the best work at the highest quality I can possible do. AND I’m as genuine as I can be. That 1% is looking for art like mine, but also feels roughly the same way about politics, the world etc. All things being equal, they make a stronger connection with me, through my online presence and in person, than they would with another artist who tries to be everything to everyone. That stronger connection results in sales. Even better, it results in repeat sales.

Sure I piss off people. But I’m not trying to sell to everyone. I’m sure as hell not some blank marketing slate that will mirror whatever you like or dislike in order to take your money more easily. Collectors gained and sales made that way aren’t worth the price they take from you psychologically or professionally.  And life is just too damn short to spend it on tip-toe desperately afraid of losing money or collectors by saying something unpopular. If you’re going to live your life according to the gray straight-jacket of inoffensive big-company marketing blandness, why even work as an artist?

And enough with the “branding” talk already: Branding is an impolite thing done to cattle with hot irons and I’m no damn cow.

Go Back From Whence Thee Came.

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