Just Brag, Would’ya?

But here is my most important principle of marketing: Each person who owns my work is my “agent”.  I usually tell purchasers that I expect them to be an “agent”, that they should show my work proudly, and I want them to brag about it. I want to be informed if they no longer have that pride.

THAT COMMENT FROM EVAN LINDQUIST (b. 1936) was posted recently on an artist’s listserve. It was offered in good faith by one artist to others as a mitzvah, marketing wisdom worth following. But is it?

Lindquist is a fine printmaker. His etching technique owes its soul to his love of his father’s ornamental penmanship and the curvilinear beauty of the old Copperplate method of handwriting. No quarrel with either his work (which you can find at The Old Print Shop) or his success. I simply wonder if his comment is really appropriate for artists, especially struggling ones, to mimic that kind of unembarrassed crassness.

What if a buyer does lose heart for the work some time down the line? Is Lindquist prepared to buy it back at the rate of inflation? Would the average working artist have the money to repurchase sold work?

or to underwrite the costs of donating it to an institution?

It goes without saying that every purchase is an endorsement of one’s work. So, yes, every buyer is indirectly a discreet agent-in-waiting. But the role is indirect, subtle and understated. To inflate that role to the level of making the buyer an active partner in a marketing strategy, displays a certain . . . what to call it? . . .  vulgarity. And it runs the risk of reflecting, ultimately, on the work itself.

Most artists are producing for an audience of comfortable, but not extraordinary means. These are people who buy a thing because they like it and want to live with it. They are not the gilded consumers who hand a check to Victoria Love for buying advice or flash paddles at Sotheby’s.  Being told they are expected to promote the work—sing for the artist’s supper—could be disheartening.

Jacopo Tintoretto, Portrait of an Art Collector

You have to admit, it takes chutzpah to deputize a purchaser to brag about it.  Buyers with a exhibitionist streak will do it any way. (“Hey, look what I just bought! It’s all mine. Eat your heart out.”)

Big-ticket art, expensively showcased and marketed, is a pawn in the game of one-upmanship between deep pockets. Orchestrating the game was something  Matisse and Picasso were adept at, but at a far more sophisticated level than that of Lindquist’s  lumpish comment.

By taking Lindquist’s m.o. to heart, the average working artist would simply be announcing his own status as a supplicant—an obnoxious, overreaching one.

Gauging by Lindquist’s advice, it is time to admit that the romantic distinction between the Artist and the Philistine has dissolved—assuming it ever existed. Art dealing might not be the oldest profession but it goes back pretty far. And whatever else it might be, it remains a game of manners.

What is wrong with simply sending a thank you note to the people who purchase  work?

© 2010 Maureen Mullarkey