PARTICIPATORY SPORT FOR CRAFT ARTISTS
What do you make? Easy… right? You know what you make – you’ve focused for years to develop an aesthetic and master your skills and methods – so why does this question bring so much distress? This has always been one of my least favorite questions, something I’ve become aware of in the last year or so, and have been working hard to change.
My work excites me. I have so much passion for what I do. I love talking about it and hearing others’ ideas about it – so why is this question so stressful? One of the most important things I’ve learned lately is how absolutely necessary it is to have an answer to this question, more significantly: a consistent answer. I hesitate to say it, but maybe even a somewhat rehearsed answer. Any hesitation, over explanation, or anything even slightly unclear comes across lacking confidence and professionalism. Like a lot of artists I know, this isn’t hard when talking to other artists, but it becomes difficult when approached by someone outside of the familiar ‘art world’, making it easy to flounder through an explanation and over think an answer that leaves the other party confused or worse -- unsure of you and your product or practice. I’ll admit that there have been times I have wanted to call my work ‘weird’ just to get a point across…yikes!
This brings us to branding. Branding seems like such a commercial term when talking about art (especially in my case, having come to the term after 7 years in an academic setting). Even so, branding lies at the heart of understanding, representing, and generating interest and strength for your product (or work, or practice, or however you refer to what you do). To really be able to convey what your work is about, give it value, and make it easy to understand, you can simplify by thinking of yourself as a brand, and you've got to know what your brand is: simply and exactly. This is admittedly something I’m just beginning to tackle, but here’s a quick list of some of the things I’ve been asking myself:
What do you make?
Why would you buy/desire/covet what you make?
Who is your market? Age? Values?
What do you do differently than others in your field/product?
Does your work have purpose?
How can you describe your work in 3-5 words?
I have recently begun following Megan Auman’s excellent ‘Marketing for Makers’ e-course, and I love the way she proposes a question related to just this. Megan asks us to consider the world itself, and how we would love to see it. She talks about the concept of fantasy and ideals, and how many products succeed based on fulfilling these ideals or escapes from reality. Knowing what your product does or offers for people, for yourself, and for potential collectors is important. How you see the world, or how you want to see the world is appealing to people, and makes them interested in your work. Being able to quickly describe this in a couple of loaded, planned words can make a huge difference in the way you present your brand. On the topic of conveying a product visually, verbally, or otherwise, Think: Albert Einstein’s saying, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough."
I understand your comments about the resistance of artists to the idea of "branding" but if New British Art has taught us anything, it is that Art and Brand are not incompatible. My own "The Justified Sinner" is a brand but one with which I have merely flirted and which is mutable and inconsistent, despite my body of work having a fairly strong thematic and stylistic unity. Building a brand can allow the very reverse of this: think about Damien Hirst... his brand allows him to flit from taxidermy to painting to interior design to objets d'art (my own favourite "For the Love of God"). Branding has given him a startling and enviable freedom and one which appears to run exactly counter to Einstein's maxim!
In my own case, I don't have the necessary understanding to make "The Justified Sinner" more than a slightly eccentric whim and I don't really have the time to take it anywhere, much as I would like to.
I work closely with jewelry students and alumni at SCAD. I am excited to use your blog to help my students as they move forward in creating their concepts and marketing/branding what they have created. Thank you for giving me another outlet to get some very important points across to young makers and designers.