“Does the cream always rise to the top?” inquired an artist attending a seminar for artists interested in publicizing their artwork. I must admit that while many details of this seminar are sketchy, his question, some two years later, still resonates with me. I suspect most artists have wondered if their artwork would be well received with enough public exposure.
Today’s media can stump the most savvy of artists, and every artists in that room wanted helpful hints. The four well-known, respected panelists, consisting of two high-profile writers, an editor, and art gallery owner/ consultant, offered solid advice. Show your art as much as possible. Display enthusiasm for your work to both media types and everyday people. Don’t badger writers, curators, gallery owners and editors with too much information and too many questions.
So, what should you send to your favorite arts reporter or gallery owner? Artists raised a plethora of questions to understand what specific information was most appealing to writers, editors, curators, etc… The panel’s resounding answer: “It depends.” Some individuals desire substantive press releases. Others prefer a minimalist approach—i.e. an invitation with a single image. Some preferred obtaining an overall sense of the artist work by viewing the body of their work through slides, catalogs or via links to websites. Bottom line, the preferred method changed with the personalities of the individuals whom one is attempting to reach. The panel unanimously suggested that artists invest the time to learn what appealed to a particular writer, editor, curator, etc.
Two surefire ways not to obtain publicity: 1) to declare that you have created a totally new artistic method, style or idea. 2) To proclaim that your style is comparable only to Leonardo da Vinci or some other cream of the crop artist that we would sacrifice our non-drawing arm just to touch their paint brushes. In art, there is very little new under the sun, the panel reasoned. To make such claims undermines your credibility. Interestingly, panel members receive countless press releases to this effect.
The panel suggested a few ways to get media attention. Although you may want that well known arts writer or popular gallery owner to attend your show, they do have heavy schedules. Sending the invite to not only them, but to his/her assistant or colleague could produce positive results. Often the assistant or colleague welcome invitations, have leaner schedules and more time to attend shows and more importantly, could provide positive feedback to the person that you are trying to reach. When sending out press releases provide a hook. An interesting and provocative press release is only half the battle, help the writer come up with a lead consistent with the themes explored in your artwork. One of the writers on the panel said he tries to get into the head of the artist and see if he/she has accomplished their goals. The bad side is not fulfilling one’s stated objective, may lead to a negative review. But bad press is better than none at all, he offers because at least you achieved the goal of gaining exposure for your work. Hopefully, the public will decide for itself if they appreciate your artist point-of-view.
Honestly, most of us had heard these helpful hints and tidbits of information many times before. But the impressive credentials of the panelists made the audience stand up and take notice. They were bona fide art professionals; the people whom artists would spend weeks, months, and even years trying to get them to review their work, to recognize them as artists. But even this group had no easy answer to the artist’s question, “Does the cream always rise to the top?” After a moment of silence, followed by eyes searching for a suitable answer, one panelist ventured to say, “I certainly hope so.”
Being a city-boy deprived of the joy and excitement of milking a cow, not only was I not familiar with this saying, but was clueless of its’ origin. However, the words stayed with me and although I gather the gist at the time, it was not until just recently that it was fully explained. I suppose in some utopian society, the cream of the arts community does always rise to the top, but this is not a utopian society. Unfortunately, rising to the top requires more than artistic talent alone.
This question however, brings to mind another quote that has stayed with me through the years on talent. “If a man has a talent and cannot use it, he has failed. If he has a talent and uses only half of it, he has partly failed. If he has a talent and learns somehow to use the whole of it, he has gloriously succeeded, and won a satisfaction and a triumph few men ever know”. – Thomas Wolfe
In the end, the cream may always rise to the top, however, one cannot disregard the amount of caressing and manipulating required in an effort to get it there.