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Time to Die a Little Inside

Post #1663 • March 20, 2014, 11:09 AM

Last week I was a guest speaker at one of the consistently excellent and free events put on by FunnelCake Marketing in support of Somerville Open Studios. Jesa Damora, proprietrix of FunnelCake, is a talented arts marketer who did yeoman's work on behalf of The Fire to Say at Winkleman Gallery's Curatorial Research Lab in January. I was there to talk about how to price artwork, and chime in on the larger topic of how to attract persons of note into your open studio event. It's an important concern in this town - eastern Massachusetts has an astonishingly busy calendar of open studios. Last year Roslindale had theirs opposite Jamaica Plain's, probably to their mutual detriment. That's a lot of parking to look for.

At one point in the talk Marc Gurton, the eminently bright bulb behind 13 Forest and the other guest speaker that night, emphasized to the audience of three-dozen makers of various kinds that a gallery is ultimately in the business of selling non-essential luxury goods and that any artist who can't contribute to that effort somehow is not going to be useful to the gallery's survival. My reply to that was total agreement, with the added observation that if you have any integrity at all as an artist, you should die a little inside when you hear it spelled out like that. Ultimately your art has to be an expression of an urgent need unrelated to utility and done for itself, otherwise you may make art but you're not an artist in a way that means anything. That said, it's certainly possible to reconcile a marketing or business effort with that kind of integrity, but one doesn't go about it in the way that one establishes a self-sustaining accountancy practice.

I thought back on all this when I saw a recent interview by Shana Beth Mason with Amani Olu and Larry Ossei-Mensah, principals of the MEDIUM Group, which describes itself as an effort to create a world where brands can authentically engage the art world while generating positive ROI and stimulating business growth. They also teach a continuing ed course at SVA called The Rules: How to Play the Art Game Without Sacrificing Artistic Integrity.

For many artists, the concept of "doing business" or engaging in any form of marketing, branding or networking is intimidating, and often considered the antithesis of a serious, intellectual art practice. In this course, creative and marketing professionals from The MEDIUM Group explore 12 ways to help artists understand the "art game" and how it is played. Participants will complete the course empowered, informed and equipped with the tools necessary to use marketing as an extension of their artistic practice to better navigate the art world. This class is perfect for students, recent graduates (BFA and MFA), 9-5ers and full-time artists.

Twelve! Exactly twelve rules. (Not to be confused with The Rules.) I can't help but notice that the status of this class in the SVA calendar has been set to canceled.

Shana (I know her, she wrote about my work in Miami when she was based there) asks the two about the background of MEDIUM Group. (She's Q, they're A.)

A: MEDIUM emerged from a common vision to help brands and artists navigate the nuances of the art world. We accomplish this via thought leadership (our SVA course), digital content curation (M Daily, our online magazine highlighting the art world’s exhibitions, people and lifestyle), experiential marketing (Cocktails and Curators), and consultancy services.

Q: What is the content of the course? If the students there are too young or not in a position to collect or get access to contemporary art, how do you make it come alive for them?

A: The course includes four key pillars: Artistic Practice; Brand Development; Relationship Building; and Professionalism, Likeability and Respect. We designed the course to empower artists and creatives with the tools to take agency within their careers, regardless of age, [in order to] access or position themselves in the art world. We provide insider secrets and strategies on how to ascend the art world’s hierarchical structure; whether you are an art star or a novice, the same rules apply.

One of the key actualizing tools we use in the course is called the SAFE Plan. The SAFE Plan stands for Systematic Approaches For Everyone and compels users to identify targets and the steps necessary for them to hit the mark. Students use the tool in our class and present it at the end of each class. Targets are as simple as finding a new studio or gallery representation. This exercise really brings the course to life and builds on the four pillars.

The interview is accompanied by a distressing photo credited to the MEDIUM Group which pictures a line of art worlders at The Standard Spa during Art Basel Miami Beach 2013. Click for the larger version. Contrast, if you will, the affect of the white people on the left with the non-white people on the right, while contemplating the cultivation of Professionalism, Likeability, and Respect. For poetic effect, regard how they're backed up against a dark and endless sea.


I leave the total interpretation to you, but I will say this: the people on the left don't look like they need to be there.

It's worth considering that once you're using terms like thought leadership (instead of teaching), experimental marketing (instead of cocktail reception where we try to sell you shit), actualizing tools (n., pl.), and so on, you are thinking like a suit. Just because you're wearing sneakers with your suit doesn't mean you're not a suit. And you can talk integrity all day long but unless you're making the kind of art you would be making even if it guaranteed your consignment to the wastebasket of history, you have probably misplaced yours.

Also: Branding is something you do to a cow using a hot iron. Never forget that.




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