In my September 2020 article on how artists could circumvent the elitism of the art world, I highlighted the importance of networking (without hard-selling), that is, introducing yourself to a variety of people without directly telling them to buy your art—the rationale being that power dynamics in human relationships are extremely sensitive and many consumers can find unsolicited approaches from sellers quite unpleasant in an overcrowded economy.
I believe the greatest challenge we all will face in our professional lives—whatever our industry—will be the conversion of other people to our product/service or cause. It is not that difficult to be skilful at one’s work/niche but communicating that skilfulness to others and convincing them that it might satisfy some need of theirs can be quite a task. Marketing and networking are hard in most careers (I say this because I constantly get emails from businesses who think I might need what they have to offer—PR, IT, fashion and accessories, etc.—but they make little impact on me. They may be great at what they’re offering but the way they introduce themselves does not make me want to check them out). I feel only something as basic as, say, healthcare can function with a kind of ease with regard to promotional communication. Every doctor I know worked hard to gain their qualifications but once their practice was established, client word-of-mouth did the job. Beyond industries that are extremely essential for survival, persuasion seems to be a considerable struggle. Even careers that we might view as promising—financial advisory or real estate—require great effort in marketing, or so I see on social media, because competition is just everywhere now.
It’s important for creative professionals to understand that they are not alone, and this fact can make them feel slightly better. Below I will elaborate on the points I have mentioned previously, exploring four ways in which those in the arts can connect with others and communicate their value.
1). Online Presence, Regularly Updated and Expanded
In this day and age, our devices are an extension of ourselves. Most people live online. Artists and designers of every kind must be active on social media, with a well curated presence. As I pointed out in my article on branding, “quality” and “consistency” are key when creating content. Also, the reach must grow over time. On Instagram, if advertising is beyond budget, one can make an attempt to grow one’s audience by interacting with other users. But not just any user—not those with very large followings who won’t even register your like or comment, and most definitely not fake accounts. Instead, real professionals and businesses with small followings, who might see your activity on their page and follow you out of curiosity. Activity on Instagram can be blocked if unrestrained, so one cannot afford to waste one’s likes and comments on accounts that won’t reciprocate engagement. Even tiny targets (like 5-10 new followers per day) can take one very far.
2). Befriending Somebody Close to an Influential Person
I wrote earlier: “Dealers who are too loaded with pitches will give you more respect and attention if, instead of directly messaging them, you somehow befriend somebody close to them (who then shows your work to them).”
This thought is related to the work of French scholar René Girard (1923-2015)—who drew from a range of disciplines and introduced the concept of “mimetic theory”. He said: “Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and he turns to others in order to make up his mind. We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires.”
In short, human beings—in large part—do not value things or people in a vacuum. They want something or someone when they see others wanting or endorsing that very item or individual. This process works subconsciously. And it is especially very real in the creative industries, where there are no objective criteria of excellence. Dealers, curators and critics frequently pick certain artists just because they are being celebrated by somebody else. The good news is that the social circles of these influential figures are out on display online. It is very easy to find out who is hanging around with whom, and possible venture into these networks.
3). Putting What Others are Offering First
Also, I added: “If there’s a businessman or cultural influencer you want to approach, find an article or video of theirs—then email them saying you enjoyed it and why the subject interests you. Leave your website and social media profiles in the signature. Chances of receiving a reply go up with soft-selling.”
It is scientifically proven that when we express curiosity towards the other instead of talking too much about ourselves, our conversation partners end up liking us more. I have experienced this myself. I begin every Zoom call now by putting the spotlight on the person I’m speaking to. I actively ask them to share their career story before I reveal mine—and this has been yielding positive results. People become more open to the possibility of working with you if they strongly feel that you care about them—their background, their struggles, their achievements and their goals.
4). Connecting with Present Customers of Successful Creators
Another way of finding potential buyers/representatives is by observing who is currently buying (or showing interest in) the work of commercially successful artists—particularly those who are similar to one in theme or style. Many artists with good followings on Instagram share the accounts of users who have engaged with their work in their stories. An upcoming artist can find many useful art enthusiasts by keeping an eye on these updates.
Written by Tulika Bahadur.