A friend posted a status update on Facebook recently that expressed frustration about the way some artists and public art projects are marketed. Her annoyance stemmed from the “hype” over a public art project that made her feel “marketed to”.
I wondered about the specifics of the project that had sparked her ire, so I asked her about it. She never gave me the specifics, but she did share this unsolicited compliment:
“I appreciate the way you personally try to connect with your audience and community, BZTAT — because of your blog and your social media pages I do feel like you “practice what you preach.”
I wasn’t seeking a compliment about my own social media activities. I was simply curious about what had annoyed her so much. I was gratified, however, to hear that my own social media presence was having the intended impact upon those who follow me.
Authenticity is very important to me in the process of sharing and promoting my art business. The notion of marketing is only palatable to me if it is done within the context of real life experience and true creative inspiration.
I try to engage honestly with those who enjoy my art instead of “marketing to” them. “Personally connecting with my audience and community” makes my work more desirable to people I think, so the hard sell is not necessary.
Authenticity has its consequences though.
I am sure that I have missed out on sales of artwork because I declined to pitch it in more aggressive ways. I also know that being accessible and approachable defies the myth some people have about artists being remote and mysterious, thus leading them to believe I am not a “serious” artist.
The consequences of being inauthentic would be worse, however. I am not good at being fake.
I guess I am lucky that personal and authentic connection with my audience works for me. It’s the only way that I know how to be, and I thrive on the enrichment I receive in the process.
Thanks for following along, and thanks for bringing me that enrichment.
Paradoxes, Purposes and Ponderances is a series of articles written by Artist BZTAT commenting on current events and culture.
You have no doubt read about the latest Abercrombie & Fitch controversy, or maybe you have seen people lamenting and gnashing Facebook teeth about it. Maybe you saw Ellen Degeneres’ televised A&F smackdown, or have read celebrity tweets admonishing the allegedly “cool” clothing brand.
At the heart of the controversy is a Salon article about the company’s CEO Mike Jeffries, that, in fact, was published in 2006. It is not clear why the article has re-emerged in 2013, but one particular quote from Jeffries has stirred many to cry foul in the present:
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
Many people see Jeffries’ statement as a direct and insensitive slight towards individuals who are too large to fit into A&F clothes.
No one chooses to be overweight or larger than size 10, which is the apparent limit to “coolness” according to Jeffries, self-appointed arbiter of “cool”. Many people make food choices that may lead to extra girth (myself included), but no one decides that they want to be heavy.
So, if we ascribe to Jeffries’ definition of “cool”, there are “haves” and there are “have nots”, and one will always be inferior to the other.
Obviously, Jeffries’ candid statement of belief has some people up in arms.
Some have sought to get A&F to change, insisting that they make larger sizes. Some have implored people to donate A&F clothing to homeless people in order to trash the brand’s promotion of their vision of “coolness”.
A&F and Jeffries have defended the brand, however, and they have shown no desire to change. Should they change?
I don’t think they “should”. They are under no obligation to stop being idiots. We are also under no obligation to buy their product.
When Jeffries took over the struggling company in 1992, he rebuilt it in the way that an artist approaches a creative work. He created an imaginary world, inventing ideals that fed perceptions of emotionally immature adolescents looking for self outside of their own being. Using artful photography, A&F pushed ideals of youth, attractiveness and sexuality into a youthful consciousness, implying that only certain individuals that fit the ideal were worthy.
If the A&F images and fashion designs had been displayed on gallery walls, they may have been heralded as an amazingly creative concept and an interesting aesthetic.
When art coerces people to change their individual mindsets about themselves, AND when people are manipulated by art into purchasing products in order to feed a false collective mindset – that is another thing entirely.
Art and commerce rely on tapping into an existing mindset, though, to be successful. Collective and individual mindsets change.
When I was younger, there were things in my world that I aspired to change. I have always been one to wax philosophical, and I have often held to lofty dreams.
As a child and as a young woman, I dreamed of what my world would be like when I reached the age that I am at the present. And I did all that was in my power to make changes happen so my dream world could come true.
I dreamed of a world where fighting nations found other ways to settle disputes. I dreamed of a world where child abuse, domestic violence and other social ills would become obsolete. I dreamed of a world where human beings became smarter and kinder and more effective in their pursuits of happiness.
I dreamed of a world where gun violence was gauged according to it being a rare event, not according to how it rated against last year’s numbers.
I dreamed of a world where our growing body of intelligence helped us learn to work together instead of developing technologies that made it easier for us to blow each other apart.
I dreamed of a world where common sense became more common, and selfish rationalizations became rarities.
I knew that these hopes and dreams would not all come to pass in one lifetime, but I honestly thought we would be closer to them than we are by now. Instead, I look at my world and wonder, how can it be that we are farther away from these things than ever?
At age 50, I struggle to reconcile the fact that, despite my efforts, and others’ efforts from my generation, my world totally contradicts that which I had dreamed it would become.
Was I a fool to think it would be any different? Am I bitter and cynical and not seeing the forest for the trees? Am I having a “mid-life crisis”? Or is life just bigger than I thought, and beyond my limited imaginings?
I have no answers. I am not even at a place where I can posit any assumptions.