New artists & the oldest profession

New book urges artists to seek publicity and make money.

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Many young artists assume that if they work hard at creating their magnum opus, someone will march into their studio, wave a wand and presto, instant fame and fortune. But, alas, no. Not for mere mortals. Even Pygmalion had to go to the altar of Venus to ask for help when he fell in love with his sculpture. Artists from all ages have had to beg, grovel, struggle and fight to survive. Sound good? Here’s how! This book is a guide to marketing and promotion, intended for visual artists at various stages in their careers who want to be successful. Of course, success is subjective — Pygmalion married his art and had a baby — but here “success equals money.” It’s an ugly truth — even artists need money to survive and it ain’t easy. In fact, author Julius Vitali confesses, “Artists are second-class citizens who have to fight for every nickel and dime.”

Marketing is a way to get those nickels and dimes, but it can also be a way to contextualize art. Vitali uses the example of the dadaists who created a scene through sheer promotion. Although this movement created few actual pieces of art, Dada became one of the most influential art movements of the twentieth century. The famous Cabaret Voltaire, where it all started, only held 50 people. Evidently the dadaist Tristan Tzara was good at getting the word out.

“Dada achieved recognition because Tzara knew how to use the media to communicate its message.” How would the audience know that a toilet bowl was a piece of art unless someone told them? It’s all about spin.

This is the second edition of the book; the first came out in 1996. The revision includes up-to-date information on digital and Internet technologies, including specifics such as system requirements for scanning photos, protecting film from the new airport scanners, and the fine art of e-schmoozing. Another big change since the first edition is 9/11, an event that did indeed shake our world, but is mentioned with such frequency that it seems a little askew. Saying that New York City is “best known as the location of 9/11,” for example, is seeing the world through ash-covered glasses. Surely the Big Apple is best known for something other than a giant pit downtown. Perhaps this preoccupation is self-serving — Vitali was one of the central curators and artists of the Ground Zero exhibition that debuted at Detroit’s MONA in 2002.

He’s an artist who has obviously taken his own advice, which could be distilled into the adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Many artists might not know who to squeak to, though, and this book contains explicit advice on how to approach galleries and the media. The instructions range from the obvious, “It is always beneficial to have many people at the opening,” to the obscure, “The best time to schedule an event for the television news is between 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.” The book is chock-full of grant information, how to be your own photo agent, and what kind of paper to use for letters or reproductions. There’s even a bit about parking in New York City. The book presents a portrait of the artist as a small-business person, and encourages artists to get their work out not only in galleries and museums, but in ads, magazines, or anywhere else that will accept it.

One can’t help but ask, if these media-blasting tactics work so dang well, how does the successful artist have time to write a book? Then again, the book gets Vitali’s name out there more, which is, in fact, the point. Maybe the whole book is a giant brochure for Vitali, Inc., in the guise of a manual. Perhaps the missing advice is “write a book like this one.” But that’s too mean. If he really wanted to be selfish, he’d keep all these methods to himself. There must be a note of altruism in his song. If artists are second-class citizens, left to scrabble for scraps on the American corporate dining room floor, then one of Vitali’s goals is for artists to rise up.

Margaret Hundley Parker is a novelist and writer living in Brooklyn, N.Y., and an occasional contributor to Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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