Commence the heresy: art and marketing are fundamentally the same. There’s a reason that Jim Henson‘s work flowed so easily from commercials to purely Muppet-based stuff. Both the artists and the marketers are trying to make awesome experiences. But marketers are trying to get you to buy stuff because of that experience (or recommend a product, or feel better about your car, yadda yadda). Artists are just trying to get you have a killer experience – that’s the product. That’s it.

So in that way, we’re actually ‘off the hook’ for motivating people to buy sneakers or soda. That’s kind of nice.

But then we still need to pay the bills. So we do need to sell shit. What do we sell? CDs, posters, t-shirts, signed stuff, commissioning credit, premium access to the artist, various physical manifestations of the warm fuzzies, really anything we can think of at all.

So in a way the art experiences we make for people are marketing for our swag. We want people to have incredible artistic experiences that motivate them to pour cash into one of our newfangled space age revenue streams (Kickstarter campaign anyone?).

But that’s an economic analysis – it’s a huge mismatch with how artists actually think about what they do. It’s kind of viscerally sketchy to think of the creative craft to which we’ve devoted our lives as marketing for our silk screen t-shirts.

Rhymefest: Arts & Marketing is Good

I started thinking this way listening to Che “Rhymefest” Smith talking about artists signing up with Mountain Dew. Badass footnote: Rhymefest ran for alderman in Chicago’s 20th ward; it was a weird race (Quoth Rhymefest: “Arts were put on trial. I don’t know Lil Wayne, but I had to answer for all his songs”).

The artists who worked with Mountain Dew got to keep all their rights, all their royalties, all their revenue, all their everything. And Mountain Dew picked up the production costs. They just want to sell soda, and the artists have some product-placement responsibilities.

So this art that gets made with no connection to a product and fulfills the creative needs of the artists and also accomplishes some marketing goal – both for the CDs (artist revenue) and for soda (Mountain Dew revenue). There are a couple other corporate projects like this, including the Rubber Tracks recording studio in Williamsburg (thanks Converse) and some other opportunities for artists.

These projects may drive some revenue for the companies involved, but mostly they’re probably about improving the image of the companies by supporting the arts for very little cost. This very blog post is a great example: free media mention for Mountain Dew and Converse in a positive arts context. Nice deal for them.

Then we get to the question of how these projects get selected: Rubber Tracks picks artists based not on how good they are but on how big their potential to promote the company is. You can suck, but if you have a squillion twitter followers and a tumblr blog, you’re in. It is free stuff for artists, but then again there’s some moral hazard there.

But then again again artists are already stuck with incredible burdens of self-promotion. It’s in our own best interests to manage huge social media presences and to build up as big a following as we can. So maybe it’s nice to have a bit of a cash incentive for to get better at this sort of thing.

The intersection of art-making and marketing is weird, complex and fraught. But at bottom we’re all trying to make really awesome experiences for people, and we’re all trying to get money out of them.

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1 Comment

  1. Speaking as a visual artist, I understand exactly what you mean! I don’t make my stuff so I can keep it. I want to keep making more, so I have to sell to make room for it. And to pay bills.

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