This blog focuses on the joys, challenges and lessons of living the creative life—and make a living doing it!
Author Gayle Mahoney is an arts marketing consultant and has shown and sold her own artwork for over 25 years.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lead balloons

I used to play the trumpet in a swing band. We played a number of venues around New York City just as swing music was making a resurgence in the late 1990s. There were some great musicians in the band, and we practiced a lot, both on our own and as a group. What amazed me was that we could give the same quality of performance to several audiences, but the reaction could be completely different. There were a few times where something magical happened and the connection we felt with the audience exceeded a musical performance and lifted us, collectively, into a place of transcendence and deep communion.

As an artist, achieving that "place" of transcendent connection with my audience is an ever-present goal for me. It is a transitory place and rarely encountered. But having been there, I like how it feels to have someone have a new experience as a reaction to my work. Even if it is something as simple as liking a pair of earrings that I made, if someone responds or "gets it" I feel that I have done my job.

I have shown my sculpture enough times that I know the range of engagement people will have, some will connect with it very deeply right away, some people are inquisitive but some effort is required to engage, some people understand it but just plain don't like it. And sometimes the work goes over like a lead balloon. I recently had a show opening where few people engaged at all. Ironically it was the strongest body of work I have put up in a long time, so the self-doubt I would normally feel in such a situation was kept at bay. The show looked great in the space. But it was the wrong audience for my work and I suppose was expecting too much from them.

Marketing is the process of using all the skills we have to create the conduit for our work that will allow the transcendent connection we strive for as artists. It is the process of finding and priming our audience so that they are as receptive as possible to our ideas and creations. It is an open-ended experiment, and sometimes we completely miss the mark.

Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug, sometimes you're the squeegee that has to scrape the bug off the windshield and figure out a better way to go about it next time around.

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