The dilemma of getting to know the real artist, or a reasonable facsimile
Something happened this past week that reopened questions on being an artist, questions of professionalism, and the dilemma of marketing. I received a call in response to a recent complaint based on my personal Facebook page. The complaint was on its ‘negativity’. The offense(s) in question were my personal interactions and responses to global issues with friends on my page, and particularly, my occasional release of frustration over the ongoing struggle in getting sales and awareness for my artwork. It was my one outlet. I was told that it made me appear unprofessional and reflected badly on artists and galleries associated to me. I was advised that I should not include my personal self in any social media, as it pushed people away. And at all times, keep it upbeat and with a smile.
The ‘professionalism’ critique cut deeply as it has been a priority through the years, and the loss of my personal page where I could just be who I am has left me feeling numb. But I’ve had time to ponder on this, as I’ve done in previous challenges. I needed to think through the questions and the various forks in the road that they presented. I wouldn’t still be an artist today if I had succumbed to past criticism at face value. I’ve learned a long time ago that I couldn’t please everyone, while maintained my continued hope that there were enough supporters out there who believed in my work. But even then, there are times of doubt when I even wonder whether there is. It is part of the journey. The one truth that I’ve come to know is how I’ve been a lone wolf in my work through the years, pursuing my artwork when I’ve usually been the square peg fitting a round hole. Only I know the compromises I’ve had to make in the quest of balance between my art, supporting my family, and the financial restrictions. Professionalism and integrity are always at the core of what I do.
Returning to the Facebook page question, it was originally my personal page to interact with the outside world, keeping in touch with friends, family, and people that I’ve worked with through the years. My artwork gradually came into the mix as I was trying to get the word out. I’ve been wrestling with the growingly complex mix, so I then created a Facebook Artist page, thinking that would be the solution. But I found that I could not invite people to this page. It had to just sit there and wait for people to find it, unless I paid for ongoing Facebook ads to help things moving along. I was left with the complex mix. Occasionally, I posted a few statuses about the concern, and how my political views etc. may be getting in the way of promoting my art. But it was/is part of who I am. It all is part of the whole. My art does not unfold as a completely separate entity. But I do also still maintain my website, including blogs (Journals) about my art, both in Iconography and Painting. But there too, a website is not a solution in itself. There is the hurdle of getting traffic to a website. It sits there online, waiting for people to come across it haphazardly, as most don’t know to look for it. And there too, there is always the solution of throwing more money into advertisement.
I’ve never had the only key component for the phrase “It takes money to make money”.
I had approached both Federal and Provincial Granting bodies, inquiring about a possible application to further paint close-up time capsules of the West Coast Totems. Having a collaborator connected to the project would help, but the problem is that they insist that I don’t qualify for assistance, as they’ve pegged me as being a ‘commercial’ artist. The reason for this conclusion is my not having been paid fees by a professional gallery to show my work (even though I’ve had 4 solo exhibitions in Community Arts Galleries, have had pieces accepted in two large Fine Arts Shows, plus a 35+ years body of work in Iconography). ‘Commercial’ is such an odd niche to be put into. Commercial! What does that mean exactly! All artists need sales in order to survive. Does it suggest that I just crank out art for sales, without the ‘fine arts aspirations’ and goals normally associated with an artist? But that is a whole other topic.
Back to the recent critique.
The research that I’ve done on marketing artwork indicated that patrons want to get to know the artist behind the work. It often helps in making a sale once that connection is made. But the critique received poses the question as to whether patrons initially want to know the real artist (with the nuts and bolts of an artist’s passion and challenges along the way), or do they prefer hearing what they want to hear when meeting an artist, and only hearing the marketing spin. Also, if there is a painting, or series of paintings that they like or are drawn to, do the paintings lose their impact and ‘professionalism’ after meeting the real artist behind them, or reading of the passions in the artist’s life? These all inform an artist’s choices and direction.
So yes, I’ve since gone through my Facebook page and deleted anything political, and anything that could possibly be inferred as negative. But of course that can only include what I post, with no control as to what persons in my friends list post. So it is now another art page where I post updated artwork, and attach links to my blogs with all the behind the scenes information. I actually call them ‘Journals’ as it better represents how I use them, and it is rare to receive comments even though viewers have the feature available to them. My website also has all the layers, commentaries, and ongoing journals entries with background and thoughts.
But having done that with the Facebook page, I felt as though I had been silenced, cut off. It had been my window to world but now, I was no longer able to respond to what friends and acquaintances shared, or to react to global issues. I live a life within isolation given the multitude times that I’ve moved around, and because of circumstances, commitments and finances. That combination isn’t conducive to maintaining friends along the way as they move along on there own paths. So it has been me and my son, and ever changing studio(s). So, as a way of regaining my voice and connection to the world, I created yet another personal Facebook page, which I’ve assigned with a private setting in order to keep it disconnected from the art page. But with the Facebook limitations, I’ve ended up with two Andre Prevost pages, with the only way of distinguishing one from the other by using two different profile pictures: one with painting reference profile jpegs, and the other with no art reference. I am sorry for the confusion to my friends (list), and I now feel a bit ambiguous about this new level of complexity. I find myself hesitating now, every time it comes to logging in. Log in to which! My new Personal page, my transitioned art Facebook page, my Artist Facebook page, or my Iconography Facebook page (not to mention Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.). Which contacts do I keep in one or the other? Many are connected to the art, either theirs or mine, while some also share serious issues for awareness and dialog (First Nations, America, Europe etc.). Which page can I respond to these? So it is all leaving me as a split personality, and having to segregate much of myself in order to maintain a more marketable self.
I venture to think that artists of pre-social media days had their time in cafes, friend’s homes and such to discuss anything they so wished, and being themselves. And yet there were also those who worked and struggled with isolation and their work, and many did live impoverished lives. But even so, it did not make their work less professional or less crucial. I wanted to believe that patrons supported the art for its sake, in spite of the artist’s complexity, or whether the art institutions and critiques of the day accepted the artist or not. But in fact, galleries, benefactors, and art institutions can in fact act as a buffer between the artist and patron, and do have an impact on how an artist’s work was categorized, for public consumption. It is all part of the journey, passion and belief in ones works. If it was just myself, going hungry and struggling with my budget is one thing, but when you have a family, it’s a whole other ball of wax. You can’t make the decision that your family will also be hungry and go without.
Am I an artist? Absolutely. Am I a professional artist? Absolutely. Being a financially struggling artist does not make me unprofessional. Commercial? Well, I would argue that, if I were doing this for purely commercial reasons, then I would have totally missed the mark given that the focus of art I’ve followed isn’t necessarily so. I need sales yes, in order to survive and stay in my studio. But there is much that I still need and want to do, even though I know that a lot of it would not be typically marketable or commercial in the conventional sense re: style, choice, colour, etc. This is where funding agencies and collaborators come in to help permit me to continue the work still to be done.
So yes, being the Virgo and perfectionist that I am, I have had numerous soul searchings, both as the artist and the person. It all makes me who I am, informing my journey, with all the foibles, hurdles, accomplishments, self-doubts, limitations, love, and disappointments. I bear the many similar traits of an artist, even though I for the most part, am not a ‘joiner’ by nature. It is how my art was formed, and on my own terms, carving my own way and styles while most often straddling seemingly opposite art forms and cultures. But always in respect.
Andre Prevost, began his work in theatre in the late 70s after completing his studies at the Banff School of Fine Arts, and in his iconography in 1980, and having a large body of work in each. He has since been based in Western Canada; North Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and now back on the West Coast.