(One of Rick Osaka’s recent works)
What does it mean to have an artistic reputation? Is there a line between being a sellout and a savvy businessman? To further investigate this issue, I relied on the help of professionals. A survey was sent out with a list of eight questions to experienced art professionals that would bring insight to the modern role of marketing in art. These people have years of real-world experience dealing with the modern art world and all the business aspects of it. The responses I got ranged from successful art dealers, consultants, artists, curators, and more. Of course there was no one definite answer, as the answers where as varied as these people’s backgrounds. However, there was a general consensus on some issues, and all the responses added valuable and smart insight to the subject.
The second interviewee in this series is Rick Osaka, who is currently a Professor of Fine Art at Pasadena City College, and a fine artist as well as the creator of the award-winning Tanqueray Gin ad series featuring Mr. Jenkins. Mr Osaka lives and works in Altadena California.
• (Mackey) Warhol seems to be regarded as a role model for contemporary artists in business. If so, do you think artists of today ask “What would Warhol do?”
• (Osaka) There may be some artists that would consider him as a guide but I think that there aren’t many. Even though Warhol should be considered as a master at the business side of an art practice, his business model probably shouldn’t be taken too literally because its success was fashioned after his unique personality, habits, and psyche. Another reason not to take him literally is that some of his business practices would be considered obsolete or irrelevant. If Warhol was alive today, I think that he would have the same goals as he did back in the ‘80s but he would use different avenues to enhance his practice. I think that it would be more appropriate to look to someone like him as inspiration to use whatever one is comfortable with to gain publicity or notoriety if that is the wish of the artist.
• (Mackey) Has the marketing of art changed since the 1960’s? Do you think it would be hard to picture Jackson Pollock merchandising his work as an artist like Kaws?
• (Osaka) Comparing Pollack to Kaws is like comparing apples to oranges. Mackey, we’re talking of different times and different personalities. A “one size fits all” mentality of marketing would not work for these two artists. However, my guess is that Pollack would not like to have his work marketed like Kaws. That’s not to say that either one is better or worse, but I think that each period of time and each person has to determine their own marketing course. Today, there are numerous niches, groups, subgroups to consider. Each of these could be approached differently and with the influence of digital media, the marketing landscape and strategies has forever changed from the days of doing mailings and relying on printed media.
• (Mackey) What would you consider before making a decision about art marketing?
• (Osaka) First, I think that all artists should build a strong body of work that they feel good about. I just think that an honest decision could not be made without doing the work first and then evaluating what the artist wants to accomplish with it. Without this self-knowledge, an artist could not make a sound decision on any kind of business matter. By the way, artists are constantly changing, revising, or evolving so therefore, one’s marketing strategies should probably be revisited as needed.
• (Mackey) What’s over the top in terms of marketing? Is there a line not to be crossed?
• (Osaka) There is a high threshold for tolerance these days so being “over the top” is kind of hard to imagine. Since I’m older, it feels like I’ve seen many of the same things but dressed up differently like a Lady Gaga compared to a Madonna. Anyway, the line not to cross would be anything that would compromise my honesty, truth as I see it, and personal sincerity. I would opt out of anything that felt deceitful or consciously hurtful. Now this can sound Pollyannish, so I would say that outlandish marketing schemes don’t bother me but I personally would not feel comfortable crossing some lines as I said earlier.
• (Mackey) Do you think artists need to take business classes to succeed in today’s art world?
•(Osaka) No, not all artists need business classes unless their practice investigates the nature of the business world in a deep way. Someone like Julie Mehretu who does drawings about business networks may benefit from certain types of economics classes in order to produce a more informed body of work, but artists in general could get by with a really good accountant.
• (Mackey) Who sets the standard? Is it okay if it’s in The Gagosian Store or sold through MoMA?
• (Osaka) The MoMAs and Gagosians are absolutely the big players and to negate their presence would just be silly. Associations with these places are a kind of stamp of approval for many people and are really helpful in the career of an artist and good for business, if that’s what it’s all about in art. That said, the ultimate standard bearer has to be the individual artist. He or she is the one that must take responsibility and determine what the artistic yardstick is and how to use it.
• (Mackey) Do you think marketing brings more exposure to an artist? Could selling this less expensive merchandise bring in people who normally wouldn’t be interested in this art because of the cost?
Why do you think artists market their work? Is it for exposure, to reach new markets, to make more money? Or a combination of these?
• (Osaka) Mackey, you are asking 4 complex questions so I will try to address each one simply and in order.
1. Effective marketing equals increased exposure.
2. Less expensive merchandise creates a new dynamic to a new demographic while high end products have been the status quo for the conventional elitist artist.
3. Artists who are overly concerned with marketing can be susceptible to the whims of public fancy.
4. Artists who carefully balance the need to market their work do so in order to sustain their practice. The End!!!!