I write today in thoughtful reflection of a recent conversation I had with an associate who had questioned the value of the web, or "new media" as he called it. I have given quite a bit of thought as to the ways artists and galleries have traditionally marketed and networked themselves, and how today's artists and galleries are handling the "notions" of technology.
The art world has been a bit reluctant to jump on the Internet highway. This surprises me because, in my opinion, these same people are generally forward thinkers. Let's take one example from history. The Impressionists were considered to be a rather radical group. Their art reflected not historical, religious or military depictions but instead focused on a moment in time, everyday life. This was just madness! At just about the same time the Impressionists were hanging around Cafe Guerbois and painting Plein Air, a new technology was making waves on the scene...it was called photography.
Still in all, today many in the arts question, just as my associate did, the value of the new media. Several years ago (8 years in fact), when I told one of my college professors and a curator at a local museum that I was opening my own business writing and designing for art on the Internet...she replied "Why how pedestrian of you." That was the feeling 8 years ago. But do some surfing now and it will be no surprise that organizations such as MOMA, The Met, The Whitney, The Guggenheim, Christie's, Sotheby's and countless other museums and galleries all over the world have not only websites...but "state of the art" web sites. Do we still consider this as being pedestrian? Would these prestigious institutions and organizations be investing thousands of dollars into a venture that wasn't of value?
It's not just brushes, canvas, and an easel that are the required tools of the trade for today's artist. Galleries are finding that to run a successful business they need more than a landline telephone, print marketing, and monthly art openings. Let's examine some of today's tools of the art trade and their value.
The value of the art website: I've already addressed the countless art websites that abound on the Internet. They are of all shapes and sizes, some offering free memberships, paid memberships, information, art education, online portfolios, artist galleries, contact info, hours etc. The thing that makes a website of value is not necessarily the website in and of itself...but the target audience and how that website addresses the needs of its target audience. Sometimes the true value of a website is not in how many sales the site brings in, but how it stands as a form of customer support. Never underestimate the importance of customer support. The value of a commerce site is clear. Its value is in selling product successfully online. The value of an information based site is in disbursing timely information to the target audience. If you are an artist, update your site with new works. If a gallery or museum, provide upcoming exhibitions and events. Provide stickiness which keeps viewers coming back to check what's new and to stay abreast with the industry. Give serious thought to your target audience and what it is they need from you. I just received in my email an announcement of the Official Launch of FineArtAmerica. The newsletter states: FineArtAmerica.com is a FREE interactive website created specifically for the fine art industry. The site is designed to bring together artists, art galleries, and fine-art collectors from the United States and Canada! For artists and art galleries, FineArtAmerica.com provides an unprecedented opportunity for you to promote your artwork, advertise your events, and gain exposure to a national audience of fine-art collectors. What is its value? To provide a service to its target audience. Will it be successful? We'll see. I can tell you this...having a website acts as more of a value than not having one and if you don't have one you're not considered to be a serious contender in an extremely competitive industry!
Having a website isn't all you need. You need to market that website. It's an anomaly, but a website is a marketing tool that you need to market in order for it to reach its true value. Just having a website sitting out there doesn't guarantee a return on investment. I know of an talented artist who actually got very angry because she felt the computer and the introduction of "new media" was intruding on her studio life. She felt that it was causing her a great disservice because she just wanted to paint and not to concern herself with a computer. Furthermore, she didn't see the value of marketing her art. Ok...but I haven't heard of any new galleries featuring her work in the last year. From what I know she has almost completely fallen off the radar both online and off. A website takes care and feeding. Yes, you now have to answer email as well as the landline phone...but welcome to the new world of art marketing. To not deal with these things is to do yourself and your business a great disservice.
Why a blog can help your business: If having a website wasn't enough, now blogging has become an important element in art promotion. The beauty of the blog is its feeds. Like the news organizations that distribute breaking news immediately across media, a blog uses a feed to get your information out there immediately. No more waiting weeks or months for the search engines to find your website, a blog can "push" information to various readers, search engines, and indexes within seconds of your publishing it. Why is this important? Because of its immediacy and because of its circulation. And because there is a whole other target audience that reads blogs and is looking for the type of art you produce or represent. Additionally having another presence on the web that is updated frequently benefits your existing site (providing you have linked them together) and brings in new traffic.
Art marketing guru Alyson B. Stanfield reports: "Compared to the average Internet user, blog readers are significantly more likely to live in wealthier households, be younger and connect to the Web via high speed connections. Blog readers also visit nearly twice as many web pages as the Internet average, and they are much more likely to shop online."
The importance of the computer: Do I really need to address this? I believe it actually warrants discussion. Along with a website, email is a major business tool for staying connected. If you have a website you REALLY need to have an email so that people who visit your site can contact you. You could argue that you could just provide a phone number as contact info but if it's 2am and someone wants to inquire about your work, do you really want them to have to wait until the following day to call you? Chances are the sale will have cooled by the next day and you might have missed a sale. Even if you don't have a website you REALLY need to have email...and USE IT! Checking your email every 5 days and not responding to email you receive is a disaster. You'll miss opportunities and believe me if people have to hunt you down to get a email response from you...they won't do it. There are many other artists and art businesses who have email and are happy to respond to it.
Blogging, websites and email are also beneficial to those professionals who travel. I've often bragged that I can do my business from anywhere on the planet...it's pretty cool. I also know that because of new media I can go to Europe for a week or to NYC for 3 days and my business back in Connecticut isn't going to come to a stand still. I can access and respond to email from any computer; or from the plane, train or taxi and I can keep my clients updated by posting to my blog. I was even able to update an important client's website and meet several "first of the month deadlines" while on holiday vacation in Sweden.
You need to know how to use your computer and while I understand that artists just want to be artists and paint and sculpt and do those things that artists are compelled to do, some basic knowledge of the computer is necessary. Know the difference between an email address and a website address (honest to god...I know people who don't understand the difference.) Know how to open a jpg or PDF attachment and know how to send one. If you don't understand how to perform these basic operations, then my associate who questions the value of new media is on target because if you don't know how to use the technology, its value is nothing to you.
Why you need a cell phone: Let's face it. We are all on call. We live in a fast paced society and it's sad but true that we are working very long hours. Communication, connecting and contacts are important in any business. While I have written previously about ways to manage the onslot of communications incoming, the importance of a cell phone is just a given. (Not only for safety...I believe every man and women should have one, just in case.) Cell phones and Blackberries can really keep you organized and on target especially if you travel or are out of the studio/office often. Need the directions to that gallery in Northwest Connecticut? Have them delivered to your cell.
Clearly I feel pretty strongly about the value of technology for today's artists, galleries and art organizations. I'm passionate about it and passionate about what I do for a living and I can say that I've been supporting myself and my family for some time now because others also recognize the value of new media. It can be hard to place a value on graphic design, web design and art marketing, but to not do these things is to leave a huge vacuum that will quickly be filled by your competition. Brands, art, and businesses (and artists...as you know, you are running a business) take on personalities just as people do. Make sure the personality of your business is a good solid one and take advantage of all the technologies and opportunities out there. It will pay you back ten fold.