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I am the Contrarian Art Marketer

by Clint Watson on 1/8/2010 12:01:32 PM

 This article is by Clint Watson,  former art gallery owner/director/salesperson and founder of FineArtViews. You should follow Clint on Twitter here.

"Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful" - Warren Buffett.

Warren questions the wisdom of the masses, and thus wasn't invested in dotcoms in 2000 or residential real estate in 2008.  
Just because something is popular doesn't mean it's a good idea.  In fact, in investing, it often means it's a bad idea.  This is sometimes called contrarian investing.
I'm the same way.  I question everything.  And the more popular something is, the more I question it.  You can call me "The Contrarian Art Marketer."
There is definitely an online "echo chamber" effect out there.  And when an idea starts echoing loudly, I start questioning it.
The echo chamber tells artists that SEO is extremely important, but I say it's not all that important.  The echo chamber says that you need to develop a USP, but I say you are already developing a Wordless USP.  The echo chamber says that having a really professional looking portfolio and image is important, but I say chill out - that's not all that important either.  The Echo Chamber goes crazy over Facebook, but I'm not so sure.  The Echo Chamber currently loves Twitter, but I questioned that too (and have sort of had to eat crow on that one).  The echo chamber thinks a gallery must be in a great high-traffic location, but I used sell tons of art from a location that had zero walk-in traffic.
I'm sure that as the contrarian art marketer, I've missed the boat on some of my thoughts, just as I'm sure Warren has missed some good investments opportunities.  But overall, it's served me well.
And it can serve you well too.
When "gurus" give you advice about your art career and ideas about marketing.....question it.  Question everything.  Especially if you're being charged for the ideas.   
Question everything, and if it's an idea that's echoing loudly, or there's money to be made (like, currently, in selling "social media courses") be skeptical.  However, try to minimize the chance of discounting an idea too soon (like I did with Twitter).  When considering an idea, ask an artist who actually sells a lot of art what they think of it.  Or at least ask someone who has a track record of selling art.  Trust your gut.  Does it make common sense?  Can you find an example of an artist who's been successful with the idea?  Or better yet, more than one?  Will it hurt to wait a bit and see if the idea is a fad?  (Waiting has been one of my best strategies.  I've watched online services come along, gain traction, get hot and die before I had a chance to "check them out.")
Importantly: does it take you away from creating in your studio?
The most important thing you can be doing is creating your artwork.  So even if an idea is "good,  you might want to skip it for better uses of your time.  You need to focus on the ones with low-time investment and that you can get back to creating.
Clint Watson
Software Craftsman, Art Fanatic, Contrarian Marketer
PS - sometimes ideas that were once "hot" fall out of favor, but remain effective or become even more effective:  Hence my personal penchant for art marketing with phone calls and, especially, email newsletters.  Newsletters are relatively low-time investment and high payoff.  For most artists, SEO is a high time investment and a lower payoff.
PPS - "Questioning Everything" includes questioning me too.  Everything I just wrote could be wrong. :-)


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Related Posts:

Diversifying Marketing Strategies

Blogs and Success: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

The New Branding

The Wordless USP

Twin Pillars of Art Marketing Success

Do You Want Traffic or Do You Want to Sell Art?

More Reasons for Artists to Send Email Newsletters

Topics: Art Business | Art Commentary | art marketing 

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Lisa Call
What about tribes (or whatever you want to call it). I feel that is what the echo chamber is yammering about now. I thought you were all for such things?

(questioning :)

Roxanne Steed
hahah- Thank you Clint! My mother called it "hard-headed-ness". I always question 'everything'. Perhaps that is why I am slow to jump on every latest band-wagon. But when I do make the choice to finally do just that...I have thought it through, many times, and make deliberate actions that I'm usually happy with. I truly think our 'intuition' is developed over time with experience. And we gradually need to learn to trust it. Contrarian? I'm smiling over that one! - sure sounds a lot better than "hard-headed"! Thanks!

Michael Hollis
It's style over substance.
In my case I can see a lot of traffic on my gallery site but, no offense to them, if it's all artists then that's not the traffic I'm looking for. While there certainly are benefits to having artists visit I really want qualified clients.
I've developed a few ideas to figure out what kind of traffic I'm getting but I ultimately have to go with my gut.

Clint Watson
via with facebook
Lisa - good point, well, I did say I could be wrong about everything I just wrote.

Roxanne - yeah, I can be pretty hard headed.

Michael - as you probably have already figured out calling customer and emailing them generates the most qualified leads, cause you already know what the like and want (at least if you've been paying attention to them.)

Clint Watson
via with facebook
The "tribes" idea seems to make sense based on my past experiences. As a gallery salesperson, I definitely had a "tribe", I just didn't call it that. So part of this post was about questioning everything, but it was also about trying to judge which ideas make sense and have a high payoff and which don't.

So Lisa has done exactly what we all need to do. Question what I'm saying. While I'm saying the echo chamber can often lead you down less productive paths, the contrarian point of view is, well, sometimes the echo chamber is right.

Lisa and I are both the INTJ personality type. INTJs are notorious for questioning authority.

Monte Wilson
Clint- another point well made. While all of the above have some importance...they will prove absolutely no use if allowed to distract an artist from doing what is most important...creating art!

Michael Hollis
Clint - absolutley, to your point it's easy to get distracted from one's core mission.

Ok, someone questioned tribes, so here's a vote FOR tribes.

It's really fun to have someone introduce me using the words "my artist". I LIKE it, especially when they prove it by taking home another painting.

And here's another example from a totally unrelated arena. We recently moved to a small Iowa town where the hardware store is locally owned. Moving caused a couple of purchases more $ major than the normal, BOTH of which resulted in thank-you-for-your-patronage notes being sent to us. (unusual and amazing, right?) And you guessed it---they are now "my hardware store". It felt good to be noticed enough to be remembered with a written thank you.

It works both ways.

Later, Cooper

Ann Bell
Thank you, Clint. I, too, question everything. There has been so much noise about FB and Twitter that I decided to try them. I have an active (although not real active) presence on both. I monitor my web site traffic carefully, and find that I get very few visitors from either site.

I do not think there is one easy answer. But if we are not in the studio making the best art possible, there is no point to any of the rest of it. We each must establish our own priorities.

The conversation is good. It was us look more carefully at what we are doing, although we may decide not to change anything. Or we might happen upon a idea we decide to try...and discover that it does work.

Each situation is different, although there are many similarities.

I am enjoying the conversation.

Marsha Savage
Thanks for talking about this. I have a Facebook page and am now on LinkedIn, besides having a blog and web site. There are other avenues for consideration, but I need to evaluate what the purpose would be for anything new.

We are so bombarded by opportunities, and these ultimately take us away from the studio -- the reason for even having these opportunties. We should all be better contrarians. You mentioned a couple of places like FB and Twitter (which I don't do), but have not mentioned LinkedIn. What do you think of that site -- being a more business oriented site rather than just social?

Tuva Stephens
Thank you Clint for this article! My husband complains about me being on the computer too much and not in my studio. I am "hungry" to find out what is happening concerning art marketing by being connected. Although I started with facebook, then created the website. I do not plan on using twitter. I know for a fact most people that buy your work are friends or people who see your work in person such as shows or the small town gallery I use. The most rewarding thing is too have a friend email or call and tell you that they just purchased your work! I was determined today that I was not going to even turn on the computer. Here I am trying to gather more information. Now back to the painting I started at 6:30 A.M.

Ann Bell
I also have a profile on LinkedIn. I have received some invitations to connect from people I know through actual face to face contact. I always connect with those. I do not accept invitations from people in other parts of the country who have no common connections.

I don't put any time into it, but I am visible and can show up in searches.

I get most traffic to my blog, so I put the most effort into that. There is a site that lets you make one update and send it to all the social media sites. Sometimes I use that to announce updates to my blog. That site is


Leslie Saeta
"Question everything" is great advice. I sell a lot of my art over the internet. I have a blog, website, send out monthly newsletters and post my art on Facebook. I know for a fact that my newsletter works because I have sold at least two paintings every month directly from the newsletter. I sold a painting this week form a Facebook post. Twitter ... on the other hand ... I have not made that leap. No sure if I will.
One resource that all artists should have is an invisible web tracker which provides real-time detailed web stats. All you do is insert a simple piece of our code on your web page or blog and you will be able to analyze and monitor all the visitors to your website in real-time. I use and it is free. The information helps me know who is visiting my website and blog and also where they are going (i.e. which paintings they like). Just a suggestion!

Carole Rodrigue
Yes! Just as I've been thinking for a while. I will take the advice from someone who has what I want. That's a lesson I learned years ago. I don't even take financial advice from my bank's advisers, because, their house is smaller than mine and they work even more hours than I do. They don't have what I want, haven't retired early, yet are trying to tell me what to do with my money. (???)

So many fads come and go and everyone jumps on the ride. I've refused Twitter. After a blog, website, FB, MS, there's just so much time a person can spend online, and I'd rather be in the studio.

Also, I couldn't help but notice that many of the very well known artists don't blog or Twitter. I was just on Terry Isaac's site today and didn't see a link for a blog, and no follow me on Twitter thing-a-ma-jigger. He's probably painting today, or selling some art.

By the way Clint, your last line was precious! Lol!

Tom Weinkle
I agree with you Clint. Questioning is healthy, dismissing out of hand is not.

You are right, more often than not, the people telling you that twitter or facebook are critical are the creators of it, or those who profit by it.

My wife, and many friends question why their life has to be shortened to -no more than 80 charactersâ. Technically maybe, but this contributes to the gradual declining ability of people to speak and write, and more importantly provide adequate information. Short is convenient, but not much more in my view.

I agree the work is the most important thing. At the same time you need to know what your peers are doing, and make sure you are being seen. Swimming with your fellow facebook friends is valuable, but you can also be lost in the millions who do it.

I believe great art... unseen is not purchased. there is a time and place for Twitter, FB, to help your art be seen.

If you do these things, and follow trends, question and analyze whether you are getting a return for what it costs you in time and expense.

Facebook has helped me sell paintings, but I know deep down, the painting is what was bought, not the fact it was on Facebook.

tom martino
Finally, there is an artist that dares to question the herd mentality! Artists, awake! Let the quality of your work cry out in the marketplace! Low level marketing with high level quality is what is needed.

Nancy Park

Thinking for yourself has paid off for you nicely. I'm far too likely to merge with the mainstream, simply because I want to be liked.

I really enjoy all of your cogent messages, but that one paragraph with all the initials floored me. (It reminded of when I lived in Washington, D.C. and had to learn all the acronyms there.) For those of us who don't use those initials that we should and shouldn't bother with, can you please spell them out?

Maria Brophy
To Michael Hollis: You mentioned that artists are landing on your site rather than qualified buyers. Maybe you're attracting artists for a reason, and that's something you can not only capitalize on, but also see as a way to help others.
Find out what the other artists are looking for, and see how you can help them.
My husband, Drew Brophy, found the same thing. Artists were finding him more than collectors. He started teaching through DVD's and workshops. He's helped a lot of artists, and he's made some money doing it, too!

Charlotte Herczfeld
Clint, invaluable advice.

INFPs question too, btw. ;-)

Being a reluctant FaceBooker, I joined to hear a friend sing on a video clip, and two weeks later I had 100 new best friends, most of whom I've never met, and all are artists. I love interacting with other artists, on social media, as great contacts are made, and knowledge shared. And artists *are* customers too, but maybe not very often.

Does anyone have the experience of hanging out with, say, fishermen, footballers, book readers, gardeners, carowners, or anything that isn't art related, and gaining followers and customers?

As time, and definitely studio time, is in short supply (getting shorter by the years, simply because it flies faster even if it is objectively the same amount of hours), are the hours spent blogging, twittering, FB-ing, etc, *really* worth it, for artists?

The two things that have given me the most interest from customers is: (suprise) the newsletter, and invitations to exhibitions.

And, the oldfashined way of having the artwork out there, in people's homes, has gained me new customers who saw the work, trusted their friends, and therefore trusted me.

Twiddelytwitting, FB-ing... well, yes, nice, tons of new artists friends, but they don't pay my bills. Isn't my time more wisely spent in the studio, and taking care of my tribe?

Just a few questions, mind. Some disguised as statements. Really, an ongoing evaluation.

Donald Smith
You sound like me. I like to get the biggest BANG for my buck, or time. I'm not a -latest fadâ type of person. I watch, look, listen, and mull over things before I try them out. I still don't have a facebook or twitter account (I've thought about twitter though), but I do have a webpage. I guess that makes me a contrarian too.
I agree totally! I would much rather be painting than updating my webpage or writing a blog. The webpage and blog cut in to what precious little time I have to create. Sometimes I would like to try new things, like Twitter, but I see it as something that will take away more time from my art, with little, if any return.
Your suggestion of -Low time investment to High pay off,â is exactly what I strive for. That is one of many gems you've shared, and why I like reading your blog.
Keep up the great blogs! And Thanks!

Michael Cardosa

Base on my business experience of sales and marketing I question all new ideas as they come along. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, they all have a place for getting a message out. The question has to be "what message" and "who's getting it". I've mentioned this before, Facebook to me is the online equivalent of selling to friends and family. If people are using it successfully to sell art, great! I just don't see it. I admit I haven't figured Twitter out and may never get it figured out but I've always thought that if you want to have people read what you have to say... have something relevant to say! The whole idea of marketing is to get your art in front of people who are in the position to buy from you. You have to go where the collectors are and once you get there, that's where you need to have kick-ass art to set you apart.

I also agree with Lori about having a recognized style. After hanging around the Salmagundi Club in NY the last year or so, there are a number of successful artists who show their work there in the various member shows and auctions that I can recognize from across the room. That is something I know I'd like to strive for no matter how long it takes (of course, I'd prefer sooner rather than later and for being good, not awful!). Anyway, I think the point of my long winded (I really should be working or painting) comment here is that marketing is vital, but you have to have a target market to go after otherwise you're spinning your wheels and possibly doing a great job marketing to people who will never buy from you.

Sue Martin
Clint, I think your advice to "question everything" is sound. Furthermore, the marketing strategies that work for one artist many not work for another. An "emerging artist," for example, would not necessarily be ready to try the marketing strategies of a more accomplished artist. And what works in one region or metro area might not work in another. I have friends who make a living selling art on eBay, but that wouldn't be appropriate for other artists. And I totally agree with your advice to market in ways that leave time to be in the studio producing new art!

Carol Schmauder
Thank you Clint for another great article. I have found that I have been spending too much time on marketing and not enough in the studio.

Linda Wilder
I have a website, deviantart site,facebook, facebook fan page, blog and twitter ( although I don't know how to take advantage or use it) and I have NOT sold anything through these venues.( but I will continue to update and be active)I have sold 76 painting in 2009 and all through my one small gallery, group shows, and FCA shows, all in one city.

Bruce Ulrich
Great point about the best use our only limited resource TIME. We need ti spend it most on creating great art, not always chasing the latest marketing fad.

Carol Schmauder
Sounds like what you are doing is working well for you Linda. Maybe you don't need to worry about twitter, facebook, etc. It certainly leave more time to paint.

Sharon Weaver
I love this quote about marketing, "focus on the ones with low-time investment and high-payoff..." That is a formula for success.

Nancy Park
Clint, Most artists are INFP: Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling and Perceiving. You say you're INTJ: Introverted, iNtuitive, Thinking and Judgmental, so let it be known that we rely on you to think and judge in areas where we feel and perceive. But not always. We're also independent cusses.

All of those Meyers-Briggs characteristics are tied to the time you take that personality test. To be certain you are that type of person, you would need to take that test frequently. Everyone changes. There are times when I'm extroverted,such as at an art show. And I know that in order to be successful in the gallery business, you had to exercise your extroverted side!

Diane Tasselmyer
thanks Clint for those thought provoking words. On my to do list is, join facebook, join linked-in, start twitter. And I have been fussing over all that.
The other day another artist told me she found facebook cumbersome, but twitter a much quicker thing. Instead of following the pack on that I'm jumping into twitter first. The others will have to wait because this is sucking time out of painting.
I will put more time into newsletters (which I MUST say is a fabulous thing to have included in my FASO website)

Judith Martinez
Thanks, Clint,

Now we are reminded to keep ourselves always on the alert and on the edge; isn't it great that this "artists' edge" is long enough for all of us ?

I am looking for a Professional Marketer to market a picture I have. I want to split profit, whitch I feel is very profitable for the person who helps me market this picture. The pic is truley amazing. I appreciate any help pointing me in the right direction.

Sorry it did not let me edit the last coment and my e-mail address was wrong. I have corrected it on this comment. TY


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