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Art Marketing for Artists Who Want to Change the World

by Clint Watson on 1/6/2009 12:36:00 PM

Successful artists want to change the world.  They are Outside Zebras that avoid the Herd, they live on the edge, they make purple cows that become Blue Monsters via smart conversations with their clan.

This post is going to be a bit of a ramble about marketing art...just a a way to get some ideas out of my head and into the "sphere."

Lately, I've been reading a lot of stuff written by marketing guys like Seth Godin and Hugh MacLeod .....digesting their ideas, mentally combining their ideas with my own thoughts.....and thinking a lot about how it all applies to art.

Sometimes it seems like we're all copying and regurgitating each others ideas, but I think that's only natural since 1) ideas that work, well, work.  2) We all tend to naturally gravitate toward those who think like us.  Example:  I coined my "collector clan" idea before I even read "Tribes" by Seth Godin.  Sometimes we're all just coming to similar conclusions.

Years ago I wrote a post titled "Be the Outside Zebra."  In that post I wrote, "Write your dreams and goals down. Now look at those dreams. Achieving those dreams will require going OUTSIDE of your comfort zone."  The term "outside zebra" refers to the zebras who hang out on the edge of the herd.  They stay at the edges so that they have access to better, more plentiful food, but in doing so, they open themselves up to more risk of attack from predators.  My point was that achieving your dreams requires that you take risks and move the "edge" of the herd....outside your comfort zone.

Cartoon by Hugh MacLeod -

I also wrote in that post, "Collectors buy artists they consider to be excellent."  However, I'm beginning to question the word "excellent", I might replace it with the word "Remarkable."  Enter Seth Godin's concept of the "Purple Cow."  A Purple Cow is what Seth calls a product that is remarkable:  a product so remarkable that it stands out from its competition in the same way that a purple cow would stand out in a herd of ordinary cattle. Your artworks need to be purple cows.  If they're not purple cows - go back to the proverbial drawing board and work until they are.

I always understood the "be remarkable" part of art.  But, in the back of my mind, something kept nagging me.  I couldn't articulate exactly what was bugging me, but I knew somehow this:  being remarkable is not usually enough.  You can have a studio full of purple cows (of course bringing up the philosophical question - if you have a herd of purple cows, then the purple cow doesn't stand out anymore right? :-), but if nobody sees or talks about your remarkable artworks, then who cares?  You might fulfill yourself by creating them, but art is about sharing.  And if you have the ability to breed purple cows, then you have the responsibility to share them with the rest of us!  It all clicked when I read the following statement by Hugh MacLeod, "What an utterly lovely grain of sand you are. . . . too bad you're lying on a beach."

So how do you share your Purple Cows and get attention on your artwork?

Let me introduce you to the Blue Monster, an idea coined by Hugh MacLeod.  The blue monster has become Hugh's icon to represent a "social object" that gets like-minded people excited and talking to each other.  For example, let's say we're at an art gallery and someone asks me who I collect and I say, "Richard Schmid" and you hear me say that and say, "Really?, I LOVE Richard Schmid's work - in fact I have one!"  Bam!  Richard Schmid's artwork (and to a certain degree Richard Schmid the person) have become the "blue monster" through which we have just connected. 

You and your artwork need to become blue monsters.

But, unfortunately for you there is no more advertising space in "Make my artwork a Blue Monster" magazine, so you'll have to do it the hard way.

First you make a purple cow.  If your artwork is not a purple cow, it probably can't become a blue least now without a boatload of marketing dollars (I'm looking at you Thomas Kinkade).

Now that you've made your purple cows, you need to show them to the world.  This is where a website and a blog come in really handy.  If you want to do it the old-school way, look into art galleries too.  But simply having a website will not turn your artwork into blue's just a home base so people can see your artwork.

For your artwork to become a blue monster, it has to be *worth* talking about.  And for artwork to be worth talking about, it needs to amplify ideas, preferably important or interesting ideas.  To paraphrase Hugh: An artist's primary role is to function as an "idea amplifier".  In my own words:  "A painter shows me what he painted, but an artist shows me why he painted."

After you've created remarkable idea-amplifying artwork, you have to have conversations.  Marketing is conversations.  Ignore your friendly magazine salesperson and/or uniformed "guru" who tells you it's all about "branding:"  "branding" is for sissies - MARKETING. IS. CONVERSATIONS. (If you're having conversations, you'll "automatically" develop a "brand").   You have to have smart conversations that are interesting to other people and not all about you and your artwork.  You have to have conversations that are so interesting that the people you're conversing with want to bring their other friends into the conversation.  And you have to be the leader. 

But you can't be the leader by declaring yourself the leader, you just have to be the most passionate, authoritative and interesting voice in the conversation - then you'll automatically become the leader.  Have conversations that are indirectly related to your artwork.  If your blogging, post images of your artwork that are related to the current conversation, that serve to augment and amplify the current conversation, but don't just pimp your work shamelessly.  Engage people.  After a while, you'll find that you have a group of people who are interested in talking with you and who seem to like your artwork, maybe some of those people have even bought some.

And at that point, you've built yourself a Collector Clan....or a "Tribe" if you want to go with Master Seth's terminology  (Me, being simply a young padawan opted for the word "clan"). 

Oh yeah, another thing:  building the clan takes time, lots of time in most cases.  Hugh MacLeod's blog, gapingvoid has taken years to get to "Blue Monster"/"Tribal" stage.  You're probably looking at at least few years of regular, consistent, engaging, intelligent conversations.  So, you've got to be driven. And you've got to be consistent. And you really have to want to change the world, otherwise you're going to run out of steam.  Marketing art is hard.

So if you want me to boil all these latest art marketing thoughts into a nutshell, I think I've distilled it down to the following:

Successful artists want to change the world.  They are Outside Zebras that avoid the Herd, they live on the edge, they make purple cows that become Blue Monsters via smart conversations with their clan.

Simple?  Yes.  Easy.  No.


Clint Watson
Software Craftsman and Art Fanatic

PS - If you can accomplish the what I've outlined in this post, then we want to work with you.  If you're not there yet, then we still want to work with you and help you get there.  At FineArtStudioOnline we want to help artists that want to change the world.  I'm not sure why I said that except 1-We're probably changing our name to "ArtistEdge" to better capture the idea of changing the world and being on the "edge".  And 2-wanted you to know that we may use that as a tagline, so don't steal it :-)

ArtistEdge (tm)
We want to Help Artists that Want to Change the World (tm)

Hmmmmm......has a nice ring to it.


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Topics: art marketing | Best 

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Deborah Paris
via web
Great post, Clint. Since finding Hugh about 6 months ago, I've been trying to put his ideas to work for me as an artist. One interesting question for me and I'm sure many others, is how to have those conversations with your established collector base that doesn't necessarily read blogs, tweet, etc. This past year I widened my collectors to include people who found my work on line and I definitely see that as the growth path. But the people who buy my work at shows and in galleries are, at this moment, a larger group- and of course its always easier to build on the collector you have rather than find a new one. I keep in touch with an e-newsletter, etc but I'm really trying to find a way to either get those people into my blog "conversation" or find another format that will more effectively communicate my story to them and in turn encourage them to share it with others. This is one of my main marketing goals for 2009.

Robert Rodriguez Jr
via web
Excellent Clint - you've hit the preverbal nail on the head. It is the combination of these ideas that help an artist achieve their goals. In my case, making a living doing exactly what I love to do. It has taken me 20 years to realize that each part is equally important, but now that I have, my personal and professional lives have improved beyond measure. Sure it's damn hard work, but so easy when the results bring gratification AND profit. I'm still learning and trying to improve each part of the whole, but it's a journey I'm enjoying. Keep up the good work, and thanks for all of your encouraging wisdom.

Clifford VanMeter
via web
I keep coming back to the difference between strategy (become a Blue Monster) and tactics (declare yourself a leader). Many, many art biz blog posts are vaguely strategic, but your posts are consistently both strategic and tactical. I believe that is another thing necessary to take a leadership role. The discussion has to be informative and useful to both participants.


Clifford VanMeter |

Clint Watson
via web

I agree with you, many marketing "gurus" harp on "branding" because it's easy to say, hard to define and, frankly, a bunch of bull (with the possible exception of having millions of dollars to go toward "branding").

That's why my favorite new saying is "Branding is for Sissies, Real Marketers have conversations." Thanks for your feedback.

Rebecca Shapiro
via web
Great post! I like how you outline the steps from thought to action. Not many people actually break it down so that a clear path is visible. You did everyone a great service with this info. Thanks!

Mia Lane
via web
"Purple cows that become Blue Monsters" - now I'm really confused! I need a whole new strategy... I was doing the COWS blue, when all the time it was purple that was in! Maybe if I hang in there long enough, it'll swing over to blue. If only art was like math, all the aswers come out the same no matter what the question. That's what makes art so hard... not for the faint of heart!
Thanks Clint for your letters, they give me something to mull over.

Lori Woodward Simons
via web
Another inspiring and energizing post! Drives home the point that I must first create sensational work, and then use that work as a springboard for conversations.

One thing that comes to mind. I have trouble conversing with my collectors because the galleries I've worked with often won't let me know who they are. They are reluctant to give their art buyers my web site or contact info. Got any ideas?

Emma Brooks
via web
Fantastic post Clint - very thought provoking. Thank you so much for distilling the combined wisdoms of Hugh and Seth with your own into an understandable strategy for artists.

Very funny :
"You can have a studio full of purple cows (of course bringing up the philosophical question - if you have a herd of purple cows, then the purple cow doesn't stand out anymore right? :-), "

Daniel Edlen
via web
Nice ramble/synthesis. I love the redistillation of 2 of the current great ones, Hugh and Seth. Simple, yes. Easy, no. Sagacity, thanks.

Moira Marshall
via web
A very interesting and inspiring read! Glad to have found you through Twitter, I will now be a regular reader :-) Coincidentally, throughout my childhood my father told me and my 3 sisters a bedtime story about Huffy, Fluffy, Duffy and the Purple Cow. Each of the characters in the story represented one of us four sisters. But he would never tell us who was who in the story, and we would argue amongst ourselves about which one of us was the Purple Cow. LOL

Jan Clizer
via web
Very seldom take time to read other's writings - druther be painting/my own writings, but just wanted to say your writings & thoughts really hit home as I read your stuff today - bravo!! Thanks for what you do!

cheers, jan

seda baghdasarian
via web
I wonder what type of art you call "The blue monster"- Everyone wants their work to stand out or convey their thinking- But do I really care about Damien Hirst's bejewelled skull? (I dont think so!)

Artists need to find themselves first then worry about becoming famous- Why are they artists and not lawyers in the first place?

I think some artists are hung up since they do not really know what they want- for themselves let alone their contribution...
Living on the "edge" is fine if you can change the world with your art- I would love to see more activist art as in the age of our new political leaders...

Thank you and I am a fan on facebook- I do want to change the world too, one person at a time. Best to you , Seda

Carole Rodrigue
via web
I've just discovered your blog today and must say I'm impressed with the articles! Purple Cows and Blue Monsters. Genius. This article is by far the best advice I've read in a long time. What you say is common sense, but for some reason "sense" just seems to have gotten lost now. Thanks for bringing it back in your articles.

Dora Ficher
via web
Clint, I have been enjoying your newsletters and blog since I signed up with Fine Art Studio. I so totally enjoyed this blog post. I just love the idea of purple cows that can become blue monsters. But...this is what did it: "A painter shows me what he painted, but an artist shows me why he painted." Thank You! (from someone who is starting out again after 30 years)

Dora Ficher
via web
Clint, I have been enjoying your newsletters and blog since I signed up with Fine Art Studio. I so totally enjoyed this blog post. I just love the idea of purple cows that can become blue monsters. But...this is what did it: "A painter shows me what he painted, but an artist shows me why he painted." Thank You! (from someone who is starting out again after 30 years)

Kimberly Kelly Santini
via web
This is all beyond the truth. Make art that sings gloriously. Become an expert/leader in your genre - whether that be with your materials or subject matter. Share this expertise with the world via real life conversations, the internet, relationships, and other media. People will start to hear your song, and stop to listen. Honest. It worked for me!

Seda Baghdasarian
via web
"We must become the change we want to see in the world."
Mahatma Gandhi

this has to be the best line I have ever heard for artists and non alike-

Best, Seda

Barbara Andolsek
via web
Clint: I for one, really appreciate you taking the time and effort to put this information out there for us. I've been trying to get a larger 'presence' online and all of your suggestions are right on the money. Btw, LOVE the comment "We make money to make art."

I've always loved Samuel Goldwyn's quote. "The harder I work, the luckier I get." Thanks for 'your' hard work... Barbara

Jenny Fuller
via web
I thoroughly enjoyed this article. It was fun and very inspirational!
Jenny Fuller

Sharon Marston
via web
I LOVE the creative references you use to help an aspiring artist see things more clearly! I have been striving to be an outside zebra for a long time, (the edge is a scary place but I keep poking my head out from time to time.) Thanks for another great article Clint. ~Sharon Marston

Cynthia Haney
via web
Thank you for an approachable marketing article. My father Thomas Haney has a studio with several purple cow paintings, sculptures, and digital paintings offered as prints. However his purple cows are so unique that I am at a loss for description and potential gallery placement. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Patricia M. Rios
via web
Just read Clint's write-up. Sooo in line with what I have been reading. Just attended a conference with Lance Wallnau that had me on the edge of my seat. This man IS on the cutting edge to CHANGE IN AMERICA. He talks about the seven mountains or "spheres" of influence to which all of us have been called to effect change for the better. I, personally, belong to the art sphere and my way of doing business and of painting is going to change radically. I am a world changer! I want to invade the marketplace and I want to do business in a SUPER natural way. What am I talking about? Find out. I am often used as a "networker" and I believe this is what I am doing right now: Lance Wallnau will never know I told you about his website; he is not going to give me a kick-back, or a gold star for telling you about it. I'm simply sharing about strategies that are purple cows and outside zebras. Look it up:

Patricia M. Rios
via web
To Seda

To me a blue monster artist is one who, through passion and responsibility has achieved the status of being "elite" in his field. These are the artists who can effect change in their niche. They are not famous or elite because they set out to be such. Their passion and sense of responsibility has placed them at the pinnacle of the art "sphere" or mountain where they can be world changers through the lives they live and the art they do. We, in the arts, cannot change the other "spheres" or mountains of politics, education, family, business, religion and media. But we can change our art "Sphere." What is our behavior towards our galleries, fellow artists, clients, etc.? Where is our integrity? Are we sowing hope and a "Can-do" attitude with our art? Are we bringing beauty to those who find peace in it? Are we encouraging those who have been called to the other "spheres" or mountains to climb to their own pinnacles with integrity and become the blue monsters of politics, education, media, etc.? It would be overwhelming to think that we can change it all. We are called to the arts and perhaps one or two other spheres.

via web
Each time i get your e-mail alert in my inbox, even before opening it, i know i must learn something from it. It makes me grow as an artist,and keeps givng me insights about lots of things. Thanks!

Verna D'Alto
via web
Every time I read one of your articles, I am amazed that this site FASO is the place to come to when you have a question, or question yourself. How many times have I heard "oh art, yes dear, you mean scribbles. It used to bother me years ago, now I just take it into my heart and use it for an image in my work. I don't allow myself to let the negative comments ruin my fierce ambition to paint. In the 60's I became a musician and sang in a band. My family and friends were horrified and I'd think - I have taken a different path. There are many stories that I have written about those time, and not I took the path of an artist. If you look at my web site you will know that FEAR is not in my vocabulary. Fear with destroy your dreams. Hold on to your dreams and become who you want to become. You decide....Verna

Clint Watson
via web

Thanks for your comment - you are absolutely correct - fear should not be in an artist's vocabulary. That's why art should be for those who want to change the world....not a calling for everybody. But rewarding for those willing to give their lives over to it.

Elizabeth Meyer
Dear Clint,
May I have permission to use your quote " A painter shows me what he painted but an artist shows me why he painted." With credit to you in
my new book?
Thank you,
Elizabeth Meyer

Clint Watson
Elizabeth - certainly, quote away - I'm still amazed anyone would find anything I have to say worth quoting . . . .

JoAnn Nava
I just recently built my website and had no idea of the perks of wisdom via this port.
Your words were a confirmation of the risks I am taking. I will be reading your posts...A.D.D.
won't prevent me.
Very interesting.
Thank you.

Anil Das Gupta

Whether one agrees or not, your post is really refreshing. Many thanks, all the way from sunny Spain.

Scott Scheidly
Why do you feel it necessary for an artist to become successful he/she has to want to change the world? Can't an artist just paint pretty pictures and still succeed?

Bobbi Baltzer-Jacobo
Clint, I am recent at receiving these posts but I really enjoy them. The problem is: It takes time to sit at the computer and read them when I need to be painting! But I always learn something worthwhile!
The purple cow/blue monster/zebra-at-the-edge/why I paint what I paint thing -- has got me feeling like I'am twirling four or five batons at once! All good advice,but I'll have to digest it for awhile...while I paint!
Many thanks,
Bobbi Baltzer-Jacobo

patsi hughes
Where do I link to you?
I was reading your e-mail and it said to link to all we could so, I am here.

Margaret Ferguson
I'm so glad I came across this, Clint.

Time to learn to be a showman! Not always easy when the inclination's to be head down and alone by an easel.


Joann Wells Greenbaum
I think this is helping to shape my new year's intentions - to get going with marketing in a more focused manner.

Ms.Arlen Avernian Thorensen
Thank you!
I am delighted to have read all of these comments. I get to be and feel part of something grand.

"Painting is creating from the soul"

Kay Borrett
Clint,do you know how addictive FASO emails are?!! Everyday I have to have my "fix" to glean whatever you and your artist friends have to share about the art world. Thank you!!

Hi Clint,
I am a newbee and it does take a long time for me to read all of this very inlightening information.
I am painfully shy and it's hard for me to communicate but having said that I am trying and I am aware that "Rome wasn't built in a day" so I need to take small steps and make sure every step is the most lucritive one. Thank you for all your information

A S Helwig
I really appreciate that you first start with the exceptional artwork. It really does all start with that. If you want others to take you seriously you have to be serious.

Thanks for your blog; its reaffirmed things I have been thinking about. Now, how does one get more traffic on their blog?

Sandra Harris
Thanks so much for your very inspirational work. We all need inspiration every day to do better work and continue to enjoy our journey, to be remarkable and stand out from the crowd.

Lisa McKnett Dale
Clint I congradulate you on successfully creating a website an artist can easily use and collectors can easily obtain art.
I have been working with other website designers for the last ten years and $10,000 later I switched to yours and have had nothing but success!
Great job and thanks a much for making art so easy for the masses to learn what that your site can truly can be a source for collecting artwork that will only increase in value. So much better that "Bread and Circus" the mainstream galleries offer. Yours will become a tool of the century!

Becky Still Deed
I'm new to your website, but will become a regular visitor. I'm so glad that it was recommended to me. Your article was enlightening and great food for thought as I continue to develop my plan for the year. Looking forward to other gems on your site.

100 percent out of the topic boring and useless essay.

Like where is home - in front of the tree.

Where is tree - in front of the home.

total time waste article.

If you don't mind, I am going to re-post this article on my own blog. It is an 'art blog' and I am the dabbling artist, but my real goals involve inspiring more creativity and profiling fantastic, passionate people who do cool things. I had a question today and this article answered it for me. Let me know what you think of my site.


Clint Watson
Chloe - we are honored you would like to repost this. Our republishing guidelines are at the link below. Due to changes in Google's algorithm's and duplicate content issues we no longer allow full reposts, but you can repost an excerpt and a link as outlined at the link below:

Janet Glatz
Clint--you know the saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher (lesson) will come?" Well, here again is proof of that. I have just begun to transition from straight realistic landscapes and wildlife to paintings that combine beauty and message. Sometimes the message is disheartening, sometimes heartwarming. Now that I have made this leap, I feel empowered to "change the world". Thank you.

Gabor Neogrady
You're my man!!! :)

This article was amazing, I got so tired of saying "I have to brand myself" And you are right, it is a very vague term and very hard to interpret what needs to be done to brand oneself. I have to agree that the 'conversation' has to be captivating and this must be why I have sold of my Facebook page, I'm always telling stories related to my art, and until now I thought is was just fluff. Thanks for clearing up the mystery for us all.

Peggy Thomas
I stumbled upon FASO today and after an hour and half reading and reviewing I'm so sold on The quality, the depth of understanding of an artist, and I could just go on and on. I have been painting 40 years and lived through it thus far, with tender joy and no regrets. Recently I have been trying to market online more. I have had a website for so long I can't remember...not messing with it much. Too much trouble, I'd rather paint and do shows. With my daughter pulling at me I finally delved in. Now I feel like I have someone who truly relates to the artist and my needs. Thanks FASO!

Sharon Roark
To Mr. Watson-I might be off topic here but wanted to let you and FASO know my wife's boss is jealous. He's a well-known chiropractor and his website and service stink. She told him about FASO and how fast the techs reply to an artist's query for support and help. He couldn't believe it.

Walter Paul Bebirian
there is absolutely no way that anyone can ever anticipate exactly how any other person will react to one piece of art or another - what determines what art one person purchases over another from one artist or another has to do with how -at the moment in time that the potential purchaser relates to any one or a number of things - items - elements in one piece as opposed to how they relate to the elements in another piece -

and there is no way that there can be predicted by any person on earth how this will go for any of the over 7 billion people on this planet -

not even price or material or fame of the artist or price greatness or lack there of can be more than a small element at any particular moment of what the entire psychological mix that goes into the purchasers decision to have to have a piece now - even such additional elements such as an individuals background - culture - personal experiences - exposure to other pieces of art and so many other outside influences go into such a decision including even the environment that a person is currently living in and the weather at this time of year and family dynamics at the present time - to name a few -

all of these go into determining - what - for the person who is about to acquire a piece - makes that piece special or in other words - what makes the relationship between the viewer and the art work itself -

Walter Paul Bebirian
also - as a reaction to the post above about Google -

no matter what -

I do not believe any human being should do something because of what will result from a machine or technology - good or bad - positive or negative -

that simply is giving the technology too much sway over the course of the human race -

of course that is not how people usually see it - but the fact remains that the largest part of the material - information and websites on the Internet are not even searchable -


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