Today while walking home from work I bumped into one of our regulars. She helps artists get their work into galleries and advises them on what will sell and how to better market themselves. I had given her my website a while back and we talked about getting together but nothing ever came of it. So today I asked her if she had gotten a chance to look at my stuff, and she said yes.

She said it was really good, but her one suggestion would be to focus it a bit more. There was too much variety, it was too all over the place, and the whole experience was overwhelming for people who want a nice tidy picture of what I’m all about as an artist. We’re probably going to get together in the coming week and talk more about my stuff. She wanted to tell me about specific pieces she thought would sell, but she couldn’t remember titles. Because she knows me she’s going to give me a consultation for free, and she has a lot of connections with local galleries, so it’s really a no-brainer.

I do find it odd, however, that her comment (complaint?) about my artwork is probably the most common one I get. In college my professors kept telling me to settle into a personal style and go with that, rather than being all over the map. I’ve had people tell me they can’t really “get” my artwork because they’re not sure what style is the best. I’ve had people who didn’t believe everything on my page was my own because the styles were so dissimilar.

I realize that from a marketing perspective, it’s good to have a highly defined and unique style. When Geico has five different mascots you get confused, but when it’s just the gecko you sit back and laugh. When a band does everything from metal to jazz they tend to sell fewer records than another band who found a marketable sound and stuck with it. In this day and age we want things focused and easy to digest, and when we feel like consuming another flavor we go elsewhere. I understand this to an extent, but I what I don’t understand is why that has to come at the expense of variety.

The greats have always been able to function in a number of styles, yet still be recognizable and marketable. Picaso did everything from realism to cubism, at different times having scenes of everyday life bathed in blue and grossly distorted figures with unnatural perspective. The Beatles did everything from pop to rock to folk to Indian classical to bizarre psychedlic sound collages, often on the same album. But with both Picaso and the Beatles, in spite of their various styles, their work is easily recognizable as their own. The duality of their uniqueness and variety adds to the experience, and is the source of much of their charm. But in today’s cultural climate, it’s often one or the other. You can be the challenging, difficult artist who follows his muse wherever it leads, at the expense of fame and fortune, or you can fine-tune your spiel into something distinctive and marketable and make a fortune. But don’t dare try to do both.

It’s hard for an artist to be completely objective about their own work. Every artist is his own worst critic, yet he is also his own best apologist. So with a grain of salt I’d like to say that, while not every path I follow is successful, I feel like my various styles can coexist with ease and not detract from my own personal brand. At the present time I feel like my surrealist landscapes and my political drawings are my best work. While the two couldn’t be any more different, I think it’s easy to tell that they are the work of the same mind. I could probably stand to clean out the rest of my portfolio and focus on those two specific directions, which would streamline things rather nicely, but those two sides of my work can and should exist side by side. I feel like focussing on one at the expense of the other only shows part of what I’m all about, and while one might sell better than the other, both need to be shown to get a full understanding of my art. But that’s just my feelings, which are heavily influenced by the fact that I made all this shit and these pieces are like my children. If every kid in a family looked exactly the same you wouldn’t get a very accurate picture of the gene pool that created them.  Hopefully at some point the arts community as a whole will recognize this and stop trying to pigeonhole artists and sacrifice variety for brand image.