The Art in Marketing
By Magdalena Polak
There have always been different kinds of artists. There are the ones that, like Jan Vermeer or Albrecht Dürer, have an incredible eye for perfection and detail and the viewer can easily guess the hours of work behind their works, making their outstanding craftsmanship part of their genius. The fact that it took Vermeer roughly a year to finish one painting is proof that for him, perfection was most likely more important than commercial success.
Comparing this to someone like Pablo Picasso, who made several paintings a day, producing them, or so it sometimes feels, like on a production line, would be deemed unfair by some. Active 300 years later, Picasso was a product of an entirely different society and thus had a different career path. All kinds of stories surround Picasso, such as how towards the end of his life, he had stopped paying in restaurants, preferring to make a little drawing on the bill and adding his signature, knowing full well that one sketch by him would be more worth than any restaurant would charge for dinner. It feels that one of Picasso’s most outstanding achievements was to successfully make a brand out of his surname. Everything coming out of his workshop or pen would be a hundred times more valuable because it came from his workshop.
Although Picasso was probably the artist that first brought the combination of marketing and art to its full heights, branding ones own surname for commercial reasons was by no means invented by him. A great historic example for self-promotion was the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). Quickly grasping the artistic demands in the Netherlands of the 17th century, he managed to combine his art with great administration skills. Attracting mostly patrons from the ruling class, Rubens would not have been able to handle as many commissions as he did without assistance. In fact, once his reputation was established, Rubens himself contributed only little to the paintings produced in his workshop.
The majestic eagle in his Prometheus Bound (1618), for example, was painted by his assistant Frans Snyders, with Rubens being quite open about this. Letters remain where he quite lengthily explains the price range as being proportional to his personal contributions to the painting. If patrons wanted a painting made entirely by Rubens, they had to pay the price and wait, or otherwise be content with a painting coming from his workshop.
Just imagine how a contemporary art collector would react if an artist had the audacity to approach potential buyers like this nowadays. Just as today, society seems to degrade artists that produce art upon commission (deemed not only acceptable but also as the norm for several centuries), we want art to be produced solely by the artist itself. The general assumption is that someone who dares letting his assistants do most of the job and then sell the work as his own would probably be out of clients immediately. Unless, of course, it was an Anish Kapoor. Or a Jeff Koons. Ladies and Gentlemen, the art of Marketing.