In the last two or three weeks, I’ve been asked to be a part of several workshops or panel discussions on the importance of ‘branding.’ Know your brand, You Are Your Brand, etc. It makes me wonder if I’ve been doing something wrong, teaching the kinds of professional development workshops I do.
To me, the point of having any kind of business acumen as an artist is to free yourself of the need to be a product. It means understanding that participating in the market is not really a choice but a necessity, but that by doing it with your eyes open, you can ideally make some choices about how that participation impacts you.
The idea that artists need to “brand” ourselves with a sort of motto or image that is supposed to define how we sell our work is counterintuitive to me, as is the notion that we need to specialize. I’ve had a decent hybrid career, albeit one in which some people don’t really know what my work is at a glance, because I have been pretty steadfast in refusing to narrow down what I do too much. Other people help me do that when necessary, with a particular project.
Doing a good budget means you know what your work costs you so you don’t promise too much to your buyers, donors, users or colleagues. Doing a good proposal or Kickstarter means you can raise money you need and make your contributors feel they are part of something great. Negotiating a better contract means you both maintain some control over the important things, and give license to future rounds of artists in your position to do the same. Speaking well in front of people engenders good conversations about the work. And taking advantage of social media can just mean using another tool, or engaging your curiosity. But none of this means you have to be just one thing. It doesn’t mean you’re always trying to sell.
For the record: I think branding is a word that belongs to advertisers and it should stay that way. I find it kind of a shameful word because it conjures up what people do to cattle, and in the past what they have done to other people. To brand yourself, to be your own brand, means to me that you’re a tool of the marketplace. You’re an instrument, rather than an agent. I know I’m a bit of a killjoy with this one. Okay. I’d rather let marketing people brand the work, and leave me to just be a human being making events. I’m fine if it’s confusing to you. I’m fine if you have to spend a little more time to figure it out.