As children we learn nearly everything by imitating others.
We begin to talk by mimicking the sounds our parents make; we figure out how to interact socially with our peers by watching our siblings; and we learn countless other tasks in the same manner.
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From my point of view, imitation is one of the most natural ways to learn—so when it comes to marketing your art, some of the best advice I can give is to find a few successful artists to imitate.
Who should we imitate?
Look for the artists whose names keep popping up—you know, the ones who seem to always be at the center of every event, either organizing, leading, or being interviewed. These are the artists who really know how to market themselves.
Do a Google search for artists in your area and take note of the artists at the top of the list. Depending on your location, this may be another indication.
Visit galleries. Try to spot the artists who are actually selling their art. Visit online galleries or individual artist websites, too, and look for the same thing (most will put the word “sold” next to their art). The ones that are selling are the ones to imitate.
Another option is to browse through EmptyEasel’s archive of featured artists, or look through the blogroll of your favorite art blogs. Some of them will be good candidates.
Keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be JUST artists that you imitate.
When selling art is your business (or you want it to be) then you should also look at your circle of friends, acquaintances, and contacts to find small business owners or entrepreneurs who are doing well for themselves. They’ll be worth imitating too.
If you do any or all of the suggestions above, you should come up with a list of people to imitate. If it’s a long list, pick five to start with, and then rotate through to five new ones each week or month. If it’s a short list, see what you can glean from all of them.
What should we imitate?
Not their art, of course. And not their style or their niche. You already have your own art and your own style. Taking theirs will just make you less authentic.
But their marketing techniques—yes. Study how they market their art. With the internet, that’s pretty easy to find out. Do they have a blog? A website? Where is their art being shown? (Hint: search for their name, plus “gallery” or “exhibit”)
You might even consider emailing them to ask for advice. Respect and courtesy goes a long way, if you do.
Look in the footer of their website (if they have one) and see who designed it. If you found them via a gallery, go to their opening or closing and speak to them directly.
Discuss who they use for framing; what print shop makes their brochures, etc. . . successful artists are a treasure-trove of information, and in most cases they’ll probably be nice enough to answer a few questions from a fellow artist.
Not everything they do will work for you—but some of their answers should give you a way to improve your own art-making or art marketing process.
When do we stop imitating?
Maybe never. Good ideas are always out there.
Of course, at some point (and this is the beauty of imitation) you’ll start to understand more and you’ll begin innovating new ideas and techniques on your own.
Then, believe it or not, others will start imitating you.
So perhaps the question isn’t “when do we stop” but “when do we start sharing what we’ve learned with others?” The sooner the better, in my opinion.
Where should we draw the line?
It’s important to have boundaries with imitation, because not everything is fair game.
You should never take credit for another person’s idea. And never copy another artists work, writing, designs, website, etc etc. That’s not imitation, that’s stealing.
In my mind, imitation means modeling your actions after another’s, and using their experiences to inform your own decisions—it doesn’t mean taking what they’ve created as your own.
Honest imitation works, however. . . and I guarantee that someone near you will have a few of the answers YOU need.
So study other artists and business owners. Make them your mentors, whether they realize it or not. Maybe later you can share with them how much they inspired you.
That’s how you imitate your way to success.
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