The Art of Consistency
Recently we at Kasum Contemporary cast a question to the social media world asking for great art conundrums. The responses were plenty enough to produce a list of topics that should make the next year quite exciting and we're going to be involving some artists’ perspectives to help tackle all your queries. In reading through the questions that were asked I found a theme buried in their foundations. How do I find places to show my works? How do I get into galleries? What ideas should I pursue and why? How do I make art that satisfies the art market and myself as an artist? How do I establish myself as an artist? Buried inside all of these questions there lies a foundation and in the case of these questions consistency is a constant theme.
The word consistency gets thrown around a lot. As an artist, there are many ways to embody it. You should be a driven producer of artwork or daily studio practitioner. Your efforts will surely inspire others. You should be a tactician who always demonstrates the uppermost craftsmanship. People will take notice of your practice. You should be steady with your pricing and steadfast by only raising your price when the market demand allows for an increase. I assure you, your patrons will appreciate it. You should be dedicated in following through with your artistic commitments. You will feel good about it and so will those you make a commitment to work with. These are all positive ways you should be consistent but when people in the art industry use the word it often refers to something else.
When I walk into a gallery, a studio or review a portfolio I'm looking for key things; and chief among them is consistency. I don't have to know anything about the artist’s personal life or studio practice to spot it. If a gallery has fifty works on display by ten different creatives, you too, should be able to walk through their space and intuitively sense the thread that seams together the works of each individual. This art market ideology is an important consideration in the industry; and is often the breaking point that determines how an artist’s work will be viewed or ignored.
Plural Gallery Booth at International Art Fair
When an art dealer chooses to work with an artist they're making a massive investment. They are going to consider the quality of the work, its craftsmanship and the artistic message. They will pay special attention to the merit of the artist's establishment and their work history. They will consider whether they have an established market or need to develop a market for the artist. They will roll through a punch list of personal prerequisites checking yes or no; as they evaluate what you’ve offered. If they are lucky, they will see a return on their investment in as little as 2 to 5 years. They know that an artist's consistency in their body of work can make or break the entire experience. The vast majority of artists’ portfolios I have seen, over the last 15 years, DO NOT demonstrate consistency.
Art dealers need to know that, when a patron walks into their gallery, their represented artists have definable brands. They need to know that when a patron supports the work of an artist and returns to view their work a year later, they can easily identify the artist's new pieces. Furthermore, they know that if that doesn't happen, building a following for the artist is very near being a pipe dream. The art dealer needs artists to manage their brand identities with as much careful consideration and consistency as any marketable brand. Imagine how hard it would have been to build a following for Nabisco Cheez-Its if they had opted to change the look of the box every few weeks.
A lot of artists are going to read this and have an immediate sense of creative outrage. Take a deep breath and understand that the industry doesn't expect you to be a box but they do expect you to be consistent in what you choose to present to the marketplace! No one is trying to pigeonhole you. You can pursue many different creative avenues at the same time. But if you expect to have market success, you should show consistency in what you choose to present to the market over a period of “Years.”
Don’t stop there. Consistency of brand applies in so many ways. It’s the consistent framing of your works or bases on sculptures at exhibition. It’s the branding on your letterhead that matches your portfolio and website. It’s the way you speak about and write about your work. If you can apply consistency to every aspect of your public presentation you will start to develop a brand that not only captures an audience but that also keeps their attention!
Most artists understand the point of consistency, in their art, as it applies to the market. The problem arises in their specific application. Consistency could be the creation of 20 paintings of various perspectives of the same night sky but it doesn't have to be. Consistency is far less rigid than you might imagine. There are numerous examples of contemporary artists who demonstrate that flexibility.
Let’s consider a contemporary artist who has presented a managed evolution over the years while maintaining both his artist identity and integrity. It seems too generic to say that Picasso painted exclusively in Cubism for 10 years or that Remington only sculpted the West. Both statements are true but they give you no idea of how those two artists were able to successfully evolve creatively while demonstrating consistency and establishing a brand. Takashi Murakami is an exceptional example of an artist who has demonstrated consistency in his product while continuing to push his artistic expression to new heights.
Artist Takashi Murakami
Artist's Snapshot: Takashi Murakami, considered by some to be “the Warhol of Japan,” is known for his contemporary pop synthesis of fine art and popular culture; particularly his use of a boldly graphic and colorful anime and manga cartoon styles. Murakami became famous in the 1990s for his “Superflat” theory and for organizing a definitive exhibition of that title. The exhibition linked the origins of contemporary Japanese visual culture to historical Japanese art. His diverse output of artistic creations includes paintings, sculptures, drawings, animations, and collaborations with brands such as Louis Vuitton.
The Evolution of an Identity
The Establishment of Mr. DOB
Murakami introduced his Mr. DOB back in 1993 (As seen in the image of And then, and then and then and then and then.) This hybrid cartoon-like character, which brings together Western and Japanese animation elements, became one of the most recognizable of Murakami’s creations. It’s a recurrent figure that still appears in his works today.
And then, and then and then and then and then, 1996, Takashi Murakami
Mr. DOB Goes Sculptural
In the late 90’s Mr. DOB would evolve into sculptural works including DOB in the Strange Forest (Blue DOB), 1999. The sculpture is comprised of Murakami’s signature elements, featuring Mr. DOB in the main role, surrounded by hallucinogenic mushrooms with iconic jellyfish eyes.
DOB in the Strange Forest (Blue DOB), 1999, Takashi Murakami
Collaboration Leads to New Symbolism
The painting The World of Sphere, created in 2003 comes after Murakami’s extremely successful collaboration with the fashion brand Louis Vuitton. In 2002, Murakami did a series of designs for the company and the commercial success of the collaboration inspired the artist to re-appropriate the same patterns and Louis Vuitton multi-colored monogram. With its whimsical characters and colorful background the piece is instantly recognizable.
Monogram Multicolor Speedy City Bag, 2002, Collaboration
between Takashi Murakami & Louis Vuitton
The World of Sphere, 2003, Takashi Murakami
Takashi's Flowers Take Center Stage
Psychedelic, multicolored flowers are a recurring motif in Murakami’s work; appearing in the eyes and ears of earlier Mr. DOB renderings. Bright and joyful flora is sometimes juxtaposed to the skull imagery; creating a dichotomy the artist especially likes to examine. In the artist’s Vapor Trail painting, created in 2004, there is no room for disturbing imagery and the artwork evokes a cheerful atmosphere. The emblematic, candy-colored flowers have gained an iconic status in Murakami’s works and are especially prized, by collectors, as shown in this iconic Murakami.
Vapor Trail, 2004, Takashi Murakami
KaiKai and Kiki are Born
In late 2000, Takashi Murakami invented two new characters Kaikai and Kiki. Those who follow the work of the artist probably know that the name refers to the kaikaikiki of Japanese painter Eitoku Kanô (1543-1590.) Kaikai Kiki, 2005, draws together figure features of Mr. DOB culled in with whimsical colors and the iconic patterns we commonly associate with Takashi’s work. We can also see, in this piece, how Japanese art history resurfaces constantly as an underlying inspiration for the artist’s subjectivity.
Kaikai Kiki, 2005, Takashi Murakami
Death Becomes a Surface Element
Who's Afraid Of Red, Yellow, Blue And Death, 2010, was part of a series of three offset lithographs depicting tightly woven colorful cartoon’esque skulls with color emanating inward or outward in the composition. In this large work on paper, which measures 118 x 92.5 inches, the skulls appear almost abstract from a distance of just ten feet but as you approach the work the signature notes of Takashi start to emerge and the artist’s brand is, again, quite evident.
Who's Afraid Of Red, Yellow, Blue And Death, 2010, Takashi Murakami
The Story of Life and Death Gets Larger Than Life
Murakami completed and debuted the massive acrylic on canvas Of Chinese Lions, Peonies, Skulls, And Fountains (118 x 236.25 inches) in mid-2011. There are elements of traditional Japanese painting in this landscape, which is made up of a mythical-looking lion atop a rainbow of skulls, with a column of black- ink calligraphy running down one side of the canvas. The whole canvas teems with motif from edge to edge. Enduring symbols of life and death, beauty and decay, happiness and terror, heaven and hell, they are the perfect pairing for Murakami, a master at navigating borders – between East and West, and between new and old. The painting seems new, and yet, it is in every way, relevant to the artist’s past works.
Of Chinese Lions, Peonies, Skulls, And Fountains, 2011, Takashi Murakami
Murakami’s art allows us to physically see that consistency offers a fair amount of latitude. Takashi Murakami, like many artists, uses recurrent themes, motifs, moods, symbolisms and concepts. When Takashi evolves he gives us a little of something new with a good helping of what we already love; just like Nabisco. That consistency of brand is what allows an artist to maintain their collector base while also growing it for the future. Roy T. Bennett wrote, “Consistency is the foundation of trust. Either keep your promises or don’t make them,” and the statement does an excellent job of summarizing the relation between an artist’s consistency and the impact it has on their collector base.
Set limits on your experimental practices. If you predominantly paint impressionistic portraits and you have a desire to try something abstract, give it a whirl but limit your “play.” For every 10 figure portraits you create, you might, try an experimental abstract piece. The abstract painting may never serve a purpose beyond your own artistic self-expression but that’s okay. Keep in mind that, from the standpoint of selling your work, your focus should be the kind of work that your patrons are buying. Most successful artists make subtle evolution to their brand. Murakami’s evolution from the iconic to the abstract happened over 15 years; not months. Avoid quarterly reinventions that plague many artists.
Pick a direction and commit. Every artist wants to know what sells. In my experience the artists who perform best in the market are the ones who have a strong sense of authentic identity and a deep passionate relationship with and commitment to their art. Art taps into emotion and you are going to do far better at selling it if your work makes a primal connection with your viewer. That connection will stem from your passion. Passion isn’t that feeling you get when you first try something. True passion comes after you’ve sacrificed and devoted yourself; after you have been true to your commitment. There are no two ways about this and you are eventually going to have to make a decision when it comes to your direction – so why not make it now?
We’d love to know more about your experience seeking consistency. Does consistency really matter? What have you done to create consistency in your work? What are other challenges you face in staying consistent? Share a comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.