The Eternal Battle between Art and Marketing (and Why the two Needn’t be at War)
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The Eternal Battle between Art and Marketing (and Why the two Needn’t be at War)

Written by Emilie

Topics: Art

I met a very nice Apple fanboy the other day when I went to pick up my MacBook Pro. (We exchanged business cards, so hopefully he’s reading this.) His name was Scott, and Scott was a photographer.

I try to be careful when telling someone what I do for work, because it often leads to a long discussion. Don’t get me wrong, I love talking about my work. It’s just that before jumping in, I try to make sure that it will be a fruitful discussion, that I won’t be defending my unconventional career choices.

This was a good one though. And suddenly, we’d stopped talking about my computer’s 500GB Hard drive, and transitioned to marketing for artists.

“I have trouble marketing my stuff,” he said,

I like creating art for me. I don’t like the idea of having to appeal to a commercial audience.”

“I understand,” I replied.

But creativity and marketing don’t need to be two separate things. The key is finding a motivation or theme behind your work– something that is both personal for you, and resonates with other people. Then you express that theme and allow your work to stand as an example of it.

He nodded, allowing this sink in.

A Common Myth

I wanted to share this conversation with you because I think it represents a really commonly held belief held by artists: that art and marketing need to be separate and distinct, and that art is this creative and beautiful activity, while marketing is about selling or changing your vision to be more commercially appealing.

This idea may have been true in the past, but the face of marketing has changed radically in the last five years.

Connect Your Work to a Bigger Theme

The reality is that the audience (your right audience) cares about the same Truths that you care about– the Truths that you express so beautifully through your work. However, your audience is not in your head. They don’t necessarily understand the themes behind your work simply by experiencing that work.

When you connect your work back to a larger idea, you will attract people for whom this idea resonates. You’ll create more than a billboard for yourself (the old role of marketing). You’ll build a community of devoted fans and customers.

I buy nearly everything that Dallas Clayton creates, not just because I love his work, but because I associate deeply with what I believe to be his overarching theme: imagination and dreaming big. Dreaming big isn’t just the theme he thought would appeal most to his audience, it’s his own personal philosophy too.

Marketing is less about altering your vision, and more about fully expressing it

It’s important not to see marketing as an altering or dumbing down your vision. Instead, see it as an opportunity to better communicate the meaning of your work and touch more people.

What does your work stand for? What do you stand for?


I go into these ideas in depth and walk you through a number of exercises to help you find your overarching theme in Renaissance Business. Check it out if you’d like some hand-holding as you go through the process.


  1. Simone says:

    Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

    These ideas are golden. What Emilie articulates as the ‘theme’ is what I understand as ‘congruence’ (in my own hypno-yoga worldview, that is.) When you’re all congruent because you understand the common thread that runs through everything you do which is aligned with your purpose and passion, marketing becomes a thing of joy. It’s like wanting to spread the gospel because you believe in it and its beauty so freaking much!

    • Simone says:

      And by the way, to answer Emilie’s question:
      My work proclaims to the whole world that yes, deep peace, understanding and zippy genius are all inside you and when you use tools that engage multiple dimensions of reality, you can get there stupendously fast.

      I would travel to the ends of the earth to proclaim this message because it changed my life and has the power to save the world.

      • Emilie says:

        Wow– your vision is beautiful Simone. You’ve really learned how to express it eloquently, which made me think of something else.

        Articulation is something I’ve found takes time. For instance, I knew what Puttylike stood for right from the beginning, but I’ve only recently been able to express it clearly, with language I like. I think a lot of people get tripped up on the expression, but as far as I’m concerned, knowing your theme inside, even in its “unclothed” form, is what’s most important.

        Thanks for sharing, Simone.

        • Simone says:

          Exactly, exactly. I remember how stumped I felt when I was first coaching with you!

          That’s what I want to tell everyone — you don’t need to know how to articulate it perfectly right now. It’s okay to feel like you have no idea what your theme is. Do the best you can and keep doing your thing, and your thing will articulate itself in time. The ‘universe’ will show you, but the only way it will show you is if you keep committing to ACTION!! :)

  2. jennifer says:

    My work (and myself) stand for supporting artists (writers, artists, musicians, etc) in nourishing their creative selves through health and lifestyle changes that will help them sustain a constant creative flow. I wasn’t sure how this whole theme would come together until I wrote my InkyBites “Philosophy.” That really helped me shape what the site is all about and what my work/myself stands for. Great post!

    • Emilie says:

      Absolutely. I encourage all my students to write up their About section early on (as you know. :) It really helps clarify things.

      I’m digging InkyBites by the way. Congrats on the launch!

  3. Josh says:

    I’m trying to get this concept in my head. It makes sense somewhat, and so lately I’ve been putting all my work into my website and blog, and music to the side (just for the moment). My overarching theme on bringing forth imagination is helping me do the best blogging ever. And it’s for other people too. The idea came as some epiphanies rather than learned manually.

    As for art and marketing, I struggled with that more at one time, but much of that was really deep-setted fear issues, for me personally. Pressfield’s War of Art called me out, one issue after another. Might not be that way for everyone, but it was for me.

    • Emilie says:

      Oh man, the War of Art was a huge kick in the butt for me. Actually it still is. If I’m ever having Resistance problems, I’ll pull it out and it usually works within 5 minutes and gets me to take action.

      I’m really happy to hear that you’re making headway, Josh. And I’ve gotta say, it’s been exciting to watch you overcome your fears, one by one, and take steps towards making this happen. I think a lot of us can really relate to what you’re going through.

  4. “But creativity and marketing don’t need to be two separate things. The key is finding a motivation or theme behind your work– something that is both personal for you, and resonates with other people. Then you express that theme and allow your work to stand as an example of it.”

    The nail and the head, Emilie. Thanks!

  5. Lesley says:

    My artwork stands for appreciation of a humble, sweet and cute animal that many people don’t give a second thought to, but those that do, love with all their little hearts. And I think on some level that resonates in a bigger way. In life and ‘work’ contexts, I celebrate the nice people, the underdogs, the people trapped in jobs they don’t like that want to get out, the creative folks that are underpaid for the talent they have and the passion they put into their work.

    I stand for justice and fulfillment for those who have gifts they’re not sure how to use, or for people who have allowed themselves to think that a job is just a job and that’s all there is to life. My little artsy tagline is to celebrate cute in your life. But the underlying reason to celebrate it is to be happy. To smile. I want to help people be happy, and I think both my artwork and what I hope to do with a future business will accomplish that on several levels. :)

    • Emilie says:

      Beautiful. You did something else that I encourage, which is find a symbol or image to represent your theme. This makes your brand way more “sticky” in people’s minds. I mean really, who could forget a flying guinea pig!

  6. I loooooove this. :) I believe in personal responsibility and that I can do MANY things that express that belief and passion. Right now, I’m teaching women in their 20s and 30s how to take ownership of their lives… but I know that there will be many other ways I express this such as art, writing, entrepreneurship, branding, etc.

    The idea of having a theme reminds me of Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why. Knowing why you do what you do, what you believe and what you’re passionate about is so essential. The what and how can vary. As you said here:

    “When you connect your work back to a larger idea, you will attract people for whom this idea resonates. You’ll create more than a billboard for yourself (the old role of marketing). You’ll build a community of devoted fans and customers.”

    Perfect! xo

    • Emilie says:

      Thanks Stephenie. I dig Sinek’s work too. You’re right, this is absolutely about knowing your Why, not just as a business, but as a person.

      Love your philosophy too. xo.

  7. Denise says:

    Finding that “bigger theme” is so important. Once you do, then marketing won’t feel sleazy or commercial, it won’t feel like you’re just “selling yourself” … it’ll feel more like you’re sharing a very important message to the world, and there’s nothing sleazy about that! Great topic :)

  8. Janet says:

    beautiful look at it! and you’re completely right.

    i’m still struggling with what “marketing” means to me because I’m stuck in the old marketing.. tactics and ethos are still used today and that’s what i DON’T like.

    but you’re right about the online space being a soap box for a greater message/ theme, and how marketing is all around that.. in an inspired way. it makes it an imperative to find your greater message, because the world deserves your greatest expression!!

    • Emilie says:

      Yup. I also have issue with a lot of current marketing approaches out there. But there are a few gems that I try to model, people like Chris Guillebeau, who’s “marketing” is more about being genuine and just NICE. Honestly, I believe that kindness and openness has been my greatest “marketing strategy.” And I really mean that.

  9. Mars Dorian says:

    Hey Emilie,

    I agree that your message should be the core of your marketing – attracting those people as clients/fans that believe what you believe. But I figured that there’s still a need for marketing – Harley Davidson and Apple still market like crazy, because people are lazy by nature and they need to be reminded and surprised !

  10. Sharise says:

    I love the conversation between you & Simone. It can be hard to articulate what you stand for. It’s good to know that it will get easier to express in time.

    I also like what Jennifer said about writing a philosophy. I wrote (& rewrote & rewrote & rewrote) an about page but it’s more like a “hey this is me and this is how I got into design” page than a “this is what my business is about” page.

    Lately I’ve been working on the “what my business is about” part and have been getting kind of stuck figuring out what to say & how to say it. Now I think I know how to get unstuck?write a manifesto! A declaration of what my business stands for will be much more fun (& hopefully easier to write!) than an about page. :)

    • Emilie says:

      Yup, keep at it Sharise! You’ll get there.

      Also try thinking about your own personal beliefs and life philosophies. What drives you? What change would you like to affect in the world?

  11. Monica Lee says:

    This is a fabulous way to look at Art and Marketing, sometimes we need a fresh perspective, a new way to verbalize something and your article really did that! Thanks Emilie!

  12. Just seeing you write this headline thrills me.

    Thank you :)

  13. I yesterday got a book called “Thinking at the Edge” ( a system developed by Gene Gendlin). The same person that advised me your website advised me the book. It sets techniques in order to name the unnamable. It’s not that easy to find what stirs inside but has no names yet. The step to market yourself demands that you name fully confidentially what’s going on inside you. Without this step of naming the unnamed and how they describe is as “following the felt sense” it’s easy to loose quality. It takes time and focus to get it right.

    That aside I believe the greatest art is the one that holds two qualities: 1) an ability to appeal, to take with an audience on one hand and 2) on the other hand stay true to what really resonates or is brooding inside, this (to me) deeper “urge” or “movement” that sharply and fully takes form in your art.

    To know what really moves an audience, to know what really happens in the mind of an audience is an art in itself. To know it exactly might be impossible, but it’s possible to learn, to get to know perception.

    To stay honest to yourself takes nourishment of yourself. Self-valueing. There is this book called “The Artist Way” which is a plan to do this: to re-establish your value as an artist.

    I also think it is a true shame this is not thought within education: self-marketing should be a course in art-schools as it demands a lot of time to ge it right. So many people come out of an art education without having an idea how to promote themselves and how to open up an audience for what they do. And that’s not due to a lack of artistic quality. It’s just another world which needs as much dedication as your art itself. It’s good to start it early as it can develop as one part of your multipotentialite personality.

  14. Keith Kehrer says:

    I still fight with the idea that every piece of music I create has to generate income. I enjoy writing music and performing it but there is always this sub-text of it needing to be monetized. Not a lot of freedom there. I do tend to write something every day, but I write I think I can sell.


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