Alibi V.28 No.6 • Feb 7-13, 2019 

Arts Interview

Branding for Artists

Dovya Friedman gets real about getting paid

Albuquerque branding expert Dovya Friedman cites Banksy as an artist who has mastered
Albuquerque branding expert Dovya Friedman cites Banksy as an artist who has mastered

On a recent morning, Albuquerque-based marketing and branding whiz Dovya Friedman (owner of Utility Agency) stood in a dance studio at Keshet, at a whiteboard before a group of professional dancers and choreographers, leading them through exercises to help them find, describe and sell their personal artistic brand.

While branding might come more naturally to those who’ve studied business, it comes harder for artists, she said. But no one needs to understand branding more than an artist, she said, because solid branding is oftentimes the biggest difference between being a struggling artist who must work a day job to survive, and being an artist who is able to make a living from her art.

“No artist likes being told who they are,” said Friedman. “So that’s where this natural resistance to the concept of branding comes from, for artists. But that’s a misperception of branding. The point of branding isn’t to tell you as an artist who you are; the point is you, telling people how they can engage with you and your art.”

The most frequent mistake artists make when articulating their personal brand is to describe their art or talk about themselves, said Friedman. The artwork, your creative process, you as a person, none of these are your brand, and therein lies the confusion for many creatives who fail to sell their work effectively.

An artist’s brand, ironically perhaps, is not about the art or the artist; it is about how the artist wants their fans or buyers to feel about supporting them. It is about who the consumer becomes to themselves if they support the artist’s work.

“I always go back to the example of Banksy,” said Friedman, referring to the anonymous England-based street artist known for satirical works that pop up unexpectedly, usually in public places, as biting social commentary.

“Banksy is perpetually the challenging trickster,” said Friedman. “It has nothing to do with what he does. It has nothing to do with is he a graffiti artist, is he a fine artist, is he a social fomenter. No. It’s about how he does what he does, and how that makes people feel. He’s this kind of creative trickster. He is challenging. He challenges you. That’s the brand. That’s why people love him, because they feel like they get to affiliate themselves with this awesome challenging brand, as opposed to someone who says I really love this artist because they paint really pretty landscapes.”

A parallel, she said, could be drawn with Coca-Cola. The company is not selling you on a soft drink. Rather, they have consistently marketed happiness. Their brand, regardless of your pancreas’ response, is happiness.

“They’re not marketing soda,” said Friedman. “They are actually avoiding that.”