“As a marketing expert, this is what I learned from artists and here is my advice to them”

An essay by Margarita Gourgourini

Take any of the essays you wrote at elementary school before turning 10, and you will notice you used to do something you would never allow yourself today: always start your text by saying “I”, which is now practically forbidden.

“I played with friends yesterday morning”.

“I went on a day trip with my parents”.

“I love these games”.

Our childhood essays are the tender reminder of the time when we were absolutely self-absorbed, completely fearless in the face of critique, unashamedly happy about all our achievements. It is the most wonderful testimony of our innermost essence, which is trivial, funny and full of adventures. We were never scared to speak about ourselves, our stories, our desires and our hopes. It never occurred to us not to claim the space that was ours and the attention we so craved for. Every time we did so, we would receive praise, feel loved and accepted.

Everything was simple, everything was perfect.

Today, one of the greatest challenges I face on a daily basis is trying to convince adults that it is absolutely fine and downright necessary to speak about their job and their life on social media. The years separating us from the golden decade of shameless bragging have let fear, trauma and anxiety to creep in. The decision to expose oneself in this context is, for most professionals, an exercise in courage. Nowadays, technology has enabled us to have an equal share in the public sphere and given us access to discussions as well as to an audience we would not even dream of reaching until recently. Nevertheless, many among us are refusing to engage.

Often, those who refuse are the very ones whose voice we need to hear more than anyone else’s: the artists. I believe that if more of them dared, if more of them raised their voice, our social media reality would be altogether different. Their silence creates a lacuna which is taken over by noise and dust. It is an unbearable lacuna. A year ago, I literally grabbed the chance the ARTWORKS team generously offered me, to organize a seminar addressed to its Fellows.

I knew I would be up against a great obstacle. I know its name. It is called shame. Growing up, most artists had to face an environment which constantly pointed how different they were — and this not as a merit badge but as an affliction they, as well as those around them, needed to come to terms with. What is more, we live in a society rewarding results, the finished product, and displaying complete disregard for the value of failure and all the stages in between. Many of us have never stopped feeling we are in a classroom and that our work is being marked. We have never stopped feeling the presence of our teacher as we recite our lessons by heart.

Part of my job was to help the Fellows change their way of thinking. That alone is a merit badge, a gold star. The next step was to help them understand that social media platforms are something extremely simple and organic; that it is just like talking about their work sitting in a room with friends, discussing things that have happened to them. It is just like a regular day at the studio, watching their surroundings. The only difference is that social media exists in a parallel dimension. It is our channel. The difficulty it poses is that it forces us to treat ourselves as the subject matter of its story. To consciously participate in building our reputation. I always tell people we become the curators of ourselves. There is this notion that social media functions a little like a pin board where we post our announcements. From time to time, we pop our head out, splash an announcement and expect people to notice, to interrupt the course of their own lives and give us their attention. But this is not how things go. In its most refined version, this could be a fine portrayal of our existence. The best documentary one could ever make. I remain convinced that artists can do that, turn this into art.

We spent many hours together during the lockdown, with video calls and exercises. I was truly astounded at the originality of their answers. I met people doing fantastic work, passionately executed and at the end of our time together the only thing I wholeheartedly wished for was that I had succeeded to give some of them what I always aim for — a big push. Take the knowledge, I am here to explain to you. Take the tools, you can do it. Give me new answers, give me your own answers.

A year later, a Fellow contacted me on Instagram. She had started her own kickstarter campaign for a project she was working on. She wrote me that she had drawn inspiration and strength from our training sessions. I went online to see, eager to find out more.

Myrto Xanthopoulou’s project 100 Karate Blows is everything I could ever wish for. It gave a short, random glimpse into various snapshots of her work. Into all that will become words but most importantly into all that cannot fit into words. The snapshots turn into ig stories and have a lifespan of 24 hours; they are not connected to each other, and yet in her mind they are perfectly choreographed. As I was reading the text of the campaign, its logic became clear to me; as did the fact that, right at that moment, this was the format that could serve it best. Myrto pursued her art project, using Instagram as her tool. She let us partake in it, allowing us to become her audience in a very simple and organic way. As if we were standing ever so gently on her shoulder, right at the level of her eyes.

Myrto achieved her kickstarter goal because she did things right. Here are four important tips you need to keep in mind if you would like to start something similar:

  1. The project must be completely finished in your head. It must have a beginning, middle and end. You need to have tried things out, charted the territory. If you want to get anyone to fund a project which might sounds abstract to others, to you it must feel absolutely concrete.
  2. Be clear about what you offer. What exactly will backers receive, what exactly are you asking them to support, how will the money they give make a difference?
  3. “Treat it like an electoral campaign”. That’s what I always say. To get you message across you need to repeat it a million times over, not in an autistic way but each time bringing out a new perspective. The audience’s attention can be captured in different places, and at different moments.
  4. Think of the process of spreading the news about your project as similar to throwing a stone in the water. The first ripple the falling stone will create will affect your circle of close friends and associates. They are the ones who need to know about it first, as they are the ones who support and understand you. It is through them that the next ripple will come about, and the one after that as you continue to disseminate information.

Remember: this is a path where there is no right or wrong, where with every passing day we need to make decisions helping us to dodge one more mistake. What we all crave for as we reach for our mobile phone is to be heard and to establish a connection. This is never going to happen unless you let your real voice come through, no matter how scary this sounds. If you do so, the strength which will ricochet back to you will help you grow and change. It will become part of who you are and forever change the options lying ahead of you. Think about it. We have the need — us, the audience — to listen to your voice. Now more than ever.

Margarita Gourgourini is a Brand Strategist who trains everyday great teams, creatives and artists to share their stories on the internet and through social media. In the meantime, she writes about pop culture, fashion and feminism at Lifo.

margaritagourgourini.com

ARTWORKS is a nonprofit organization exclusively supported by its founding donor, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF). Our aim is to create a fertile and nurturing environment for Greek artists through funding and public engagement opportunities. You can always learn more about our Fellows at www.art-works.gr

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ARTWORKS Fellows

ARTWORKS Fellows

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Essays, texts and interviews about contemporary Greek artists and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Artist Fellowship Program. www.art-works.gr