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The Business of Being an Artist

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I love getting thoughtful emails from readers, the ones where we disagree and still have a reasonable discussion. I learn from those, even if we can't convince each other.

A couple of weeks ago a reader took issue with my article on David Bowie. I wish I could replay the whole exchange, but the topics we covered were pretty wide-ranging and I don't want to open all of them here.

One point that came up, though, I think bears more discussion. The reader noted that Bowie is "one of the most brilliant marketers in the history of rock 'n' roll," adding, "He is all about the money and he goes with 'flow of the times'."

So ... is that a bad thing? I'm not being facetious (well, maybe slightly). The reader has a great point. As a culture, we view artistic integrity as inversely proportional to marketing.

Good art sells itself. That's the assumption. The pure artist simply opens his mouth and sings, devotes himself entirely to his craft. It is the wayward, mediocre artist who concerns himself with packaging, pleasing his fans, branding.


That assessment contains a flaw that is probably obvious to most of TheStreet's business-savvy readers: Nothing sells itself. To reach an audience, the artist has to put the work out there as a product; somehow, he has to generate interest in his art.

As I thought about it more, though, it seems to me this assumption about art and marketing goes deeper than that.

If we look at a successful company and its products -- Apple (AAPL), for instance -- we find marketing at work not just at the final stage, but at every stage. In the community a company builds around itself of vendors, suppliers and consultants, in the design process behind any product, even in the hiring of employees -- at all these points, important aspects of the company's identity have to be communicated and cultivated.

For a company's products to have value for a consumer, that company has to have the tools to create that value, has to have a brand that represents that value, has to have people that represent the company's ideals and has to have products that naturally represent the goal of that overall vision. And the company has to be able to make money.

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