There is a somewhat common thought that if the work is good enough, success will come to an artist. Of course, without ongoing and untiring promotional efforts, this will not happen. However, there is something else that is missing from all this. That missing element is what I call swagger.
Swagger is an artist’s brand; his or her image. Having the proper image instills confidence in people. It tells others that you know who you are and what you do is important. This is infectious. People will believe whatever you have to sell. It’s not a new idea, but it is something that artists ignore or rather, shy away from.
Artists are generally quiet, introspective people. These people do not naturally have swagger. They are generally self-conscious. Consequently, artists, ironically wind up at the bottom of the art world food chain. Unfortunately, those that are higher up the art world food chain use this to keep artists in their place. This feeds the doubt and insecurity that artists seem to be born with. The artist begs for recognition and is happy with any recognition, thereby denying him or herself an important roll in art.This idea of swagger, by no means is anything new. Politicians rise to power with it. Wars are started with it. Brain surgeons have it. Airline pilots need it. It is necessary to overcome fear and get the job done. It’s essential to anyone with anything to sell. Artists need to sell their work, so they need it as well.
I have read in a couple of places, advice for graphic artists that it’s important to have a “look” (an important part of swagger). This is something I noticed in my corporate career. Almost all of the ad agencies we dealt with had someone on the team that had a certain presence, either a creative or the account rep. At one company I worked for, the account rep had a Hugh Grant look and persona going. Women in the office would swoon over this guy. He was British, wore nice British-cut suits and seemed to be somewhat stand-offish. At another company it seemed I was meeting with guys with shaved heads, British accents and cool glasses. In all cases these people had credibility the minute they walked in the door.
This also works for artists. Think of the most successful artists and in most cases they all have a certain presence that commands respect. They have swagger. Those that don’t have some sort of mystique instead or a combination of both. A recent article in Proximity discusses the importance of the attraction art lovers have to artists. The collector buys the art of a particular artist, not based on the merit of the work but because they are buying a piece of the person that created it. I feel that without swagger, there would not be that attraction.
So what is swagger? It’s a combination of look, confidence, outspokenness and perhaps arrogance. To the levels that these ingredients are mixed in one’s swagger determines whether the artist is a leader or an asshole. Both can achieve attention in the art world easier and faster than the stereotypical quiet artist type.
Is it in you?