In the early 1900s, artist from all across Europe flocked to a windmill-covered community located on the outskirts of Paris. It was called Montmartre, named after the hill on which it was located. Here, the modern art movement was born.
Montmartre was a community of artists who sacrificed themselves for their work, giving up comforts to create what they considered “art for art’s sake,” which was the Bohemian ideal. Some even wore this suffering as a badge of honor, believing it made their work better.
Among these artists was a young Spanish man who began his career drawing prostitutes and clowns he met in the cabarets and cafés. Once, he said his goal was to “live like a pauper, but with plenty of money.” The artist’s name was Pablo Picasso.
Though he started out a starving artist, Picasso did not remain one. When he died in 1973, his net worth was $500 million. How did he do it? He was obviously great at his craft. But he was also a master marketer.
Here are three lessons we can learn from Picasso on how to market our own work.
1. Practice in public
As a recent art school graduate, Picasso began his career in 1899 by meeting other artists in Barcelona at the local cafés and bars. Els Quatre Gats, a large tavern decorated with traditional Spanish tiles, was the place he frequented most often.
Located in a narrow cobbled alley, tucked in between the high buildings in a less-fashionable part of town, it was the perfect place for artists to gather. Picasso began visiting the tavern at age seventeen and hosted his first exhibition there. He also made a poster that served as the restaurant’s menu cover. Even as a teenager, he was putting his work on display for all to see, honing his craft in the process.
In my best-selling book *Real Artists Don’t Starve* (http://dontstarve.com), I call this “practicing in public.” This is a practice we can do very easily today. On Instagram, we can share snapshots of our work. On Facebook, we can share our day. On YouTube, we can give people a peak into our process.
This is the best kind of self-promotion precisely because it’s not self-promotion. It’s promoting the process, not the person.
2. Go where opportunity is greatest
In 1900, Picasso relocated from Spain to Paris, because he understood the need to put his work in the places where opportunity was greatest. There, he met writer Gertrude Stein, a writer and patron to the arts. He offered to paint her.
Soon, the two were meeting daily, and Stein would later claim to have sat for ninety sessions with Picasso. An avid art collector, she championed the young artist’s work for decades, helping him get it in front of the right people.
Don’t just bloom where you’re planted. Put your work where it has the greatest potential to succeed. In Picasso’s case, that meant sharing it generously by offering to paint a popular art patron.
3. Find fans to spread your work for you
Of course, the best kind of promotion is the kind you don’t have to do yourself. This is why we should be finding an audience for our work. Fans make for the best marketing channels.
“Picasso was very good about giving his work to the right collectors,” wrote Sue Hostetler, editor in chief of Art Basel Miami Beach magazine. “He was smart enough to see that during his time the savviest collectors were in Paris and he knew that if these collectors had his art it would support the value.”
When Picasso offered to paint Gertrude Stein, he must have known how influential she was in the Parisian art scene. The dedication he had to filling her home with his art was the perfect example of making his work findable.
What launched his career, transitioning young Pablo from obscure artist to one of the most famous painters of the twentieth century, was a willingness to put himself out there.
While others were living in obscurity in Montmartre, he was planting his work where it had the greatest opportunity to flourish, and that’s something we all can do.
About the Author: Jeff Goins is the author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller Real Artists Don’t Starve (dontstarve.com). You can follow him on Twitter @JeffGoins and join his free newsletter at Goinswriter.com.