Deep Thought Thursday: Style vs. Gimmick

Overheard on Twitter:

When does personal style turn to gimmick?

With nods to @anniesalness @Art_News @aakschipper

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30 thoughts on “Deep Thought Thursday: Style vs. Gimmick”

  1. Great topic. I think this depends on how the artist feels about it. We know when we are creating from a place of authenticity.

    When it’s authentic style but others judge the work as ‘gimmicky’, they’re usually satisfied if the artist has the words to express what they’re doing and why.

  2. As soon as the artist feels like he/she is doing the same thing over and over again. It will be boring and the result becomes gimmicky. I suppose the public will ‘see’ it too sooner or later. If you keep challenging yourself as an artist you will never be in this place.

  3. To me it would be why the artist is painting it and if it becomes too much of a habit. One gallery owner told me I needed to paint roosters because they were selling. I had no interest in the world in painting roosters and I figured then it would just be a gimmick to sell work and not really producing the art I want to paint.

  4. From Wikipedia: “In marketing language, a gimmick is a quirky feature that distinguishes a product or service without adding any obvious function or value. Thus, a gimmick sells solely on the basis of distinctiveness and may not appeal to the more savvy or shrewd customer.”

    When applying it to art, and more specifically to an artist’s style, there might be a fine line that is sometime hard to cross… We all know how subjective art and art-style is. One person’s Art is another person’s doodle/anyone-can-do-that/garbage(-excuse-my-French). So does found art like Duchamp’s Fountain can be called gimmicky? It is probably appealing only to the top of the top of “savvy or shrewd customers”… but it IS art…

    So with today’s overflow of art styles and abundance or artists, it might not be even “politically correct” to use the word “gimmick” in the same context as “art”. Or is it?

    Very good question….

  5. @ Moshe, very good answer.

    But who cares about political correctness in art? Art is subjective is it not? If confronted with it, every tom dick and harry on the street will have their own opinion on whether Duchamp’s Fountain is “a piece of garbage” or a masterpiece and everything in between. All of those opinions are valid to the tom dick or harry that expresses them.

    The very nature of the subjectiveness of art means that for me, political correctness SHOULD not apply. There should be no limit in the language that we use to describe or discuss art.

  6. I think everyone here got it – it’s about knowing you’re doing something for the sake of doing it. Rather than it having a specific creative purpose. I’ve ditched techniques over time purely because I know they were becoming crutches for how to create the painting, instead of just figuring out how to best create the imagery I wanted! Examples include using molding paste for making edges, collaging on pieces of canvas to the stretched canvas, glazing in particular ways, heck I even forced acrylics on myself (for a month stranded in Newfoundland! ack!) in order to figure out more about how I wanted to be painting generally instead of just relying on my oil paint knowledge.

    There’s gimmicky from a commercial point of view too, but that doesn’t interest me. It’s what Forrest said, painting for the market instead of finding the market for your paintings. Artistic integrity comes into play there.

  7. Think Jean-Claude (chosen to honor her the day after her death) and Christo: some might say their art is “gimmicky” because it appeals to a broad group of people (over a million people walked through the Gates in Central Park), and they were “doing the same thing over and over” (at least in intent) but I don’t consider it so – they challenged themselves immensely on every project. However, I do respectfully disagree with Zachary; couldn’t the cat’s shirt be THE creative focus of the artist, and changing its color amounts to a huge shift in their thinking? VERY good question, as I said, I’ve been pondering this for about a month in regard to my own work. Thank you Alyson, for posing it. Great discussion.

  8. Interesting! See, according to Steve’s definitions my artwork is gimmicky. My primarily focus as an artist is my technique and process (gimmick?), and I have my coast cycling trip as my primary marketing story (gimmick?) – it draws people in to consider the work further.

    It’s all in the eye of the beholder – I’d love to know if someone felt my work was genuinely gimmicky.

  9. Tina – I think your work is beautiful, and I, like Steve, am drawn into it without the story. However, I disagree that this type of “marketing” is gimmicky. I love the story of how you find your source material, and I appreciate that you share your process. I am doing a similar blog, but without one particular focus like your bicycling, and my readers have told me over and over that they love to hear about the process and that it enhances their appreciation of my work. I think, perhaps, the only thing that I would label gimmicky – and only a bit so because it is so secondary to your work, is the name “The Bicycling Artist.” And this is what I found interesting: when I first read that title, I expected your work to be less than what I found it to be when I actually saw it. Something to think about, no?

  10. oh, unfortunately I do care, I’m funny that way. 😉 My greatest fear in life is being mediocre, and gimmicky would fall into that category.

    Thanks for the reply Steve. My reply was meant to mainly point out how we do perceive things differently. 🙂 While you see more than the technique your statement was that an artist focusing on technique was gimmicky – something I do almost entirely. 🙂 I would definitely agree that statement only holds if that’s the *perception* of the work. So if it looks like the technique is the only point of the work – if it comes across as primary to a viewer (rather than to the artist which is how I read your previous comment). You have “ungovernable madness to my brushwork” (FANTASTIC phrase by the way) while mine is excruciatingly precise and planned. But neither of us are gimmicky. (hopefully)

    And yes I agree about the marketing being separate from the art, but you included it in your definitions. I don’t mind a marketing gimmick (which I call story and branding) as long as it’s unobtrusive.

    P.S. I’ve been known to listen to one song for several weeks on repeat to make a few of my paintings. 😉 haha! I can’t hop on one foot and paint at the same time though…

  11. The viewer is the person who judges whether art is gimmicky-and each viewer’s criteria are different. An artist whose main focus is on their techniques over creativity and composition-that is gimmicky. When someone relies on a gimmick as their core marketing of their paintings “I listen to only Miles Davis music and paint while bouncing on one foot”-is a gimmick. And last, the artist often knows they are relying on a gimmick as opposed to focusing on the creative process-they usually let you know who and what they are by their words and actions.

  12. @ Tina, I agree with Gini. I had a look @ your work and was drawn in by the whole concept of cycling artist. For me, it makes the work all the more interesting. I was particularly drawn to the Greenwich series, as that is where I was born :)… Nothing remotely gimmicky about your work, although I see your point about the term “cycling artist”- but if it draws people in then who cares, thats the whole point right?

    I have been accused of being gimmicky as I tend to work in series. My first being “Black Brits”- was about British icons and how the colour of their skin affected the way they were perceived by the public. It was labeled a gimmick by some media outlets, but that was because they did not get the point.

    However it is perceived, as long as you are being true to yourself as an artist and you are producing quality work, who really cares?

  13. Seems that a consensus is on the idea of gimmicks referring a lot to the selling/marketing side rather than the actual painting side – which is great to hear.

    I guess when we do choose our public labels, which we’re all bound to do to some extent eventually, we need to be careful. Cycling, black, outsider, gay, Brit, etc… they all can have connotations we don’t intend and come across as gimmicky instead of genuine depending on the audience. (like media who clearly misunderstood the Black Brits concept, probably because the media skim for sound-bites rather than full stories!)

    (this is all intriguing discussion because I’m working through Alyson’s “Artist Statement” worksheets right now!)

  14. Tina, interesting you say that, because I don’t find your work gimmicky, but maybe the marketing of it just a tiny bit so. First, I find your techniques to be secondary to what you create. Your creative process to me is much larger then just your techniques. Second, as an abstract artist I am brought in by the painting, and I love yours. But I don’t need the story. Although interesting, I could look at the paintings all day and well into the future without being sent to an identifiable source for me to reference. I do understand your point that it draws people in to consider your work further, but this is marketing, about creating a larger audience, and not art, yes? As an abstract artist the emotion I get is from visually looking at the painting, and I agree with you “It’s all in the eye of the beholder”. Keep up the great work.

  15. Hey Tina, who cares? You’re doing a very very cool thing cycling around & your work is beautiful…Just the cardio workout alone is impressive, not to mention the rain, wind & logistics…You’re selling…You’re in a groove…If it ain’t broke don’t fix it…(I will admit that I am interested to see how you evolve stylistically-but gimmick? No…) I think you just did some clever marketing After you were organically motivated…

  16. An artist’s style is the visual in elements that are essential an artist’s body of work and distinguishing that work from the work of other artists. A gimmick feature added with the sole purpose of drawing attention to the work or the artist while not adding anything essential to the core of the work. A gimmick is not by nature bad. It could be useful to create awareness of an artist and her or his work. The problem is that the success of a gimmick can overshadow the artwork and become the unintended focus both of the public and the artist.

    James Whistler used his flamboyant style of dress, the gray “feather” in his hair and his outspoken persona to draw attention to himself and his work. Unfortunately for him and the art world, those gimmicks have cast a shadow over his work resulting in one of the 19th century’s great artists is still considered a minor character popularly know only for the painting of his mother. His is a cautionary tale.

  17. Tina: I just want you to know I do love your work and when I view your work, those “negative words” never come into my mind! I completely understand your point on marketing, but as a fellow artist the main focus for me is on those beautiful paintings.

  18. Michael, I you hit the nail on the head….
    I think it’s all in the eye of the beholder, however ‘gimmick’ seems to have negative connotations and is seen as a knock. If someone were to claim some aspect of my work was a gimmick, I would be compelled to explain why it’s important to the integrity of the piece and not just a way to attract attention. Perhaps sometimes it’s a misunderstanding about the work.

  19. Pingback: The Shaun White Guide to a Gold-Medal Art Career — Art Biz Blog

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