One afternoon Leonard Kessler ran into his old friend from art school--a remarkably talented artist who had since become rich in the field of fashion illustration. Despite his success, his friend had been trying for years to gain recognition as a fine artist but had not made much headway. Glad to see him, Kessler asked him what he had been working on lately. His friend told him he had been putting together a plan to destroy abstract expressionism--the movement that dominated the New York art scene at the time.
Kessler asked him how he planned to do that. He replied, "I'm starting pop art."
If you're a fan of twentieth-century art, you may have guessed by now the illustrator-turned-pop-artist in question was Andy Warhol. In the popular imagination, Warhol is synonymous with using controversy to attract attention. Shortly after his conversation with Kessler, Warhol would go on to paint the first of his Campbell's Soup paintings--enraging the abstract expressionists and many others in the respectable art world with their supposed crassness.
Warhol went on to dedicate much of the rest of his career to provocation in one form or another--from his Brillo pad box sculptures to his confounding twenty four hour long films. But while many who came after him have tried to adopt his publicity-generating tactics, the vast majority of these imitators have failed. This is because they are missing the most important, but least obvious, element that made Warhol the greatest promotional genius of his era.
Laying the Groundwork For Massive Publicity
When Andy Warhol was first trying to make it as a commercial illustrator in the 1950s, he engaged in a practice that appears far different than what we might expect from our current perception of him. Whenever he would show up at the office of a magazine or ad agency, he would present a little gift to the art director's receptionist. He would often bring coffee and donuts, run unsolicited errands, and pay lavish and sincere compliments to the power players most responsible for influencing his standing in their insular world.
This habit continued when he made his way into the fine art world. Andy Warhol would charm, flatter, and socialize with the most influential gallery owners and curators of his day. And when he transitioned into filmmaking, he would go out of his way to arrange private screenings for the most influential critics in the independent film scene.
Warhol knew what many notoriety seekers miss--that while making waves in public is a great technique for generating publicity, it usually fails unless you lay the groundwork. In other words, demonstrate how you stand apart from the established order in public, but work behind the scenes to win over the tastemakers and decision makers who matter most in your field.
Changing Your Approach to Getting Noticed
When considering how you can draw attention to your own work in the shortest amount of time, drawing battle lines can be an effective strategy. If the way people are doing things in your niche is growing stale, call it out. If the celebrities in your industry are resting on their laurels, discredit them on social media or in the press.
But it's not enough. Before making enemies, you must first make friends.
Find powerful people who see the world like you do, and get them on your side. Find out what they need and make it happen. They might be looking to meet a certain kind of person you have access to. They might need advice on a certain topic about which you have expertise. They might simply want someone to open up to. Whatever it is, become the person who can give them what they are looking for.
One of Andy Warhol's most famous quotes is that "In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes." That predication has, in many ways, come to pass. The real trick that Warhol pulled off, however, was becoming famous for lifetime and consistently turning that fame into money, power, and freedom. And he did that by thinking about the relationships he was building every single day.
To get more tips from great hype artists, go here, here, and here.