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Salvador Dali: Virtuoso Artist or Clever Marketer?

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2010-08-05-SalvadorDaliHighcroppedreduced8510.jpg"This is a particularly open moment in the art world," according to a practitioner that is well-connected with New York City's art galleries. "There's receptivity to just about everything from dung balls to ephemera," she told me during a discussion about the difficulty that artists have marketing their creations.

"On the downside, there are, in my opinion, too many artists being churned out of the universities and too many would-be photographers."

The corollary is that most of the students lack the marketing training to compete with their peers. That is why colleges and universities are offering marketing classes as part of their art and design curriculum.

I told the New York pundit that my wife, Julie, and I have seen his work in several cities and we have also been to the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla. We noted that in addition to his talent as an artist, he was a master in marketing himself.

More recently, we attended the opening of his late works at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Ga. on Aug 1. As a result, I gained more marketing insight to share with my readers and SCORE clients so that they can beef-up their approach to selling artworks and homemade crafts.

Although Dali died in 1989 at age 85, his antics and self-promotion are legendary and the High embellishes it online. And as if he were in charge of the opening-night festivities, it was replete with acrobats, jugglers and Daliesque mustaches handed out for the amusement of the elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen.

The 150-item exhibit included the surrealist's paintings, photographs and videos. Many were as controversial as his marketing machine that some it say detracts from his talent.

Dali managed to stay in the press with stories in periodicals and striking photographs, including features in Life magazine; six times in one 12-month period. He appeared on numerous TV shows such as What's My Line and spontaneously created a shaving-cream drawing for his ostentatious entrance on I've Got a Secret.

Dali is also remembered for bringing an anteater to the Dick Cavett Show. And as if Harpo Marx needed a more outrageous shtick, Dali gave him a harp with barbed wire strings, tuning knobs made of spoons, and it was wrapped in cellophane as a Christmas present.

But what about Dali's art? I asked the New York pundit if his unrelenting self-promotion was a distraction.

"Would I prefer that Matisse be in his studio making art or on the phone or doing mailings to make sales?" she replied. "In pushing artists so firmly into the business model or productivity, we may be fostering artists who turn out products rather than art."

So I asked her if there are ways for artists to find a balance and e-mailed her my April 5 "Herald-Tribune" column about getting into galleries as another way to market art.

"That's why it's so vital that an artist find a gallerist that believes in his or her work and has the marketing skills, financial resources and broad collector and gallery networks to promote it in today's global environment," she answered. That allows the artist time to concentrate on the "process of deepening their art by continuing to explore new avenues."

Sales and marketing are learned skills. Inexpensive marketing workshops and free mentoring are offered at SCORE, Small Business Development Centers and Women's Resource Centers. They are three resource partners of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Jerry Chautin is a volunteer SCORE business counselor, business columnist and SBA's 2006 national "Journalist of the Year" award winner. He is a former entrepreneur, commercial mortgage banker, commercial real estate dealmaker and business lender. You can follow him at www.Twitter.com/JerryChautin