Marketing and Cuban artists

by Joel Paneque Romero, Monday June 13th, 2016


I am paying a debt to myself as I write these lines. It turns out that some time ago, motivated by one of my business raptures, I founded a company specializing in online marketing services and I named it Seoencuba. It may seem weird if I say that one of my first jobs was the plastic arts because online marketing and painting are exciting professions but 180 degrees in opposite directions.

How can an artist become a specialist in Online Marketing?

As it turns out I didn’t do very well as an artist. I did not consider myself with little talent, I got quickly and with only elementary education to tame the craft of painting and I still feel very proud of a couple of paintings I made. But the truth, the truth: I was horrible from the economic point of view. I called it underground art.

In my view, economically speaking, there are 3 levels in the art in which we can fit:

1. The subsoil of art or underworld

Where artists make soup and survive as they can, often selling their soul and talent to the worst, miserable and most unscrupulous traders. It is a bittersweet, bohemian life with pain and anguish somehow urgent. The place where I was righteously.

2. Planet Earth

People of this trade with their feet firmly on the ground, with a clear conscience but the fact they successfully perform their work. They live, suffer, love, feel like anyone, but they do their work and are proud of it. Prostituting them is very difficult, they want more but not at the expense of the quality of their work. They always keep their fair value and clean shirt because above all things: they have their feet firmly on the ground. They do not make major concessions and have a philosophy of life that allows them keeping their chin up, even in difficult times.

3. The time travelers

Their economy allows them singing, painting, dancing, acting, directing or writing without pressure. They create styles, impose fashions, set standards and those more intelligent or talented may be found later in a book of art history.

I’m sure you will agree with me in this classification, also will agree that all we had artistic intentions dream of being one day time travelers.

Confortable economy and its relationship with the quality of the artistic work is a much discussed topic and of conflicting opinions. There are some who dare to point out that the hardest life is for an artist, the greater the accumulation of useful experiences and feelings that can build up and use. This has some logic because it is in the heat of the lower social classes where 99% of world art has historically been generated. Nor can one deny that clean finances are essential to achieve a work of sustained value over time because a hungry individual cannot be very bohemian. There are well known cases of artists who have survived incredible hardships and made a colossal work; almost always at the expense of their physical or mental health, get sick or die young.

Now, maybe you think that the place where we are in the classification is determined by the artistic talent. If so, sorry to disappoint you. Artistic talent is independent of whether we eat caviar or we starve.


I remember with quite a bit of irony my hard times as an artist and how comforting was to know that Van Gogh never sold a painting while he was alive.

I am better off than him, I used to think, I sell everything, I am prostituting myself, I live out of reproductions of masterpieces: the Mona Lisa with a Habano, reproductions of Tiziano, Cuban style, and other artistic farces, but I least I am better off than Van Gogh. I still haven’t cut off my ear and I sell everything I produce. Just for pennies, but it puts some bread on my table…

Well, a large percentage of artists in the underworld sooner or later cut off their ears. I did cut mine as you can see. My fellow underworld painters little by little took the same road, every now and then we learnt of somebody that had done it and with their bloodied ears, in a cat of unstoppable madness, quit with great pain their beloved profession.

It is a common thing in Cuba for most of the plastic artists to quit their trade, even those studying at the higher levels. This is something that has affected us in the last years, and it happens because in art schools they teach you how to draw, paint, make sculptures, dance, direct or perform, but they don’t teach you how to make a living. They don’t teach you how to sell your image, get clients, how to get a job or sell your work. Summarizing, they don’t teach you marketing.

Marketing was demonized for too long in our country and considered as a capitalist tool of ideological dominance when in reality it is nothing but the art or science of meeting the client´s needs, of course, while making a profit. If Karl Marx had known marketing, he surely would have used it as an essential part of his poor economic guidelines. We can say is one of the missing parts of the Marxist ideology to be efficient and productive. Sure enough, maybe then it wouldn’t be Marxism.

Without this precious tool, there are great chances of falling to the art´s underworld for good. Just remember van Gogh. In my opinion, this colossal painter is the perfect example of what happens to a person with great talent, but lacking on knowledge of other aspects of life. At the times of the Dutch genius, there were many artists, with lesser aptitudes, far from his genius, but who live prosperous and happy lives. Van Gogh´s is an atypical case, he was lucky to have smart relatives.

At present it is exactly the same. There are many geniuses whose work nobody will know and his work will be lost in oblivion. In the same way we have mediocre or bad artists making fortunes and spoken of worldwide. It is the harsh reality.

So we know what is marketing and what it does. Said without many redundant technical concepts: “MARKETING IS SIMPLY THE ART OF MAKING A LIVING AFTER YOU MADE LOVE TO YOUR TRADE” …

An artist should not be a marketer, but it should at least have essential knowledge to allow him to have healthy social and economic relations. He should understand and seriously consider that nobody will do for them anything that they themselves are not willing to do. You should never appeal to luck because this is the consolation of fools and incapable and therefore inevitably good fortune favors those who go their own way with hard work and intelligence.

I have no doubt that those successful and prosperous artists of any manifestation are those who know to look for the right people to make their publicity or propaganda. They are those who invest time and effort in social networks. Those who build their website and provoke luck by distributing promotional pamphlets. Those who play behind closed doors, going to expensive media without a penny in their pocket. Those are the ones that eventually keep their finances clean and then have independence to undertake projects and as many experiments as they like. Then as just reward, one day we see them among cheers and fanfare become time travelers and since we are mere mortals and sinners, we cannot help but feel some pain and envy.

And you, do you know marketing?