Friday, November 25, 2011

Art Rant Time!! (Selling "Art"...)

It's art rant time! This rant is about a few art-related topics, mostly centered on how art reaches the consumer. Sub-topics will be: markets, pricing, accessibility, and what I like to call the "don't touch, bitch!" factor (or, to put it more eloquently, interactibility).

A fundamental question for an artist to ask him or herself is, "Am I doing this for the sake of money and success? Or for the sake of art itself?" Many claim that if you are not doing art for the sake of art (i.e., "fuck money and success; don't be a sellout"), then you are doing art for the wrong reason. However if you can't sell your work, then how can you call what you are doing anything other than a hobby (plenty of inputs - i.e., costs of materials - and no return on outputs)? I happen to think that all artists should have some business awareness of their markets and that all artists should want their work to be in the hands of someone else, not stuffed in the back of their own closet(s). The mark of an artist does not have to be that s/he is starving! This means, to me, that if you are only concerned about art for art's sake, then your rationale is misguided; in that case, become an art curator and leave the creativity to those who do want to make money.

That having been said, there is the position of the buyer of art to consider. Not all people who appreciate art or who long to own a painting or sculpture have deep pockets. One of the side tennants of "at the end of the day, you should be doing art for art's sake" is "don't undervalue your work." Well... again, if your art is in the back of your closet and not on someone else's walls, how can you call yourself a success? As it turns out, markets fluctuate. And sticking hard and fast to one range of pricing values is silly to me (especially in "this economy"). If you can't move your inventory, why make more inventory? The way I see it, an artist should respond to the mechanics of supply and demand, but not in the manner of reducing production when demand slows so that prices can remain high (because, let's face it, a true artist has urges that cannot be ignored and thus s/he must continue to produce). By "respond to the mechanics of supply and demand" I do in fact mean lower your prices so that you start seeing sales. [And if you don't see sales? Well, then there's probably a problem with your art... either it sucks, or your available audience just can't relate. In that case, seek out another artist for continual art critique or move to a place where your art will be appreciated and purchased.] Also related to this point is the point about entering the market. There is a difference between an established artist who can continue to command high prices and an artist who is just starting out. One theory goes that the new artist will forever condemn him or herself to a given price range if they start out low. I argue that a new artist is like a new employee at a corporation; expect low wages until you actually gain some experience and you get better at your craft!! What true artist is not better at his or her own art five years down the road from today? Shouldn't you expect that the price a buyer is willing to pay for one of your coveted pieces would go up over time, relative to yourself? For that reason, it seems silly to me to price my paintings at triple the price my experience should reasonably allow for. After all, I'm still learning.

To now take the previous argument one step further, let us consider the buyer again. I myself have only ever purchased five pieces of art (2 paintings for myself, 3 sculptures as gifts). This is mostly because I use my walls as a temporary gallery space for my unsold and in-progress work, but it's also because... I can't really afford to buy art. There are two paintings that I hope to own someday, but until I have $1,500 just laying around to buy them, this will be just a dream. I don't have a problem with this because I do plan to eventually acquire them (that is the point of art, after all... the irresistible and often inexplicable draw to a piece of work, no matter the price), but it does bother me that I cannot access them now. And I know that others (including people who want to own a genuine Ladydean) can certainly not afford this type of luxury. Seeing as how I do not want to leave lower income people out of the world of art (beyond viewing art hanging in cafés and going to museum and gallery exhibits), I honestly do not see a problem with low-balling my work, at least not while I'm still gathering my legs. I.e., as long as I'm still new to the market, why not cover the lower-priced section of the market and offer discount art? After all, as George used to say, "Tara, it's worth $0.00 until someone actually buys it." The caveat here is that the person buying it had better truly desire the art and should demonstrate a willingness to haggle, or else it's not worth the artist's time (the painting might wind up in the trash!!). The buyer must feel a sense of value in the purchase or else "art" loses it's status. I guess what I'm saying is, the artist should set a price that is within reach, but not so low as to remove all the value from the art... for art's sake.

The final sub-rant of this post will deal with the interactibility of art. What do I mean by this? Well, to go back to George's comment about art being worth zero dollars until it has actually entered the market in the form of a sale, until it has been sold it's still technically a work in progress. It's nothing. It's shit. It's malleable. It's up for interpretation. But most importantly... it's profane. I use this term in the sense of an antipode of sacred. Art is not godlike; art is human. Art is corruptible, subjective, fluid, an idealized reflection of the everyday. It sits at the table with us in various forms. It's communal. Even though we place it up on a pedestal in the gallery world and even though some art commands millions of dollars, all art is still just a thing, just an object and it can catch fire just as easily as your paper cup or your trash can. I once learned from Terry Schmidt that a good drawing practice is to draw on the back side of the sketch you just did, even if you think it was the best sketch you've ever done. Why? To take the sacredness out of it. To disconnect from your own specialness as an artist in the process. I think she meant: to humble yourself. To acknowledge that you are not the best and that there is always room for improvement. It is for these reasons that I detest not being able to touch art in a gallery. Not only is some art textural (i.e., meant to be touched), but sometimes you just want to. The art draws you in, commands you to feel it. And yet some people freak out if you do! "Don't touch, bitch!" Art is meant to be interacted with... Yes, there is a risk that you might break it (for that, you should always know how much touching it might cost you; you break it, you buy it, right?), but that is a risk I have always been willing to take at art festivals, where people don't much care if you touch the art. Being able to touch a piece of art (texture on a painting, the smoothness of a bowl) puts it more in tune with the audience; brings it back down to earth from the lofty place in the clouds to which we launch it when we put too high of a price on it; when we overvalue it. Think of it this way: If I buy a $600.00 painting and take it home and jump on it, light it on fire, throw water on it to put out the fire, and then take a shit on it... it's all within my rights to do so because I own it, correct? Now, I hope I never do that to a painting, but I could if I wanted to. (I will admit that I have destroyed my own art, although not in that violent or disgusting of a manner.) The point is, why should we treat art as sacred prior to the business transaction? This interpretation stands in stark contrast to George's proclamation that all art has no value until the final dollar amount has been placed on it through the act of buying the piece. How can it be that we as a society treat unsold art as exactly the opposite of what it is? An unsold Picasso is technically no different than your child's crayon drawing on the fridge, no? Of course I am using hyperbole here [did I use that word right??] for dramatic effect, but I am being serious at the same time. The difference is the value we place on the artist her or himself and if an artist has stratospheric talent (like Picasso), then of course we are going to regard all production by that artist as sacred and not profane. But is that correct, philosophically speaking? If not, then it should be perfectly okay to erase a De Kooning... ;)

In conclusion, I am basically trying to say that, from both an economical and an artistic perspective, it is okay to price your work lower than everyone says you should, at least during the time you are attempting to establish yourself as an artist and especially if you deal in direct sales to the client! After all, you do want to get your work and your name out there, don't you? In that case, don't let your art gather dust in the closet; SELL IT AT THE PRICE YOUR MARKET IS CURRENTLY WILLING TO BEAR!!

The photo you see here is a canvas test piece with layering. The first and second layer are white gesso, the third layer is Quinacridone Violet, and the final layer is Naples Yellow Hue. The effect turns me on!!

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