Thursday, August 14, 2008

An Artists' Market Horror Story : Open Thread

Quick one today...busy schedule.

There are two practices I advocate for how artists should protect themselves in the market.

The first is geared toward protecting yourself should your work sell well. In my opinion, you (artists) should keep back at least one excellent piece from each series you make. Send it off to relatives, far from your studio, to avoid the temptation to sell it should pressure build. Think of it as your 401K plan.

The second is geared toward protecting you while your work is not selling well, until the market comes back around. IMO, you should not sell too large a quantity of your works directly to dealers for resell. Let them take most of the work, if not all of it, on consignment, but keep ultimate control of what's on the market.

This advice tends to raise a few eyebrows. Many artists think they would be thrilled if a dealer were to buy out their studio inventory, clearing the space out, giving them a chunk of change, letting someone else worry about turning it into profit. Indeed, that practice was commonplace only 100 years ago and is still not entirely unusual in many situations.

I don't recommend it though. This anecdote about art dealer Samuel M. Kootz (who had worked with important American Abstract Expressionists and European Modernists) serves as a textbook artist's market horror story and cautionary tale. From Malcolm Goldstein's fabulous book, Landscape with Figures: A History of Art Dealing in the United States (pp 244-245):
Although Kootz's love of art might never be questioned, he was a practical businessman with a businessman's eye on the balance sheet. He had bought scores of paintings by Byron Browne and Carl Holty as an advance against sales, but in 1951, two years after he had dropped the artists from his roster, many of the paintings were still on his hands. In a bold effort to recover his investment, he offered them in a sale at the gallery. There were, however, few takers. His next move was to take the paintings--forty by Browne, fifty-nine by Holty--to Gimbels department store, then Macy's great rival on Thirty-fourth Street, where they were to be sold along with other household items.

Readers of New York's newspapers were informed of the sale in advertisements whose tone was a far cry from the measured prose of a respectable gallery's press releases:
Gimbels loves modern art (we like the Mona Lisa too, but she's 450 years old), but we don't spell art with a capital A. The mention of the word doesn't send us into awe-struck silence. We think fine paintings are just as logical in a department store as they are in a hushed, plushed gallery.... But are out prices the same as the uptown galleries'? The answer is 'not very likely!" Gimbels doesn't see any reason why we can't save you money on a fine original painting as on a pot, or a pan, or a pair of nylons.
...The bargain prices at which they were offered drastically undercut the value of all work by the artists wherever it might be found and threatened their market in perpetuity. Gimbels, moreover, sold very few of the paintings.
Both artists (and their markets) were hit hard by this. Browne suffered a heart attack shortly thereafter. Neither artist's market recovered until after their respective deaths.

Kootz may have suffered a few whispered grumbles in response to this highly unethical behavior, but all-in-all he got away with it. And the law would be on his side, I suspect, had the artists sought damages. The property was his to do with as he saw fit.

Now the odds of some other dealer doing this to you may be slim, so I shouldn't suggest it's never appropriate to sell large quantities of your work to a dealer, but if you do, you could end up with the short end of the stick in both situations (if your work begins to sell well or if it doesn't). Selling work on consignment may be an administrative pain, but it ultimately protects you and gives you control.

Consider this an open thread on protecting yourself in the market.

Labels: art market, artists lifestyle


Blogger Carol Diehl said...

I indeed agree with the policy of holding back one excellent work from each series -- not only for the reason Ed specifies, but because it's so important to an artist's development to have a record of where s/he has been. These artworks are the compost (excuse the metaphor) future art will grow on, invaluable sources of reference and inspiration.

8/14/2008 09:04:00 AM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

It's not only the dealers, but collectors as well who are not shy of bragging about their score. Collectors like Hirschorn and Neuberger were very quick to buy up everything an artist had in their studio. Milton Avery was in a very rough spot, needed the money badly, and in selling everything to Roy Neuberger was left with nothing.

On the other hand, both of these collectors founded museums with their collections.

8/14/2008 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

The anecdote about Byron Brown (I’ve been a fan for decades) is a classic New York art world chestnut. However there’s also a point to be made from another angle

Try this (a true story): A painter with a beautiful studio in Venice California is married to a high powered TV producer. Because of his wife’s income, there is no pressure for him to sell his work. He builds up a huge inventory of large abstract paintings, trying to keep total control of his stash like Clyfford Still. Shockingly he dies unexpectedly at a fairly young age (mid fifties) with no gallery representation. In the process of trying to rent out the studio after his death, his wife asks my friend (from whom I heard the story) to help her place the work, get the work represented or sell it all to whoever was interested. My friend is given six months to do this, at which point he will have first dibs on the studio space. My friend, who’s a pretty motivated artist with connections, runs all over LA trying to get someone interested in the work. After six months there’s still no interest. The major part of this artist’s life work is tossed into dumpsters and hauled off to the dump.

I’m not saying that artists shouldn’t keep examples of their best work for themselves but as a great artist who I respect, Peter Dean told me, “If you can sell a painting, sell the painting, otherwise you’ll spend the next twenty years looking at it in your studio and kicking yourself”

8/14/2008 10:45:00 AM  
Anonymous cjagers said...

Edward, about consignment ...

How insistent should an artist be that they get a "receipt" after leaving their work with a gallery. This might list the works and the commission terms. Good galleries do this anyway, but not all galleries are "buttoned up."

I ask this because I have heard and witnessed many situations when galleries claimed to have never have the work (even after they sold it) or claim it is still unsold long after it is gone, for their own cashflow. I understand that this only hurts the gallery's rep, but it does happen.

So, how persistent should an artist be on this issue?

8/14/2008 11:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

It's bizarre that not a single museum is ready to accept that legacy??? Not even some remote regional one?? That is so very vain to imagine museums are only going to be interested by your art if it measures up with some market sales. Or is the art really crappy?

The artist should have written a testament or made pre-arrangements
with an institution, but I gather that he would rather have all his paintings given together in a tiny country museum than spread amongst 500 collectors. Maybe the wife is not very understanding and helpful to his ex-husband. That's sad.


8/14/2008 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Many very, very good galleries do not use consignment forms and never have such problems, so it's hard to insist there is one "right" way to do it.

We use them when we begin working with an artist, to help build their confidence in us, as well as to protect both them and us as we move forward, but after a while (usually a few years) the trust has been established and we stop using them.

Other very good galleries (I'm not kidding, top notch) tell me they do everything on a handshake and have never had a problem.

The issue, obviously, is trust. If you're working with a gallery you don't know well, I would insist once. If they resist, then I would ask them to sign your own version of a consignment form. Note that this is how you were trained and it's how you like to start things off, so your records are easier for you to manage.

If they still resist, then I think that should be a red flag, to be quite honest.

8/14/2008 11:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the gallery has administrative staff to keep track of what they do and do not have and can print you off a list if you ask, the consignment agreement is not so critical. For most smaller galleries, it is a wise beginning.

The problem I keep hearing about is sales made with no payment to the artist, particularly if the artist doesn't live near the gallery.

8/14/2008 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

James's story is, alas, not all that uncommon. At least once a year during 15 years in my Union Square studio building, I would see a small dumpster outside a studio. An elderly artist had died and his/her life's work was about to be carted away. It was heartbreaking.

Did the artist seek representation and not find it? Did the artist never seek representation, preferring to work in the studio and let things "happen" if they were meant to happen? Why weren't provisions made for the legacy? Were there no friends or family to claim the work? We'll never know. All the landlord was concerned with was that the rent wasn't being paid and no one claimed the work and the space had to be cleared out for the next tenant.

(I peeked into a few of the spaces and what I saw, for the most part,was shocking: dust-covered canvases shoehorned into rickety shelving. So the other part of the story is that we have to think archivally about our work, storing in it a way that protects each piece from light and dust, and that gives each piece adequate space, upright, on a secure shelf.)

I'm all for retaining a few works from each series, by the way. And I'm all for trading work with friends, which gives me a "diversified portfolio" as well as the pleasure of living with and looking at the work.

8/14/2008 12:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"James's story" is frightening.

To have someone else fling the stuff to the dumpster when thou could have had it burnt with thee at thy death pyre!

(I think one ought to turn Buddhist to guide against the unhappiness created by simply considering this possibility). This too could have happened to the American writer, John Kennedy O'Toole's but for his interested and persistent mom; would have been very sad for the rest of us not to ever have read A Confederacy of Dunces simply because though it had been created, it had been destroyed.


8/14/2008 02:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is crucial to keep excellent examples of ones own work from each series or even from each exhibition. Not only to protect ones legacy but also to have readily available a body of your best work in the event a solo museum exhibition can be arranged. It will make the curator's job much easier, allow you as the artist more control over the content of the exhibition and make the show more palatable to the director who is most likely looking at the bottom line. If most of the loans can be secured from a single source (the artist in this case) then costs are lessened. Also, when it comes time to work together with your gallery to place works in Museums they have a historical group of your best works from which to choose.

8/14/2008 04:37:00 PM  
OpenID ericgelber said...


8/14/2008 05:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excuse me, what is open thread?

8/14/2008 05:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In my opinion, you (artists) should keep back at least one excellent piece from each series you make. Think of it as your 401K plan."

Ed, I've heard this advice before, but I'm a bit skeptical that for most artists, this would pan out. There are very few artists for whom the market value of their work would still hold when they are "retirement" age. For an artist whose work is selling, how long can he/she expect consistent sales? Isn't the art market too fickle to depend on for long-term financial stability? I've known artists who did very well for a couple years, took out a mortgage, had a second or third show not sell, ending up scrambling to unload debts. Is there ever any security for artists?

8/14/2008 11:25:00 PM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

Is there ever any security for artists?
How about the artist pension trust?

8/15/2008 09:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Paul Klein said...

I had a gallery that suffered a complete and total loss of everything in a fire. The fact that artists had receipts for what they’d consigned enabled them to be compensated by the gallery’s insurance. Trusting your gallery is one thing. Covering your butt is another.

On another note: there’s the story of my artist friend who realized a portion of her oeuvre was “subpar” and she tossed them in a dumpster by her studio. The following evening she saw the entire cache hanging in a nearby restaurant. She had to purchase them all from the restaurant owner and destroy them properly.

8/15/2008 09:07:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Anonymous 11:25 is skeptical of our "401K plan," but really, what's to lose? You have art to live with your whole life. There's no guarantee your money market funds won't tank, you know.

Diversifying with the work of other artists is a hedge--as well as another great way to surround yourself with art. I have a friend who owned a drawing of himself as a young man, a gift to him when he lived in England in the early 1940s. It was on the wall in his home, removed once for a gallery show in the late 1980s, when the young man in the picture bore little resemblance to the older man in real life. Twenty years after that, the now-elderly man sold the drawing. It had been made by an unknown young artist who had grown into some acclaim. . . Lucien Freud. The sale brought in an infusion of much-needed capital when the elderly collector, in ill health, needed money most. This is a true story

8/15/2008 09:39:00 AM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...

Is there ever any security for artists?

Anonymous, this is a straightforward asset allocation problem.

It's just as stupid to put all your eggs into your art as it is to put every single egg into Microsoft stock, gold bars, or real estate.

Your art is of course risky investment. But who here isn't making the investment anyway? And who here became an artist because they want security?

8/15/2008 12:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re the Artist Pension Trust:

The last time I checked (which admittedly was a few years ago) they only accepted applications from artists with very well established sales and collection histories. I had already had 4 or 5 solo shows, was in many private and a few museum and corporate collections, but I was nowhere near the level of being considered to join APT. So it's really only for already financially successful, well-known artists, which (I know this is a bit presumptuous, but I'm going to go ahead and presume) most of us here are not.

Also, about the guy in Venice whose paintings no one would take:
You have to establish some sort of precedent of value for your work. If you haven't had exhibitions at respected venues and don't have any collectors, whether by your own choice or because you tried and it didn't work for you, you can't expect that your work will be considered valuable. If you have some romantic notion that that's putting too much importance on the market to determine "value", well then, don't sully yourself with the commercialism of the market and just stay out of it. But if you disdain and reject the market, don't expect your work to be "worth" much (beyond sentimental value to your loved ones) when you're gone. You can't stay above the game and then complain that you're being ignored by the players. Them's the facts.


8/15/2008 01:28:00 PM  
Blogger kalm james said...

Well said Oriane, A couple of lessons learned from that situation are: A reputation doesn't just happen, you've gotta be out there working it every day.

Even with money to burn, there's a limit as to what people outside the art world can do for you.

Sales are important, but so's your reputation within the community

8/15/2008 03:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kalm James and Oriane,

I agree with your statements. But in the aformentioned "Venice anecdote" the artist eschewed the art market because he didn't need to sell. Instead he toiled away and, from the sound of it, produced a large body of work. If he was happy with that, isn't that enough? It's impossible to ascertain from the anecdote, but what if happiness from doing what he loved was his endgame? Perhaps a career (as defined by involvement in the art market) was of no interest to him. Perhaps he was perfectly happy when he died?

The idea of placing/selling the work came from his wife and friend. They were disappointed in the lack of saleability. And perhaps they were saddened a bit at the inability of their actions to create a posthumous career for this artist. But if the painter died happy, as I'd like to believe he did, that's all that matters.

Naturally, we are all in love with the idea of legacy. None of us wants to leave their mortal coil without having effected some change. But in the end, it's a selfishly romantic notion that should be set aside in favor of happiness in the here and now.

8/15/2008 08:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not an either/or situation. You can work in the studio and you can work to get your work out into the world. Not everyone will be famous, but there are many degrees of "making it."

If you havent't clicked onto Eric Gelber's artoon (scroll up a bit for the live link), do yourself a favor and do it now.

8/15/2008 10:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

That lady who bought her work back from the restaurant? I copied all her images from her website or scanned them from her gallery catalogs and they're all serving as screensavers.

Morality: in the digital age, nothing ever gets lost to the dumpster. Just document your art.
I love to watched at images of destroyed art. It's so romantc.


8/16/2008 08:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Google search for 'paintings' turns up 88,600,000 hits.

The Internet is the dumpster of the 21st century.

Document shmockument.

8/16/2008 09:20:00 AM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

another way of dealing with a large inventory of work is to come up with your own unique solution i.e. faye chandler and the art connection in boston-

'A lot of great artwork exists that, for whatever reason, is not being seen. As its founder, I speak selfishly when I say that The Art Connection provides me with a wonderful opportunity to get my art out into the community, in the company of the work of other artists. We encourage nonprofit organizations to select from a variety of pieces that artists have committed to give. The chosen work is then picked up and hung in areas of access to clients in a secure fashion. As of February 2005, 135 individuals have given over 2000 works to 165 nonprofits in the Boston area.'

8/16/2008 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

"You have to establish some sort of precedent of value for your work. If you haven't had exhibitions at respected venues and don't have any collectors, whether by your own choice or because you tried and it didn't work for you, you can't expect that your work will be considered valuable. ...You can't stay above the game and then complain that you're being ignored by the players. Them's the facts."

A bit harsh, Oriane, and unfounded. There is no mention here as to the quality of that artist's work. We don't know if it was worthy of showing anywhere. The fact that he devoted his life to painting does not make his art great, and getting a name for yourself is not only about 'playing the game', it's mainly about being a good artist. If you're not a great artist you may get a name for yourself in your lifetime, due to your social and promotional skills, but your name may not be remembered after you're gone. The story of that artist is sad because his wife did not care to preserve his work, 6 months is certainly not enough time to gain recognition as an artist, living or dying. Especially when the 'messenger' is just another artist who wants to move into a studio asap. Why should he have cared about the paintings if the wife didn't? Seems like she couldn't wait to 'cash in', quite a revolting tale. Those paintings didn't even have a sentimental value for her. I wouldn't conclude anything that is worth learning about the artworld from this story. Perhaps the only conclusion: know who you choose for a wife/husband.

8/16/2008 10:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

----A Google search
-----for 'paintings' turns up
---88,600,000 hits.

Oh but, one day humanity is going to breed that someone so marvellous that he or she willl be able to browse at each one of them and know how to care. That's to whom these hits are dedicated.
I still believe in art found and understood 200 years later. The fact that you have a career now as an artist is probably less relevant than what will be remembered about art in 200 years. If there is a cataclysm, everything will be lost and found. Jo Blow might as well become the new art goddess of year 3150.

---know who you choose for a


Cedric C

8/16/2008 04:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The fact that you have a career now as an artist is probably less relevant than what will be remembered about art in 200 years."

I have some magic crystals I would like to sell you.

Good marketing strategy!

8/16/2008 05:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Yes, it's harsh. The art market is harsh. That doesn't mean the experience of making art or appreciating art has to be harsh, but the market itself is harsh. I'm not saying that the dead Venice painter's paintings were lousy. I'm saying that if having a "career" in the old-fashioned sense (including placing one's paintings pretty much anywhere besides a relative's living room) is important to you, you have to start somewhere and you generally have to start before you're dead.

The value of an artwork (I'm talking the monetary value, because the spiritual value is not quantifiable) is a completely created thing. There is no natural order to it, no inherent value in a piece of stretched canvas with pigment dabbed on it in a particular way (or any other art object; that's just an example). This value has to be created, a demand has to be created to be part of the whole supply and demand equation, which is necessary for a market to exist. If there is no demand for a substance or product, there is no market for it. And a demand for someone's artwork is not going to just spring up like spontaneous combustion. You have to be out there rubbing two sticks together, or with a magnifying glass, or matches or whatever else you've got up your sleeve.

As for the question of whether the Venice guy was satisfied with making the work and didn't care about not placing any paintings anywhere, that opens up a whole other large issue; namely, why do we make things? Are we hoping to achieve some kind of immortality by leaving something on earth that we've created? I mean, yeah, the guy is dead, so he's not disappointed now (depending I guess on your religious beliefs). But why we make things to leave behind needs its own thread.

Oriane Stender

ps Obviously, whatever field you're in, it's always a good idea to choose your spouse and friends wisely.

8/16/2008 06:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"A Google search for 'paintings' turns up 88,600,000 hits. The Internet is the dumpster of the 21st century. Document shmockument."

what is your point? how many times in the past fifteen years has the word 'paintings' appeared in every newspaper and magazine across the world? and can you find them?

you are probably anonymous here because you don't want your name being archived and possibly popping up in a future search.

8/16/2008 10:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry if you didn't understand what I was saying brave-hearted anon:10:27.

If you are an artist and you think you are doing adequate work to promote yourself by creating a web page and/or blog or making unsolicited email submissions of images of your work to a gallery you are sadly mistaken.

In many ways the Internet is the ultimate vanity press.

Just because you digitize images and send them around or post them on a blog doesn't mean you will be taken any more seriously by curators and/or gallerists than you would be if you walked off the street and handed a gallery employee an envelope with your slides in it.

You could argue that having a web presence is better than nothing, but if it is the only thing you do to help your career along you will most likely fail.

Although you could point put exceptions, or give examples of artists who have become huge successes solely through their doings on the Internet, they are aberrations, and hardly worth citing as models for other struggling artists to learn from.

You could sit around and hope that your work will be discovered long after you are dead by some digital archivist but how is that any different from failing to succeed while you are alive?

8/17/2008 10:26:00 AM  
Anonymous brave-hearted anon said...

i continue to not understand what you are arguing.

don't document? or document but don't digitalize? or digitalize but don't make a website? or make a website but don't tell anyone about it?

your inital comment disparaging "the internet" has morphed into a vague critique on the futility of self-promotion.

i still don't know what your point is.

8/17/2008 03:07:00 PM  
Blogger Balhatain said...

As far as the internet is concerned it is better to have your name at the top of a search for your name than not appearing at all. If you think the internet will not play a part in the future success of artists you are just naive. People today tend to associate success with how much of a presence you have online. If you have a website or blog with thousands of visitors per month you must be popular right? That is the mentality of today and each tech savvy generation will enforce that manner of thinking.

The internet can work. For example, I know an artist who has shown in museums and in some decent galleries, but her career had been in a slump for several years. For whatever reason she was unable to land an exhibit. She ended up displaying her art online and within a year she sold a piece for $4,000 to a collector who 'discovered' her online.

In her case having past brick & mortar exhibits on her resumes helped. However, had it not been for the internet she would have never seen that $4,000. She has had two exhibits that I know of since that time.

Having the best of both worlds is the best way to go. However, if you can't have both... at least one is relatively easy to obtain.

That is not to imply that every artist with a website or blog will be successful online, but it can and does happpen. You would be surprised how much some people are making online by selling art directly to the public. It may not be as good as selling to an influential collector, but if they are able to make a living or part of their living from doing it... why not?

8/17/2008 05:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who are these members of the public who are buying art online never having seen the real thing? What kind of prices are we talking about? I shop for other things online, but I would never buy art online. Well, maybe if it were returnable, like a lot of other online merchandise.


8/17/2008 07:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will continue to spell out what I am trying to say. A few years ago a new blog came into existence every second. It would be safe to say that the same was true for vanity (personal) sites. Imagine what the numbers look like today.

I originally stated that it is a mistake for artists to think that creating a blog and/or a web site to promote their art is all that they need to do.

The story about the artist who had their career turned around because of their presence on the web makes a good point but my comments were focused on something different.

I think many artists think that creating a web page or a blog is all that they need to do. If you look at the numbers it is obvious that this just isn't true. Through conversations, I have learned that many gallery owners do not look at email submissions.

Obviously smart use of the Internet should be part of any artist's promotional efforts but tossing a message in a bottle into the vast digital sea shouldn't be the only thing that artist's do to promote themselves.

Also, if you think that the Internet is going to remain as 'free' from corporate gatekeepers as it currently is, you are kidding yourself.

8/18/2008 08:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved reading this open thread and would like to say a few things.

1. I work for a collector who buys million dollar work by jpegs. Sometimes you gotta make the quick decision...but remember the burn is painful.Buyers remorse lasts for a loooong time, still not as bad as sellers remorse which can be longer.

2. To try and get it back to the original post, Nate Lowman (flavour of the month)until the recent scathing yet justified review by Saltz. Supposedly sold his ENTIRE studio contents to the Rubells in 2004?, who will of course sell it off slowly or worse dump the lot on the market or even worse make certain it is never seen again. Dear Nate, hope that chunk of change bought some pretty good drugs.

3.I have worked for several galleries in my time in NYC, the first refused to allow me to keep records or lists of any kind on what was there, it was "All in the directors computer" meaning his head. To quote John Cage "my memory of my memory is not my memory"

The second gallery had some cooky system of index cards, and I was told to NEVER provide a list of works to any artist.

The third saw a great deal of misdirection at the hands of the dealer who I found from time to time at my computer deleating works from the database. I got out as soon as possible after that.

4. I have been in one group show as an artist and they wanted me to ultimately do a show. When I asked them to sign a consignment form, they balked, eventually did so but never discussed anything further. They are now closed. Dodged that bullet.

5. I would say however that pretty much closed a lot of doors, but as an artist I have settled on the fact that before anything can "happen" I must either be confident and happy or easily used. I think those categories, with a lot of subsets in between are how things go. Either be happy or self distruct. To quote a collector I know, "We like artists who self distruct and die early"
What does one say to that?

6. I know a lot of really famous artists who have no clue who has what work where, and those artists are funding most gallerists lifestyles. You cant follow every auction out there. Roll on clueless artists and thank you.

8/18/2008 11:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

7. The Artists Pension Trust is only for "Heavy Hitters", while this is true what it actually fosters a climate in which artists are more reluctant to trade their work with other artists, is this not what artists used to do anyway? Why are art advisors and ex dealers getting involved? $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

8/18/2008 02:56:00 PM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...

as an artist I have settled on the fact that before anything can "happen" I must either be confident and happy or easily used. I think those categories, with a lot of subsets in between are how things go.

That really resonates with me.

When you are starting out, you have no power. All you've got is your ability to make someone else powerful (ie, be a hot find, easy to work with, part of the favor economy, etc.)

So yeah. This may sound awfully crass, but I don't necessarily think it's worthwhile to get invested in things like consignment forms and being treated with respect until the people you're dealing with have something to lose.

Before you get to that point in your career, you have to figure out what you actually have to lose and work not to lose that. Don't lose your integrity, or your sanity. Don't lose sleep, time in your studio, or actual money.

But it's not always wise to include the potential for money or self-respect in the future (ie, "If I don't get a consignment form, it's a sign that they don't respect me, or if I don't get these paintings back I won't be able to sell these paintings in the future") because art is worthless until you can prove that other people value it.

Is it cruel that you might have to throw a body of work into the universe in order to get that imprimatur? Yes. Is it always a good idea? No.

But I think it's often a good idea to be humble and take some risks with art that nobody else has really put a value on yet, and not be a tightass about procedure. You might not get your stuff back... but if you were just storing it and are sure you're going to get increased value in return, it's worth asking if that is that such a bad thing.

As for Anon's point number 6, I worked for an artist who tightly controls his secondary market, and this has made him quite rich. But you can see how acting tight like this before you're valuable to anyone else is counterproductive...

8/18/2008 04:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric said...

----"We like artists who self
----distruct and die early"
----What does one say to that?


We like collectors who die early so that the works get to the museums?

That's the danger of working for the market is that you're likely to be working for people that are absolutely oblivious about what you're trying to do. Actually many artists are poking fun of that dilemna but they don't seem like they have much more to say. I'd rather collect an artist who I am so obsessed about that my only wish is to see what's next.

Artists, please try to sell to "real" collectors? Not just some random "putting on the Ritz" parvenues? Get my drift?


8/18/2008 08:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a young artist, under 40, "un-emerged", in a little town of 2 million people. I have had the backroom show and a couple of group shows with the oldest, and one of the most respected galleries in the city.

It's been three years and they have sold two small drawings. I am not on the calendar for next year and I feel like I am one giant mess of questions:

1) Should I start donating work to all these fundraising, save the trees, help the kids, support the local art school auctions that I am getting invited to? (I get the feeling that my gallery would approve of this, though they are savvy enough not to give an answer one way or another.)

2) In the case of my sudden death, wouldn't be better to for the work to go into the landfill? I mean, nobody was willing to pay me for my time, why the hell should any one be allowed to profit post mortem?

I guess I will stop at 2 for now.


8/19/2008 06:31:00 PM  
Blogger Iris said...

Oriane, I agree with what you are saying, but I think there is also another side to it. Many have tried to gain recognition and failed, only to receive it after they are gone from this earth. Many others never did gain recognition. Others received it in their lifetime only to be forgotten in later generations, and some fell from grace much sooner, and experienced the ups and downs of the market. Some, never try to reach out to the artworld, yet are found, discovered, and raised to glory. This happens, it's not very likely to happen, but it can. It's not only a question of pushing your career during your lifetime, which is important, I agree, but the reason there are exceptions to this rule is the element of a certain QUALITY which exists in some artwork but not in every. This quality, somehow, seems to transcend time, generations and life cycles. Some masterworks are made by unknown artists, yet the spirit continues to live for thousands of years. It's not only a question of 'the name' of the artist, or who they were, or what they did, what was his/her condition and were they fit to walk the streets by themselves, let alone be introduced to galleriests or publishers (in the case of authors) etc. There is a quality that an artwork can possess, and if it's significant enough, it can literally rise from the ashes even after the artist is gone from this world, and the art will continue to live for generations. It is not very likely to happen, but there's a much better chance of it occurring when there are some descendants, or fellow artists, or fans who bother to show it out to the world. And it can happen, even if the artist has spent their whole life in a mental asylum.

All that said, of course I agree with you about working hard at it, and not waiting for miracles or to be discovered after you're gone. As a rule I think no one should believe they are above the game, as you say. Unfortunately, it's too late for our dead Venetian artist to learn this lesson... :-(

8/20/2008 03:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Unfortunately, it's too late for our dead Venetian artist to learn this lesson... :-("

Once again, people are assuming that this painter's goal was to be remembered for his work. And yet the anecdote presents evidence of the opposite.

I would ask that we consider that this man was painting for painting's sake, and not painting to make a name for himself. It is a possibility, after all. Not all of us make art to be sold, written about or exhibited. Some of us are quite happy with the simple act of making art. The act itself is a pleasurable one which pays dividends that are more valuable than cash or fame.

8/20/2008 09:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


First of all, we all know that, statistically speaking, if your primary goal is to be rich and famous, you, as a fine artist, as opposed to a commercial artist or a designer of products, are in the wrong business. (We all know that, right?) The notion of a particular "quality" that is universally acknowledged, once it is detected, to be the mark of genius or masterpiece is debatable. Some people believe that this quality exists but it's impossible to prove. This particular quality is certainly elusive and is a sort of holy grail for some artists. I choose to focus instead on a certain distillation of intention and spirit, a sort of essence of the artist's (my) self that I want to communicate to the world. For me, it feels more important, more accurate (and healthier) to focus the quest on something internal rather than external, to make it about identifying and finding something in my self, and then finding and learning the best way to express it, rather than on finding something that will resonate with others. Resonating with others is certainly a big part of communication, but it is a result (rather than a goal) of having found my right form of expression. I think this focussing of intent, or the angle from which one approaches it, is important because it keeps one from getting too caught up in the validation of one's work by others. When we start despairing about how our work is being ignored, or not properly received or understood, we need to remind ourselves of why are doing this in the first place. Because there are much, MUCH easier ways to get attention, money, approval, etc. from others. But this thread was about the market and the artist's relation to it, so this is a bit off-topic.

Oriane Stender

ps Actually, if you've spent your whole life in a mental asylum, you have a better chance of being "discovered" than if you've spent your whole life as a moderately functional member of society. Outsider art is In now.

And I don't feel sorry for the Venice painter. From the little that we know of him, it sounds like he had a very good life: he was able to spend his time making art in a lovely studio near the beach without having to worry about making a living. That sounds pretty damn good to me.

8/20/2008 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger Carol Diehl said...

There is no question in my mind that every artist should get a consignment form from every dealer, no matter how trustworthy. After all, it's your record too, and your only one if there's an insurance issue. I would have no dealings with any dealer who would not give me one. Period. I lost a whole body of work this way--left it with a dealer in Chicago when I moved to NY and when I tried to retrieve it a year later, it had disappeared. I had no record, no proof, and therefore no recourse.

8/26/2008 06:36:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

Oriane says:

"I choose to focus instead on a certain distillation of intention and spirit, a sort of essence of the artist's (my) self that I want to communicate to the world. For me, it feels more important, more accurate (and healthier) to focus the quest on something internal rather than external, to make it about identifying and finding something in my self, and then finding and learning the best way to express it, rather than on finding something that will resonate with others. Resonating with others is certainly a big part of communication, but it is a result (rather than a goal) of having found my right form of expression. I think this focussing of intent, or the angle from which one approaches it, is important because it keeps one from getting too caught up in the validation of one's work by others."




I believe this partly is the definition of that elusive 'quality' we mentioned.

I might add though, I agree finding your inner self and expressing it is truly an artist's calling, but for many (visual) artists it is also about resonating with nature, whether if in the form of expressing 'it' or expressing the nature of color, the essence of form, etc, etc, or the resonance of society, although maybe focused on the outside, it's still your inner voice, but I'm sure that's what you meant as well.

9/02/2008 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger Iris said...

Carol, how terrible... I think it is criminal, simply theft!! wow, and there was nothing you could do???

9/02/2008 10:36:00 AM  

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