Monday, September 24, 2007

"Artists for Art’s Sake" by Barney Davey Part One

Tori Amos by Michael Orwick
24x30 oils on canvas for the 2008 RAINN Calendar
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network is the nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization. RAINN operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline and carries out programs to prevent sexual assault, help victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice. One of "America's 100 Best Charities" (Worth magazine)

"Artists for Art’s Sake" by Barney Davey
They Work Hard to Earn Your Business and Respect - Please Give It to Them In the public’s eye, there seems to be two distinct notions of artists, the starving artist as a vestige of Van Gogh’s inability to sell his work to anyone but his brother and the celebrity artist as characterized by the current hype surrounding Damien Hirst. The facts are neither of these extreme examples epitomizes the life of most professional artists. Perhaps because Van Gogh’s work created the rare feat of being wildly popular with both the hoi polloi and art cognoscenti and because Hirst’s ability to publicize and promote himself and his work creates a seeming black hole of media coverage for other visual artists. For most artists who pay the bills by the fruit of their creative output, life is neither living destitute upon the goodwill of their relatives nor living large in an endless stream of openings, events and parties. For them, it is a daily struggle to balance managing their creative abilities to generate a steady flow of work against working at the business of art.This is not to pity them, as to a degree, it describes the experience of other small businessperson, especially one that creates and markets a product. Andy Warhol, never at loss for words is quoted as saying: “Why do people think artists are special? It's just another job.” However harsh, he has a point. What many art buyers and collectors may fail to realize is the extent of how difficult the job is. Most of us do not do jobs where the result of our work, which is a reflection of our creative vision, is put forth for public consumption and criticism. We toil away quietly hoping for the occasional atta-boy slap on the back when a supervisor recognizes a job well done. Our worst fears are we’ll be recognized for failing to do a job putting a career in jeopardy.Artists by comparison toil away quite often in solitude without the camaraderie and support found for most of us when on “the job.” Then the work goes public and the artist is thrust in the public eye open to praise and criticism with too much of either being damaging. Further, while many artists would prefer to stay working and creating, they are forced by circumstances to be thinking of how this completed work will get to market and how many more like need to be made and marketed to keep the bills paid. It’s a stressful situation for anyone, but when it comes to selling what one makes, it’s harder yet. To begin, an artist has to learn how to talk about what she or he has made in terms that heighten awareness and interest in themselves and their work. Again, difficult for most of us to learn how to do “job interview speak,” but at least we can drop it once we get hired. Not so for artists, they need a resume and artist statement. They need to rattle off with gusto the names of recognizable people who own their art and prestigious places where it is proudly on display. However shy or introverted, artists need to find a way to effectively communicate and positively without braggadocio to talk about their work and themselves.Learning to do those things is the first step in creating that public persona crucial to establishing their credibility as an artist whose work is worth owning. Once mastered, these things must be repeatedly presented to gallery owners, collectors, curators, media types and others. Savvy ones learn to replicate these efforts through the burgeoning plethora of available digital media such as Web sites, blogs, social media, social networking, social marketing, discussion boards and more. They need to learn to talk knowledgably with journalists, bloggers and other media types, and do so in a way that surreptitiously and yet pointedly helps them promote their art. These things take time and talent away from the point of creating art.It is the rare artist that manages to do these things as well as they paint or sculpt. It’s a demanding business. Speaking of business, the public and most buyers, probably even quite a few collectors don’t realize how the art dollar pie is cut. One might think the artist being the creative engine behind the work would garner the lion’s share of the retail dollar. In cases where the artist sells directly to a buyer, that may be true, but not guaranteed to be true.For most artists, creating the work is the first step to having it generate income when finally sold at retail. In the process and pipeline are all manner of other hands that become necessary in the traditional artist-gallery relationship. Most galleries pay an artist 50% of the retail price when the art is on consignment. Consignment means the artist takes the risk and expense of creating, framing, shipping and insuring a piece to get it ready to be sold at retail. The gallery takes the risk in rent, promotion and marketing to facilitate the sale. So, neither enjoy anywhere near a 50% margin after costs are factored.
Part two tomorrow, Thank you to Barney Davey at
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