Artist’s Journal: NUMBER 70

IMG_20151017_165723_079Here’s the entire Manifesto (combined from Artist’s Journal: NUMBERS 65, 66 & 67) all in one post. At this posting time, my paintings are selling well after just two days since the opening on Saturday, October 17th at the Colo Colo Gallery. I am exhibiting with ceramicist Meaghan Gates.

The Show runs from October 17 to November 6, 2015. The point of Colo Colo Gallery owner Luis Villanueva of selling all of my work for $100 each serves several purposes besides putting our money where our mouths are.

We hope to sellout the show and most of my inventory, reducing my participation in the “South Coast Art Lake”, get my work “out there” and prove that the average South Coast resident does appreciate art that they can not only live with but afford as well! 

Does Art Make Money or, Does the Price Make it Art?

“Everybody wants to get on the Van Gogh boat. There’s no trip so horrible that someone won’t take it. The idea of the unrecognized genius slaving away in a garret is a deliciously foolish one. We must credit the life of Vincent Van Gogh for really sending this myth into orbit.”

That was an excerpt from Rene Ricard’s Art Forum (December 1981) essay The Radiant Child. It continues, “I mean, how many pictures did he sell, one? He couldn’t give them away. He has to be the most modern artist, but everybody hated him. He was so ashamed of his life that the rest of our history will be contribution to Van Gogh’s neglect.”

I love that essay. I’ve quoted it many times. But I guess it also thrills me that Rene Ricard was a South Coast resident. I’ve always wondered if he got his perspective on art here.

Art is the artist’s perspiration. It’s the result of the process of solving conceptual or visual problems. The process becomes, in some cases, more important than the final product. Art is work. Work is process.

The perspiration of this work is the product. The product is the art. And, art is a commodity – something that is bought and sold; something or someone that is useful or valued.

Art as with any other commodity, is a good or service. Its wide availability typically leads to smaller profit margins and diminishes the importance of factors (as brand name) other than price. Art is a commodity subject to ready exchange or exploitation within a market.

Artists are also a commodity of the art industry. Ricard reflected on it. “We are no longer collecting art we are buying individuals… When the work tops a certain mark and the collectors begin their wholesale unloading of your old work in direct competition with your new work you’re in trouble with no protection. Every time one of your old paintings is bought one of your new paintings isn’t…”

He pondered, “What is it about art anyway that we give it so much importance? Artists are respected by the poor because what they do is an honest way to get out of the slum using one’s sheer self as the medium. The money earned, proof, pure and simple, of the value of that individual, the artist.”

The art industry is composed of businesses and individuals who buy and sell art. It’s really no different than the sex industry. Don’t say no – it is! Regardless of the circumstance, the price paid or the actual point or intent of the purchase. Paying for either is the exchange of one value for another. So then, does the more you pay indicate higher value or greater social acceptance?

This manifesto of sorts grew from a conversation my friend and fellow artist Luis Villanueva had. We came to the conclusion that art should be treated as nothing more than a commodity; regardless if it’s spelled with a capital A or not.

We were discussing what may be the unintentional exploitation of local artists. We were wondering how much art is actually being sold locally. And, we wondered if anyone knew what the local creative economy represents in actual dollars? No – neither Luis nor I are presenting a conspiracy theory.

What we are doing, however, is bringing to light what has been allowed to become an acceptable notion that it is okay to ask artists to give their work away for the greater good. And, if art needs grant funding, why should it be expected to be given away?

Markets in general are regulated by supply and demand; it is a fundamental concept of economics. In the creative economy, the supply is created by artists. Therefore, it is not the art that is important, it is the artist. E. H. Gombrich, the art historian said, “There really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists.”

If perception is reality, then the perception of sorting artists into artists spelled with a capital A who produce Art and those uncapitalized (yes, a pun) who produce just art must be altered or, at best, reinvestigated. From our discussion, Luis and I seem to have developed a manifesto that centers on three points.

POINT ONE: Art has essentially remained the same for the last 10,000 years. It’s the artist that changes or is changed by the market. The real problem is a general and erroneous perception that lumps all art and artists together and, worse yet separates them by those spelled with a capital A and those who are not.

New, young, unknown and, not yet emerging artists cannot compete with those who are recognized and sought after. In the meantime, these artists need food, shelter and clothing as everyone else does. They need to be paid for their art.

To some, being an artist seems like a lot of fun. But work is work regardless how your professional title is spelled. Payment is its own reward. No one is doing artists any favors by convincing them to give away or donate their work to charitable causes. Giving them exposure is not the same as giving them money.

Asking an artist to give away (it’s not the same as donate) their work indicates that the artist and their work represent something of value. Why else would the individual representing the organization that is planning on selling or raffling off donated art be doing it?

How does this really benefit the artist? If it was to benefit local artists or, a particular individual artist in need, then it might be okay but we haven’t seen that happen yet.

The South Coast was recognized as the seventh most creative area in the United States in an Atlantic Monthly article. Does that mean artists can afford to give away their work? Ernst Fischer, the socialist author of The Necessity of Art, wrote, “If you can’t pay for a thing, don’t buy it. If you can’t get paid for it, don’t sell it. Do this, and you will have calm and drowsy nights, with all of the good business you have now and none of the bad.”

POINT TWO: There is huge art lake that exists in the South Coast. This is no phenomena, it is a reality and it also exists everywhere else in this country. An art lake is a term I’ve coined to describe a situation similar to the European Union’s wine lake. The wine lake is a continually growing supply of surplus of wine.

There are several reasons for this surplus of wine predicament. One is related to controlling supply in order to stabilize prices and control the market demand. Another contributing factor are exceptional harvest years.

What about the South Coast Art Lake? It also comes down to price and market control. There are just so many local galleries serving a finite demand for art locally. It’s not easy for an artist to seek and find representation beyond the South Coast. It takes time, money and relentless commitment.

Our vibrant art community would certainly benefit from an increase in demand. To handle the uptick, the number of galleries would need to increase. The more galleries, the more artists represented. With more artists represented, more art is created and theoretically sold.

But to increase demand both the pricing structure and consumer pricing perception needs to be redefined. Pricing as the market will bear (consumer feedback) is usually reflected by the overall or seasonal supply and demand situation. However, there is currently enough unsold art stored or stashed under beds, in closets; attics, basements or garages to handle the market transition. A majority of the art product would be supplied by the unknown artists are at the low-end of the art commodity market.

POINT THREE: First, this is not self-serving; it is an experiment that I am willing to personally conduct. That’s why, at my Luis’s Colo Colo Gallery (17 October – 6 November 2015), all of my work, all one hundred or so paintings, will be priced at $100 each. Selling my work for $100 will serve several purposes; I hope to sellout the show and most of my inventory, reduce my participation in the South Coast Art Lake and get my work out there.

Yes I could always use the money. And, if I sell all one-hundred paintings to one-hundred people, there will not only be one-hundred more people who own one of my paintings; their acquaintances will now also be familiar with my work.

If demand increases, so will the price. But, if I have to raise prices to stem some of the demand, will that also indicate that my work is now more valuable? That’s how the stock market works.

Speaking of which, in the fall of 1967, there was something called the Times-Sotheby Index. It was, as are other perceived revolutionary ideas, the product of evolutionary changes. Art was seen, perhaps for the first time, as a commodity according to Anthony Haden-Guest who wrote True Colors: The Real Life of the Art World(1998).

Art is a commodity, albeit, a very different type. Yes, “…a pound of sugar is a pound of sugar, whereas a Picasso can be early or late, a revolution or a doodle, studio-fresh or a ruin.” All of these factors drove what became, “…a sort of Dow-Jones index of the art world”.

Ah, but it was short lived. Not because it didn’t work but because it made art as dirty as sex for sale. Ernst Fischer wrote in his seminal book The Necessity of Art: A Marxist Approach (1970), “Capitalism is not essentially a social force that is well-disposed to art or that promotes art: in so far as the average capitalist needs art at all, he needs it as an embellishment of his private life or else as a good investment

That said, closer to home, many of the more well-known artists in the South Coast (a touchy subject for another day) are those who are fortunate enough to be employed as college instructors. They can fortunately afford to maintain professional studios.

The many other, unknown artists unemployed within their profession cannot do the same. They, however, try to sell their work at a price compatible with the more well-known artists who are able to charge more for their work.

It’s just market economics. The South Coast’s art market’s participants consist of the buyers and sellers who, as anywhere else, influence prices. What’s going on here is a bit more than the basic market forces of supply and demand however. Art is, as Fischer wrote, “…subjected more and more to the laws of competition.

There’s the art itself. What about art that is far too “modern” for a more traditional South Coast market? Or, what about art that is oddly too traditional for more “modern” tastes or sensibilities?

The South Coast is not (yet) home to or, an affiliate of any major or big city gallery. Galleries at this level are presently not within the reality of the current South Coast art scene. And, it’s not because the caliber of the art is not on par with the art in the larger metropolitan cities. It’s the lack of population density for one thing.

CONCLUSION: Art and money will always be inextricably linked it seems. Money represents wealth. Art prices in larger city galleries are higher because demand is higher. The price of a piece of art isn’t necessarily tied to its aesthetic quality or, even its intrinsic value.

The intrinsic value of an object is in itself or, for its own sake. The instrumental value, however, is reflective in the artwork itself for various reasons including who created it, how many are available and when it was created or made available to the market. It is also dependent on how much it will appreciate.

Obviously, there are buyers out there who buy art based more on its potential to appreciate rather than an appreciation for art. In other words, if a work is considered at some point by a collector to be undervalued and has the potential to gain value, it’s more than likely a good investment.

Rene Ricard said, “In this town, one is at the mercy of the recognition factor. One’s public appearance is absolute. Part of the artist’s job is to get the work where I critics) will see it“ with a little help from the art gallery of course.

What Luis and I want then, is simply this, to significantly drain the South Coast Art Lake. We want to convince artists that no one is doing them any favors by convincing them to donate their work. And, that the caliber of art being created here is worthy of greater attention and appreciation. Although success has its challenges, we’re willing to face them.

Posted on: 19/10/2015, by :
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