Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hiatus Until January 2012

Another term is finished at Emily Carr University of Art & Design, so I am heading out of the country to visit Morocco, Egypt, Kenya and Tanzania until next term starts, so this blog will be idle for the next six weeks. Best wishes to everyone for a good holiday this December, and I will be back in January.

World's Most Expensive Photograph


This week, auction house Christie’s sold the above photo by Andreas Gursky (Rhein II) for $4.3 million, setting the record for all-time most expensive photo (the previous record was set by Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled #96,” which sold for $3.89 million).
A gallery professional, who asked not to be named for concern over adverse professional repercussions, thinks the price is a bit of a farce. He says he’s noticed a growing trend where photographers are working hard to re-brand themselves as “artists” so they can sell their pieces in the higher-priced fine art markets that don’t traditionally trade in photography. This sale, he said, smacks of that change.
While he tries to take a balanced approach and realize that any sale of this kind has the potential to reflect positively on the medium of photography, he also said it’s important to call a spade a spade and avoid turning photography into something it’s not. 
Link, Wikipedia
Link, Comment 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Circle Craft Christmas Fair


These fabulous vessels are by Wanda Shum. She and her work were a highlight of my visit. I think I will go back because I had such a spectacular time there yesterday. What overwhelms me, is the abundant charm of so many vendors that I met. One gets the impression that a certain extroversion and sense of humour goes a LONG way for these vendors. After five days, though, we'll see how their spirits are doing. But what a treat attending is! Circle Craft does a fantastic job of this event each year.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

More on Warhol

In defiance of everything I teach, I was surprised to read the following:
Warhol was as soaked in images as anybody. Through the 1950s he was a successful commercial artist, known for adveritsements showing distinctive blotty ink drawings of shoes. But he was also a devoted gallery-goer, determined to break into the citadel of high art. Although he is often talked about as the og-father of pop art, he was beaten to the citadel by several other aspirants, notably Roy Lichtenstein, whose giant blow-ups of comic-book images began in 1961. Desperate, Warhol turned to Muriel Latow, an adventurous gallery owner. According to Tony Scherman and David Dalton in their book "Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol," he said to her, "Just tell me what to paint."
In return for a $50 cheque, she told him "Think of the most common, everyday, instantly recognisable thing." He thought of his doting mother, Julia Warhola.... Julia lived in the basement of the Manhattan town house he had bought with money from his advertising commissions. She used to give him soup for lunch—Campbell's Soup.
From the article A One-Man Market by Bryan Appleyard
in The Economist's insert, Intelligent Life 

Arts Health Network Canada


The Arts Health Network Canada and its first provincial chapter, Arts Health Network Canada-BC, is a new resource for Canadian artists!
The aim of the organization is to connect arts and health practitioners in Canada with each other, researchers, decision-makers, and with members of the public who want to benefit from arts and health programs Their website is intended as one step towards helping facilitate those connections. The website is designed as an all-inclusive hub where arts and health users and the public can go to learn about and contribute to knowledge about the ever-growing field of arts and health in Canada.
Their website hosts information on arts and health, including: a beginning list of resources ranging from books, film, and websites to reports, magazines, and academic journal articles; new and ongoing initiatives taking place across Canada; national and international research projects; upcoming and ongoing events, classes, and workshops; and an arts and health news feed.
The organization intends to make the website as comprehensive and informative as possible about arts and health activities taking place across Canada. To do so, they want input!
To contribute information about arts and health related events, initiatives, and  / or resources, please send an email to them.

Vancouver Emerging Artist Award


The Contemporary Art Society of Vancouver (CASV) has announced an Emerging Artst prize, that comes with a cash award of $3,000, to encourage and support artists within the first five years of their careers.   

The prize will be the only one of its kind selected through an open competition.  “There are other artist prizes awarded in Vancouver, but those are by nomination only, and focus on mid-career or senior artists,” explained CASV President, Rachel Lafo.  “We wanted to provide emerging artists with a chance to showcase their work and receive financial support to enable them to keep on working.”  

The prize is open to artwork in all media by artists residing in the Lower Mainland. The prize defines an emerging artist as someone who has completed training, is in the first five years of an artistic career and has had at least one exhibition at an artist-run centre, public gallery, or commercial gallery.  A jury will select five finalists whose work will be exhibited at Access Gallery in Vancouver in late Spring 2012.   

The prize is entirely funded by CASV memberships and donations.  The CASV is a not-for-profit membership-based organization that focuses on promoting an appreciation and understanding of Contemporary Art.  Members enjoy studio visits, art trips, and lectures by prominent artists, critics, collectors, designers, architects and fine art professionals from North America and abroad. Founded in 1977, the Society has sponsored talks by such acclaimed artists and curators as Andy Warhol, Arthur Erickson, Agnes Martin, Germano Celant, Richard Prince, Jessica Stockholder, Ken Lum, Wanda Koop, Roy Arden, Gordon Smith and many others. 

For more information about eligibility and how to apply, please see the CASV website at http://www.casv.ca and click on the Emerging Artist’s Prize link.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Ying and Yang of the Artist’s Ego

I just finished marking thirty papersby my students, most of who are mature people (I teach in the ContinuingStudies program). Their assignment was to write a short explanation of thefunction “display” plays in their residence—they were to explain why thethings displayed on the walls and shelves were there, focusing on the reasonthey were displayed, not the items themselves.

When the marking was over, itstruck me that no one had referenced the needs of anyone but themselves inaddressing the assignment. So I took a piece of paper and I wrote “me” at thetop of one column, and “viewer” on the top of the other and started to re-readthe thirty artist statement submitted earlier in the term by the same students.Under the “me” column, I put a check every time I read words such as “me,” “I,”or “my,” and under “viewer” column I put a check every time the writer/artistreverenced those of us for whom, presumably, the work was created—theirpatrons, customers and viewers. Final score: 87:2.

There were 87 self-referencesand the statistic is a dramatic illustration of one of my greatest challengesof teaching CEPD 190: Getting the consciousness and understanding of artistsout of “self” and into the minds, hearts and souls of the people who they wantto buy/see their work.

I ran an art gallery forseveral years and organized several exhibitions independently during my career.Consequently, I spent a lot of time reading cover letters, artist statements,biographies and resumes from artists seeking my cooperation. As with the recentassignments, all the text screamed: “me,” “me,” “me.” Rarely did an applicantaddress my needs or demonstrate an awareness of my needs or objectives.

The “ying” of our profession asvisual artists, is that our ego plays a fundamental role in the creationprocess; the “yang” requires that we “be” the customer and egoless to beeffective when marketing. We must be able to turn our ego off and on. Troubleoften happens, however, when we have to approach the gatekeepers of ourprofession—curators, gallery owners, and grant or residency officers. On theseoccasions we understandably become focused on ourselves because we are excited,nervous, hopeful and aware of the competitive nature of the process in which weare engaged.

But the artist who earns theinterest and respect of people in authority, is the artist who brings the otherparty into the conversation. I often cringe when I hear artists explain atlength about themselves and their art when they are asked, “What is thatabout?” It is the artist who wisely turns the question back on the questionerwho earns my admiration, asking the questioner: “What do you think it isabout?” then, you aim to sincerely find a way to praise whatever is said.

Perhaps youare more on the other end of the ego spectrum—one aspect of personality that isprevalent in the visual arts world is the absence of a healthy ego. When itcomes to being appropriately and compellingly persuasive with gatekeepers andcustomers, you will sell yourself short if you demure when self-assertion isnecessary. You must be able to be your own champion at the right time and inthe right language.

Genius or Victim

I do not know what to make of old Kieron Williamson, his parents or his buyers—the kid is NINE YEARS OLD and he has a gallery selling his original watercolours and derivative limited edition prints. Today, a news release says he has just bought his parents a home in Ludham, Norfolk; his parents have announced a retrospective of his work for next year—and again, he will be ten years old.

This story joins those of other child prodigy visual artists (sample) and the painting elephant whose stories make me wonder about the artists "owners," agents and buyers. Children and animals have no rights; they are virtually "owned" by their guardians. When children prodigies become known to the world, you know that their "owners" are behind the exploitation.

Keiron cannot sign any legal documents. The empire of exploitation surrounding him is entirely facilitated by his parents—the new home owners. Although he may enjoy the special status his talent brings him, I see him as a victim. The lad will never know life without pressure—from his parents, the galleries involved, the media and the market. He will lose the joy and freedom of his youth. Stories like this make me very uncomfortable.

Link to story about "the Mini Monet."

Friday, November 4, 2011

Astounding Warhol Market Statistics

There were no North American contemporary “art stars” in 1960. Then, on July 19th, 1962, Andy Warhol, age 33, was the feature artist at the Fergus Gallery in Los Angeles. The exhibition was 100 paintings of Campbell Soup cans—each one a different flavor.. They were priced at $100 each and five sold, but the dealer bought them back from the buyers to keep the collection together. In 1996, the Museum of Modern Art in New York bought the collection for $15 million.

The 21st century has been even richer for Warhol’s legacy. In 2008, he entered the pantheon of art megastars when his piece Eight Elvises, a twelve-foot wide work, sold for over $100 million. Meanwhile, at auction, the highest Warhol auction price to date for a single piece is the $71.7 million paid for Green Car Crash (1963).

(For some perspective, writer Bryan Appleyard, whose research informs this article, points out that the iconic A Sacra Conversazioni by Titan, whom many consider art history’s foremost painter, sold at auction for a comparably low $16.9 million!)

In 2010, works by Warhol grossed $313 million. In 2010, works by Andy Warhol accounted for 17% of all sales of contemporary art at auction. In 2010, gross sales of Warhol work were 229% higher than in 2009. Between 1985 and 2010, the average prices of Warhol works at auction increased by 3,400%. How’s your portfolio doing?

Bryan Appleyard's full article makes fascinating reading. It analyses the strategic moves of collectors and the relationship between their collecting and market pricing. It is in the publication Intelligent Life, an insert in the October 29th - November 4th, 2011 edition of The Economist.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Income By Degrees

Alex Tabarrok argues against subsidizing certain college degrees.
Wilkinson defends economically inferior majors:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Good News about Artists (in the US)

Although this information is about US artists, the recent decision of the Harper Conservative government in Canada to use the "short form" census form means that information like this will never be compiled in Canada (it seems to me). The "Starving artist" cliché gets a significant updating as a result of the picture painted by the statistics released by the National Endowment of the Arts. Here are some of the points released in their latest study:
There are 2.1 million artists in the United States workforce, and a large portion of them -- designers -- contribute to industries whose products Americans use every day, according to new research from the National Endowment for the Arts. Artists and Arts Workers in the United States offers the first combined analysis of artists and industries, state and metro employment rates, and new demographic information such as age, education levels, income, ethnicity, and other social characteristics. 
This latest report builds on earlier NEA research -- Artists in the Workforce: 1990 - 2005 -- which identified key traits that differentiated artists from other U.S. workers. That report found artists to be entrepreneurial (more likely to be self-employed) and more educated than the workforce at large. This latest research confirms those earlier conclusions and shares new data about the working artist. Among the key findings:
There are 2.1 million artists in the United States. They make up 1.4 percent of the total workforce, and 6.9 percent of the professional workforce (artists are classified as "professional workers").
      More than one-third of artists in the survey (39 percent, or 829,000 workers) are designers (such as graphic, commercial, and industrial designers, fashion designers, floral designers, interior designers, merchandise displayers, and set and exhibit designers.)
      Performing artists make up the next largest category (17 percent). In addition, each of the following occupations make up 10 percent of all artists:  fine artists, art directors, and animators; writers and authors; and architects.
      Between 2000 and 2009, the artist labor force increased by 5 percent while the civilian labor force grew by nearly 8 percent. (i) 
Artists work in many industries and job sectors      More than half of artists (54 percent) work in the private, for-profit sector; 35 percent are self-employed.
      One in three artists (34 percent) works in the "professional, scientific, and technical services" sector, which includes architectural and design firms, advertising agencies and consulting firms, and companies offering computer or photographic services.
      One in five (18 percent) of artists work in the "performing arts, spectator sports, and independent artists" category, including more than half (53 percent) of all musicians.
      Fourteen percent of all artists (73 percent of producers and directors, 23 percent of actors, and 20 percent of writers and authors) work in "information" industries, such as the motion picture, video, and broadcasting industries, or newspaper, book, or directory publishing. 
Wage gaps persist      Women artists earn $0.81 cents for every dollar earned by men artists. This gap is similar to that in the overall labor force (where women earn $0.80 cents for every dollar earned by men); professional women earn even less -- $0.74 for every dollar earned by professional men. (ii)
      Artists' median wages and salaries ($43,000 in 2009) are higher than the median for the whole labor force ($39,000). Yet artists as a whole earn far less than the median wage of the "professional" category of workers ($54,000), to which they belong. Architects make the highest median wage ($63,000), while workers who are classified as "other entertainers" had the lowest ($25,000). (iii) 
Artist demographics      Artists are less socioeconomically and demographically diverse than the total U.S. workforce, yet diversity levels vary across individual artist occupations.
      While artists as a whole are less likely to be foreign-born than other U.S. workers, some of the highest-paid artist occupations have the highest rates of foreign-born workers. Architects and designers are the most likely to be foreign-born (14 to 16 percent, roughly the same as the U.S. workforce).
      Artists work at home at more than three times the rate of the total labor force (15 versus 4 percent).
     
Artists are just as likely to be married as the general workforce (53-54 percent).

Monday, October 31, 2011

Do You Need Marketing?

I like to ask my students, 'Where are you?" That is, where are you on these axes?

  1. The more your practice is based on commissions, the less you need marketing (unless you are driving the commissions with a sales generating strategy). The more you work "on spec" (creating work with out a predetermined buyer), the more you need marketing.
  2. The more your practice is based on creating work for which there is a proven market, the less you need marketing. The more you make work to soothe your soul, from within, or that you "have to"make, the more you need marketing.
  3. The more unique your talent, visual language or technique, the less you need marketing; the less unique your work, the more competition there is and the more you need marketing.
The blue dots is where I see a majority of my students positioned.

Marketing is a science. It is a significant skill when done well and good marketing is supported by many other business practices such as effective sales copy writing, demographic studies and consumer research. Take a course, hire or trade/barter for marketing advice.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

When Times Are Tough



Consumers seek price reductions when times are tough, but savvy manufacturers are careful to provide discounts rather than price reductions. Price reductions are “invisible” unless they are advertised with original pricing and it is hard to put prices back up. Discounts, however, can be time-limited, qualified and do not require a change in pricing. This is something artists should consider—discounts provide a far greater psychological incentive for customers than do price reductions when it comes to selling art. And make your discounts event- or time-specific.

Another change in professional practice that is a good idea is to create work that takes less time to make, or to do some multiples—doing either can produce inventory at lower prices thereby protecting the prices of existing work. Or selling on installment with consumers you know and trust is another effective idea to consider in lean times. Monthly or bi-weekly payments can be easier for some customers and have little negative impact on you. Or you can rent your work out.

And you can use your artwork like money. Barter with it. One of the more active barterers I have ever known was Toni Onley who was certainly anything but “starving.” It was just something he learned to do early in his career and he never stopped, even when he was far more successful. Another artist I met began bartering when she was faced with a bill for veterinary services she could not afford. Necessity pushed her to try bartering for part of the fee, and her veterinarian was receptive.

When the global economy was shaken up in the 70s, one enterprising artist took everything—I mean everything—off her walls and totally de-cluttered the main floor of her home and turned the walls into her art gallery. She labeled and priced everything as though she was running a professional space and just continued on with her life. There was a quick and dramatic effect and, as she increased her entertaining, she increased her sales. It was subtle and effective; she did not push sales, her work sold itself to her friends. All she had to do was get them in the door.

The point is, the larger the role that sales plays in your artistic career, the more you must consider change if the economy does what it is predicted to do. You can’t carry on as we did during this millennium’s first decade and expect the same outcomes. Sometimes, a bold strategy in tough times is to find new markets or to create new products.

Here are some strategies for the bold and confident artist:

  •        Move “up market.’ This is a great strategy if you have a methodology for reaching people or professionals who still have a lot of disposable income.
  •         Leave your gallery and being represented in order to sell directly to clients and avoid paying a commission. During recessionary times, galleries often suffer. Assess your future with your gallery with an open mind—especially if you have a large network and roster of past customers.
  •       Consult. One of the greater problems artists face is that they must be good at so many things. You need writing expertise, financial skills, advanced computer skills, communication and publicity skills and sales and marketing expertise—you need the full palette of skills all self-employed entrepreneurs need to succeed, but rarely do the artists I know excel in all these fields yet learning from other professionals is not part of their practice. Some investment in learning about sales and marketing is very wise in economic climates such as these.

To end on a positive note, an interesting website called Howie’s Brainfood (http://brainfood.howies.co.uk/) posted about taking a positive approach to recessions because they:

  •       Provoke creativity.
  •       Force you to make tough decisions.
  •       Thin out the competition.
  •       Make you remember not to take anything for granted.
  •       Remind you that real wealth is not what you own.
  •       Make it easier to abandon “business-as-usual.”
  •       Bring you back to basics.
  •       Promote efficiency.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Interesting Blog Stats

Andrew Sullivan was one of the earliest bloggers and is one of the most successful. His blog is The Dish (link) and he reports that 95% of blogs are abandoned within 120 days and 60 - 80% of them are abandoned within the first month. A site called Postary (for people who don't want to manage blogs but want to publish a single post to share) has developed a "typical" blog lifecycle:
  1. Euphoric moment of inspiration
  2. Pseudo-manical and self-indulgent perusing of domains
  3. Careful consideration of theme and design
  4. The inaugural post - "Hello world!"
  5. The 2-4 post honeymoon phase
  6. Waning and changing interests
  7. Feelings of desperation and apathy from low engagement
  8. Inevitable abandonment
I retain a lot of faith in the power of effective, well-managed blogs that focus on the needs of the customer and not the needs of the artist. As a resource for buyers—especially when there are numerous postings about all your work and the posts bear the title of the work—nothing beats a blog for the narrative that most buyers want to accompany the piece.