Monday, January 30, 2012

The Late Blooming Artist

In our community of visual art, there is a very divergent creative methodology that is the subject of a fascinating article in the New Yorker magazine, written by Malcolm Gladwell. (Late Bloomers; October 20, 2008 edition; page 38.) The article looks at the divergent phenomena of the youthful prodigy versus “late blooming” genius; he was particularly interested in a study of Cézanne and Picasso.

Picasso is his quintessential prodigy. Picasso launched his critically lauded career with his painting, Evocation: The Burial of Casagemas, which he painted at age twenty. And he continued to produce works that are considered amongst his greatest masterpieces today in his youth. With Cézanne, however, the story is much different. Gladwell chooses to illustrate the difference as follows: “If you go to the Cézanne room at the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris—the finest collection of Cézannes in the world—the array of masterpieces you’ll find along the back wall were all painted at the end of his career.”

The sales statistics of the two artists are revealing. Gladwell discovered that paintings done by Picasso in his twenties are worth, on average, four times that or work done by the painter when in his sixties whereas, with Cézanne, paintings done in his sixties are worth an estimated fifteen times the value of works done in his youth.

In wondering why, Gladwell asks a very interesting question, and he provides examples of careers like those of Cézanne and Picasso in film and poetry and, in particular, the story of one writer, Ben Fountain. Fountain’s story is a fascinating one; he is a Cézanne, a late bloomer. His novel, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, took eighteen years to write. It is a collection of short stories that the Times Book Review called “heartbreaking.”

Gladwell goes into a study of process, examining the evolution of Brief Encounters. What strikes you is the amount of research Fountain does to support his writing. His first indulgence is visual dictionaries and architectural dictionaries in order to have the descriptive vocabulary he wanted. Then he began to collect articles that interested him and that had him realize he was interested in the country of Haiti.

Next came the visits to Haiti. In all, Fountain goes to Haiti thirty times. As well, he invited Haitians to his home. He was fascinated with Haiti, its history and culture and often his interest was in the oral history of times past. His passion led to the creation of four of the stories in the novel—stories Gladwell feels are the strongest—and the development of these particular stories reveal the role of personality in the creative process of late bloomers.

“Prodigies like Picasso,” writes Gladwell, “rarely engage in that kind of open-ended exploration. They tend to be ‘conceptual’ in the sense that they start with a clear idea of where they want to go, and then they execute it.” He quotes Picasso who says: “I can hardly understand the importance given to the work ‘research.’ In my opinion, to search means nothing in painting. TO find is the thing…. I have never made trials or experiments.”

Gladwell’s article then moves into more of a study of personality, often referencing University of Chicago economist, David Galenson. Galenson is the author of a study on poetry, age and creativity published in 1980, that cites an aspect of personality in some artists that has them view their work as forever imperfect. It is a stunning story, particularly when he illustrates his theory with Cézanne’s history.

The thesis is that the personality of the late bloomer is oriented to research and experimentation and requires time to achieve their desired goals—and their goals must meet their own exacting and demanding standards. And this aspect of their process opens the door to the need for support and as Gladwell moved into this aspect of his story, I thought of Theo van Gogh and the touching and essential support he provided to his brother Vincent. Both men are ideological heroes of mine.

But I did not know the story of the people who supported Cézanne and, in particular, the incredible role of the artist’s first “official” sponsor, Ambrose Vollard. At the urging of Cézanne’s other supporters (Zola and Pissarro) plus Renoir, Degas and Monet, Vollard went to visit Cézane is Aix, in the south of France. While there, he found a Cézanne in a tree, had one thrown at him from the upper storey of a home and he bought all that he could from citizens who had found other discarded canvases. Another startling aspect of Cézanne’s process: Vollard sat one hundred and fifty times from eight am to eleven thirty for his portrait that Cézanne ultimately rejected.

I particularly love that Gladwell’s article opens the door to genius (or success) for us all: “Sometimes genius is anything but rarified; sometimes it’s just the thing that emerges after twenty-two years of working at your kitchen table.” We who were not prodigies may be late bloomers, so hope can live forever in us. And this is where Gladwell’s article leaves us: not so much moved by an understanding of the creative process of late bloomers, but in the moving stories of the people who provided essential support to them.

David Fountain’s wife supported the eighteen-year gestation of Brief Encounters happily; she had complete confidence in her husband. Cézanne’s father, Louis-Auguste unhesitatingly supported his son’s life financially; he shared his son’s commitment to and passion for artistic “perfection.” When Louis-Auguste died, he left his son four hundred thousand francs. And Theo’s devotion to his brother was not just financial. Theo was the emotional bedrock of Vincent’s life. As Gladwell writes: “Late bloomer’s stories are invariably love stories.”

Read the article:

BAD: Music on Websites

A short rant on a pet peeve:

I do not like music on visual art websites. Although I love music, and I love visual art and visiting artist’s websites, I hate it when a site includes a sound track. Music on an artist’s website says to me that the artist lacks confidence that her or his work will engage us and so music is added to “seduce” the visitor’s soul. Music on an artist’s website feels like a cheat.

Can you imagine an artist getting an appointment with a gallery director or curator and presenting their work with a sound track? I cannot (unless, of course, it is an integral part of an installation and has curatorial merit). Yet, music is increasingly used as a part of websites. I say, don’t use it—let your art stand for itself and engage our emotions, not the music that is usually the work of someone else.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Re: Framing Your Work

I received an email from an artist challenging a point I make in my book. In it, I encourage artists working in two dimensions to sell their work framed whenever possible. Marion wrote to complain that it is far too expensive for her to consider.

I wrote back to ask her whether or not she framed her work for her exhibitions. She replied that she had not yet had an exhibition, and I suspected that would be her response. I was sure Marion was a novice artist because questions about framing are often asked of me—and most often by emerging artists. Framing can seem very financially challenging when it is part of the “start up” cost of establishing a visual art business.

The first rule of thumb to keep framing costs at a minimum is to work as much as possible in standard sizes. I suggested to Marion that she choose an appropriate frame size working up from the image size (or sizes) she uses. By adding mat dimensions to the image size, you arrive at the dimensions you need for your substrate and frame. For Marion who likes to work within dimensions of 11” by 14”, I suggested she use paper 16” by 20” and a mat two inches wide on three sides and three inches wide on the bottom. This gives her a 11” by 16” working area using standard sized materials, minimizing costs and maximizing profit.

The cost efficiency of using standard sizes throughout your career plus the marketing and conservation advantages of framing your work (simple dark thin-profile frames and of-white mats) are two important concepts artists should consider. (These lessons were how I first learned about Opus when I was running a gallery.) Besides, if you ever had to serve a customer wanting to frame a work that they have bought, you’d know much many art consumers value having their framing decisions made for them.

Selling in Bad Economies

I wrote this a couple of years ago, but it is still apt....

Whereas BC’s and Canada’s economy is fairing decently (so far) in the context of the global financial tsunami of late, it seemed like a good time to look at how artists can adapt to sales during rough economic times. British artist Damian Hirst, for example, has sidestepped his usual practice of selling though a gallery to instead offer a substantial body of work directly through auction at Sotheby’s. The sale generated $125 million (US) worth of sales in two days. There are two things about the sale worth noting: Hirst paid a vastly smaller commission to Sotheby’s than he would have to a dealer, finding a way to increase his income in rough economic times; and the market for his art remained strong in spite of crashing stock markets.

Whereas no other artist operates at Hirst’s level, it is worth noting that even at the top, artists must explore innovative ways to maximize their earnings. When times are tough for everyone and not just you—when there is a recession or when unemployment rates are high—artists may have noticeable difficulties with sales. In these times, when people are getting laid off, taking cuts in pay or losing jobs to downsizing or bankruptcies, you may have to drop your prices.

If your sales are down, if fewer people are responding to your invitations, if your gallery is finding the sale of work down for all their artists, drop your prices, offer to be paid in installments, or offer exchanges. Some artists become entrepreneurial during such times, producing work that is inexpensive and about the economic challenges of the times, or producing optimistic, powerful statements. Others, offer their works for rent instead of purchase.

An “emergency” sale is credible if there is a coincidental social, financial or personal crisis. When you are faced with real adversity, a sale to raise “emergency” revenue can be very effective. This is a practice that should be done rarely. At such a time (serious illness, studio fire, recession, relocation), reduce prices and develop an invitation and/or sales flyer that can communicate with a large number of people on your mailing list. Your notice should focus on the need for “inventory reduction” (tell them why) and provide examples of your “highly discounted” prices. Don’t sell your best work at these events—hide it. Use the sale to move pieces that have not sold over time, multiples, slightly damaged work, and/or those pieces that no longer represent your artistic voice.

Simon, for example, is an artist who paints in acrylics. His artistic career is a sideline occupation in his small hometown, but his work is popular with residents and with tourists who visit his town in the summertime. When the town’s only large employer, a lumber mill, closed ten years ago, Simon lost his job along with most of the town’s residents. As Christmas time approached, he held a sale in the community hall, but instead of dropping prices, he offered a second small painting to every buyer of his “regular” work, and this sales strategy proved very successful. Rather than drop his prices at a time when he needed money, he added value and maintained his income level from making art.

Justin Gignac and Christine Santora had an idea that is certainly outside that clichéd box. Are you sitting down? As weird as their idea is, there is something to be learned from every experience. Gignac is a freelance art director and Santora, his partner, is also an art director. Both of them live and work in New York City. According to an article in the New York Times Magazine (“Painting by Numbers,” published October 17,2008), they decided to develop a creative project together that would earn them some extra money. Since they were, in effect, working to pay for some non-essentials, they decided to actually paint what they wanted and to sell their paintings of their desires for the price of the things they wanted. For example, one of their first paintings was of a plate of buffalo wings served at Le Figaro Café, and since the wings there cost $12.70, they charged $12.70 for the painting.

They also wanted a Wii, so they painted one and offered the painting for sale for $270.92. They posted all their “wants” paintings on their website,, and sent notice of their online show to approximately thirty friends. It being New York, word spread fast. Consequently, most of the works sold including one painting called One Month’s Rent that sold for $1,056.07. Their sense of humour is highlighted by two paintings: one, called “Financial Security” is for sale for $1 million; the other, “Instant Street Cred,” is only available for sale to renowned London art collector, Charles Saatchi.

They have done and posted a few series since beginning their venture and they have also launched a charity website called that supports various charities through the sale of paintings posted there. As I write this article, their website features their wants for a trip to Los Vegas.

The Times article makes note of an interesting observation of Gignac and Santora. They were surprised by the order in which paintings in a series sold. Their painting, “Dinner at Norbu,” for example ($152), sold before “A Slice of Pepperoni” that is listed for far less ($3), but both paintings are the same size and are in the same style.

The pair speculates on several aspects of the human personality to account for the surprises they have encounter in undertaking the project. But the greatest surprise in this story is the amount of press they have received for spectacularly simplistic paintings. It’s the idea people respond to, and if you consider the role publicity can play in the establishment of an artistic practice, their genius is remarkable and worth far more than the money they make from their paintings.

We are artists because we are creative, and creativity in sales can be as important as creativity in the studio. Challenging financial times can require strategic sales ingenuity that can come more easily to the creative thinker than to others.

Green Art Marketing

Before Greenpeace and Dr. David Suzuki brought us all to environmental consciousness, many artists were already sensitive to the delicate balances of our natural and studio environments. Our use of some adhesives, thinners, cleaners and pigments required that we learn about toxins and their impact on our health and surroundings; many of us learned the hard way about toxic response, ventilation, tactile sensitivity, our immune systems and safe studio materials and practices. We also learned about how the environment could damage our work and about the permanence of various pigments and art materials in our environment.

Today, we have the wonderful advantage of the internet with which to lean about the products we use. As well, technology has transformed many artistic procedures from a dependency on highly toxic materials to the use of far safer and environmentally friendly products. Most art material manufacturers now post considerable information about the materials they use to manufacture their products (and their manufacturing process) on their websites with a view to being transparent about their carbon footprint. Also, the web makes the sourcing of safe materials very easy.

The responsible selection, storage and disposal of the hazardous materials you use in your studio often results in an increase cost of “doing business,” but you can recover your environmental investments through effective marketing practices. First of all, you can increase prices to recover some costs. (If you maintain a “pricing diary,” make note of the price increase as coincidental to increased [environmental] costs, and calculate your increases as a percentage of your past prices—you should have a coherent and annotated pricing policy.)

More important, however, is adjusting your marketing and promotional practices so that any price increases you make are supported by your gallery/dealer and customers. Many of us take the use of conservationally sound materials and environmentally safe practices for granted, but we cannot if we have products in the marketplace. Your website, blog, brochures, portfolio, artist statement, résumé, business card, price tags (every piece of your marketing/promotion arsenal) should reference your environmentally responsible practices. Some artists simply use the 3-arrow reduce, reuse, recycle symbol on everything as a subtle statement and they elaborate verbally or on paper for anyone asking about its meaning as concerns their artistic business. Other artists proudly list all their green practices on their websites.

Do you reuse solvents? Do you dispose of toxic pigments properly? Do you limit waste? Do you support “green” suppliers? Do you reuse, repair and recycle? Do you limit energy consumption? Is your studio insulated and “green?” Do you choose non-toxic supplies and materials whenever possible? Do you use permanent pigments? Whatever steps you take, let your customers know all that you are doing to protect our environment.

Celebrate the permanence of your materials and artwork in all your marketing messages. Impress your customers and gallery by developing materials for your buyers that explain the environmental factors that can threaten works of art over time. Tell your buyers how to protect their purchase from insects, heat, light and humidity—give them basic information on conservational framing. Better yet, offer to help in the framing of your work that they buy. People can be very intimidated by the framing options available to consumers today. Providing conservation and framing information tells buyers that you are thoughtful, knowledgeable and proud of your work.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Valuable Artist Survey in Vancouver Market Area

Knowing what, where, and how other artists earned their visual art business income during 2011, can help you make more informed plans for your art marketing and sales efforts in 2012.

MyArtClub.Com has launched an online survey that only takes about 15 minutes to help you learn what you need to know. MyArtClub.Com plans to compile all survey submissions and publish the aggregated results on their art marketing blog, just in time for spring art sales. If you choose to provide your email address, MyArtClub.Com will email you a copy of the report, plus for comparison purposes, a copy of your own submission, at no cost to you.

Act now, survey closes Feb 14, 2012. Please also share this inivation with your artist peers, as the more artists who submit, the more this becomes representative.

Come to www.MyArtClub.Com/Survey to fill in your answers.

FYI, MyArtClub.Com has been providing websites and assistance with internet marketing to artists and art groups in Canada for over 10 years. Prior survey publications are available free on request at www.MyArtClub.Com/Report

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Public Art Opportunity

Call for Qualifications: Public Art: “Balance”
Westminster Savings Credit Union (224 Street & Lougheed Highway)
Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada
Submission Deadline: January 30, 2012
The theme for the artwork will be ‘Balance’ as it applies to all aspects of our lives. The selected work(s) will be placed in the two planters situated on either side of the corner. There is potential for electrical access nearby. A scale drawing of the site is available upon request. This Call for Qualifications provides an exciting opportunity for a new piece of public art for all to enjoy. The District of Maple Ridge will ultimately own the title and bear the responsibility for maintaining the artwork. The anticipated completion date for the project will be June 30, 2012.
Contents of package to be submitted:
  • Cover letter including a description of artist’s approach
  • Current résumé
  • 3 – 10 electronic images of completed projects
Shortlisted artists will receive an honorarium of up to $750 to create a maquette or drawings of the proposed project.
How to submit:
Submissions to the Artists call for Qualifications must be mailed or delivered to the address below by January 30, 2012. Please be sure to include a soft copy on a CD or memory stick, in a sealed envelope, clearly marked as follows:
Artist – Call for Qualifications
c/o: Shelley Jorde, Recreation Manager, District of Maple Ridge
11925 Haney Place Maple Ridge, BC V2X 6G2
Please refer any questions to Barbara Duncan, Public Art Program Administrator at 604-476-4240 or
Additional sources of Public Art call information include:
[ ] Akimbo - - providing information from Toronto to national and international artists
[ ] Cafe - - A US-based resource that includes opportunities for Canadian and international artists
[ ] The Public Art Directory - - A UK based service listing public art calls
[ ] Public Art Online - - information and knowledge on an international scale.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Time Payments

It has proven difficult to get back into the proper frame of mind for teaching and blogging about the visual art business after six weeks of the best vacation of my life. Tanzania, and its amazing people, have won my heart and soul.

But back to work ....

In response to a question about time payments, I found a resource on the web. An effective marketing strategy in economic times like these, to ease the burden of purchase for your customers by offering a time payment plan. This link provides you with a template for an agreement to purchase over time so that you are protected. If you go to this site, click on the "Instalment Plan Promissory Note" and then download the document on the page that opens.