Saturday, February 25, 2012

Artist Statements

Here is a website that lists zillions of Canadian visual artists. I like to use this site as a research tool. I can use the list to visit a large number of artists websites, blogs and web pages and one of the things that just astounds me (and my students) is the number written in the third person.

Hey artists. It's not like anyone thinks someone other than you has written your statement, so why is it in the third person. Why not say "I" and "me" like a normal person and make us like you a little more easily?

Artist statements are somewhat bogus anyway. To be provocative: they are fake curatorial statements. They are self-developed statements designed to serve readers in the same way as a curator's catalogue essay serves to interpret or explain the purpose of their exhibitions.

To too great an extent, the artist statements I read seem written to satisfy the artists more than the reader. Think about who your artist statements are for!

Anti Art Auction Rant

The Huffington Post has a provocative article by Mat Gleason about NOT donating to art auctions:

There is a tradition of auctioning original works of art donated by artists to raise money for charitable causes. There are many good causes that hold such events. No matter how good the causes, though, I have come to the conclusion that artists must stop donating to every single one of them.

Don't ever donate your art to a charity auction again. Half a century of charity art auctions have changed the way collectors buy art. These fundraisers have depressed prices of art across the board and kept artists in a subordinate position that has no career upside or benefits


Monday, February 20, 2012

A Positive Rant on the Resurgence of Representational Art

The term “contemporary art” has long been associated with the modernist and postmodernist movements because at the time those trends emerged, the words “contemporary art” or “modern art” also meant the art of the day. However, these movements started decades ago, and today the terms have become misleading.

A new movement of living artists is taking back the word “contemporary” and associating it with the traditional techniques of the old masters applied to the human experience as well as important subjects of the times.

The general public is growing tired of art that needs long explanations and justifications. More and more people want to recognize what they are looking at and respond to it on a humanist level rather than a purely conceptual one.

More: Link.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Do Artists Need A Return Policy?

A return policy is something every artist should consider. How you handle a customer that wants to return or exchange an artwork can have a lasting impact on your career—especially given the impact of electronic social networks on marketing. Well-handled, a good return policy can turn a one-time-only customer into a repeat customer or an good word-of-mouth advertiser.

Customer service is greatly valued in e-commerce. On E-Bay and Etsy, you can quite easily get a sense of the customer service level of the vendors. You get it from customers who post comments about their service experience on vendor storefronts. The availability of this kind of consumer information is particularly important on the Internet because we cannot meet the vendor in person and feel at greater risk buying from a stranger.

When customers shop, they want to have confidence in the wisdom of their decision. All you say and do for your customers, plus the language that you use should instill confidence—that is what a customer-conscious return policy does. We can sometimes be glib about what we say or do with customers, inadvertently triggering “red flags” for potential buyers of our work.

Good customer service is best measured by your post-sale behavior. Do you follow-up with purchasers to cement the relationship or contact “almost customers” with a “gift” (or minor product or valuable non-sales information) to move them to a valuable relationship with you? It is when there is a problem that your customer service skills are tested.

The point of my questions is to get you to consider your attitudes to customer service and, in particular, to a return policy. I want to impress upon you that customer-conscious thinking can have a powerful impact on your practice. Few artists I know have considered what they would do if faced with a returned artwork; some artists I know encourage them. What should your return policy be? How are you with post-sales customer service?

I think it is wise for you to have a return policy of your own design—a policy that is adaptive to the divergent products of your practice. Once articulated, I further believe in discreet use of your policy for two important reasons: Having one suggests to your customers that you are a moral person and, therefore, worthy of their support. And by discreetly letting all your potential customers know that you have a return policy, it lessens the risk of their purchase and increases the chances of you making a sale. And I’d suggest you have a policy that is not based on a “money-back” principle; instead, I’d provide a credit against another purchase of your work.

So how do you discreetly advertise a return policy? The best way I know of is to have it printed on some business cards or to provide access to on the homepage of your website or blog. Then, when you are doing business, you can selectively and easily articulate a simple policy verbally, giving the card as welcome proof of your word.

When do you bring up the subject of returns with customers? When someone is considering your work who is:

  1. Single but unaccompanied by their partner (and who might have to negotiate your work into their environment).
  2. A first-time buyer of art or of your work.
  3. Conflicted—close to a sale but hesitant.
  4. Buying an expensive piece.
  5. Buying a gift.

To know if a potential customer is one who should be told about your return policy means engaging with them. “Indirect engagement” (where the object is to establish a relationship, not make a sale) should be your goal. Offering to help, using a phrase that is sincere, is a good opening. If you focus on the customer and their needs, you will get to know your customers; information about your return policy should be reserved for only your good customers and worthy potential customers.

With artwork, I would limit returns to one month after the sale, or something like that. There are, however, artists reinventing the return policy to their advantage, including using an unlimited return policy. I have interviewed an artist who allows all his customers an unlimited return on their purchases provided the work returned is in pristine condition. And he advertises this policy.

His return policy recognizes that tastes change, and so, sometimes, do partners. He recognizes that sometimes, like a record played too often, a valued visual stimulus may lose its appeal. Hence his open return policy that, he is certain, has contributed to the success of his practice. How does he know it is working? Because, he says, over 87% of his first-time customers return for additional purchases (and not to make an exchange).

In the minds and hands of creative people, good return policies serve the customer and the artist equally. Simple or complex, traditional or creative, a return policy should be part of your creative practice.

Appropriation or Copyright Theft?

I met Bill Horne as a result of my interest in CARFAC. Bill was head of the BC branch of CARFAC when we met and we have maintained a professional relationship for many years. He wrote to me to propose that I write a column about “the grey areas that may exist between plagiarism, collaboration and synchronicity, the latter being the coincidental appearance of similar imagery and material.”

Bill’s email contained anecdotal information from guest artists who have the impression that BC artists are more likely to reference or serendipitously create work similar to work by other artists than other Canadian artists do. Could this be true? If it is, could it be because we have a higher density of artists here in the west than anywhere else in Canada?

First of all, there are many more verbs that come to mind besides “plagiarism, collaboration and synchronicity” in contemplating the question and observations in Bill’s email. Here are some: appropriation, referencing, sampling, rendering, parodying, and stealing. There are other words: Mirroring, imitating, honouring, echoing, “after” and emulating; and there are concepts such as “in the school of….” and “in the style of….”

“Collaboration” seems different to me. When you collaborate, it seems to me, collaborators are responsible for tracking and negotiating their acknowledgements from the outset, but that ownership and all rights belong to the collective.

“Plagiarism” and “theft” are not synonyms of the non-judgmental words “referencing” and “sampling.” The neutral words describe legal action; the judgmental words describe conscious actions that violate acceptable social/legal codes. So, as artists, we want to stick to the neutral paths.

Bill acknowledges the phenomena of the collective subconscious and mathematical probability as a possible explanation for some similarities in creation such as, perhaps, the two images of the “bent pyramid” by David Burdeny and Sze Tsung Leong that recently made headlines. ( This is what we call coincidence and the more we create and the more images we see in our life, the greater the possibility that we might subconsciously “copy” something or part of something in our work.

“Appropriating,” “referencing,” “sampling,” “characterizing” and the like—all these verbs describe a legal activity many artists undertake. But few artists understand where the line between these words and “theft” exists. A lot of artists think they know the law, but don’t. You don’t until you have studied case law as a lawyer does, because true meaning lies not in the law, not in the legislation, but in the interpretation of the law in case law.

Many artists do not understand the professional responsibilities that accrue when they undertake perfectly legal actions. Only those who understand the complexity of these legal terms should use them and undertake the actions they describe. If you are not clear about copyright law and you “appropriate” in any way, study up via the CARFAC Copyright Collective!

Besides coincidence and the ambiguity of understanding about the laws pertaining to so many artistic practices are other factors that could be contributing to a perception that artists in BC do a disproportionate amount of “referencing.” The home computer and this digital age we live in, and the popularization of the “creative commons” concept have furthered a decline of public—and particularly artist—understanding of, and respect for copyrights. So has media coverage of recent changes to American copyright law and similar proposed changes to Canadian copyright law.

Most artists I know learn about their copyrights when their rights are violated. Also, most artists do not understand the complex process of creation even though we are fully engaged with it. We do not understand the role of conscious and subconscious memory in our process, nor are we aware of the incredible amount of imagery we absorb every day.

I have learned from thinking about Bill’s email. I have realized that we are all vulnerable and that we can be certain of nothing. As creators, the better we get or better known we become, the greater the possibility we will be copied. And the more we make, the greater the potential we will consciously or subconsciously appropriate. So we have to be careful.

You can’t protect your rights if you do not understand them. You must also know and understand the rights of other creators if you are engaged in any form of referencing at all in your work. And, if you keep a diary or blog in which you record your sources and inspirations and in which you detail your developmental process, you can avoid conflicts over your work.

GREAT RANT! Why Photographers Wedding Fees Are "High"

Earlier today my friend and fellow photographer posted a link to a craigslist ad from a woman in Seattle looking for a wedding photographer. The woman was upset because she thought that $3,000 for a wedding photographer was “wack” because all we do “is hang out at a wedding taking tons of photos and editing them” and that we are “making so much money its crazy.”

I first read this post earlier today while I was running errands and my head almost exploded. I immediately started drafting a horribly mean and punishing response in my head, but by the time I got home, I realized that this is probably a common misconception and that maybe I should try to explain why photographers charge what we do for our work....

Link to the rest of the article

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Significant Objects

Significant Objects (SO) is/was an experiment that provides comprehensible and creative documentation to illustrate just how valuable stories can be when we sell objects like artwork. The people involved with SO hypothesized that they could quantify the impact of stories on the marketing of objects. They conscripted an impressive roster of writers (including a favourite of mine, Jonathan Lethem) to add narrative value to items selected from a second hand store and then sold on eBay.

In their first round, they purchased $128 worth of thrift shop items and sold them for over $3,600. In round two, $134 worth of items sold on eBay for $3,992. The combined resale prices were between 2700% and 2860% higher than the combined cost prices. Money raised from the sale of the objects went to the writers. More information is available on the experiments website: Click on “The Experiment” to get an overview of their process and a detailed analysis of their conclusions.

The point of this exercise is that very often buyers of art (especially those who do not buy art often) want to have something to say about the work they buy because when they put their work on display in their homes or offices they want to have something intelligent to say in response to the compliments it generates. They value being able to respond by saying such things as, “the artist told me that …” or “the inspiration of the work is an interesting story….” Having an insightful anecdote or two to tell admirers of art that they purchase provides a lot of the emotional benefit that comes from the purchase.


I was surprised to get an email from someone asking why there was no mention of Etsy on my blog. (Answer: This is my second blog. I am old. I had mentioned Etsy on my last blog.) Considering that Etsy is a site I admire, as much for its communities as for its marketing value, here is the post from my old blog:

Web sales are not right for all artists and all art. Two-dimensional art remains best sold face-to-face in galleries and studios supported by a web presence. But for artists who create unique hand-made items that can be effectively sold on the web—crafts persons in particular—no site is more practical and valuable than Etsy. Etsy, says this man of patience, has proven its value over time to many artists whom I have interviewed.

Etsy ( is a sales site and a community. If you do not know the site and think it may be of interest, visit it (without joining) and take a look around. When you go to the homepage, click on “Community” at the top of the page to gain access to these categories: “Overview,” “Updates,” “Forums” etcetera. By clicking on each of these categories, you can give yourself a tour of the community’s assets.

At the bottom of the “Community” page, if you scroll down, you will find a listing of “Virtual Lab” and “Team” events. This is valuable for “newbies”—people new to the community. If you join Etsy and become a newby, you can identify other members who live close by and contact them to see if you can find someone willing to have a coffee with you to explain how things work if need be.

One thing I like about Etsy is its commitment to the education of its members. It encourages you to become part of a team because, as in life, the team approach works better than the independent approach. Etsy provides a lot of support services to teams, including grants to support innovative member teams. Just click on “Teams” on the Community page to learn more. The “Workshops” page is another great resource page for newbies. It has an extensive archive of topics that may answer questions that come to mind about using Etsy to sell your work.

If you are an artist who works in two-dimensional media, a visit to the site may ignite some dormant creative desire within you. Visiting Etsy can be inspirational in terms of stimuli for your creative voice. It may motivate you to undertake a creative project different from your usual work that is marketable on Etsy. Using Etsy can create an easy new source of revenue for the artist that does not require any marketing expense.

The caveats: Etsy is somewhat US-centric. Buyers can use the “Shop Local” feature to make it more effective, and there has been some criticism about people selling work that they have not made. Also, the operators of Etsy have been criticized for being slow to crack down on problematic sellers. For more information and a history of Etsy, visit the Etsy listing on Wikipedia (