Quite a few letters come my way from artists asking how they might go about marketing a body of work. These days, jpegs often show mysticism, spirituality and other unique visions. Many artists have put their hearts and souls into it, often over a considerable period of time. They need to see some acceptance, if not some greens. “After all this effort,” wrote one lady, “I need really obscene prices.”
Many of these artists have never had gallery representation and have sold only intermittently to friends and neighbors. Some have placed great hope in the Internet, only to be disappointed. It’s often difficult for me to tell people that no matter how worthy they might think their work is, it will probably not gain much acceptance in any venue.
At the same time, some art that comes my way carries with it a high degree of natural appeal. This sort of work is an art dealer’s dream — stuff that flies off the wall without having to be talked up. I know what you’re thinking — no, it’s not always the trendy or safe art seen in bargain meat-hook galleries. Natural-appeal art can actually be quite different: modern, inventive or even spiritual and mysterious. Fact is, it has some sort of a built-in trigger that causes folks to express themselves with their wallets.
But funnily, most natural-appeal art is price challenged. That is, it can’t always achieve obscene prices. Appeal-art is most dependent on the eyes of the beholder.
To get obscene prices you need provenance. This means critical approval, applied journalism, promotion, advertising, big dealer commissions and perhaps the appearance of participation in a movement or a greater cause. No matter the merits of the work, a lot of informed insiders up the ante.
Further, there’s a funny phenomenon that happens with high-provenance art. It comes from a quirk in human nature. With its magical, mystical nature, art can be very much like some religions — the more preposterous the claim and unlikely the story, the easier it becomes to find a convert. Find two converts and you have a market. Find a group of converts and you have a movement.
My frequent advice to spiritual, mystical painters is to link their work to a worthy cause.
PS: “That which costs little is less valued.” (Miguel De Cervantes)
Esoterica: The accumulation of art that is going nowhere can be a significant problem. Compulsive workers may need placement even more than green feedback. Destinations other than galleries might be considered. Sometimes deals can be cut for foyers of office buildings, apartments, hospitals, etc. After trying every commercial venue she could think of, one subscriber found a benefactor willing to pay for more than 200 frames. She proceeded to thematically decorate and enhance an elderly-care home. Visitors now cruise the legendary halls, much to the amazement of the residents.
Go for unique
by Liron Sissman, New York, NY, USA
You are right. Provenance is key. I remember reading about two paintings by the same artist that were considered to be identical. Both paintings happened to show up in major auction houses within a year of each other. One of them sold for some 15 times the price of the other because it belonged to a lawyer who won a national case shortly before the auction making him a celebrity.
Personally, I go for a unique vision and I work to create provenance. My painting Hudson River at Boscobel was just selected for Kate Hudson’s apartment in Something Borrowed (forthcoming 2011).
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The ‘no-show’ stack
by Lawrence Klepper, Long Beach, CA, USA
I had a gentleman interested in purchasing my watercolor paintings. We arranged a time for him to come to the studio to review paintings. About an hour before he was to arrive I went into the studio and started to separate a group of paintings in two stacks, one stack to show him and another stack to put away because I did not think it was work he’d be interested in. He arrived early and walked into the studio only to have the stack I wasn’t going to show him directly in front of him. He proceeded to go through the ‘no-show’ stack, selected three works and proceeded to buy them from me. He never looked at the original stack I intended to show him.
Lesson learned: What I think are the ‘sellable’ works are not necessarily the sellable works. What we think are the good ones are not necessarily the sellable ones. Now when people show an interest I show them what’s available without my input as to what I think they will want.
Must be relevant
by Jim Tubb, Waterloo, ON, Canada
I have representation at David Kaye Gallery in Toronto but realize it is just one small facet if I ever want obscene prices. I think you try to be who you are and hope that the commitment and the sincerity of your journey will have some relevance to the present. And that people believe you. I believe one paints from the heart and reflects whatever it is in a serious light. It must be relevant and an observation about what is taking place in my brain right now.
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It’s apples and oranges
by Brigitte Nowak, Toronto, ON, Canada
There are many artists who paint, some who paint well and some who have original and brilliant ideas. But there is a disconnect when they expect that their ability to create a decent painting entitles them to “obscene” prices for their work. When the work leaves the studio, price is determined by the marketplace and there is no correspondence between the quality of the work and the market’s value of it. Artists who equate “effort” and “obscene prices” are missing the boat between intrinsic and extrinsic worth: it’s apples and oranges.
Painters should focus on creating the best work they can. That is what they can control. For sure, they should also try to find venues where their work can find an audience (paintings kept under the bed are therapy, not art). I get annoyed at the sense of entitlement some artists have. Once the work is out there, its value is determined by people willing to spend money that they too worked hard for.
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The inexpensive way
by Doris Osbahr
Although the Internet does not present itself as an ideal venue for selling art, especially for unknown artists; it is an inexpensive way to for people to present themselves. A Webpage, Blog or even a space in Facebook is far more dynamic and inexpensive than a catalog or brochure.
At the Venezuelan Watercolor Society we first set up our webpage followed by a workshop to teach some of our senior members to use the computer to at least be able to communicate with them via e-mail and more recently we set up our Blog, achieving several objectives:
1) Put our association on the virtual international map by having Web presence. We now get more invitations to international art exhibitions and contests and have participated in most enabling many of our artists to get some international exposure.
2) Stimulate our members to set up their own Web pages.
3) Promote communication between the association and its members and help the members access Web information on local and international art events (see our Blog).
4) Share knowledge (Web content).
Art is a business
by Catherine Stock, France
I was at art school in Cape Town with Marlene Dumas, reputedly the highest paid living woman artist at the moment. Although her work is powerful, has a definite statement about the human condition and is technically impressive, much of her success can be attributed to her representation by Charles Saatchi. Art is a business, like any other.
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by Lynda Davison, Covington, TN, USA
I had to laugh at the line, “The accumulation of art that is going nowhere…” I have only been painting on canvas for about 5 years. I have sold to friends and locals; tried the “gallery” promises and participated in a variety of art venues and events — only to find the “crafty” sales of purses, bows, and cotton candy were invited too. So yes, I have such an “accumulation.” One friend travels to art events, loading her van with lots of art and she sells fairly well.
Another friend answers every “call to artists” she finds in the hopes of gaining some recognition and points for some big fancy art league in a city 40 miles away.
Well, I haven’t done either, so I guess I have no right to complain about sales. I love doing the art and although I know I won’t make a lot of money at it, I can’t stop. At 63, I am thinking of taking some lessons one day, but who knows. I truly believe it takes more than talent; it takes those “informed insiders” whether art is good, great, or just preposterous.
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Help with design needed
by Gay Judson, San Antonio, TX, USA
Robert, I am now working my way through Richard Robinson’s “Mastering Color” course. Thank you for the suggestion. I am not a painter. But I would like to paint on my pots — I am a wanna-be potter. (Canadian potter Tony Clennell introduced me to your letter and I have been following it for several years now.) I have never studied art in school so the color course is filling a gap in my pottery skills. But I have another gap that I wonder if you can point me in a direction for help. Design. Robinson makes some references to design — but his is not a course on design. Do you have a recommendation for me? This is certainly a common concern for painters in whatever medium.
(RG Note) Thanks, Gay. While there is certainly real value in Richard Robinson’s colour video, I have never felt so confident about the few design videos I have seen. Maybe I’m ignorant. Perhaps anyone knowing of such a video might send it along to me and we can study it here. In “Mastering Colour” we had a dozen artists, both masters and beginners; give it a thorough going over before I mentioned it.
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Lake and Cathedral – Sunset
oil on canvas, 70 x 50 cm
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