I just returned from attending a meeting of artists at an Alliance for Art and Culture office made available by an artist representation group. Twenty or so networkers sat around an extended table, guided by a facilitator. The agenda was felt-tipped on the board: Possible new venues for art sales. Local restaurants friendly to artists. Photocopy royalties for those who sign up. Possible art buyers in the community. How to get grants. How to use the bartering system.
One woman said she went into a shoe store and picked out a couple of pairs of shoes. At the check-out she asked that the shoes be put aside so that she might speak to the manager. On meeting the manager she showed him her portfolio and ended up doing a trade. The woman went on to tell of similar successes with a masseuse and other businesses that had the products and services she needed.
A young man who had recently arrived from Turkey said that where he came from artists talk about art. “Here,” he said, “they talk about economics.” Most of the attendees were graduates of art schools or university art programs. Some were mature artists but most were young and had their futures in front of them. It always strikes me that many artists are largely unprepared and have a sketchy idea of the practical stuff that is required if one would make a career in art. I mentioned that I thought proper dealers were a necessity and that 10% of the dealers sell 90% of the art. I tried to give an idea of the freedom and dignity one has when he concentrates on the art and lets someone who knows what she’s doing handle the business. I tried to give the idea that the relationship between dealer and artist need not be a stressful one — that it can be a partnership of benefit to both, and is certainly the best long-term provider of shoes.
We agreed to meet again in three months.
PS: “Each one of us has a fire in our heart for something. It’s our goal in life to find it and to keep it lit.” (Mary Lou Retton)
Esoterica: The medium of choice for showing work to dealers is now the internet. Slides and photo-packs are dead ducks. You need a simple, non-commercial site with images right away on the home page. For best results include two magic words: “Recent Work.” When a dealer begins to represent you — use your site to empower her site.
The following are selected responses to the above letter. Thank you for writing.
Paul Carotte, Belgique
Where is her pride? Where is her self-esteem? Where is her dignity? I have nothing against bartering, but to walk in, choose goods, then cut a deal is outside the pale.
Everybody loves a starving artist
G D McKenzie, Scotland, UK
Joining a bartering association can be an excellent way to do business and get work out into the world. Bartering opportunities can be found in local telephone books and there are 2500 bartering sites on the internet. You state what you have to offer and see if anyone appears. If the work is appealing then people will see value in collecting it. Everybody loves a starving artist. Another good thing about bartering is that in many jurisdictions VAT (sales taxes) and income taxes can be avoided.
(RG note) “Starving artist” is acceptable at age 20, suspect at age 40, and problematical at age 60.
Oliver, Texas, USA
I would not blithely assume that everyone can start at one of the 10% galleries that sell 90% of the art — even if I accept your figure. That said you are right being able to focus on art rather than extensively on marketing is preferable. For those that need to scramble these alternative venues, street fairs, competitions, etc., are needed. Remember the Impressionists had to fight the gallery system for many years before becoming accepted. One of their methods of fighting was to band together and hold their own shows.
Not so proper
Those “proper dealers” you refer to are merely middlemen who artificially hype what is available to them. They are expensive parasites who subsist on the talent and commitment of creative people. It’s too bad that the internet is so slow to take off for artists, because I believe that in the long run it will supercede dealers and make art more accessible to the general public. In the meantime I keep four dealers in loose change.
Wants to know more
Susan, Tarrytown, N.Y., USA
I would like to know more about the “practical” part of actually getting my pictures from paper to the internet. I have been painting for a year. I have never taken slides of anything. Do I go somewhere to get my art scanned? Do I scan from a color Xerox? What do I do after I have a digital image? Please help. Thanks.
(RG note) We artists are not always cut out to build our own sites. Something about our brains. But there’s good news: It’s getting a bit simpler all the time. I recommend that you take a course if you want to do it yourself. Somebody is always giving courses. You can also get an expert to build one for you — or you can follow the path of the writer below.
Skip Van Lenten, Rochelle Park, New Jersey, USA
The sitebuilder I used for www.skipsprints.homestead.com was from www.homestead.com. It’s very simple to use, totally free, and has a lot of nice features you can add. It’s slow, but learning how to create a site, either from a blank page or a template, is very easy.
You are your own webmaster and go in and make changes whenever you want without knowing a thing about HTML. And, you can have more than one site using the same URL. I haven’t done this yet, but it would be an easy way to set up a non-commercial site, as you suggested in your last letter.
I once had all of my photos on the Homestead site, and a link to it as “a complete gallery of Skip’s photos” from the commercial site, so it was handy to have in that respect. The biggest drawback I find is that working on a web site, even at this simple level, can be so absorbing that nothing else gets done. It’s an act of creativity in itself, sort of like an electronic etch-a-sketch, but if you don’t know how to use the tools (as I didn’t when I started out), the drive to complete it can be frustrating. I pretty much have mine where I want them to be, and now I can turn my attention to painting and photography, knowing that whatever comes of that will have an eventual home on the web.
(RG note) When you put up a sample of recent work on the net, people, including dealers, can go to it at their leisure. Curiosity drives them there — even moreso than opening up an envelope of slides. When you put your work on the net you are potentially showing it to the world. Much better than gathering dust in a dealer’s drawer. Further, don’t think about volume of visitors to your site. It’s the type of visitor that counts. All you need to do is to tell them to go have a look if they have time. Be cool. If your work is seen by ten of the right people in one year, it will have more than done its job.
By “proper dealers” you may mean “effective dealers.” I have found a use for ineffective dealers. Some of these provide little more than a place to safely store your work. However, when they do make sales, it is on a genuine basis, because there is generally no aggression on the part of the dealer. I have found that it’s often good not to sell your work right away. This is because as your prices increase you end up getting more for them later.
Much of this ignorance you speak of goes back to the education system. A problem in many art schools is the continuance of poisonous pedagogy — ideas perpetrated about the system by those who do not believe in the system. Because many instructors are not inclined to make their living in art, they can be disdainful of the subject, and the result is that students do not find out about life in the real world, including how good it can be.
Alec Rutgers, Ontario, Canada
I read about your meeting with the group and thought of something. Are you going to post what all of you came up with and what was written down? I also have an idea. I have read that artists get together in groups to support and critique each others work. It would be nice if there was some sort of clearing house that might help organize this for like-minded artists. So instead of being in a room of 100 people for a conference or general meeting you get together with no more than say 10 people for coffee, show and tell, and general brain storming.
(RG note) I’ll ask Carol Lopez, our facilitator at that meeting, to give us all a report in three months.
What is an artist representation group? (GT)
(RG note) In this case it was CARFAC. Canadian Artist’s Representation. This organization informs artists about artist’s rights, copyright legislation, cross-border shipping, and makes further networking possible. It also informs artists of competitions, shows, arts employment, and other opportunities. Various regions publish online newsletters. I’m a member in the BC region of CARFAC. Canadian visual artists should take a look at http://www.carfac.ca/
There are also many excellent regional commercial artist representation sites. For example http://artistsregister.com/arizona/
British artists should take a look at http://www.britisharts.co.uk/internet.htm
For Australian women artists: http://www.yarranet.net.au/womar/links.htm
And exactly how do you find the proper dealer? (Maureen Kerstein, Atlanta, Georgia)
(RG note) The short answer is to produce proper art. This does not mean conservative art, modern art, constipated art, camp art. It means top work from whatever camp. It means work with an unmistakable touch of quality — work that may stretch the imagination, that shows facility, thought or passion. It may be demanding art that makes a statement, or it may be merely something that enhances somebody’s life. It might look different from everything else in her gallery. If it was easy everybody would be doing it. “There’s no such thing as an undiscovered genius.” (Strother McMinn, my industrial design instructor at Art Center School, Los Angeles)
You may be interested to know that artists from 81 countries have visited these sites since January 1, 2001. That includes Curtis Long of Austin, Texas, who quotes Oscar Wilde: “When bankers get together for dinner, they discuss Art. When artists get together for dinner, they discuss Money.” And the current high-velocity quotemeister Sue Legault of Vancouver, B.C. who sends this quote: “Always leave enough time in your life to do something that makes you happy, satisfied, even joyous. That has more of an effect on economic well-being than any other single factor.” (Paul Hawken) And Niculita Darastean of Timisoara, Romania, who says, “Watch and try to get the poem within.” And Washington Brodie of Hotmailand who writes, “In Alaska I saw a dilapidated VW bus with a bumper sticker that read ‘Willing to be President for Food.’ ”
This will be the last chance to put in your statistics for our survey. We are trying to find out if there is any possible correlation between the production of art and the zodiac. If you wish to participate please send your birth sign and also indicate one of the following:
Student of visual art (SVA)
Art hobbyist (AH)
Art teacher (AT)
Semi-professional visual artist (SPVA)
Professional visual artist (PVA)
I know it’s a bit categorical but we wanted to break it down a bit. Also, if you have the information, it might be useful if you indicated your brain tendency as right, left, or center. We will report back to you when we have enough to make the survey worthwhile. You might consider inviting artist friends to participate as well. We’ll keep it anonymous.