Last week, a successful actor who collects original art launched a new venture. Having studied art in college and being a lifelong art lover, Portia de Rossi started a business she believes will help artists make a better living. Based on improving the giclée with a new, trademarked 3D printing process, her online retailer “General Public” aims to sell art to the masses. With “all the texture and articulation that’s in an original painting” says de Rossi, a “synograph,” will make it nearly impossible to tell the difference between a reproduction and an actual work of art.
On the General Public website, artists are invited to submit work for consideration via email. If accepted, the company will pay to have the original shipped to headquarters where it’s photographed and the publishing rights are claimed. The painting is never acquired nor paid for by General Public but, instead, is sent back to the artist’s studio at the artist’s expense, at which time the artist can do whatever she likes with it — except make her own editions. Synographs (in limited and open editions) are then put up for sale for between $500 and $4000 — either through a collaboration with furniture retailer Restoration Hardware or directly through the General Public website. For every synograph sold, the artist receives a 5% royalty. De Rossi enthuses that it’s all in the spirit of helping artists: “Technology has finally caught up with the current trend of cutting out the middleman, allowing painters to follow authors, musicians and actors.”
But digitizing music has decimated the livelihood of songwriters by scaling accessibility and therefore diluting the value of recordings, with artist royalties annihilated to fractions-of-pennies-per-stream — about 5% net — via services like Spotify, virtually the de facto method for buying music today.
Thankfully, fine art is a niche market, which grinds away globally in echelons big and small, unscalable due to the very nature of its intrinsic, physical originality. Music, books and other published items are a mass market, now imploding under the shortsighted deals made by middlemen who squandered the economic safety of their creative work force. In the art world, any artist, anywhere, can still control her own supply and thrive with the help of a handful of caring collectors who value a unique and magical universe — what de Rossi calls, “archaic.” Instead, by diluting quality, rarity and authenticity, she risks altering how consumers perceive and value creative work, endangers makers and their professional allies and confuses her general public.
PS: “My motto is; support artists, not art.” (Portia de Rossi, from the General Public website)
Esoterica: With de Rossi as the new middleman, an artist’s synograph retailing for $1000 on the General Public website would earn a royalty of $50, less GP’s expenses. If sold wholesale to Restoration Hardware, the royalty would clock in closer to $25 or less. That’s a lot of synographs to sell, Walmart-style — maybe without much difficulty given de Rossi’s public reach and collaboration with a major furniture retailer. However, ours is an industry that relies on cherishing the singular. In our archaic world, open to everyone, what can one buy with a grand? It buys authenticity and something made by hand, with provenance, intimacy and a connection to the maker, an investment with infinite future possibilities, standing out in a world full of copies. This item is available at a local business called a gallery, or at an art fair, from an art group or artist’s open studio in any town, anywhere, or on an online collective, a hub like Artsy or SaatchiArt or from the artist directly, on Etsy or Instagram. This art world, now online, stirring already with disruption in the direction of truly empowering artists, invites all to participate in the real and rare.
“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only that gives every thing its value.” (Thomas Paine)
Killarney is a special place to paint. Huge granite cliffs, sparkling lakes, near North forests. There are no roads. We take a stable pontoon boat to all painting locations.
Keith is a post-impressionist painter and teaches compositional fundamentals, how to bring order out of the chaos of a live scene when painting en plein air, plus how modern colour theory can make colour mixing easy.
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