On questions of economics, painters are seldom consulted. Curiously, my inbox has been bleeding queries like, “Why am I so poor?” “Do I need to worry about my galleries going broke? And, “Are happy times here again?”
With about twenty fine Canadian galleries and agents handling my work, I often get reports straight from the zebra’s mouth. Zebras, incidentally, can change their stripes. Some of my dealers admit to continuing hard times — a common expression these days is “spotty.” A few are galloping ahead of previous years. Pricey ballyhoo galleries seem to be munching again. Art fairs are the new schmooze zoos. An indicator here in Canada is the sale of Canadian art to U.S. collectors. Several years ago Canadian sales going across the border dried up to zero. Currently, some of my galleries are reporting 5% to 20% of sales to U.S. buyers.
During the recent recession, many borderline commercial galleries rolled over and croaked — leaving more green grass for the others. Except for posters, reproduction galleries went fully dodo. Many of the surviving brick-and-mortar, original-art galleries are more frisky than ever.
With bank failures, big bailouts and hammered pensions, the trust in big institutions has waned. The most significant change during the shakeout has been the number of individual artists who have turned to private and Internet sales. Like the locavore phenomenon, it’s all about buying your chickens from someone you trust down the road — given that some folks need emus from time to time. Many Internet-enabled artists are now finding lush patches.
As well as individualism, a healthy and flourishing art market depends on widespread prosperity. With the return of U.S. real estate, higher employment, international cost equalization, an oil and gas boom, staying out of wars, continued debt reduction and low interest rates, the sun is breaking through. Like wild antelope, entrepreneurship is on the move. This time around, artists are seeing savvy collectors relying more on their own judgment — with lots of competition at the watering hole.
Regarding private and Internet sales, prices are still in the cellar. For the time being, this situation negatively impacts traditional galleries, undermines authority, and fades loyalties. Selling of “Painting a Day” and such for $200 is okay but it’s not a career. EBay and Etsy are still garage sales. Amazon, to its credit, is pioneering the sale of paintings online with the apparent endorsement of what appear to be galleries.
vIn art galleries and out, my prognosis is that more original art is going to be sold over the next two decades than in the entire history of art. Stick around; there’s going to be some grazing.
PS: “The people need prosperity, pure and simple.” (Lao Tzu, 6th Cent, BC)
Esoterica: My galleries report particular types of folks who are currently moving the market. They can be a pair of recent empty-nesters, often, but not always, decorating a second home. Another is your young BMW driver at the beginning of the trophy period. Still others include the lovely purists who are always there and just want to be part of the magic.
Global Art Market
by Judith R Birnberg, Sherman Oaks, CA, USA
Dealers are now traveling to art fairs from Miami to Hong Kong to Basel to São Paulo, but this globalization of the market is easier for galleries with deep pockets — smaller ones are at a disadvantage.
Canadian artists with dealers in U.S.?
by Paul Paquette, Vancouver, BC, Canada
With sales of paintings down in many Canadian galleries due to a drop in US cross-border tourism I have been mulling the idea of putting some of my work in an American gallery, say in LA or San Francisco. I am curious if you have ever tried working with galleries across the border or if you know of any problems which may arise and complicate doing this (…such as dealing with US/Canada customs).
There is 1 comment for Canadian artists with dealers in U.S.? by Paul Paquette
Changing times mind boggling
by Gail Dolphin, Swansboro, NC, USA
Recently, numerous talented artists that I’ve come across seem to attract consistent buyers through the sales venues you mentioned. They have established an independent sales outlet without the 50% commission. I approached a gallery here in my local town and he didn’t feel my art would fit his gallery. I’ve always found the gallery route such a difficult prospect and have had so many bad experiences in the past. I completely understood, but was surprised when he suggested I try the “online” sales route. He mentioned Etsy and the “Painting a Day” groups as a possible direction for me. It is all so perplexing as an artist and illustrator who came out of school in 1980. I literally trudged around with my portfolio of originals, used a phone and wrote thank you letters on my typewriter. These changing times and Facebook have created these sales and advertising outlets that are mind boggling. Beats being a part-time bank teller!
by Norman Ridenour, Prague, Czech Republic
Wow!!!! You are upbeat. Good luck to those who hold out. I am closing my studio and selling tools. I cannot cover overhead and fairs are too physically exhausting and have sunk to not even covering their own costs. E-sales are nil. I would never buy anything requiring an aesthetic judgement online. You are right, Etsy is the home of cute, kitsch and trinkets except for clothing.
A new renaissance in the arts
by Georgeana Ireland, Irvine, CA, USA
Indeed, finally we could be in a time of a new renaissance in the arts. The recession seems to be over and people are buying art again. Not only is being an artist a “Real Job” but actually a good job to have. Here’s to the next 20 years of art sales.
by Robert Lynch, Coarsegold, CA, USA
Yes, this economy has the art world in desperate and serious times. The positive outlook is to understand the positive results when we pick up. I’m not an artist but appreciate the artists and art and I know that things will pick up for them. Your letter offers positive outlook for some very discouraged artists.
Numbers under the numbers
by Claudia Roulier, Idledale, CO, USA
I would be cautious and maybe not celebrate too soon about the U.S. economy; the numbers under the numbers tell a chilling story. Although I’m selling, it is slower and interestingly it’s the pricier work that is selling. My bread and butter pieces have slowed way down. Those early entries into art collecting world have dried up because all their discretionary income has been sucked up.
Improvement in U.S.?
by Jan Ross, Kennesaw, GA, USA
I must respectfully disagree with your comments about things improving in the U.S. The unemployment rate is much higher than the press reports, due to the fact that many people have given up hope of finding jobs. Many people are ‘under employed,’ that is, they took whatever kind of job they could get for some income; previously high paid executives working at home improvement stores and, ironically, the U.S. government pays more welfare than some people can make working, so they’re living ‘off the dole.’ Young graduates from universities cannot find work and employees over the age of 50, fa-gettaboutit! The uncertainty about medical care/expenses is great for employers who aren’t hiring as many new employees as they used to, and citizens are taking a wait-and-see attitude about spending for that reason, also.
The housing market where I live was so overbuilt during the previous decade that new houses are selling for half their original asking price, and previously-lived-in homes are struggling to compete. Foreclosures and ‘short sales’ abound. Many of the contractors working in home construction have become ‘handymen’ just for work. Aside from that, given the debacle created by the government, permitting people to purchase homes with no down payment or credit checks in the past, the requirements for a buyer to purchase a home/obtain a mortgage are more strict than they have been in years.
People have recognized they are able to decorate their walls with prints and photographs for much less than originals.
Consequently, people are holding on to their funds, not spending as much for ‘luxury’ items, which art is considered to be. My observation is that small pieces are selling in shops and galleries, not those over $1000, at least in areas most visited by ‘the average Joe.’
There are 2 comments for Improvement in U.S.? by Jan Ross
by Megan Moore, Minneapolis, MN, USA
I would be so happy to read your thoughts on critics’ use of the word, “derivative”, in response to a painting. Is “derivative” really just code for “sentimental” or “schmaltzy”?
(RG note) Thanks, Megan. Derivative means “coming from another source; not original.” Generally it’s a pejorative word meaning copied from an extant movement or copied from the work of a specific artist. Derivative is often used by overeducated art critics to try to make the artists they are reviewing feel small, weak and unimportant.
There are 4 comments for Derivative work by Megan Moore
by Linda Vorderer, Oak Lawn, IL, USA
I am looking for suggestions to build my first artist website. What are the top hosts you would recommend? Who do you use? I’d like your opinion on this. Thanks.
(RG note) Thanks, Linda. The host you choose might depend on your geographical area. For designing and building a site, many of our subscribers have used my friend Leah Markham, partner of painter Jerry Markham. To build a low-cost website, you can either buy her online kit (for $100) and do it yourself, or get her and her team to build it for you. She’s a smart cookie and is familiar with our needs.
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