In this remote cabin the cellphone never vibrates and my only companion is a solitary cabin-mouse on a regular route, checking and rechecking points of interest, sometimes deviating off the track to inquire of something new. While painting, I’m reflecting on the crazy parallel universe of art dealing and art speculation. What has my daily plodding got to do with what happens to the stuff I make?
These thoughts have been stimulated by a book I brought with me. The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace seems to be a metaphor for art’s secondary market — art aficionados, collectors, speculators, dealers and the fine-art auction business in particular. The book is about the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold — a 1787 Chateau Lafite Bordeaux, supposedly once the property of Thomas Jefferson when he was a young ambassador in Paris. Found bricked-up in a Paris cellar by a shady German wine merchant and collector, it was sold at Christie’s in London in 1985 for $156,000.00.
Like a lot of high-priced art, the bottle is essentially undrinkable.
A few bottles are actually worth opening. Well-heeled, big buck guys get together for annual “tastings.” Some tastings are called “horizontals” — all the wines available from different Chateaux from a certain year. Others are “verticals” — all the wine from a single vineyard for a series of years — say 1804 to 1927. Yep, sets of these old wines can be assembled by attending auctions and hanging out in the right cellars. In the expensive process of assembling, and the snobbish business of claiming the better palate, a kind of divine madness overtakes these guys, setting the ground for all sorts of tomfoolery and fakery. Bottles are topped up with younger wines and whole new antique vintages are concocted in found empties.
All this has nothing much to do with the wineries. Like artists, the vintners tend to their grapes, protect them from pestilence, oversee timely harvests, take care with pressing and bottling and send them out into the world hoping to make an honest buck. Then, depending on rarity, provenance and perceived quality, the speculation boys take over. Sometimes it takes a hundred years for all the stars to line up. But they do. Plonk or not, it takes these passionate characters to make things happen.
PS: “You can almost taste the wine that turns so many rational people into madmen.” (Buzz Bussinger)
Esoterica: In the wine game, most of the tasters spit. Otherwise they’d be drunk as skunks. In the art game, obsolescence isn’t as instantaneous. It takes time for art to win palates, and time to devalue as well. While it’s okay to think ahead to tomorrow’s tastes, and prepare as best you can if you must, the artist’s job is to live in the now and to simply strive for maximum quality as he or she sees fit. Somehow the best lesson right now is the dedication and persistence of that mouse. I’m thinking he has a rather nice life in spite of all the traps that lie ahead.
Having a vinegar day
by TJ Miles, Spain
As you say, the normal average everyday artist just gets on with the business in hand (or foot, or mouth) and creates what we hope will, at the very least sell, and at the very most be regarded someday as worthy of the dealer’s and, ultimately, the public’s palates. It continues to be a struggle to tend the vines of creativity, it continues to be a struggle to weed out all the parasitical doubts that attack our work and our confidence constantly, it continues to be a struggle to bottle and label ourselves in such a way that we can become a marketable commodity, it continues to be a struggle. Or maybe I’m just having a vinegar day?
Choosing a reference point
by Bill Skuce, Sooke, BC, Canada
If I imagine I am lost in the desert and I find something, like a big stone, I now know that wherever I go, whichever direction I take, I have a reference point. I know where I am in relation to the thing I have found. Without a reference point I remain lost. For this reason it is important for me, as an artist, to choose a reference point. Should I choose what is in fashion? Or what is bad? Or what is less than the best? Or don’t the classics remain the obvious choice? Whether in music, architecture, literature, dance, sculpture or painting, choosing the classics as a reference point enables me to know where I stand in relation to the best. And so I choose.
by Toni Ciserella, Marysvale, UT, USA
Living in the here and now is good advice for us artists, as we really have no control over outcomes. No matter how well planned, how earnest our intentions are, how directed our thoughts to be, there is no guarantee of success. Speculating is the latest buzzword in today’s financial market; it’s the trend that is making millionaires daily but it is still no more than a guess, a calculated one, no doubt, but for me the variables are too wide and many.
I reflect and ponder throughout the entire painting experience and at times do wonder about the secondary market, but I cannot let that influence my work. It hurts my heart to think that man has still not figured out that art’s purpose is not meant to make one rich monetarily. In its purity, I believe art is the manifestation of the soul. I know that is idealistic and unfortunately (for me) smacks of sour grapes.
by Coulter Watt, Quakertown, PA, USA
Like all fine things man made, the key is, “…it takes these passionate characters to make things happen.” That applies to every profession if excellence is to be achieved. Recognition of those achievements may take decades, so for the passionate creator belief in one’s self is paramount if their work isn’t an immediate commercial success, such as Van Gogh.
Reactions of travelers to local art
by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA
As an art dealer, I see all kinds of people come into my gallery. It is fun to hear people deep in conversation about some aspect of a certain artist’s work. While perceived value is definitely a factor in some sales, in many others it is the emotional connection that different people have with different artists. It never ceases to amaze me at the difference between traveler’s reactions to the art and those who follow the art world, here in my part of the country. Travelers, who don’t know the names of our regional artists, will often pick out several favorite artists, appreciating the talents of emerging or lesser known artists equally as well as those artists who are really relatively famous. People from the area who know the art world here, however, seldom make the same kind of comparison.
by Dianne Mize, Clarkesville, GA, USA
I have spent entirely too many hours of my life’s history worrying about my artist friends whose work is guided by the druthers of their clientele. I watched one dear buddy sell away his copyright to the best work he’d ever done in his life simply because it didn’t fit into his self-created style and theme, the one that caught the market’s attention, the one he couldn’t let go of because it had made him a local legend.
Your mouse is not a bad metaphor, not at all. I wonder what the art world would be like today if all artists would have taken the attitude, “The artist’s job is to live in the now and to simply strive for maximum quality as he or she sees fit.”
Making a difference
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA
I often wonder if all artist think as I do, “Is what I’m doing today going to make a difference in tomorrow’s art scene?” Some people that I talk to only care about making the buck today and don’t care about tomorrow. I try to reflect my life experiences into some of my works. By thinking that, that is the only unique aspect of my art that can be different from others. But will that be enough? I believe that the artist has to do more than just create to make a stand in today’s art world.
by Ginny Stiles, Leesburg, FL, USA
I am smiling over the wine-tasting thoughts at the remote cabin. I am also in a remote cabin — painting among the pines and loon calls of northern Wisconsin. Here, just after the solstice. Wild summer daisies have opened up in the bits of sunshine that filter through the pines and birches. The artist in me responds to illumination, seasonal ecstasy, and the allure of living in the “now.” And like the daisies whose brief life happens because of being in the right place at the right time — I paint with abandon.
Another resume unrevealing
by Helen Zapata, Phoenix, AZ, USA
I’ve spent the past 36 hours plunged into a deep depression. Two days ago, I was informed by my gallery owner that I needed a new resume for my upcoming show. While on the phone I assured him that it would be no problem but then I gathered up my old resumes and looked them over. Then I realized that there were huge banks of time, years even, in which there didn’t seem to be much happening. I was a little surprised, but in thinking back, I remember that those were years in which I was painting hard, and selling harder. I was doing it on my own during those years, without benefit of dealers, galleries, or shows. I sold everything I painted. I was doing well. But on paper, it looks terrible! To those art aficionados, it looks like I was sitting around watching daytime soap operas. I don’t want to write another resume. Instead of spending money on getting yet another resume printed so they have “something to hand out” to the people who express interest in my work during the show, I’d rather spend the money on paint and canvas. I have to decide if I’m going to make my “wine tasters” happy or if I’m just going to go “tend my vines.” I do like digging in the dirt.
by Ani Rose Whaleswan, Colorado Springs, CO, USA
Our job as artists is to do it fully, as present as we can be to the process at the time, to know when we are done with our work and to let it go. Recently I was sitting on my own back porch and in high Zen fashion forming one after another of small tea bowls out of Raku clay. Every single little pinch of clay, rolled into a ball, formed into a cup and smoother was essentially the same — at first. But then, each one required its own perfection. I just had to keep working on one at a time until, “I was happy.” They all lined up and all was right with the world. But now, they all looked different from the other. Each one its own. And my next job was to let them be, let them go; watch what the Fire would do to them, uniquely. I know when I am finished and I have put all into it that I can. After that, it has a life of its own. People will see different things, for very different reasons. Maybe it will fall off the wall behind a piano and be forgotten. I accept this. I let it go freely. I have done my part, as fully as I could at the time. I think those who analyze and decide have their own worlds to worry about, and it has little or nothing to do with my experience as the artist. Let them drink wine!
23kt gold leaf, 8 x 10 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Bill F of Elgin, IL, USA who wrote, “Just live life diligently in the moment and things will fall into place, or not.”
And also Sabina Evarts of Shelburne, VT, USA who wrote, “I think he’s got cabin fever…”
And also Suzanne Joubert of Montreal, QC, Canada who wrote, “I love this letter Robert, it consoles the mouse in me!”
Enjoy the past comments below for Reflection…