Yesterday, Dr. Anikó Boda of Budapest, Hungary wrote, “People are astonished when I tell them I don’t sell my paintings. As an expressionist, they are my deepest feelings embedded in paint (Sometimes I cry while painting). How could I ask money for them? My paintings are my children. Besides, I don’t need the income. My first solo show is coming in December. I’m embarrassed to talk about selling. I’ve never been interested in galleries or art-marketing. I don’t even have a business card. But I hate the look on people’s faces (astonishment, suspicion, pity) when I tell them. Do I need to sell for money just to be taken seriously?”
Thanks, Anikó. For those of us who have made a life in art, exchanging our work for the hard-earned cash of others is part of the fun. Selling completes the circle and makes it possible for us to continue our work, put the kids through university and buy classic cars. Sorry, but like Picasso, Fragonard and Michelangelo, public validation by greens is important. Van Gogh would have hung in there longer if he’d sold just one little oil.
There are several things you can do. You might put outrageously high prices on them, take the chance of not selling (which is what you say you want) and if you happen to, give the money to your favorite charity. The second is to put outrageously low prices on them, get a reputation for having sellout shows, and give what little money you get to your favourite charity. Another is to earmark a few as gifts to individuals or museums you think outrageously worthy, and put NFS on the rest. That way, every work is already taken. Incidentally, people covet what they can’t have, and if your work is spectacular it will make them crazy.
The fly in the ointment in any of these games is your gallery or the institution presenting you. Do they need a commission to keep going? Or are they in it for prestige, noble sharing, or because they think it’s about time? You need to know your gallery’s true motivation — and your own.
It’s unfortunate, but we are living at a time when most people need to know the price of things. Putting a price on your work may be the price you have to pay for being taken seriously.
PS: “Despite my extremely modest prices, dealers and art lovers are turning their backs on me. It is very depressing to see the lack of interest shown in an art object which has no market value.” (Claude Monet)
Esoterica: Then we have the case of Maqbool Fida Husain — the “Picasso of India.” A dashing, poetic, eccentric figure in impeccably tailored suits, he went barefoot brandishing a paintbrush-cane. Painting mostly in hotels, he always paid generously for the cleanup. He self-promoted, drove a hard deal, created his own art museums and collected a mass of classic cars. With every stunt he doubled his prices — his last oil going for about two million dollars. “I painted her there in Connaught Square, sitting on a horse. People were hanging off the trees! They had to call the police!” (Maqbool Fida Husain)
A self-absorbed conversation?
by Brenda Wright, Perth, ON, Canada
It makes me wonder why this artist would contact you at all. She says she’s an ‘expressionist’ but does not want to sell her pieces, so why show them? What is the point? Why would she have a ‘solo show’ if her paintings are exclusively her own? I suggest she keep it ‘solo’… lock the doors and appreciate her own work, alone. Her expression is most likely a self-absorbed conversation anyway (I note she did not send any photos of her work).
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True artists paint from feelings
by Terrie Christian, Plymouth, MN, USA
I would like to tell Dr. Boda that a balance can be reached. All my life I have defined myself as an artist and actually chose not to make it my vocation. I too became a healer with a degree in pharmacy. Many have said that I should sell my art and a few times I have. What became really apparent to me is that I was making art for a different reason and my own need was actually not to make it a business. Many artists I know find the business end of it distressing and wish they did not have to make a living that way. I do love to share my art and mostly give it away, but I also enter shows. Sometimes I list the paintings for sale and other times not. Once, a painting that was not for sale was desired by a visitor to the gallery. My husband’s job had just been outsourced overseas and I thought it would be good to have a sale. I had listed the painting’s value for insurance purposes, and decided to raise the price to cover the cost that the gallery would make. The buyer decided not to buy. I was so relieved. That painting is in my living room and is a spirit painting for me. We should not bow to the pressure of others or think ourselves not viable artists because we do not fit a mold. Painting from feelings as described by Dr. Boda makes the true artist. Sometimes those who sell have to sell out to their market and lose their creative self. Even so, we are all artists!
Don’t lock it up!
by Alexi Blackwell
I don’t think that you necessarily need to sell your paintings to be taken seriously, however I believe you should. When I create a painting, I feel I’ve given birth to something that has a life of its own. My paintings deserve a happy life hanging in the home of someone who has found my art and it spoke to them. Art has an appeal like a relationship with a person. Some you think are ugly, but then that special one comes along and becomes so attractive to you that you just have to marry it and take it home! Denying your work the life it deserves is a bit like child abuse… you should never give birth to a child, lock it in a dark closet and forget about it! It deserves to live in the sunshine of a happy home!
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Let your work nourish others
by Bill Skuce, Sooke, BC, Canada
The concept of one’s paintings being as one’s children has some merit. Certainly there is a high level of attachment to one’s children. A parent makes many sacrifices for her/his child while raising it but, as most parents know, the time comes when the child needs, in a sense, to be set free by parents in order to fulfill his/her own life. Letting one’s art go for a fair price is making that break; part of the process is the mutually agreed upon price. In keeping with the analogy, the artist may even say, in jest, “I reserve visiting privileges,” suggesting, possibly, an on-going friendship with the new owner.
Another freeing concept is the one of the dung beetle. The “food” of the painter is the process; he doesn’t feed on the painting… but others do. In a room full of paintings, an individual is drawn to one painting he/she must have. Why? Because he is nourished by it. In the case of the dung beetle, the elephant does the processing and its dung is the only nourishment of the dung beetle. Without taking this to a level that literal interpretation would offend, the lesson is that artists, beyond a point, really do not need to keep all their paintings. Ms. Boda of Budapest may find it a helpful notion to suppose that someone who acquires one of her expressionist paintings may find joy in living with it and be nourished while enjoying it.
Not a shrinking violet
by Diane Voyentzie, CT, USA
We returned from Budapest, two days ago. I had never been there, and was astonished at the beauty. It is a messy, wonderful, crazy city that everyone ran over — Genghis Kahn, Attila the Hun, the Nazis, the Russians, gypsies… The art museum is one of the best in Europe… the churches, the gorgeous synagogue that was rebuilt… however, after WWll it was under communist rule until 1989. The last Russian left in 1991. The torture that went on under that regime was horrifying. We went to the Russian headquarters, which is called the House of Terror. The thousands that were killed in 1956-1958 — because they did not follow the communist doctrine or were religious — were well documented. It was so difficult to watch, but so important. There were films of people talking about the hopelessness of life during the war and then after, when the Russians took over. The cells two stories below the headquarters, which was right on the beautiful main street, was beyond description — horrific… small dark cells, no toilet facilities, no windows, and water on the floor. Torture cells… I can understand Dr. Aniko Bodo’s feeling about selling her work. She said it was emotional to paint and sometimes she even cried. People that lived under that despicable time in history and also lived with the communist ethic did not strive too much beyond just staying alive. Painting or creative outlets of any kind were luxuries. We, in this country, especially people who were born after 1950, cannot even imagine the atrocities that were perpetrated on the people who were under the Nazis and then the Russians. Shrinking violets they are not.
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Sell them before your studio burns down
by Laura Leiden
I felt the exact same way as Dr. Boda when I started my last series of acrylic mixed-media paintings called Windows of the Soul. I was a bit horrified by the idea of selling my “children” for a few hundred dollars and the buyers would have my children for the rest of their lives and the money would be gone in a weekend. I, too, didn’t “need” the money, though I was a self-supporting commercial artist at the time. Money was not my motivation for creating and I resented that everyone I met, especially other artists, would ask if I had sold any. Then I met an artist friend who had felt the same way. Her house burned down and she had such regret that she hadn’t sold or even given away any of her paintings. They were all gone.
That was a turning point for me. So I figured out a price that I was willing to release my paintings for and had some wonderful success. I hope this is a help to Dr. Boda.
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NFS wins the customers
by Kurt Jacobson, Anchorage, AK, USA
I had a classic example of “they will covet what they can’t have.” In my first show I did not have a lot of works to show since I was just starting out, so I brought a pastel painting I had done that was a emotional piece for me and I would never sell it (still on our wall). I only sold one print at that show. But a customer came into my booth and asked why I had a NFS on the pastel nude painting. I explained its meaning to me and its inspiration for me to continue to paint. He then began to offer me incredible amount of cash (at that time in my career ) for it. When I kept telling him it was not for sale, he just got more determined to have it. I did not sell it. I learned a lesson, though, on human psychology in pricing. And also, if it is really a painting you want to keep, don’t take it to the show. That was 15 years ago. This summer I did an open air show and brought a large oil painting that I had submitted to OPA show and was waiting to hear from them, so again I had a NFS on it. Again I had more interest in it than most of the others there.
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Private therapy or blind emotion?
by Robin Shillcock, Groningen, Netherlands
The good thing concerning Dr. Boda is that she is prepared to share work with others in an upcoming exhibition. Art needs to be seen to be appreciated. I fear for the Dr.’s children though, because children, just like paintings, need to be let free at a certain point in time. I congratulate artists who don’t need to sell their work to feed mouths. They are free to do what they want, ask any price they want, exhibit where they want. They are free of hassles lesser gods have to contend with. On the other hand, even they, if they have taken on art as a career, have to sit down and do some serious planning, e.g. where do I show my work? How do I reach the public?
You passed on a mixed message from Dr. Boda: there’s ambition (hating the reaction of people when they hear the Dr. doesn’t sell), but on the other hand it appears her art is also a kind of therapy (The Dr. cries while painting. Does the Dr. paint while laughing?). If a therapy, that could suffice. No need to show, no need to sell, just do the brushwork and keep mum about it. Why bother other people with one’s private therapeutic bounding?
But then, all is possible in art. Of course, there has to be passion in the act of painting, but I wonder what happens to the act if the artist is blinded by emotion? My experience is that little good comes from it. But then I’m an inveterate realist.
by Dr. Boda Aniko, Godollo, Hungary
Thank you for your very quick answer. I live in a little university town called Godollo 30 km from the capital Budapest. Before attending the Fine Arts Academy there, I studied in the Art Students League, NYC with Costa Vavagiakis, Frank Mason and Leonid Gervitz, and in the School of Visual Arts with Marvin Mattelson. Right now I have no pictures of my paintings, since I’ve never been interested in showing my work publicly or marketing. I’ve never wanted to waste my time with photos. My pieces are in the storage room of the Municipiality waiting to be hung for the show, so I don’t think I can take pictures of them for weeks. Sorry, I know if I’m not on the Internet, I basically do not exist, but this fact has never disturbed me (According to my husband, I should have lived 100 years ago). The show was not my idea either, so funny if people learn about your passion for painting, they automatically suppose you paint for showing the paintings. I make paintings from exactly the opposite reason, to express those emotions I normally cannot show (In other words, painting is my psychotherapy. I need to work creatively to stay mentally healthy. After a couple of days of creative abstinence, like family holidays, I truly feel and behave awful.) I think we all know that the exhibition is only a byproduct of the creative process, just like homepages, juried shows and stuff like that. Being well-known or seemingly successful is temporary. Painters being loved today were forgotten yesterday and vice versa. I read somewhere, if you were left alone on a deserted island and you still painted, knowing nobody will ever see your work, then you are a ‘real’ artist. If such a person really exists.
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oil painting 16 x 20 inches
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That includes John Smith of Durban North, South Africa, who wrote, “The thing with these people who are ‘good’ and do not charge or mark their prices way down low, they spoil things for those who need to, or want to sell. They see what they are doing as good and generous but, is it?”